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HEBRON — Porter and Lake county residents concerned about a proposed freight train line cutting through or near their farms and homes packed the gymnasium at Hebron High School on Wednesday to learn more about the project and how they can stop it.

Representatives from Residents Against the Invasion of Land by Eminent Domain hosted the informational meeting for about 250 people to provide updates on the proposed 278-mile Great Lakes Basin Transportation rail line that would extend from LaPorte through Illinois to Milton, Wisconsin, and connect with existing Class I railroads to reduce rail congestion around Chicago.

Bob Cauffman, of RAILED, who laid out what he said are the negatives of the rail line at a similar meeting last month at Morgan Township High School, said the area in Porter County the rail line would go through is one of the most highest producing crop grounds in the county.

“The way they have this route proposed it will cut farms in half,” he said.

Nick Snow, an attorney for RAILED, discussed several issues about the rail line including the possibility of residents having their land taken by eminent domain.

He warned people against making agreements to give up their land because that’s when “they start putting dots on the map.”

“If you’re offered anything or if they want to survey your land, we want to know about that,” he said. “We don’t want them to do that until we know for sure this thing is permitted and going forward. Be in touch with neighbors so we can contact the right people and nip that in the bud.”

Harold Mussman, who has a farm west of Lowell, said he doesn’t have much use for the proposed rail line.

“It’s going to goof up our drainage and all our safety services,” he said. “Besides that, it is going right through my farm.”

Lake County resident John Bryant Jr. called the proposed rail line a project that’s not needed. He said the Chicago Region and Environmental Transportation and Efficiency Program has already “knocked off 11 hours” of through time.

“They think they really need to have it, but there are better routes to take that are less invasive,” he said.

Porter County Councilwoman Sylvia Graham said the people are solidified for the common good.

“We’re not in favor of this,” she said. “Porter County wasn’t even in on any of the negotiations on talking about it coming here.”

Porter County Council President Dan Whitten said Great Lakes Basin Transportation Inc. calls it eminent domain, “but really it’s just grabbing land from private owners for profit.”

“It’s not only taking away people’s homes but their livelihood,” he said.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that will make the final decision on the rail line, recently held several scoping meetings in the Region on the project. Opponents to the project have a website on that process and more at www.blockglbrailroad.com.

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Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.