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Sep. 11, 2017 #40-253 a2z
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Would railroad signal end of Grant Park?

Lee Provost
lprovost@daily-journal.com

Whether or not it may be an exaggeration, Grant Park area residents are not just fighting the proposed railroad and its massive Sumner Township rail yard to preserve their homes or farms, but to save the town itself.

While the developer of the privately-owned, 278-mile Great Lakes Basin Railroad talks of the benefits of the $8 billion rail line, residents aren't buying into it.

In fact, they believe the life of the community and northeastern Kankakee County would be changed forever.

"I don't want to lose my home or community, this town and school district," said Jason Kokos, a Sumner Township resident and organizer of Wednesday's community meeting at Grant Park High School that drew a crowd of 375.

The railroad, which must gain approval from the federal Surface Transportation Board to begin its quest of carrying railroad cars, is at least two years from moving forward under the most optimistic timeline.

The railroad would run from LaPorte, Ind., to Milton, Wis., near Janesville. The line would pass through northern Kankakee County, but what causes area residents the most concern is the large rail yard. If developed as planned, it would be the world's largest rail yard.

That fact has left many to question what other ideas railroad developer Frank Patton may have in mind.

But while many speculated what may be taking place with the railroad or its large rail yard, for Richard and Tracy Corrao of Grant Park, they know it would destroy the life they have built near the small village.

The family moved to the Grant Park region only four years ago. They moved from Frankfort, where they said things were becoming too busy, too big.

Their 2,500-square-foot, ranch-style house would not be in the rail yards footprint, but immediately south of it.

"We wanted our girls to grow up in a smaller town, in smaller schools," Tracy said after the two-hour meeting concluded. "We came here to get our own piece of the American dream."

Suddenly, life is becoming a nightmare.

"This is scary. This is where we want to raise our girls. This is where we want to stay."

Sumner Township may ultimately become Ground Zero for the battle for development of this railroad that would loop outside of Chicago and the busy collar counties, one speaker noted.

Dave Dixon, president of the Grant Park school board, warned the audience that if the line is developed as well as the rail yard, Grant Park may only be a memory.

"This town and school district are fighting for their lives," he said.

Audience members were pressed to send letters and statements to the STB before the June 15 deadline expressing their objections to the proposed development. Those letters could be enough to lead to a denial of the request to site the development.

They were also encouraged to contact Kankakee County Board members and their state representatives as well. Lisa Riegel, who has organized Kankakee County railroad opposition, said the Kankakee County Board is one of two Illinois county boards not to go on record regarding this project.

The line would impact eight Illinois counties. The Boone County Board has also not officially stated its position, although Riegel said Boone has indicated it does not support the development

An opponent said sending letters is inexpensive. If the project gains approval from the STB, lawyers will need to be hired to lead a legal challenge.

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