Those who don't read history are doomed to repeat it

Those words have never been truer than in the case of Elwood, Illinois in 2002 and current day New Carlisle, Indiana.

Leading up to 2002, decisions were made by local and county leaders in Elwood to allow logistics and warehouse industry giant Center Point Intermodal (CPI) to construct many millions of square feet of container storage and product preparation facilities in Elwood. CPI was granted a 20 year tax abatement, and in 2002 opened the first of their warehouses, which today stretch for as far as the eye can see. These drab, non-descript box looking structures now cover what was once some of the most fertile farmland in North America. Within four years Elwood became the largest inland port in North America. Containers from overseas are shipped to our ports, loaded onto trains, railed to the facilities in Elwood then trucked to retailers like Meijer, Target and Walmart. With rail service right to the property and interstate highway access close by, Elwood is within one day’s travel from of 60% of all major markets in the U.S.

The locals were promised great economic growth within their community and endless retail and small business opportunities directly related to the openings of these warehouses. The thousands employed by these warehouses would be a natural consumer for any local entrepreneur to flourish as a small business owner. Property values would surge and schools would be flush with money.

What followed, however was a long trail of broken promises along with faded hopes and dreams and mounting debt for Elwood. The traffic – truck traffic in particular has increased exponentially. There is daily gridlock during the three shift changes at the warehouses, causing anxiety and frustration for all, and an infrastructure that is now in need of constant repair. However, due in part to the abatement, Elwood has insufficient funds. Elwood took out a bond and is now indebted 30 million dollars with no foreseeable way to repay those obligations. Truckers (most of them independent contractors) on a tight schedule and budget, looking to get from point A to point B and return as quickly as possible, tire of the traffic and often find their way to load (weight) restricted roads, causing unanticipated abuse to the secondary roads, bridges and ramps.

The promised jobs are largely temporary 90 day employment and so far, after 17 years, the only retail growth has been the Dollar store in the pre-existing business district. There has, however been a boon in one type of business in Elwood Illinois population 2200, there are 99 temporary employment agencies charged mainly with hiring the temporary workers for the logistics and warehouse business. These temporary workers, with no guarantees aren’t able to support new home construction in the area and many commute daily from as far as Indiana. The monies these folks are earning aren’t being spent in Elwood, but in their community of origin. Even after making the commute, some workers still aren’t guaranteed work and are often sent home.

Please read the January 2019 New Republic magazine article by Alexander Sammon. Do we want this for St. Joseph County Indiana? Someone does. Look at the accessibility of the land – 6,000 to 22,000 acres, depending on who you’re talking to – for reference, 22,000 acres is roughly the size of the city of South Bend. Rail access on site, I-94, 80/90 and 65 just minutes away. Yes, the great jobs have been promised, the retail growth and small business opportunities are assured to local enterprisers, with plenty of consumers locally. Property values rising, schools flush with money. Sound familiar? Is any promise, fulfilled or not, worth the destruction of our most precious resource – the most fertile farmland anywhere? Will these new neighbors be good stewards of our natural resources and not contaminate our aquifer, from where many of us draw our potable water? Will they be an unsustainable draw on the aquifer, surpassing the recharge rate and causing wellheads to run dry? Too many questions, very few answers. Read. Let’s make the right kind of history.

Daniel J. Caruso New Carlisle, IN

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