Ryan Rotzien lives at 8451 W. U.S. 6. He owns the Rotzien family plantation, Oak Grove Farm, a 160-acre soybean and corn farm.
The land is swarmed by chickens from whom the Rotzien’s retrieve and sell their eggs, and Rotzien is beginning to expand to include livestock, with about five goats now living on the property.
Behind his farm sits land he works every day of the week.
About 50 feet past a small line of trees, which line a part of his property, the alleged Great Lakes Basin Transportation Railroad will be constructed.
The railroad, carrying up to 110 trains, runs from the west side of Rotziens property and will angle northeast, dividing his land into an odd shape, he said.
“It puts 120 acres of my farm on the backside of the railroad,” Rotzien said.
The railroad position is a large concern for Rotzien and other farmers in the Westville area, he said.
One concern is the supposed railroad crossings the GLBT will put into the line to allow farmers to be able to haul any equipment they need to the other side.
“I am worried they aren’t going to put a crossing in like they said they would,” Rotzien admitted. “But, I don’t foresee how they are going to plan on putting unmanaged crossings for farm equipment to pass over the tracks. Especially when there are so many trains and carrying certain materials.”
Another concern is in regard to the livestock, which will be affected by the noises and the ground shaking as each train goes by.
But it’s not just the livestock which will be affected by that, Rotzien added.
“There’s a train about half a mile away on the other side of the road and it still wakes me up at night sometimes,” he said.
Also, the water run-off from the land is another major concern for Rotzien. From years of working on the land, he said, the highest point of the land is northwest of his home and the water collection runs south, flowing through where the railroad will be constructed.
“What is going to happen with that?” he had to ask.
He also talked about some of his neighbors’ properties being affected by the railroad. For one family who owns a dairy farm, the railroad will be within 100 feet of their milking parlor.
“I am concerned for my neighbors,” he said, listing off the names of those he has spoken with about the railroad. “The agriculture community is a community in itself.”
Rotzien and his wife Brittany have been doing their own research, trying to get as much information about the upcoming project they can, he said. However, it has not been too successful.
The first thing Rotzien did when he heard about the railroad project was call one of the La Porte County commissioners. By then, he said, most information he was finding about the project was from Porter County sites and social media, but nothing from La Porte County.
“I didn’t feel like he represented me as a farmer,” Rotzien said after the call.
According to Rotzien, the commissioner told him not to be concerned about the future of his farm because he does not know whether his children will want to grow up and take on the family farm.
“I thought it was a disrespectful thing to say about our heritage,” he said. “The future of this farm should not be determined by a county commissioner. And, if not my children, it will still decrease the value of the land for future generations.”
Rotzien said during this entire experience, he has felt looked down upon as a farmer. He also has been working as a La Porte County EMT for 10 years and a volunteer firefighter with the Westville Fire Department for the last 15 years.
“Farmers make up less than two percent of the political vote and sometimes are voices who don’t get heard,” he said. “But, we supply 100 percent of the food.”
Rotzien comes from a strong farming family, and one which already had to move because of the decisions of others.
In 1948, the Rotzien farm was moved from the area of the Westville Correction Center, which was formerly the Beatty Memorial Hospital, built in 1951.
“They took it over through imminent domain,” he said. “They said, ‘Here’s your money to go buy another farm,’ which was a less caliber of a farm. My grandmother said our farm would have been a 100-year family owned farm if we didn’t have to make that move.”
His family was moved to the farm he lives at now, which he inherited from his uncle about three ago, but he has been working on it since he was 12-years-old. He also helps his grandfather at his farm, which is located near Ind. 2, another spot the railroad will affect, he said.
Rotzien and fellow farmers throughout La Porte and Porter counties have already met in a meeting in Morgan Township, where Rotzien learned even more about the project.
“Every farmer in the area is affected by this,” he stated. “That was something I didn’t realize. The railroad crosses through every township here.”
The meeting, he said, was very informative and helped him understand what exactly he and his neighbors need to express to the Surface Transportation Board during the next meeting.
The next two meetings will be from 5:30 to 8 p.m., with the first one tonight at the American Legion Banquet Hall, 203 S. Washington St., Wanatah. On Thursday, a meeting will be held at the Civic Auditorium Banquet Room at 1001 Ridge St., La Porte.
After meeting with so many Porter County members about this problem, Rotzien said he feels information has been hidden to those in La Porte County.
Those in Porter County have been holding discussions among the town officials, community and those in the STB, whereas Rotzien cannot get any information and was told to wait until the meetings.
“I know STB is not the enemy,” he said. “They are the ones who we need to talk to. I understand the perks of the railroad to the county, I do, but I want support about having a common sense approach to the construction of it.”
On Tuesday morning, Rotzien displayed the large “NO RR” sign he and several community members made, however, he said it doesn’t come close to how those in Porter County have responded.
“They have been rallying and supporting each other,” he said. “That hasn’t happened here yet. I feel kind of let down about that.”
Rotzien and other farmers and homeowners who will be affected by the railroad are invited to attend the meeting tonight, and Rotzien hopes he will find out more about the future of his farm.
Moving again? He said he just doesn’t know.
“We are doing the best we can with the farm,” he said. “We try to be conservative-minded and do 100 percent no till. We started to be more productive with the land and dirt. I mean, dirt is important. It is not a renewable resource, we are running out. And, they quit making it long ago.”