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Proposed railroad through La Salle County derailed

Attendees at an April 2016 Surface Transportation Board meeting in Seneca check out the proposed route of the the Great Lakes Basin railroad. The board rejected the proposal Thursday.
Attendees at an April 2016 Surface Transportation Board meeting in Seneca check out the proposed route of the the Great Lakes Basin railroad. The board rejected the proposal Thursday.

A federal agency on Thursday rejected a proposal for an interstate railroad that would cross through northeastern La Salle County, near Seneca and Earlville.

The Surface Transportation Board ruled Great Lakes Basin Transportation failed to fully disclose how it would pay for building the freight line.

It said the company's assets of $151 are "clearly deficient" to construct a 261-mile line from Indiana to Wisconsin. It also said Great Lakes' financial information "cannot reasonably be relied upon."

The company didn't need to have all the money at the outset, the board said, but it must show its "financial fitness." This information is necessary, in part, to protect needless disruptions from an incomplete project, the board said.

Great Lakes attorney, Mike Blaszak, said Thursday the company is assessing its options, including whether to appeal. He declined to make any further comments.

In recent months, Great Lakes clashed with the board over its requirement the company provide investors' names. The company argued it wanted to protect investors' privacy. The information showed the company's founder and CEO, Frank Patton, held an 87 percent interest in the company.

All along the route, the proposal aroused opposition, which included the Earlville-based Block Great Lakes Basin Railroad group.

Block's co-founder, Carl Zimmerman, of Earlville, said Great Lakes provided no information on how it would pay for the project.

"If it were truly legitimate, they would have investors on line with money in an escrow account," he said in an interview.

Zimmerman said the project would have affected northwestern La Salle County.

"It would have affected farm ground and service roads tremendously," he said. "It passed through two farms I'm currently taking care of, one of them family-owned. It was going to dissect our fields."

It could have rendered many of the acres unusable, he said.

"I'm sure they're looking to appeal. It won't work if they still don't have the financial backing. It'll cost them thousands of dollars to do an appeal," Zimmerman said.

The project was intended to allow shippers to bypass the heavy train traffic in the Chicago area.

The Illinois Farm Bureau praised the board's decision.
“Despite evidence showing the rail line unnecessary, the proposed 261-mile project would have cut through prime Illinois farmland, disturbing nearly 5,000 acres for the rail line and another 14,700 acres for the railport in Manteno," Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. said in a statement. 
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, responded to the announcement.
"I've received hundreds of calls, emails, and letters from folks concerned with the construction of this rail line and the potential impact it would have on their lives, homes, and lands. I stand with my constituents in rejecting the demand, need and financial viability of this project.
"Additionally, this expansive route would run through (District 16) communities and would be severely detrimental to farmland across northern Illinois. The costs to our farmland outweigh any benefit from this proposed project. 
"Again, I'm pleased by the STB decision today, and encourage all rail stakeholders to work on improving our infrastructure and efficiency within the existing network."

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