Friday, February 24, 2017

WREX’s Update on GLB RR



Posted: Feb 23, 2017 11:00 PM CST


By next week, the developers behind the multi-billion dollar Great Lakes Basin Railroad are expected to update the federal government on the project. 
They called for a time out in December to refile their application.  

All indications are this plan is moving forward.  While there are those fighting to keep this railroad from ever happening, there are those at least interested in hearing more.
John and Bonnie Murphy own a Winnebago County farm.  This February warm up has kept them busy.

"Father's grandfather's father started the farm in about 1840 and we've been here ever since," said John.  He said they farm "corn, beans and dairy cows." 

There's a lot of action down at the Rochelle rail yard, too.  Workers packing hundreds of rail cars onto city tracks to make way for even more.

There is a deep sense of tradition steeped in the farming and the railroad industries in Northern Illinois.  These two economic engines at a crossroads now with the idea of a 270-plus mile railroad. The Great Lakes Basin Railroad would run from Wisconsin through Illinois into Indiana cutting through farms along the way including the Murphys.

"They're gonna come and take a few acres of my land, and it'd be like I opening a restaurant in Rockford and taking a homeowners 20 feet of their property," said John.  "It doesn't make you feel good."

Their concerns echoed when the federal agency reviewing Great Lakes Basin's potential environmental impact held meetings across local counties the rail could cut through.  Those concerns, very real.  Some say, so is the potential for growing the Stateline's economy.
To see what this new investment could mean for towns along the railroad's path, we travel to Rochelle.  Where more than 20 years ago, the city formed its own railroad system to capitalize on an opportunity.

Rochelle's economic development director, Jason Anderson, said the city's dual access rail line connects to two major Class 1 railroads: the Union Pacific and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

"We've added $1.5 billion in capital investment in land, equipment and buildings in the last 10 years," said Anderson.

Since building an industrial park to serve the railroad. 15 businesses have come to ogle county.   What you see here, could become the norm in Winnebago, Lee and other counties up and down the Great Lakes Basin Railroad.  The purpose: to bypass Chicago.

"It takes about 2 days to get a product from southern California or Seattle, Tacoma to Rochelle.  But because of the congestion in Chicago it can take almost 2 days to go that last 75 miles," said Anderson.

So what's in it for the communities that relieve the bottleneck?  Rochelle's economy lends the best insight:
Take the city's tax base:  Rochelle's more than doubled its value since focusing on rail.

"It took us 100 years to get to $100 million tax base. It took us an additional 13 years to get $225 million, most of that was driven by access to rail," said Anderson.  "That means your city, your park district, your school districts your library districts all receive a larger revenue stream from that tax base."

In that same time, the city's created 2,200 new jobs.  The third benefit, he said, Rochelle was in a good position to leverage assets it already had, like access to major highways.

"If we start to work together on how we can leverage those things that already exist, we'll be unstoppable from an economic development standpoint," said Anderson.

You'd think Anderson is all for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad.  But he isn't, nor is he against it.  He's cautiously optimistic:

"I know this is a concern locally.  By tying all these communities all together, Rochelle loses its uniqueness as being a community that has multiple rail service because all the communities along the great lakes basin railroad will have access to those 6 class 1 railroads," said Anderson.

So we've told you why some people don't want the rail and what communities have seen a positive impact of having a hub.  But what if there was another way? 

There's already a railroad that runs from Rochelle to Rockford, but Anderson and others say it's not utilized to its potential. So whether it's the Great Lakes Basin Railroad or something else, they say it's time to leverage that rail.

"Why doesn't a new railroad take advantage of some of the existing rail right-of-way," said Mike Dunn, Jr., the executive director of the Rockford Metropolitan Agency for Planning. 
The lines already in existence between Rochelle and Rockford are called the Illinois RailNet.  It stretches from Winnebago to Ogle County.  Right now the short lines are in private hands and would need to be purchased.   Then upgraded to handle Class 1 railroads, but that's not on the proposed route for the Great Lakes line.

"The RMAP policy board has supported the concept of the Great Lakes Basin Railroad, but it has not supported a specific route," said Dunn.

It's why Great Lakes basin or not, RMAPs long term plan is for a railroad to better serve Rockford's airport to compliment the global trade park north of RFD and the industrial park earmarked for development south of the airport along Interstate 39.

Meanwhile we all wait to hear from the Great Lakes Basin on its next proposal.  Like the Murphys who look at this land and see their future in farming. That same land a railroad company could have a future on as it charts its course through the Stateline.

The earliest the government could make its decision about the project is 2019.  Eminent domain wouldn't be sorted out until then either.  We contacted Great Lakes Basin Railroad to be part of our story, but they declined multiple times.  So this update next week could be everything from them asking for an extension, or revealing a 3rd proposed route.  13 News will keep you posted.

See the GLBT proposed route map (updated September 2016). See the old route map that would have cut through Boone County

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Belvidere mayor challenged by son of former mayor, city treasurer




Posted Feb 24, 2017 at 9:00 AM Updated at 4:27 PM


By Susan Vela
Staff writer

BELVIDERE — Ric Brereton is challenging Mayor Mike Chamberlain, the man who replaced his father as the city's top elected official.

They have worked together under the same roof for about four years. Brereton is the city treasurer, as well as an office manager and a licensed insurance agent at Brereton Inc.

Chamberlain is finishing his first four-year term managing about 130 city employees and an annual budget of approximately $18 million.

Whoever wins the Republican primary on Tuesday becomes mayor on May 1. There are no Democratic or independent candidates.

Both are committed to the city of approximately 26,000 residents. The future looks promising, they agree, because of developments that include Fiat Chrysler's retooling for new Jeep Cherokee lines.


Their approaches are similar but distinct, shaped by their own personal backgrounds.

Brereton's father, Fred, was one of Belvidere's longest serving mayors, serving for 16 years.

"That's why I got involved in local government in the first place," said the younger Brereton. "With that kind of experience, I realized how important it was to be involved."

Ric Brereton has served several years as president of the Boone County Republican Club. He's also been heavily involved in civic activities.

Brereton has helped organize Belvidere's National Day of Prayer and Heritage Days Annual Community Patriotic Worship Service.

"But most of all, I'm proud of building positive relationships with fellow citizens, community leaders and local financial institutions in my position as city treasurer," he said.

If elected, he'd try to improve City Hall's outreach to the community. He'd like local cable Channel 20 to have more extensive programming. He envisions news about local businesses, organizations, newly elected officials and others who make the city run.

He'd also want a "comprehensive examination" of the city's codes and policies in order to create a more business-friendly environment.

Belvidere, he said, has untapped potential.

He has pursued academic studies in Arizona at Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences and Scottsdale Community College. He has a certificate in audio production.

Chamberlain represented Ward 3 as an alderman for seven years before he declared plans to run for mayor in 2012. He then promised to be the most visible and accessible leader in Belvidere's history.

Chamberlain said that with collaboration of City Council, city departments and other agencies, priority projects such as Irene Road, Columbia Avenue and the refurbished downtown streetscape were completed. The city has balanced its budget for four years and instituted no new taxes, nor did it have any sewer and water rate increases, Chamberlain said.

The $1 million makeover of State Street downtown included new paving, storm sewers and stamped concrete from Logan Avenue to Appleton Road.

The city has paid for projects such as Columbia Avenue and the downtown streetscape by saving money, rather than borrowing and paying interest.

Also, he said the city's new website is more community friendly and new technologies have made the city more efficient.

"I am sure that new methods of communication with the community will evolve as new technologies become mainstream," he said. "But they must be manageable and appropriate to the function of government, and its serious mandate to serve the people ethically and with consideration for all."

If reelected, he'd try to build on successes from the past four years. He said he'd continue nurturing a business-friendly environment built on a climate of "yes" and "can do."

He'd also emphasize working together. Chamberlain's ad hoc diversity committee recently began meeting to strengthen ties between its community members.

He wants to continue increasing property values by attracting more businesses to the region. Chamberlain recently helped select Pamela Lopez-Fettes as the new executive director of Growth Dimensions, the local entity committed to sparking economic development throughout the region.

By his calculation, the community is due up to 2,200 new jobs, mainly because of Chrysler's new Jeep Cherokee lines.

"Building and maintaining a skilled workforce through diversified education is key," he said. "There are always threats to success but by keeping focused on our goals, empowering our citizens through inclusiveness and good old-fashioned neighborly concern, we will persevere."

Chamberlain is a graduate of the Illinois Municipal League Leadership Enhancement and Development (L.E.A.D.) program, and a graduate of its leadership forum. Because of his involvement in those programs, Chamberlain co-authored a 2009 leadership symposium for University of Illinois Office of Public Leadership.

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

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How many new ICE Officers?



By Mica Rosenberg

Former Border Patrol officials question Trump plan to add agents

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security plan to add more than 5,000 border enforcement agents will present logistical challenges and might be unnecessary, according to former government officials familiar with earlier pushes to accelerate border hiring.

Three former top officials at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) told Reuters in interviews that ramping up hiring at the agency, as outlined in a directive on Tuesday, would be expensive, while rapid expansion poses the risk of corruption if screening protocols for recruits are relaxed.

The officials said the agency should get what it needs to secure the border, but they questioned whether such a major staff expansion was necessary, noting that apprehensions at the border have dropped.   

"Congress is going to be looking at this very carefully and looking for justification for this kind of money to make sure they don't write a check that is not necessary," said W. Ralph Basham who headed U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the George W. Bush administration. "The question will be do we need more agents or do we need money for technology and infrastructure," he said.

Additional enforcement officers are central to President Donald Trump's sweeping plan to crack down on illegal immigration, outlined in Jan. 25 executive orders on border security and interior enforcement. Tuesday's Homeland Security guidance for implementing those orders called for adding more than 5,000 border patrol agents and 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, officers, who enforce immigration laws in the country's interior, among other duties.

The White House and Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a question about the rationale behind the number of personnel requested.

"At the end of the day, the goal is to get control of the border and enhance the security of the country," said White House assistant press secretary Michael Short in an email.


The proposed hiring surge would be the largest since the Bush administration, when Congress funded an expansion of border enforcement following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

That effort doubled the number of border patrol agents from nearly 10,000 in 2001 to nearly 20,000 by 2008, according to CBP.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent helps a trainee with proper sighting techniques at the U.S. Border Patrol Training Academy in Artesia© REUTERS/Jeff Topping/File Photo A U.S. Border Patrol agent helps a trainee with proper sighting techniques at the U.S. Border Patrol Training Academy in Artesia

The agency was required to meet tight time requirements for hiring, said Basham who was appointed commissioner in 2006

The laser focus on quick hiring, and its cost, ended up "sucking all the air" out of other parts of the department, Basham recalled, leaving gaps for other spending needs.

Basham said he supports CBP getting adequate resources and was encouraged that the new Department of Homeland Security guidelines did not mandate a deadline to complete the hiring. But he questioned the need for a renewed expansion of the force.

More than 1.6 million migrants were apprehended trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in 2000 compared to 400,000 last year, according to CBP statistics. "Currently the flow is not really anywhere near where it was," Basham said.

Jim Wong, who was Deputy Assistant Commissioner of CBP's Office of Internal Affairs from 2009 to 2011, said money might be better spent on other department needs.

"Throwing more human resources at the issue is not necessarily the best way to approach it," he said.

The union representing border patrol agents, which backed Trump in the presidential election, has long supported adding personnel, saying more manpower is needed to secure the border, said union spokesman Shawn Moran.

Homeland Security spokespeople declined to estimate how much the increased hiring would cost. 

Trainees listen to U.S. Border Patrol agent Holler as he instructs them on the proper grip and safe use of their Heckler & Koch P2000 handgun© REUTERS/Jeff Topping/File Photo Trainees listen to U.S. Border Patrol agent Holler as he instructs them on the proper grip and safe use of their Heckler & Koch P2000 handgun

The 2017 fiscal year budget request for staffing at current levels of more than 21,000 border patrol agents was about $3.8 billion for salary, overtime and benefits, or about $180,000 per officer on average, although officers with different levels of seniority earn different wages. Additional costs could include housing for agents working in remote areas, equipment and support staff, former officials said.  

In the last budget cycle, the agency requested funding for 300 fewer officers than the year before to instead invest in replacing aging radios and vehicles. CBP said the request reflected "realistic agent hiring expectations."


Gil Kerlikowske, who headed CBP for three years under President Barack Obama, said one risk of rapid hiring is quality control. 

"When you speed up the process and don't take the requisite time you pay a price later in things like corruption," Kerlikowske said.

During the Bush-era hiring surge, the Border Patrol had problems screening candidates, and internal corruption cases soon spiked, according to congressional testimony and government documents.

Congress then passed the Anti-Border Corruption Act in 2010, which made polygraph testing mandatory for all border patrol agents. Since then, tests have revealed candidates who were compromised by drug cartels or were heavy drug users themselves.

But the polygraph test and other controls have also slowed the hiring process. A 2012 GAO report found that between 2008 and 2012, only 40 percent of applicants passed their polygraph exams.

In addition to polygraph tests, applicants now undergo a rigorous hiring process, including a cognitive exam, fingerprinting, financial disclosure, fitness tests, medical examinations and background checks, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Kerlikowske said when he left the agency at the time of Trump's inauguration there were 1,200 authorized but unfilled openings for border patrol agents due to the difficulty of finding and vetting enough qualified candidates.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Sue Horton and David Gregorio)

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