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Farmers Oppose New Rail Line

by Stan Maddux

Published: Friday, April 29, 2016

Not all farmers support the idea of a new rail line getting built from Southeast Wisconsin to Northwest Indiana to by-pass the heavy train congestion in Chicago.

While quicker delivery of produce and other goods has its advantages, farming would become more time consuming and labor intensive on fields divided by tracks, not to mention lower yields from lost acreage to build the line on.

"If you had an 80-acre field, now you might have four 20-acre fields. It just depends on how the silly thing goes through there. It's just a total inconvenience," said John Coulter, 76, who raises pumpkins along with corn and soybeans on 4,500 acres.

Several of his fields along a six-mile stretch from north of Westville to Pinola are directly in the path of the rail line proposed by the Great Lakes Basin Railroad Corp.

Coutler said fields divided by tracks would require more access roads and experience higher crop damage from heavy machinery having to turn additional corners where the ground was sectioned off.

Irrigation systems operating on a center pivot would no longer be able to span entire fields and would have to be replaced with irrigators that can be physically moved back and forth across the tracks from field to field.

"You'd have to use hose poles and they only cover like 10 acres and then you have to take labor to move it to the next 10 acres, so you disrupt everything. You might have to move an irrigator six times with manpower to water the same amount of crop," said Coulter.

Farmers are among the people requesting LaPorte County oppose the idea of a new railroad like neighboring Lake and Porter counties have already done.

However, the LaPorte County commissioners on April 20 decided to remain opened-minded about the idea, citing major job creating potential.

"If this would ever happen, why would I take a chance in case it does brings jobs, in case it does bring investments. Why would I take a chance and throw that away? That's foolish and whoever says that I should say no is a fool," said LaPorte County commission president Dave Decker.

The line running from Wisconsin and west of Chicago would end at Kingsbury Industrial Park.

A second line branching off near Westville would run to nearby Pinola.

Train cars at those locations would then be diverted onto existing tracks operated by other railroads to continue on to their final destinations.

Because the plans were just recently unveiled, and the several year federal approvals process involved, the commissioners expressed a desire for more information before taking a formal stand.

The commissioners also adopted guidelines that include not running the line through an existing town or community to gain their support.

Steve Johnson lives on C.R. 50 South, close to where the rail line would run.

Among his fears are lower property values and ruining what's now a quiet, scenic area.

Johnson also questioned the accuracy of the railroad's projection that 280,000 long-term high- paying jobs would be created.

"Is there a comprehensive economic study or is one going to be initiated," he said.

Opponents were asked not to panic because the line may never come about and, if it does, it'll take five years or even much longer.

Commissioner Mike Bohacek, though, said he understands why people are upset this early in the process.

"Anytime anybody starts talking about a big rail project like this and they draw a map and they put the line through your house, I think I would be very upset and I am upset as a commissioner because I think the developer got a little bit ahead of himself," said Bohacek.

Bohacek went on to say that he wants more facts before deciding whether to follow suit with Lake and Porter counties.

"Just like a lot of the taxpayers are missing a lot of the facts, we're missing a lot of them too. To be for or against something when we have such limited information would be short-sighted," said Bohacek, who noted he is skeptical of the huge economic impact projections given by the railroad.

Coulter said the commissioners might have a different perspective if they were farmers and the route of the line went through a more heavily populated area.

"This thing is only going to cut through three townships in the county, which isn't very many votes. You can be for it real easy and still win the election so they're not going to pay much attention to a farmer's outcry," said Coulter.

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