Saturday, February 18, 2017

Boone County resident chosen to lead Growth Dimensions



Boone County resident chosen to lead Growth Dimensions

Posted Feb 17, 2017 at 10:00 AM

By Susan Vela
Staff writer

BELVIDERE — Pamela Lopez-Fettes, an Illinois native and Boone County resident, is the new executive director of Growth Dimensions, a public-private organization trying to ignite economic development throughout the region.

Lopez-Fettes decided to apply for the job after nearly a decade with the Northern Illinois Workforce Alliance.

"We did an extensive search," said Belvidere Mayor Mike Chamberlain, who served on the search committee. "Pam has already demonstrated her abilities. We're going through a boom right now.

"There will be close to 2,200 new jobs created in the next 18 months. Pam's demonstrated abilities to put employers with job training (and) with employees is going to be an essential part of our success in the future."

Lopez-Fettes started her new position on Monday. She replaced Jarid Funderburg, who left Growth Dimensions in late 2016 to become a strategic philanthropy officer for OSF St. Anthony Medical Center and to focus on his new duties as a Rock Valley College trustee.


"It was a great fit, and the timing was right," she said of her decision to apply. "I've worked in the region for nine years. I want everyone to know what a wonderful place it is to live and work. (I'll stay) as long as they'll have me, as long as I feel I'm making an impact."

She wants to bring more health care and transportation logistics jobs to the county. She'll try to do so by building on the work she's already done for the Northern Illinois Workforce Alliance. As business account manager for the alliance, Lopez-Fettes forged partnerships with business, education and economic development groups around the Rock River Valley.

"(For now), I'm getting to know all the players (and) all the partners (and) learning a lot about our internal processes and our external process in order to engage the community members," she said. "We're still learning and we'll identify additional strategies later."

The search committee selected Lopez-Fettes in mid-January, said Sherry Giesecke, a Boone County Board member who led the selection process. Giesecke liked the applicant's diverse background and her attention to details.

"We think she's a keeper," Giesecke said. "She's going to increase our investor pool. She's going to be very successful in building relationships within the county and with our neighbors, which is absolutely imperative."

Lopez-Fettes and her family have lived in Boone County for more than a decade. She serves as a catechist at St. James Catholic Church in Belvidere.

She has an associate's degree the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Loyola University in Chicago. She also has done graduate work in organizational development at Benedictine University in Lisle.

Susan Vela: 815-987-1392;; @susanvela

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Belvidere City/Township Primary and Election


The Republican Primary is Tuesday February 28 and early voting is currently occurring at t he County Clerk’s Office.  The election is on Tuesday , April 4, 2017.




Opponents keeping close eye on Great Lakes Basin rail plan



Opponents keeping close eye on Great Lakes Basin rail plan

February 17, 2017 at 4:00 pm | By AUSTIN MONTGOMERY Staff writer

Opponents keeping close eye  on Great Lakes Basin rail plan

Hillary Gavan/Beloit Daily News Mirjam Melin of Rock Against the Rail encourages attendees at a listening session regarding the Great Lakes Basin Transportation’s (GLBT) newest proposal rail line route to write to the Surface Transportation Board and legislators about safety issues and concerns over the route. The meeting was held in December at Beloit Turner High School.

BELOIT — Grassroots community groups against the Great Lakes Basin Rail Line have submitted additional information to an official motion in rebuttal to Great Lakes Basin Transportation’s (GLBT) responses to Surface Transportation Board (STB) questions.

The Feb. 13 supplemental motion comes ahead of an anticipated update by GLBT officials over the status of the company’s progress on an official application to the STB by Feb. 28.

In December, the company requested, and was granted, a temporary suspension from the STB over its environmental impact statement review process. This week’s statements from opponents contested the company’s responses, claiming all questions answered were vague and also provided misleading and contradictory information not in line with previously-presented plan specifics.

The proposed rail line would extend from La Porte, Indiana, through Illinois to Milton, Wisconsin. Developers say the privately-funded $8 billion rail line would ease freight train congestion and better manage traffic from Chicago.

The latest plan has the GLBT rail line running west of Beloit and not going through Boone County in Illinois as was originally planned. Instead it is planned to run west of Rockford in Winnebago County.

The company could submit its application as soon as Feb. 28, but the process, along with the environmental impact statement, would take years to be settled before a final STB ruling is made.

Rock Against the Rail co-founder Mirjam Melin urged residents to stay involved throughout the process, and the grassroots leader wanted to dispel any confusion about the current lull in the process.

“We want to make sure that people know the fight isn’t over,” Melin said. “Nothing has changed. People need to understand that the process is still ongoing.”

Since the plan was announced in March of last year, there has been considerable pushback throughout the affected counties in the three states listed in the plan. Landowners and farmers across the proposed 270-mile route said the plan would decrease property values, impact farmland production and disrupt rural life at multiple hearings held in Rock and Winnebago counties.

The recent court filing claims the company’s responses are “unsupported” and that comments need to be accepted as part of the official record to clarify the situation.

The proposed plan would add 184-miles of two-track rails, nearly 73.5 miles of single-track rails and 13 miles of three-track rails. There are a total of 1,718 homes within the proposed rail route and 449 properties are within one mile of the proposed route.

The grassroots group took issue with the discussion of right-of-way widths discussed in the company’s responses. The company claims it would ask for 200-foot right-of-way widths in order to provide 150 feet for tracks, 50 feet for cuts and fills, bridge embankments, roadway vehicle access and placement of utilities, signals and defect detectors to support operation of the railroad.

Opponents claim the detailed list of right-of-way uses was only added to the plan since the STB does not have jurisdiction to authorize acquisition of property for non-rail use. The opposition also took issue with the company’s previous statement saying rail congestion in Chicago had prompted the plan, while stating the average time to send a freight train through the city sat at over 30 hours, Melin said. The claim has been disputed, and community groups pointed to the implementation of the Chicago Integrated Rail Operations Center (CIROC) in 2015. The plan includes direct connections to each carrier and track to assist rail employees in resolving operational issues and identifying congestion points. Recent data showed the time required for a unit train to pass through the Chicago Rail Terminal has declined from 20 hours to less than 15 hours.

Company representatives could not immediately be reached for comment. STB staff said there was no new information regarding the plan currently, and the Feb. 28 deadline set by the STB’s Office of Environmental Analysis still stands.

The current plan would bring the rail line through the Riverside Energy Center developed by Alliant Energy, set for construction in March. The site is being developed as a natural gas and solar energy generating station through a $700 million investment. It is estimated the power station could have a $250 million annual economic impact, according to Alliant.

Melin reassured residents and noted there would be more opportunities for public comment, which was confirmed by the STB. Once an application and environmental statement is submitted, the public will be able to give input on both crucial documents.

“Our stance has not changed,” Melin said. “Behind the scenes we are working. It’s been a full-court press educating ourselves and everyone else. We need to pick it back up again soon.”

For updates over the plan, visit

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State Dept carries out layoffs under Rex Tillerson


CBS News logoCBS News

CBS News

Margaret Brennan1 day ago



CBS News


While Rex Tillerson is on his first overseas trip as Secretary of State, his aides laid off staff at the State Department on Thursday. 

Much of seventh-floor staff, who work for the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and the Counselor offices, were told today that their services were no longer needed. 

These staffers in particular are often the conduit between the secretary’s office to the country bureaus, where the regional expertise is centered. Inside the State Department, some officials fear that this is a politically-minded purge that cuts out much-needed expertise from the policy-making, rather than simply reorganizing the bureaucracy.

There are clear signals being sent that many key foreign policy portfolios will be controlled directly by the White House, rather than through the professional diplomats. 

Not a single State Department official was included in the White House meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner - who has  no regional expertise or diplomatic experience -  had a greater role in the meeting than the Senate-confirmed secretary of State. 

Rex Tillerson was absent Wednesday but did join Kushner and Netanyahu for dinner the night before. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Tom Shannon was on the official schedule to take his place but was then shut out of the White House meeting.

In an emailed statement to CBS News, a State Department official explained that the decision to modify the meeting was made at the White House to “allow for a more personal discussion.” That presumably is a reference to the long-standing friendship between Trump, Kushner, and Netanyahu. 

That particular incident was disheartening to many State Department officials who hope that Mr. Tillerson - who had a long career as Exxon Mobil’s CEO -  will bring his worldly experience and management to a building that has been demoralized by the Trump administration’s antipathy toward multilateralism and cavalier approach to diplomacy.

Two sources also told CBS News that Ambassador Kristie Kenney, the Counselor of the State Department and one of the last remaining senior officials, was informed that she will be let go. She is a career foreign service officer who had served as an ambassador under Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton. Her staff was told that Secretary Tillerson does not intend to fill the counselor’s position anytime soon.

While positions are often reshuffled during transitions and those perceived as politically-oriented are moved aside, the departures leave the positions vacant at a time of global instability. In Thursday’s presser, President Trump referred to “mass instability overseas, no matter where you look.” 

“The middle east is a disaster,” he complained. “North Korea - we’ll take care of it folks; we’re going to take care of it all. I just want to let you know, I inherited a mess.”

“It is irresponsible to let qualified, nonpartisan, experienced people go before you have any idea of their replacement. You can’t do foreign policy by sitting in the White House, just out of your back pocket,” explains Tom Countryman, Former Assistant Secetary for Non-Proliferation who was let go earlier this month. Countryman worries that the White House is displaying an intent not rely on the State Department for foreign policy in that no one will be in place to challenge the edicts drawn up in the Oval Office. 

This may be what President Trump was referring to when he repeatedly said that “our people” are not yet in place at U.S. government agencies. He blamed the leaks of embarrassing White House transcripts of his phone calls with foreign leaders - including difficult conversations he had with Mexico and Australia - on officials who had previously worked for the Obama Administration. 

R.C. Hammond, a State Department spokesman, did not respond to the specific question of what motivated the layoffs but provided the following statement: “As part of the transition from one administration to the next we continue to build out our team. The State Department is supported by a very talented group of individuals, both Republicans and Democrats. We are appreciative to any American who dedicates their talents to public service.‎” 

Hammond previously worked for Newt Gingrich and is a new hire at the State Department.