Farmers near Muirhead Springs in Plato Township once again petitioned forest preserve district commissioners Friday to save their land by allowing ComEd to construct new towers on public land rather than their private property.
Whether or not Kane County Forest Preserve District commissioners support that request may come down to how much money they can squeeze out of the electricity company.
ComEd expects the Illinois Commerce Commission to provide both direction for the placement of infrastructure associated with a more than $200 million improvement plan by mid-July. The plan, known as the Grand Prairie Gateway Project, would extend power lines between substations in Byron and Wayne. About 400 steel towers, reaching about 160 feet high, will be needed.
The current plan places several of those towers along the perimeter of Muirhead Springs forest preserve and right in property owned by several local farmers.
"My family farm has been in existence for over 100 years," said Linda Schramm. "We would like to save the farm to grow food for the public. We don't want to have 736 acres of beautiful, productive farmland ruined."
Schramm and her neighbors want the new towers and lines to run along existing railroad tracks in the forest preserve. That particular preserve, they said, isn't the heavily wooded area most people picture when discussing a preserve. Instead, it is mostly corn and soybean cropland and open space that has freight trains running through it.
"I'd rather not see any towers, but it makes sense to follow the freight train tracks," said John Cash, who also owns farmland that neighbors the preserve. "We think that would be a lot less disruptive for the whole area."
Running the towers and lines through the preserve would be a shorter, more direct, and possibly cheaper path for ComEd.
Forest preserve district President John Hoscheit said that if ComEd is willing to compensate the district for allowing the intrusion of the lines and towers, he may be willing to recommend support for saving the farms.
"There is an opportunity to discuss moving the route with certain stipulations," Hoscheit said. "One of the biggest would be economic considerations that would assist us in buying additional land."
Schramm's farm is one possible purchase the district is interested in, Hoscheit said.
District officials will consult with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to help determine fair compensation from ComEd for running the lines through the preserve.
"If (the money) makes sense, then we could cooperate with the farmers to provide a resolution to this," Hoscheit said. "However, we may find out that the economic terms we're looking for wouldn't be satisfactory."