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Article posted: 11/23/2012 10:41 AM

Hawthorn Woods uses railroad funds for backup power

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Hawthorn Woods will use most of the remaining cash it received as a legal settlement over the purchase of the EJ&E railroad to ensure officials have power to do their jobs in the event of a crisis.

An amount not to exceed $43,000 will be used to buy and install generators at the village hall and adjoining police department/emergency operations center, a central location where village decision makers meet in the event of a disaster that needs a coordinated response.

Though the center hasn't been needed yet, getting backup power has been on the wish list. Police Chief Jennifer Paulus noted that a four-day outage in 2011 required the regional Community Emergency Response Team to bring in portable generators.

"We couldn't even charge our portable radio batteries," she said. "It's been something that we've needed for quite some time."

Hawthorn Woods received a $760,000 settlement in September 2009 when it dropped out of litigation involving the Canadian National Railroad's acquisition of the EJ&E.

Funding to the village was to have been used for noise mitigation and public safety, including landscaping along a designated corridor, municipal safety plans, equipment and training.

Pam Newton, the village's chief operating officer, said about $300,000 was spent on residential landscaping and noise abatement. Owners of 64 affected homes each received about $4,687.

"We created a hybrid so the municipality would be prepared but we also wanted to share this with the residents directly," Newton said.

Residents used the funds for new windows, insulated siding, garage doors, storm doors and other approved expenses related to mitigating the railroad's impact.

"A lot of residents bought new landscaping just to buffer the sound," she added.

Another major allocation was $125,000 for pedestrian crossing protection gates at the tracks, Newton said.

Under terms of the disbursement, the funds must be used by May 2013. There are two CN crossings in Hawthorn Woods -- at Old McHenry and Gilmer roads.

Generators were a part of the village's Public Safety Emergency Operations Plan as power is needed to monitor those crossings and related video security in the event of a rail disaster.

"We could handle a tornado or flood but we really needed to include a rail disaster in our (emergency) plan," Newton said. "You can't just say, `We need generators.'"

Generators will supply power to the safety communication equipment if village officials need to mobilize an evacuation plan, Newton added.

She noted that while initial estimates had train traffic increasing to about 20 per day, that has not yet been the case.

"There may be more trains but we haven't felt the impact of what it could be," she said. There have been "very few" complaints, she added.

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