Park Forest Inks Deal with Canadian National

Heather and Mario Carlasare

Director of Public Works Ken Eyer, Director of Building, Planning, Zoning & Community Development Larrie Kerestes, Village Manger Tom Mick, Finance Director Mary Dankowski, Director of Economic Development and Planning Hildy Kingma, and Director of Recreation and Parks John Joyce with checks from the CN closing.(Photo: VOPF)

$7.3 million dollar deal largest in Village 60 year history

Park Forest, IL–(ENEWSPF) – The Village of Park Forest closed on a voluntary mitigation agreement (VMA) with Canadian National rail company on Friday, October 9.

The two sides had been in negotiations since Canadian National announced plans to increase traffic along the 195 miles of track purchased from former owner Elgin, Joliet & Eastern (EJ & E) in January. “After lengthy deliberations, the Village of Park Forest has settled upon a package deal which we believe is in the best possible interests of Park Forest residents. With the pending increase of rail traffic through Park Forest’s corporate boundaries, issues related to safety, emergency response operations, economic development and environmental impacts such as noise and traffic congestion have been addressed within the package of agreements with Canadian National. Park Forest looks forward to working with CN on the implementation of all components contained within the settlement package,” said Mayor John Ostenburg. As part of the Surface Transportation Board’s environmental impact analysis for the CN acquisition, Village Officials submitted numerous points of protest on behalf of Park Forest and the perceived impacts to the community prior to the sale. Concerns addressed in correspondences with the STB, state and federal legislators, as well as CN officials included:

  • Traffic delays, congestion and adverse impacts to Westwood Drive, Orchard Drive and North Street
  • Noise abatement needs for adjacent homeowners
  • Adverse impacts on Village economic development efforts at Norwood Shopping Plaza, and Park Forest Business Park
  • Impacts on emergency response operations

Objections to the sale of the EJ&E to Canadian National did not result in any altering of the transaction between the two rail companies. The STB, a federal agency whose jurisdiction trumps that of Park Forest, granted approval of the sale on January 31st, 2009. Prior to the transaction being finalized, Canadian National approached the Village with interest in purchasing a parcel of Village-owned land. The land, located within close proximity of the commuter lot at Hickory Street and Homan Avenue (including a small portion of the commuter lot itself), would allow CN, what they believed to be, an ideal rail switch from the east/west bound EJ&E lines to the north/south CN bound rails. After the sale of the line to CN was finalized in January, the Village took a closer look at the interest of CN to implement a rail switch–in hopes of finding some upside for the Village and its residents. A package deal between the Village and Canadian National was finally agreed upon August 27th. The six agreements that make up the deal include:

  • Voluntary Mitigation Agreement (total value: $4,225,000)
  • Parking Lot Reconstruction Agreement (total value: $1,320,000)
  • Bridge Overpass Ownership Transfer Agreement (total value: $1,165,000)
  • Real Estate Sales Agreement and Option Agreement (total value: $645,000)
  • Right of Entry Agreement
  • Through the sale of 5.778 acres of land to CN, the package deal helps mitigate Village concerns with the rail company’s acquisition of the former EJ&E infrastructure and its impacts on the Village. It also provides funds to help offset property value impacts for residents.

The deal, totaling $7.3 million dollars, is the largest in Park Forest’s 60 year history.

More on the deal

Park Forest will maintain 80% of the revenue stream for the Homan/Hickory commuter parking lot, which will be repaved and will also feature new lighting and fencing. Additionally, monies have been contributed to further emergency response operations, training and equipment as well as Park Forest economic development efforts.

The package also provides funds for a public attraction vision which will include construction of a train viewing platform, rail car feature and large-scale mural which may draw latent tourism benefits to Park Forest and the Old Plank Road Trail. Finally, the deal facilitates the transfer of bridge/overpass ownership over Orchard Drive to CN, with the rail company expected to paint the structure in the near future.

Jim Vena, CN senior vice-president, Southern Region, said, “CN’s voluntary mitigation agreement with Park Forest achieves important objectives for both parties and we hope it marks the beginning of a strong partnership.”

Crews are expected to complete the majority of the commuter lot overhaul before the end of 2009. Work on the implementation of the CN rail switch is set to begin in the coming weeks with the connection projected to reach completion by the end of 2010. As rail construction unfolds, the public park (complete with a rail caboose), a viewing platform and interpretive rail history signage will be constructed and in place by late-2010. A program is currently being developed by Village Officials which will allow for settlement funding to be passed on to those residential properties in Park Forest which abut the rail line. Periodic updates on rail and commuter lot construction, noise mitigation, rail park development and other associated items will be posted to the Village’s website.

Individuals with questions regarding the agreement should contact the Village Manager’s Office at 708-748-1129.

Source: VOPF