JACKSON TOWNSHIP – Driving on Route 53 between Elwood and Joliet, you might lose count of how many semitrailers you see.
If you turn on Mississippi or Tehle roads just north of town and continue east – away from the bumpy, four-lane Route 53 – you may meet some folks who would share a story or two about their encounters with semis.
Each of these homes, with long-standing farming traditions, have signs placed just a few feet from the road.
“Just say NO to NorthPoint,” the red and blue signs read. “No more trucks.”
But Kansas City-based NorthPoint Development is proposing to build a more than 2,000-acre warehousing, distribution and light manufacturing park east of Route 53. Most of the prospective footprint currently is in unincorporated Jackson Township and would need to be annexed to the village of Elwood.
The estimated $1.2 billion Compass Business Park would include a private gateway bridge over Route 53 to move trucks in and out of what has been pitched as an enclosed complex with gates and barriers to keep semis off of local roads. Once inside the park, a “closed loop” would restrict trucks from exiting – unless it’s through the gateway bridge.
Even if that is the case, most township residents are against it.
“If it’s homes, that’s one thing,” said Heinz Sewing, who lives on South Chicago Road. “But I just cannot see why we need more warehouses when I’ve gone through the [CenterPoint Intermodal] and there’s an awful lot of land left there.”
The contrast of Elwood’s far western end and the unincorporated land east of town couldn’t be much more apparent. The west end has been operated by big corporations and their cargo containers, expansive distribution buildings and the BNSF rail yard ever since the inception of CenterPoint Intermodal in the early 2000s.
Yet almost all of the land to the east of Route 53 is undeveloped, still rural and – aside from the 2,000 acres or so under contract for Compass – home to a group of farming families that feel they don’t have much say when it comes to the ever-growing shipping hub.
“What’d we get from CenterPoint? How did that benefit us? Jackson Township don’t get anything off of that,” township resident Lee Sievert said in a meeting at Sewing’s home. “Yeah, Elwood got a nice town hall, nice streets, nice sidewalks and lights all the way down the street. But what’s that do for us? Our taxes ought to be dirt cheap.”
Between CenterPoint and unincorporated Jackson Township is Elwood, a village of fewer than 3,000. No formal application has been made yet by NorthPoint, but if approved by the Village Board, Elwood could have two of the largest industrial complexes in the state at its east and west ends.
Phil Carlos lives at the corner of Mississippi and Tehle roads. Under the proposal, he’d have semis going back and forth in front of his property day and night, he said.
Not that it would be anything new, but it’d be much more than there are now. Carlos once encountered a non-English-speaking truck driver from Bosnia who blew a brake line in front of his driveway.
“I took him into [J. Merle Jones & Sons] in Joliet, took him inside and told them what he needed. Brought him back to the truck and had to help him put the brake line on because he didn’t know how to do it,” Carlos said, responding to the idea that NorthPoint says it can benefit the community. “And you’re supposed to like that [expletive]?”
It’s not just the expected truck traffic, noise and air pollution that worries Jackson Township residents. They say there have been problems in their farm fields ever since CenterPoint came in, and they expect it to only get worse if Compass Business Park becomes a reality.
“If they’re digging foundations, they’re going to run into drainage tiles,” Sievert said.
Even after filling in trenches, Sewing said, soil settles and drainage problems emerge because the drainage tile systems have been broken.
Most farm drainage tiles are 2.5 to 4 feet deep, resident Tom Hauert said, noting that the village would have to dig through them to build water mains for the complex.
“They backfill the trench, pack it a little bit, and over 10 years it’ll settle,” Hauert said. “Then you got a low spot, and that tile is gonna fill with mud. It’s not gonna keep rinsing itself clean.”
Residents say several pieces of land in the area look different than they did before CenterPoint came in.
“Nobody wants to bother coming out to fix it, that’s why out on 53 it’s a wetland with cattails in it,” Hauert said. “You can see the farmer farming a loop away from it because water settles there.”
Carlos said he doesn’t think the Elwood Village Board should get to vote on the annexation.
Although it’s not law now, Carlos said he wishes residents of Jackson Township could get to vote on the proposal in the form of a referendum.
“It’s gonna impact everybody. In town, out here, I don’t care where you’re at,” Carlos said. “I think everybody should get a vote on this. I think it should be a referendum for the people of Jackson Township. They’re going to be the ones most affected by this.”
Residents were scheduled to meet Friday night to formalize a plan of action against the proposal.