What is the Great Lakes Basin Railroad Project?
Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc. (GLBT) plans to file either a petition for exemption or an application seeking authority from the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to construct and operate an approximately 278-mile rail line. According to GLBT, the proposed rail line would extend generally from La Porte, Indiana through Illinois to Milton, Wisconsin and would connect with existing Class I railroads. GLBT states that the project is intended to relieve Chicago-area shipping congestion by creating a bypass for through traffic not destined for or originating in the Chicago area.
What is an EIS and how long will the process take?
An environmental impact statement (EIS) is a document required under federal environmental law. It is intended to assist the STB and the public identify and assess the positive and negative environmental impacts of certain construction projects and potential alternatives before a decision on the proposed project. The STB’s Office of Environmental Analysis (OEA) is responsible for ensuring that any action or decision made by the STB complies with federal environmental law. This process is required to meet federal environmental law, and does not consider the transportation merits of the proposal. The length of time it takes to complete an EIS varies depending on the size, scope, and complexity of a proposed project, but it is not uncommon for an EIS to take years to be written.
Scoping is the first stage of the EIS process. This stage helps determine the “scope” of environmental issues to be addressed in the EIS document that is submitted to the STB. As part of the scoping process, OEA created a Draft Scope of Study for the EIS within the Notice of Intent to prepare a draft EIS. OEA accepted public comments on the Draft Scope and potential alternative routes for the proposed rail line earlier this year. Additionally, the OEA held scoping meetings, including one in Janesville, in the project area to provide further opportunities for public involvement and input during the scoping process. OEA also requested scoping comments from federal, state, and local agencies to ensure their issues are addressed in the Draft Scope of Study for the EIS.
OEA has committed to updating the public once a range of reasonable alternatives has been defined, and they will allow public comments on the alternatives prior to the issuance of a Final Scope of Study.
After issuing the Final Scope of Study, OEA will prepare a Draft EIS for the proposed project. The Draft EIS will address environmental issues and other concerns raised during the scoping process. The Draft EIS will also assess and compare any potential alternatives to the preferred route, including an alternative that takes “no-action,” which effectively means nothing is altered on the landscape.
The Draft EIS will include the OEA's preliminary recommendations for environmental mitigation, as well as, any mitigation measures that were proposed by GLBT. When it is completed, the Draft EIS is released to the public for review and comment. Then, OEA will prepare a Final EIS that takes into consideration all of the comments submitted on the Draft EIS. When making a final decision, the STB will consider the Draft EIS, the Final EIS, all environmental comments, and OEA's recommendations regarding the environmentally preferred alternative and all environmental mitigation of the impacts.
What is Rep. Loudenbeck doing?
In early March 2016, I became aware of a significant railroad infrastructure project that would impact people and property in eastern Rock County. My office immediately began researching the project and gathering information on the process that a project of this scale would have to go through. I have continued to be a resource and an advocate for the people of the 31st Assembly District, including submitting nine pages of comments on the initial route, and a request for an additional public comment period. Below is a timeline of events with links to important documents.
March 18, 2016, I put out the following E-Update. This was the first time that many people were hearing about the project.
My office continued to gather information, I spoke with many local individuals that were going to be impacted. I attending meetings with Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), the Wisconsin River Rail Transit Commission (WRRTC), local governments and many others.
As the April 18, 2016 public meeting hosted by the Surface Transportation Board (STB) grew near, we continued to put out reminders, including this E-update.
After the public meeting, I continued to monitor the situation, reading stories that local media, as well as the media in other impacted areas were publishing.
I submitted nine pages of written comments to the STB on June 24, 2016. Read more here.
On July 17-18, 2016- I attended the Council of State Governments (CSG) Midwest Annual Conference and spoke with legislators from the Midwest, including others in the impact zone. I gave an update to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee as well as led a round table discussion on the issue.
On September 6, 2016- I requested to become an official party of record. A party of record is an individual or entity that notifies the STB of their desire to be a full and active participant in a proceeding.
On September 28, 2016- I submitted a second letter to the STB asking for an additional 60 day public comment period for the new route. Read my letter.
I will continue to keep a close eye on this project as the process continues.
Where can I see what others have said?
Rep. Loudenbeck's submissions to STB
Written comments on the Draft Scope of Study for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in response to notice provided by Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc. date June 24, 2016. Click here to read.
Request to become a Party of Record dated September 6, 2016. Click here to read.
Request to the STB asking for an additional 60 day comment period for the new route. Click here to read.