Tuesday, February 02, 2010

New Lenox, Ill., seeks agreement with CN

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New Lenox, Ill., Mayor Tim Baldermann is "confident" that he soon will be talking to Canadian National Railway officials before the village's battle against the company reaches the courts, the Southtown Star reports.

While most towns in this area already have negotiated settlements with CN, Will County, New Lenox and seven others are still fighting to get the railroad to address their environmental concerns. Just last month, Plainfield dropped out in exchange for local upgrades, including a system to alert emergency workers about blocked crossings and easements for an overpass at 143rd Street.

While Mokena and Frankfort are spending CN's money on landscaped buffers and quiet zone improvements, New Lenox has held out for an overpass, preferably at Gougar Road, in unincorporated Will County. CN bisects the village and has five at-grade crossings at Schoolhouse, Spencer, Cedar, Nelson and Gougar roads.

Baldermann said he has been working with U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-11th), of Crete, to facilitate a meeting with CN. He learned last week that CN is willing to talk one-on-one about what the village needs.

"That's the most encouraging news I've heard," Baldermann said. "I'm confident we will sit down soon and discuss our individual issues."

In an e-mailed statement, Halvorson said, "While some mitigation activity still depends on what will happen in the courts, I'm pleased the new (Surface Transportation Board) chairman is taking an active interest regarding CN mitigation, and I also appreciate how he's actively soliciting our communities' opinions on the matter. That sort of effort needs to continue, and I'll continue to encourage that."

Still in the legal fight with New Lenox and Will County are DuPage County, Barrington, Aurora, Barrington Hills, Naperville, Bartlett and Wayne.

In addition to getting overpasses at key crossings, Will County Executive Larry Walsh said communities also want to be notified when hazardous materials are going through, which CN has flatly denied.

"It's all about safety and protection of our citizens. Anything less than that would be negligent," he said.

Ed Gower, attorney for this coalition, said they hope to require the transportation board to "take a harder look at the environmental consequences and provide adequate mitigation."

In December 2008, the transportation board decided the transportation benefits outweighed the environmental issues and allowed CN to purchase 198 miles of EJ&E Railroad tracks. CN plans to increase the number of freight trains on this line from six to 28 per day.

According to CN spokesman Patrick Waldron, they ran 7.7 trains per day in December. He declined to comment on the lawsuit or on a specific meeting with New Lenox.

"We have been in contact with every community and will continue to be, including New Lenox," Waldron said.

Gower said initial briefings are due April 7 and after oral arguments are heard in the fall, it could be another two to six months before a decision is made.

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