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Article updated: 11/18/2013 8:18 AM

ComEd plan leaves county choosing forest preserves or farms

Valerie Blaine, a naturalist with the Kane County Forest Preserve District, discusses the prairie at Muirhead Springs Forest Preserve during its opening two years ago in Plato Township. Some of the land ComEd desires for its high-tension power lines includes a portion of the forest preserve.

Valerie Blaine, a naturalist with the Kane County Forest Preserve District, discusses the prairie at Muirhead Springs Forest Preserve during its opening two years ago in Plato Township. Some of the land ComEd desires for its high-tension power lines includes a portion of the forest preserve.

 

Daily Herald File Photo, 2011

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A $200 million ComEd plan to improve electricity delivery has Kane County Forest Preserve officials facing a choice of accepting new high-tension power lines on its open space or sending the towers to neighboring private farms.

ComEd's Grand Prairie Gateway Project would extend a 345,000-volt power line between a substation near Byron and a substation near Wayne. The line would travel about 57 miles across Ogle, DeKalb, Kane and DuPage counties. About 400 steel towers are needed to suspend the line. Each tower needs about 200 feet of space.

From ComEd's perspective, a straight line of towers between the two points is the fastest and cheapest means of making the project happen. A railroad that runs through the counties includes some of most direct, and unobtrusive, land for the towers.

That's where the Kane County Forest Preserve District comes into play.

Portions of the railroad, and other lands ComEd desires for the towers, run through existing forest preserve at the Burlington Prairie and Muirhead Springs locations. Not only is that open space forest preserve officials would like to keep free of ComEd towers, but much of it was purchased and improved using grants from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Those grants came with legal restrictions on what uses are allowable on the land.

With that in mind, ComEd rerouted its proposed line of towers to skirt the outside of forest preserve property. However, that places the towers in the middle of several privately owned farms. Last week, a handful of those farmers told a committee of forest preserve commissioners they need help to keep the towers from causing major negative impacts to their farm operations and property value.

Linda Schramm said she also fears possible health impacts from living under the electrical lines.

"No developer will ever want to touch it, and even a farmer won't want it," Schramm said of her farm in Plato Township. "This is proposed to go right by our house and our barns."

ComEd's own literature on that topic indicates the World Health Organization has never found a definitive link between exposure to electrical or magnetic fields and health problems, such as cancer, in adults or animals. Some studies, however, have reported an association between magnetic field exposure and childhood leukemia, but no definitive evidence that the exposure was the cause.

Farmers told commissioners they would rather not take the risk. And, since ComEd originally wanted its lines to run through the preserves instead of their property, the farmers want the district to take ComEd's offer for that plan.

With two farmers (Mike Kenyon and T.R. Smith) on the committee, and a member of the county's Farmland Preservation Commission (Barb Wojnicki) joining them, the farmers found a somewhat sympathetic reception to the plan. Commissioners said they would at least talk with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources about the possibility of running the power lines through forest preserves.

But not all residents were happy to hear that.

"I'm not sure the people who voted for a referendum and the money by which this land was purchased want you to put power lines on it," said Mary Ochsenschlager, a naturalist and a Sugar Grove Park District commissioner. "We don't want cancer-causing lines through our forest preserve. Your job isn't to solve ComEd's problems. It's to protect and preserve your forest preserves. Do your job."

Forest preserve commissioners won't discuss the topic again until December. ComEd plans to submit its proposed route for the lines, and an alternate route, to the state for approval by the end of the year.

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