Members of the St. Joseph County Open Space and Agricultural Alliance took a trip earlier this month to Elwood, Ill. The group is seen looking at massive warehouses with shipping containers. Staff photo by Ted Booker
Members of the St. Joseph County Open Space and Agricultural Alliance took a trip earlier this month to Elwood, Ill. The group is seen looking at massive warehouses with shipping containers. Staff photo by Ted Booker
ELWOOD, Ill. — Dan Caruso, who worries about St. Joseph County’s industrial development plans near the town of New Carlisle, took a group field trip earlier this month to the village of Elwood in Illinois.

The New Carlisle resident wanted to learn more about how undesired consequences from the massive logistics and warehouse hub in Elwood (population 2,200) might be repeated near New Carlisle (population 1,900).

Near New Carlisle, the county has proposed an industrial park called the Indiana Enterprise Center across 22,000 acres that is now dominated by farmland. And in a related effort about 10 miles east of the town, the county plans to launch a rail-to-air logistics hub near South Bend International Airport.

Before going on the March 8 trip, Caruso read an article in The New Republic about how Elwood has had lots of setbacks since a massive freight terminal set up shop.

Just a few years after the CenterPoint Intermodal Center freight terminal opened in 2002 along the Burlington North Santa Fe railroad, Elwood became the biggest inland port in North America, with billions of dollars in goods crossing through the area each year.

Shipping containers arrive on trains and are transported by trucks to huge warehouses owned by retail giants such as Walmart, Amazon and Home Depot. Today, about 300 warehouses are scattered across Will County, which Elwood is part of.

Caruso read in the article that warehouses are mostly staffed by workers who commute from outside Elwood, and staffing agencies often recruit workers to work for third-party companies under short-term contracts without the guarantee of permanent work. The influx of truck traffic, meanwhile, has taken a toll on roads and caused an up-tick in deadly crashes.

And though the article said the terminal was supposed to spur commercial and retail development to boost property taxes, that vision never became reality. Elwood, in fact, is saddled with more than $30 million in debt as a result of a deal that created a tax increment financing district for CenterPoint that doesn’t expire until 2022.

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