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updated: 4/7/2014 9:15 AM

Kane forest district makes deal with ComEd, may make another

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The Muirhead Springs Forest Preserve will be home to new ComEd power lines if Kane County Forest Preserve District commissioners get their way, according to a new deal announced last Friday.

And with some coaxing by the owners of the Deutsch Dairy Farm, the Burlington Prairie Forest Preserve might see similar lines.

Both deals would bring some cash to the forest preserve district while allowing several local farmers to keep their property free of ComEd's new Grand Prairie Gateway project.

ComEd's project would require about 60 miles of power lines carrying 345,000 volts between a substation near Byron and one near Wayne. About 400 steel towers are needed to suspend the line. The project will cost more than $200 million but improve electricity transmission in the area.

It would not improve farm operations for several landowners along the route. A group of farmers appealed to forest preserve commissioners the past few months to allow ComEd to string the lines along existing railroad tracks that run through the Muirhead Springs preserve in Plato Township. Commissioners agreed to help the farms if ComEd came up with fair compensation for allowing the lines and towers on forest preserve property.

District staff members said last week ComEd determined running the lines through Muirhead, rather than around it, would save the company about $1.5 million. With that advantage for ComEd in mind, the district struck a deal to allow the Muirhead lines in trade for ComEd helping the district pay for a $2 million trail crossing in St. Charles over the Fox River.

Both parties will take that plan to the Illinois Commerce Commission during a public hearing Wednesday.

Now they may have another deal to strike.

Bill Deutsch of Deutsch Dairy Farm in Sycamore asked commissioners to come to terms with ComEd on a deal that would allow power lines to run through the Burlington Prairie Forest Preserve instead of the farm. Deutsch told commissioners he fears the impact power lines will have on his dairy cows and farm, which produced 320,000 gallons of milk last year.

Like Muirhead, Burlington Prairie also has railroad tracks that run through it. Deutsch's plan would move the proposed ComEd lines to run along those tracks and head south through the preserve down to Plank Road.

Forest preserve district President John Hoscheit said he's open to considering Deutsch's route, but timing could be an issue. The forest preserve district filed its testimony regarding its objections to ComEd's plans already. And there's little time to investigate the costs and benefits of Deutsch's proposal before the hearing.

Commissioner Mike Kenyon said he encouraged Deutsch to come forward.

"I don't think we should give up," Kenyon said. "I don't think we should just say we've gone by the deadline. If we could move the lines a few hundred feet, that's part of our mission -- helping people. I think it's worth it to say we've helped these friends."

It might also be worth it on a personal financial level to Kenyon. He and his family own a 170-acre farm adjacent to the Deutsch property that would also be bisected by ComEd's plans.

Kenyon has filed joint testimony fighting against ComEd's plans with the ICC. If the Deutsch proposal was accepted, both farms would see the disruptive power lines moved to the northern borders of their land.

Hoscheit said the district staff members will consider the proposal and report back to commissioners at a later date.

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