Letter From Rockfordrnby Scott P. RichertrnNot in Your Back Yardrn”Why is the traffic stopped?”rn”Is that a cop car?”rn”Yeah, there must’ve been an accident.”rn”No, he’s directing traffic. They’re allrnwaiting to get in the parking lot! Therngym’s going to be packed!”rn”He’s not letting anyone else in,” Mar)-rnsays, deftly turning the minivan aroundrnin the freezing rain. She pulls off ontornthe shoulder, and the three of us—MarvrnHitchcock, battle-weary veteran of thernRockford school wars; Mark Dahlgren,rnconvicted tree-hugger, church organist,rnand unpaid mercenar}’ in the fight for justice;rnand ms’self—dart across the road andrnslog through the puddles, ice, and snow inrnthe parking lot. With each step, our littlernband grows; by the time we reach therndoor, we have to wait in line to be admittedrnto the ultra-modern, Columbine-st)’lernlobby of Roscoe Middle School. (A balconyrnoverlooks a large public area with arnstage at one end and only two exits; fish inrna barrel, I think to m’self.)rnWe tromp down the stairs, through thernbarrel, and into the hall outside the gyni.rnAfter another wait to get inside, we’re finallyrnthrough the doors. “How manyrnpeople do vou think are here?” Markrnasks.rn”I dunno. Ask that cop what the capacityrnis.”rnThe bleachers seat 900. Almost ever)-rnspot is full, and schoolkids are setting uprnfolding chairs on the edge of the court.rnWe split up. Mark and Mar’ want to bernclose to the floor so they can wave theirrnhomemade signs; I join Chronicles’ art director,rnWard Sterett, and assistant editor,rnAaron Wolf, down at the other end of therng’m. A hush falls over the crowd; we takernour seats as the players assemble on therncourt. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like tornthank you all for coming here tonight torndiscuss the proposed Pcrrville Road extension.”rnBack in my hometown in Michigan,rnonly a basketball game would have madernover 900 people turn out on one of thernworst nights of one of the worst winters inrnrecent memory. Here in WinnebagornCount)-, however, roads are serious business,rnas Tom and Jan Ditzler can attestrn(see “For Keeps! A Christian Defense ofrnPropert}’-,” Views, May).rnIn the last das of December, just asrnthe dust of the Ditzler land grab had begunrnto settle, Winnebago County BoardrnChairman Kristine O’Rourke Cohnrnannounced that the county intended tornextend Pernville Road, which currentlyrnends at Illinois 173 just northeast of Rockford,rnall the wa} to the Wisconsin staternline. The project is estimated to cost $34rnmillion and to take several years to complete;rnthe county’s yearly road budget,rnhowever, is only about $3.5 million.rnThis discrepancy was only one of thernred flags that had drawn so many peoplernout on such a night. Ever) one of the fivernproposed routes v’ould require the takingrnof at least one home, and three of themrnwould demand the leveling of te?7 homes.rn(Two of those would also take a church.)rnMoreover, tiie Perrvx’ille extension wouldrnbe the fourth major north-south road withinrna mile and a half, including the 1-90rntolKvay and two Illinois highways. And,rnfinally, considerable land along the routesrnis owned by large donors to local politicalrncampaigns, including William CharlesrnInvestments (parent company of localrnpublic-works contractor Rockford Blacktop)rnand Sunil Puri, the Bombay-bornrnhead of First Rockford Group, a major real-rnestate development company in NorthernrnIllinois.rnWard, Aaron, and I are sitting behindrnJan Weldon. She and her husband. Bill,rnlive on a farm that has been in his familyrnfor over 150 years. Tlic Perr)ville extensionrnwould divide it in two; the road wouldrnbe only a stone’s throw away from their oldrnstone farmhouse.rnMost of the meehng goes as expected:rnCitizens ask specific, thoughtful questionsrnabout how the construction will bernfunded, what the environmental impactrnwill be (all of the routes pass over creeksrnor through wetlands), and whether therncount)’ will conduct a cost-benefit anahsis;rncounty officials (with the notablernexceptions of board members Pete Mac-rnKay, Polly Berg, and Larry Bauer) dorntheir best to evade, mislead, and redirect.rnAs Chairman Cohn explains it, the questionrnis not w/icf/zer Perr)ville will connectrnRockford to Wisconsin, but which route itrnwill take. She assures us that she desperatelyrndesires our input, but we ha’e to acceptrnthe fact that the Perr)ville extensionrnhas been on the county’s books for 40rnyears, and 77o one is going to stop it.rnBut then somebody does. As the meetingrndrav’s to a close, Tom Hawes, the super’rnisor of Roscoe Pownship (whichrnwould be divided down the middle byrnthe Perrwille extension), takes the microphone.rn”I’ve been authorized by thernTownship Board of Trustees to announcernthat Roscoe ‘Pownship will notrnallow the Peri’y-ille extension to cross thernStone Bridge Trail.” There is a scatteringrnof applause; ever)’onc recognizes that therntownship board is taking a courageousrnstance, though mo.st of us assun-ic it’s a futilerngesture. We only catch on as we startrnto leave the g)’m.rn”Look at this map!”rn”What am I supposed to see?”rn”Don’t you get it? AH five of the routesrncross the trail! Thc)-‘ve stopped the road!”rnWe can’t believe that it’s all over; folksrnwho go up against the Winnebago Countyrngovernment aren’t used to winningrntheir battles so easily. But out in the hall,rnI meet David Kurlinkus, the lawyer forrnRoscoe Township. He explains that thernStone Bridge Trail is protected bv multiplernlayers of government: It was built onrntop of an abandoned railroad bed, so thernfederal government controls the railroadrnright-of-way; the Natural Land Instihite, arnRockford-based conservation organization,rnowns an easement aloirg the trail,rnand even if they were willing to gi-e it uprn(which they aren’t), thev would need thernpermission of the Illinois Department ofrnNatural Resources and the governor; andrnRoscoe Township owns the actual trail,rnand not a single trustee is willing to sellrnthe land to die count}-. Most importantly,rndie count) can only use eminent domainrnagainst private citizens, not againstrn.^4/CHRONICLESrnrnrn