Category Archives: Rock Against the Rail

The Decision

RATR

Well the Surface Transportation Board has made its decision. It’s been a long road for hundreds of families along the proposed GLBT route. About 18 months ago Frank Patton decided he wanted to build a rail line to speed the processing of trains through Chicago’s busy rail yard. Some trains take several hours or days to get on their way, but this is an issue that the city has been working on for some time. The line would have begun in Indiana, bypassed Chicago then traveled up through Illinois into Wisconsin, coming to a stop east of Milton where it would branch out to existing lines.  

Patton’s bypass would have been built on land gained by claiming eminent domain. Putting farm land and wildlife habitats along the 261-mile route out of service and permanently unusable. Some farmers would have lost land that generations of their families before them worked. That in itself was a bad enough but this line running full speed could have had as many as 110 trains a day passing by their homes at high rates of speed.  

The announcement was made yesterday and happily Patton and the GLTB was denied permission to build! This decision was based on lack of financial information provided to the board, and it leaves me wondering if there is a possibility that all of this might begin again if Mr. Patton decided to be a little more forthcoming about the financial end of his plan.  Going forward, what can be done to protect farmers and their land? What can be done to protect wild life habitats?

This is an issue that can’t or couldn’t be dropped. The question, What Now, must be asked. The first thought that came to mind is that the eminent domain laws should be rewritten to protect natural habitats and the livelihoods of private citizens. There must be options out there. 

For more information or to read the document released by the STB you can check the Rock against the Rail Facebook page. 

 

 

 

 

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Rock Against the Rail

RATR

In May of last year I wrote a post about the Great Lakes Basin Transportation (GLBT) and their attempt to build a rail line from Indiana through Illinois to Rock County Wisconsin, just east of Milton. It’s been a busy year and currently the process is on hold waiting for Frank Patton to provide some information to the Surface Transportation Board (STB). He asked for, and was granted a suspension of the environmental review process last month in order to allow him more time to gather any information he needs to submit his application or give yet another update to the STB.

This isn’t the first extension he has asked for. It seems to me he is trying to back pedal a bit. I don’t think he anticipated the kind of opposition he would get. Apparently Mr. Patton underestimated the tenacity of us Midwesterners. We have a good life here and we are not willing to give it up without a fight so he can play trains!

The purpose of Patton’s rail line is to divert trains just passing through Chicago away from the congested rail yard. Chicago has the busiest rail hub in the country; 1300 trains a day work their way through the yard. It can take several hours to get through on a good day, so at first glance that sounds like a good idea, right? Simply provide a way for trains that have no need to pass through Chicago to go around and on their way. It’s not that simple though, on several levels.

GLB owner, Frank Patton, plans on using the eminent domain laws to acquire the land needed for the railroad across the three states and 11 counties. If you are unfamiliar with eminent domain, I discussed it in my original post. There are precious few people between LaPorte Indiana and Milton Wisconsin that are in favor of this project. It don’t think would be too big a stretch to say that there isn’t a single farmer on the path between Wisconsin and Indiana that is happy about losing their land. Farmers work hard. It’s not a 9 to 5 job, and they do it because they love it. To take their land and their livelihood to build an unnecessary rail line is ridiculous.

The issue is not just thousands of acres of lost farmland. Some of the trains on this toll line, yes it’s going to be a toll line, will be traveling at speeds up to 70 mph, so a derailment of a train carrying combustible or toxic material could be devastating to the surrounding land, the water table, animals and people living near the rail. Not to mention the noise levels. Patton anticipates multiple trains and hour, some miles long. Just imagine the sound of it, all day, every day, and the vibration that goes along with it.

The proposed rail line is for Class One railroads and there are six that currently pass through Chicago. They are the Norfolk Southern, CXS, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Union Pacific, Canadian Pacific, and the Canadian National. In my research I have not found any of these lines that have said they would love to spend money to get their trains around Chicago faster. What I have found is that two of the lines have stated they will not. One already has an existing way around, two are planning their own intermodal yards and one has not yet said yes or no. Mr. Patton wants to spend millions of dollars on a rail line that potentially will not be used.

The kicker to all of this is that in June of 2003 Mayor Daley of Chicago recognized that something must be done to make the rail traffic in and around Chicago more efficient not only for the railroads but for the people of the city that have to deal with the delays caused by the trains and the pollution they spit out every day. Mr. Daley called on the STB to help and they pulled a team together which included the city of Chicago, the State of Illinois, the U.S. DOT, and all six of the major freight carriers as well as Amtrak.

Together this team, called Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program (CREATE) worked out a plan to fix the congestion and have put millions of dollars to date into doing just that. Many of the projects are completed but there is still much to do. When all is said and done billions of dollars will have been spent but the congestion and time issues will have been taken care of. Isn’t that the point? It seems to me that if there is a plan under way to take care of the issues associated with trains getting through Chicago in a timely manner, there is no need at all for Mr. Patton’s rail line. Let Chicago finish their work. Yes it will take time, but let them!

One item remains to be discussed. What can we do to stop this project?

A lot actually. Spreading the word is the best thing we can do. Even after a year there are people who have no idea of the fight going on. So talk about it, share this post. Go to the Rock Against the Rail Facebook and Web Page 

Write letters and make phone calls to your elected officials. We can even write to the STB. The open access has stopped but they are still accepting letters and it can be done through email or regular snail mail. The address is:

To send an email go to: http://www.stb.gov

Go to the e-file tab, click it and then choose Environmental Tab, Docket # FP 35952
Choose Attention Kenneth Blodgett. Fill in the rest of the info and submit.

Snail Mail:

Ken Blodgett
Surface Transportation Board
Docket # FP 35952
395 E Street SW
Washington, DC 20423-0001

 

Get involved, the future generations of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana will thank you.

 

 

Rock County Win!

RATR

The residents of Rock County had a win last night. The Rock County board of Supervisors meets twice a month or more if necessary to discuss issues affecting our county. The agenda of last night’s meeting included a vote as to whether our county would support the Great Lakes Basin Railway project. The public had the opportunity to speak for or against the railway. Several took the invitation and did just that. They spoke about how the proposed rail system would impact their ability to continue to farm sections of their land once it has been cut into pieces. Another speaker came forward to discuss the issue with the rail coming so close to her community and the effect the trains would have on the communities church as well as the water drainage around the town.

After the public had their chance to voice personal concerns. The board discussed the resolution and made a small change to the verbiage and held a roll call vote. The vote was taken, tallied and was unanimously against the proposed project with two board members being absent. I don’t know of anyone in the room that didn’t want to stand and cheer at that moment but composure was maintained. The meeting continued and after the remaining topics were discussed and voted upon the meeting was dismissed.

Although Rock County is formally on record as being against the GLB we are not out of the woods yet. From here a copy of this resolution will be sent to the Governor, the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture trade and Consumer Protection as well as a number of Senators and Representatives.

The reality is that even with this win the rail line could still happen. This is why it is so important that we as residents of this county get involved. Yes, some of us live in the towns and cities of Rock County but we are still largely a rural community of towns and cities. Consider the permanent damage to the landscape of our county. How many of us want to take a drive in the country on a beautiful day and encounter a mile long train instead of fields growing grain crops and pastures of animals grazing?

570 acres of farmland could forever be lost. Southern Wisconsin has some of the richest land in the world. Once it’s gone there is nothing anyone can do to fix it. In addition to the farm land there is woodland and wetlands in the way of the this project that will also be permanently changed or lost forever. There are so many negatives involved with this project.

Consider the families that farm. Some of these families have been farming their land for generations. Financially each of those farms will have decreased income that will radiate out into the community. Lost farmland and pasture land means less food will be produced. With less food being produced the business that support farming will suffer financially.

It’s not just the farms at risk. Our way of life as a community is at risk. Lost revenue in any business always trickles out to the surrounding area. With thousands of dollars being lost each year by our families and friends that farm means that the businesses that support farming and the businesses they visit to purchase things for their families will have those sales. Resulting in a potential loss jobs all over the county.

We must also consider the financial burden the state will have to renovate 40 miles of track in order to accommodate the GLB project. That cost is estimated to be $900,000. Per/mile. (Yes I said per mile!!) So we are talking about an estimated $36,000,000 to accept the train into our county. Guess where that money is coming from? Some may be federally funded of course but some of this cost may be our tax money. We could be paying for the privilege of having our county ripped apart and forever damaged.

I am getting emotional here but this is an emotional subject. We live in Rock County because we love it here. This is a great place to live. I am all for progress, but the cost must be considered and the cost to our way of life is too high. We all need to get involved if we are going to protect what we have. Write to the Governor, The Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, our Senators and Representatives. Write to the STB. The person you want to contact is Dave Navecky. The address is:

Dave Navecky
STB
Docket Number FD 35952
395 E Street SW
Washington D.C. 20423-0001

Let them know that we do not want the devastation this project will bring to our county and our way of life. It is so important to get involved. This could be a precedent setting project that may have the potential to affect any state in this country. You can get more information at the Rock Against The Rail Facebook page.  Let’s stop the GLB.

Rock Against The Rail!!!

 

 

 

Loco Motives

RATR

How Frank Patton plans to Destroy Lives
in the Midwest 

We grow up believing that if we work hard and do our best, if we are honorable and always try to do the right thing that we will live a happy life. Then something happens causing what we believe in and have worked hard for to come crashing down around us. We’re left wondering, what if anything do we have left? Can we pick up the pieces and rebuild? Of course we will have to try, but we are left a little jaded.

Right now there are farmers, business owners, and communities across three states facing this issue. Frank Patton, the driving force behind the Great Lakes Railroad is planning a project that could potentially change the lives of thousands if not millions of people by taking their lively hood from them. Patton’s idea is to build a 275 mile rail bypass around Chicago because the rail hub is very busy and can take up to 30 hours to move a train across the city.

He plans on doing this by claiming eminent domain and taking the land he needs for his project from the farmers, businesses, and communities in his way. Eminent domain requires fair consideration for the property being taken, but how does one compensate a family who has been farming the land for generations when you are taking both the past and future from them? What about the businesses and communities in the way? How do you calculate and compensate for that kind of loss? Here is a quote from a document posted on the Rock Against The Rail (RATR) Facebook page. It’s something everyone should read. The post went up on April 30. Go check it out http://www.boarddoc.com.

“GLB intends to offer fair prices for the property interests required to construct the railroad and to acquire as much property through negotiated transactions as possible. However, in some cases, GLB expects it will have tc;> resort to the exercise of eminent domain powers. GLB should be able to take advantage of “Quick Take” eminent domain procedures in each of its states to keep recalcitrant landowners from holding the entire project hostage. Under Quick Take, GLB would be allowed to take possession of property needed for the project by paying a court-determined amount, which would be held by the court as the actual value of the property taken is litigated. Appraisals are required in Indiana and Wisconsin, and as a practical matter they would need to be obtained in Illinois as well to support arguments as to what the preliminary and final valuation of taken property should be.”

It was my understanding that private citizens were not authorized to claim eminent domain. This is something that I thought only a government, whether federal or state, must do. Apparently private companies can just take what they want as long it’s for public use and they follow the rules. It is my hope that our elected officials consider this project carefully because there is so much at stake. Here in Rock County we have some of the richest farmland in the world. Once gone there is nothing that can be done to bring it back.

Here is Wisconsin’s eminent domain statute. This is from the Wisconsin Statute, Chapter 32 Sub-Chapter 1, and is also a part of the above document posted on the RATR Facebook page:

Under Wisconsin Statue 32.02(3), “[a]ny railroad corporation” (GLBRWI) may “acquire by condemnation any real estate and personal property appurtenant thereto or interest therein which they have power to acquire and hold … ” This expressly includes rights of way across other railroads (Wisconsin Statute 32.03(2)). Wisconsin Statue 32.05 governs condemnation for “transportation facilities,” which presumably includes freight railroads although this statute doesn’t mention them. After negotiations with the owner do not result in conveyance, the railroad must tender a “jurisdictional offer” of compensation supported by an appraisal. If the owner does not accept the offer within 20 days, and convey the property within 60 days, or commence court action to challenge the taking, the railroad may tender an award to the owner and take possession of the property. However, the owner has the right to challenge the valuation by appealing the award to either “a commission of county condemnation commissioners” or the circuit court. 

Patton claims that his project will create jobs, but in the next breath says his train may take a million truckers off the road. What can those million people do to provide for their families? How can any state government support lost farmland and the revenue that goes with it? How can it support lost business revenue on that scale? Can public services hold up under that kind of pressure? When we are looking at potentially a million truckers being put out of work, farmers no longer having prime fields and pasture land to work as well as businesses closing, That is a lot of people turning to the state for help! Granted this is spread across three states, but we are still talking about a large amount of people looking for work and needing public support.

Patton stated early on in this venture that he had 8 Billion dollars in financial backing and rail lines that had committed to using the new development. It turns out that this may not be the case, as he was caught on camera at a recent scoping meeting saying that he may seek financial backing in the form of government loans. But wait… he said he had so much backing! Government loans mean US! He wants US to pay for a project that will put our family, friends, and neighbors out of work. He wants US to sit back and allow him and his project to take land away from farmers.

This is not acceptable, if the issue is the Chicago rail hub, then fix the hub! Don’t take away a family’s living. Don’t bring a farm that has existed for generations to an end. Don’t take a business that someone has worked to build and cause it close because the rail line has rerouted traffic from their town! In the coming weeks I will be traveling the county interviewing people in the way of this rail, and sharing their stories with you.

We as residents of this county must join together and do what we can to preserve our way of life. It was stated at a scoping meeting that the trains may potentially be a mile long and traveling at speeds up to 70 miles an hour. That is not something I want close to me or anyone else! Moving it to another county will only create devastation there instead of here and that is not an option. The only option is stopping Patton and his project. We must get involved, find out what you can do to help stop the rail.