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3/6/2017 12:02:00 PM
Great Lakes Basin Transportation freight plan backers get extension, warning
Frank Patton, founder and managing partner of Great Lakes Basin Transportaiton at the Metra Station on Grand and Cicero avenues in Chicago in March, 2016. Chicago Tribune photo by Michael Tercha
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Frank Patton, founder and managing partner of Great Lakes Basin Transportaiton at the Metra Station on Grand and Cicero avenues in Chicago in March, 2016. Chicago Tribune photo by Michael Tercha

Amy Lavalley, Post-Tribune Correspondent

Great Lakes Basin Transportation is getting the extension it wants for a suspended environmental review of its proposed freight train line, with a caveat from the federal Surface Transportation Board.

If the application isn't in on or before May 1, the federal agency will stop work on an environmental review of the proposal, including taking down the project website.

The request for an extension by Great Lakes chairman Frank Patton was the latest in a series of volleys of extensions and requests for more information between Great Lakes and the transportation board, which is overseeing the proposal.

The STB has repeatedly asked for additional information, including an alternate route for the freight train line and details on the number of trains along the route and their speed.

Great Lakes officials, meanwhile, asked the federal agency to suspend the environmental review process for the project until they could file a formal application.

"The completing of the application is a very intensive, time-consuming activity," Patton said Monday.

Opponents of the project hope the transportation board will soon be putting an end to the proposal.

"We're extremely pleased with STB's willingness to end this boondoggle. In no way will we stand down at this time. We continue to gain more support and take every opportunity to do so," said Linda Cosgrove of Lake County Residents Against Invasion of Land by Eminent Domain, or RAILED.

Cosgrove, of Eagle Creek Township outside of Lowell, is one of the many residents in the three states along the route who have raised concerns about drainage, loss of farmland, safety and other woes. Opposition groups along the route, including RAILED, have joined forces to have attorney Thomas McFarland file a request that the transportation board select a "no build" option for the freight train line.

Great Lakes proposes a freight train line from Milton, Wis., into LaPorte County as a bypass for Chicago's congested rail yards. The controversial $8 billion project, which would be privately funded, would cut through southern Lake and Porter counties. The freight train line is meant to serve the six Class 1 railroads that go through Chicago, though two have publicly stated they won't use it and the other four appear uncommitted.

In a Feb. 28 letter to the transportation board, Patton asked for more time to file a formal application and requested that a hold on an environmental review remain in place at least until April 30, when Great Lakes would either file its application or provide another status update.

"Clearly, GLBT's ongoing discussions with potential customers, shippers and other parties are necessary to glean information needed for both the application and (the Office of Environmental Analysis) environmental review of this complex proposal," Victoria Rutson, director of the OEA, wrote on March 3. "Therefore, I will grant your most recent request to extend the suspension of the environmental review process."

Rutson, whose office is a division of the transportation board, goes on to note the board "is mindful of the need to move forward expeditiously with the environmental review process, as well as the project's potential impact on affected communities," and if Great Lakes can't submit its application on or before May 1, "OEA will cease all work on the environmental review of GLBT's proposal, including taking down the project website."

Officials with Great Lakes declined to comment on the latest response from the federal board.

"We really can't make any comment on anything the STB says," said Mike Blaszak, an attorney for the freight train line.

Copyright 2017, Chicago Tribune

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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