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updated: 4/15/2015 6:54 PM

Ruling on Grand Prairie ComEd project preserves historic farmhouse

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A Frank Lloyd Wright-designed farmhouse in Muirhead Forest Preserve will not have new ComEd power lines abutting its driveway after a decision by the Illinois Commerce Commission to keep the Grand Prairie Gateway project out of the preserve.

The project is a $200 million plan to improve electricity transmission in the area. It will stretch about 60 miles of power lines carrying 345,000 volts between a substation in Byron and one near Wayne.

ComEd and Kane County Forest Preserve District officials had hoped to create a more direct path for the lines and towers, saving some farms from the path of the lines, in a deal reached earlier this year. Forest preserve commissioners struck a deal to allow ComEd to run the lines through the Muirhead Preserve, near Plato Center, in trade for $319,000.

But the Muirhead family that sold the preserve land to the forest preserve district still owns and operates a historic farmhouse that also abuts the tracks. To avoid having power lines and towers directly off the property line of the farmhouse, the Muirheads invoked covenants put in place during the sale that prohibit the placement of the power lines.

The validity of those covenants became a question for the ICC as the owners of the farmhouse fought against the deal ComEd made with the forest preserve.

In the ruling, ICC officials said the covenants are enough of a threat to spike the forest preserve plan. In the materials presented to the ICC, ComEd officials seemed to agree.

"The risk is far too great for ComEd to proceed under these circumstances," said ComEd's statement.

The reality is, ComEd doesn't need the forest preserve path to proceed. The ICC had already approved in October a different path for the lines and towers that skirts the forest preserve and farmhouse. The latest ICC ruling keeps that plan in place.

Monica Meyers, the executive director of the forest preserve district, said the ruling is good news for fans of the Frank Lloyd Wright farmhouse, but it represents more of a disruption for several other property owners.

"Our goal was not to see how we can get this thing through the forest preserve," Meyers said. "If not for the existing railroad, we would have never got into the discussion. So this is a shame because you've already got all that negative infrastructure right there, and it just made sense to us to keep it all together. Wherever the lines go, not everyone is going to be happy."

Sarah Muirhead, who owns the farmhouse, did not want to comment. But one of her relatives is among those who is unhappy with the ruling.

Wayne Muirhead and his brother still own a farm adjacent to the forest preserve and farmhouse. They will now see ComEd's power lines run right through their farm field.

"ComEd is the one to blame for everything," Wayne Muirhead said. "I don't even think they need to run the power lines through there. Now, all you're going to see is this huge power line running for two and a half miles. The decision is great for Sarah, but it's not so good for the other folks. But there was just no good solution. So I'm OK with everything now."

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