Kane County Forest Preserve District commissioners are positioned to intervene on a plan that would place ComEd power lines and towers on the outskirts of two preserves.
The district, though, could bend to desires of local farmers and allow lines to run through the preserves instead. But that will only happen if ComEd is willing to pay the district enough to buy one of the neighboring farms.
The whole decision will come down to money.
Elected officials at both the county and forest preserve district have debated for months what actions they want to take regarding ComEd's Grand Prairie Gateway Project. The project, submitted to the Illinois Commerce Commission late last year, calls for the installation of about 400 steel towers and associated electric lines connection substations in Byron and Wayne.
Now local governments are scrambling to have a voice in the state agency's final decision about where the more than $200 million of infrastructure will go.
Linda Schramm, who owns a farm in Plato Township, has been one of the leading voices among Kane County farmers pushing commissioners to divert the proposed ComEd towers off their property and onto a rail line. The existing tracks run through the Muirhead Springs preserve and would provide a more direct path, they argue.
Last week she told commissioners that ComEd's current path would devastate her farm's property value and deter development in Plato Township. The value of Schramm's farm is also a factor for the forest preserve district because it is a piece of land district officials would like to acquire. If that land deal comes to pass, commissioners may prefer keeping the farmland unsullied by power lines.
Most of the money the district reaped from its most recent tax increase to purchase new land is gone. So the only way the district can acquire land, such as Schramm's 736 acres, would be if ComEd paid the forest preserve the land's purchase price.
Forest District District President John Hoscheit indicated the numbers will dictate whatever action commissioners take.
"Our staff is in the process of evaluating the economic benefit potential of what would happen if we were to allow ComEd to place the power lines in our preserve," he said. "It would certainly be less expensive for them to construct their project that way. We are also evaluating the impact on our property. There may be a viable resolution where we might be able to acquire some additional land. But it's premature to come up with a specific proposal now."
Forest preserve commissioners will begin debating a more specific proposal at their Planning and Utilization Committee later this month. ComEd expects to have direction from the ICC by mid-July.