HA: Public Comment on railroad line continues


La PORTE — Area residents had another opportunity to voice concerns regarding a 278-mile proposed railroad line, which would extend from Ind. 2 in La Porte to Milton, Wisconsin.

Dave Navecky and Phillis Johnson-Ball presented the fifth public scoping meeting for the Great Lakes Basin Transportation railroad line on Thursday night at the La Porte Civic Auditorium.

Navecky and Johnson-Ball are members of the Office of Environmental Analysis of the Surface of Transportation Board, hired to conduct all meetings and analysis for the GLBT company.

The meeting was conducted in the same way as the previous ones, with attendees encouraged to study maps which were spread throughout the room and to sign-up to voice a public comment. The maps and designs were brought to the meeting by the ICF Consulting group, who are helping the OEA committee conduct the meetings and gather data.

Navecky presented the same presentation to the civic audience as he has been at the previous meetings. He again stressed the importance of the comments of those who will be affected, stating he believes the number of comments he will receive will be up in the thousands.

He also explained how people can comment online. The STB designed a website so community members can go on and comment to the board, and see the comments of their neighbors with the responses they received.

“We will post the letter we send to the GLBT and the response online,” he said. The letter is the Environmental Impact Statement the OEA will produce after years of reviewing and researching.

In the comments, he encouraged people to add any documents or photos they wished the board to look at too.

Similar to Wednesday’s meeting at the American Legion building in Wanatah, Navecky stressed the goal is to provide and review possible alternative routes the project can take.

“We will get alternate routes from you and from state agencies,” he said. “We will identify the range of alternatives and will study them.”

He also talked about the no-action alternative, which means the project will not go forward.

“All routes and options will be treated in our review,” Navecky added. “Everything gets equal review, equal details. There is no bias in this.”

The no-action alternative may be possible, according to Shaw Friedman, the La Porte County Commissioners Attorney, who said the magnitude of work the statement and review process will take is a huge and tremendous job.

The meetings were just a testing out the ice procedure. It was a way for the community to ask questions and learn more about the railroad and the STB’s plans in its construction, he wrote in an email sent before the scoping meetings.

“He (Frank Patton of GLBT) has two to three years plus of environmental review to get through, (before he gets to property acquisition) plus he doesn’t have the first deep pocket equity investor or venture capital fund signed up for this $8 billion project nor does he have a single Class 1 railroad committed to the project either,” Friedman stated in the email.

None of the La Porte County Commissioners have made any commitments with the developers of the project. Instead, Friedman published a list of conditions that need to be adhered to if the project was to begin, which were reported in The La Porte County Herald-Argus on April 6.

Friedman wanted to stress on eminent domain rules, and how they will be addressed with the railroad and land.

In regards to La Porte County, it is stated in the resolution, “the undersigned wish to state that while county government will assist various economic development efforts, the power of eminent domain will not be exercised to assist some corporation or private entity to force a private landowner to sell his or her property when they do not wish to.”

Friedman stated in the email, the resolution was used nine years ago in an issue with an intermodal development in the town of Union Mills.

“We’re awfully proud of this private protection policy,” he said. “It was made abundantly clear to the developer that he could not count on eminent domain from the county for a private project, but would need to negotiate transactions between willing buyers and sellers.”

During the public comment section another county commissioner spoke about his concerns about the GLBT company’s goals.

Commissioner Mike Bohacek asked the scoping board to remember what the original plans of the project were, and handed the board members a CD recording of a public meeting he attended with Patton speaking about the railroad.

“My concern is the project that was described to us just last month on the 30th of March, well perhaps developers get amnesia and forget what they promise and have committed to at the start of the projects,” he said. “To me, it is important while you’re looking at the scoping of this project, you’re looking at the displacing of peoples’ lives and homes and if you’re going to do that, lets make sure what his plan is what he’s sold to the county and the reality is what stays and moves forward.”

Another public commenter, Ashley Hedrick, asked whether or not the railroad would be federally managed for all of the maintenance and infrastructure work.

“I feel like Indiana can barely keep up with the infrastructure we have now and this would just be adding more,” Hedrick said.

Hedrick also pointed out issues with air pollution, stating in 2015 the Northwest Indiana region was voted 19 in the top regions of the country with the worst amounts of pollution.

Navecky said the last day to make a public comment to the OEA board will be June 15. To comment, visit the website: http://www.stb.dot.gov/stb/index.html.

To keep updated with more information as the project moves along, visit the STB managed website, http://www.greatlakesbasinraileis.com/.


HA: Railroad meeting draws big crowd


WANATAH — The parking lot and roads surrounding the American Legion, at 203 S. Washington St., Wanatah, resembled the packed cars filing into the fairgrounds for the local fair.

Inside the building, well past the recommended capacity, residents of La Porte, Lake and Porter counties were there to learn more about the Great Lakes Basin Transportation Rail Line.

The event was the first La Porte County public scope meeting, conducted by the Surface Transportation Board for the GLBT company. Two members, Dave Navecky and Phillis Johnson-Ball, of the Office of Environmental Analysis, a subcommittee of the STB, are traveling throughout the area of the proposed line and holding the scope meetings.

Before the meeting started at 6 p.m, those in attendance were invited to walk around and ask questions to the eight members of the ICF Consulting group, which is working with the OEA as they conduct the meetings and gather data for the project. The ICF group also brought maps and charts for people to see the route of the proposed line.

Navecky gave the presentation to the audience of the fourth scope meeting and, according to Johnson-Ball, the packed-in crowd was not too surprising for them.

“This is a great turnout and is typical of what we have been seeing,” she said. “We are encouraging the expressing of opinions and people telling us us what they need us to know. That is what scoping means.”

The presentation included an overview of who the GLBT and STB are, in addition to the purpose and need of the project, and the projected list of things the board need to accomplish before the final approval can be submitted to the GLBT.

He went over the steps of the project. One, which is occurring now, is called the Environmental Review Process. This is the two- to three-year process where the OEA will hold the meetings, gather data, conduct field research and build models. The second step is called the Transportation Merits, which involves a different team of STB employees, and the economic side of the project, Navecky said. The final step is compiling all data and submitting the review called the Environmental Impact Statement to the GLBT.

Navecky also made it clear of any alternate routes or suggestions the audience members may have for the railroad, and highly encouraged people to comment through the online website the STB established to help people learn more about the project.

Issues that have been popping up at each meeting include: The impact on farming, drainage, noise and air pollution, school zones and safety and emergency-response related issues.

“I know all of you don’t support the project,” Navecky admitted. “Your comments will help us understand why.”

There were 26 people who spoke publicly at the meeting and had three minutes to voice a concern.

Rod Gardin, the superintendent of the East Porter County School Corp., came to the board with five concerns regarding the impact of the railroad on schools and the safety of the children.

“We have 35 bus routes and 16 crossings,” he said. “With the railroad, that will almost double to 31. We try to avoid railway crossings at all times to ensure the students are safe. In a collision with a train and a school bus, the train always wins.”

His other concerns included the longer routes the bus and emergency response vehicles will have to the school if the county roads are cut off and the high noise pollution the railroad will cause.

“There is information there will be up to 110 trains a day and a train’s horn sounds at 110 decimals, which must be sounded for 15 to 20 seconds at each crossing,” he explained. “110 trains a day at 15 seconds, that’s 27.45 hours per day.”

Brenda Pogue, of Hebron, said she is  worried about the impacts the railroad will have on the wells in the area, along with the issues of noise and air pollution.

“It is literally in my backyard,” Pogue said.

She and her friend, Kim Westfall, who lives near Boone Grove Middle School, stood outside the building while people were lined up to get in. They sold signs they made for people to post in their yard. They asked for a donation of $10 to help cover costs, but said they really just wanted to get a stronger voice in the community.

For one public commenter, their private owned land would be split down the middle with his house on one side and his barn on the other.

“Two weeks ago I had never heard of the Great Lakes Basin Rail Line and since then I have heard about it 3,000 times a day,” said Ken Layton. “We understand this will be a great economic growth for here and for Wisconsin, but we also know this rail will be 200 feet from the back of our house and will divide the farm in two.”

The night continued on with concerns from residents of the northwest Indiana counties.

A second meeting on the proposed railroad will be held Thursday in La Porte from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the La Porte Civic Auditorium, 1001 Ridge St.

More information can be found at http://www.stb.dot.gov/stb/index.html.

HA: 120 Acres


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.”

iRunFar: Jenny Nichols

WeRunFar Profile: Jenny Nichols

Warrior II Pose: Stand in Mountain Pose. Breathe in. On the exhale, step back until your feet are about four feet apart. Turn your back foot so it’s at a 45-degree angle from your front foot. Bend your front leg until your knee makes a 90-degree angle, or as close to it as you can. Straighten or nearly straighten your back leg. Raise your arms parallel to the floor with your palms facing down. Drop your shoulders from your ears. Take a deep breath and reflect.

Jenny Nichols takes this time to ask herself: Do I feel tight? Where do I need to focus on today? How are my hips and shoulders?

“Yoga is knowing yourself and your body,” Jenny said. “It is a self-awareness, like ultrarunning.”

In a race, the similar thoughts of self-awareness flow in: Do I need sugar? Salt? How are my legs feeling today? Ummm, where is the finish line?

Jenny Nichols 1 - yoga at home

In Jenny’s world, the two go hand-in-hand. They make up a “complex dualism,” where running flourishes when yoga thrives. It is a balance years of dedication, strength, and the ability to admit defeat have created.

For Jenny, the blonde 37-year-old mother, wife, and entrepreneur, that balance has leveled her into the badass ultrarunner/yogini she is today–strong accent and all.

Jenny mothers two boys while living in the Bristol, Virginia and Tennessee region with her husband. The town is situated in the area bordered by the two states, where some businesses claim the Tennessee address and others have the Virginia one, and everyone is voiced with the Southern-mixed-with-Eastern drawled-out dialect.

Jenny claims that the accent can be hard to take sometimes, and as kid she was embarrassed by it. But now she says is another thing that makes her, her.

“I once went to Louisiana and their accent is crazy strong, but they are all proud of their heritage,” she said. “I said to myself, Man, if they can be proud then I can be. People like me, if they don’t like the accent then they don’t have to talk to me. I have embraced it.”

She was born and raised in the Bristol, Virginia area, attended the University of Virginia for political science, and at age 27 decided to have her first son Jack and stay at home, eventually leading to starting her own business.

Jenny Nichols 2 - Family

She began running high-school cross country and track and field, but was so embarrassed at her race during the freshman year regional meet when her coach came up to her and asked, “Do you really want to improve?”

“I was working so hard and not having any results,” she said of her freshman-year training. During the off-season she began lifting weights, running, and working out with the high-school girls’ basketball team.

“Something clicked in my head,” she said. “It was a long summer of hard work and persistence.”

These two traits came back a few years later when she found herself at 185 pounds and pregnant with her first son.

“I had never done a marathon before,” she said. After Jack’s birth she was ready to take on another challenge. “I found shoes, looked up a race in Runner’s World Magazine, and went and did it.”

She finished the Louisville Marathon in 2005 in 4 hours and 23 minutes. Not very fast, she said, but a huge accomplishment.

It was her next-door neighbor, Beth Minnick, who exposed her to the world of ultrarunning.

“She ran the Boston Marathon and then got into ultrarunning. I thought she had lost her mind,” Jenny said. “Trails? Snakes? Bears?”

Around two years later, her brother Todd died, plunging Jenny into a traumatic whirlwind. It was the last month of her second pregnancy.

When she was cleared to run three months after her son’s birth, whom she named after her late brother, she met up with Beth, this time the concept of trail running didn’t seem so bizarre.

“Beth called me to run 17 miles,” she said of that first trail run.

“Yeah, I can do that,” she responded.

A few hours later: “It kicked my ass.”

With no gels, Jenny bonked hard in road shoes as she trekked through the wandering Virginia trails.

“I had an amazing time,” she exclaimed. “It was the peace I needed. The medicine I needed.”

Ultrarunning became a way to escape and just let it all out.

“I could be angry, cry, I could think about my brother,” she said. “It was a different community. It accepted who I was without any competition.”

“I finally found my people, my tribe,” she told me.

Jenny Nichols 3 -AT run

She and Beth continue to run together as a part of their founded club, Happy Trails. The club began with 10 people, its members discussing the next day’s route through Facebook posts. Now, she said, it is over 300 people and up to 20 runners will show up for a long run.

“It is not affiliated with the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club, but is modeled after that,” she said. Jenny is friends with Sophie Speidel, claiming it was mentor Sophie who took her under her wing when she first began racing. The two meet together every year to trek with the other members of the Dirty Moms group, which escapes annually to the Appalachian Trail for crazy adventures.

Jenny’s running escalated quickly, consuming the body of the woman entering into races nearly every month for the next few years.

The endless miles were taking a toll on her fatiguing muscles and mind.

In 2011, Jenny started her yoga journey to combat what racing so many ultras a year was doing on her body.

Each pose added to the balance of her new training program, working through running and actively recovering with yoga.

“It is important for longevity,” she said. “I first used yoga as recovery from long races like Hellgate 100k. Instead of stiffening on the couch, I was moving and flowing.”

Today, after four years of yoga practice and teaching, the benefits of the movement surpass simple stretching.

“I can focus better and am just mentally stronger,” she said. “My breathing is better, I have enhanced creativity, and am better at being present in the moment.”

Trail running and yoga go together, she explained.

Jenny Nichols 4 -Shenandoah

The trails provide the cardio outlet and spiritual “church-time,” while yoga softens the rugged runner into toning those trail-built muscles through body-trusting poses and flow.

The balance between the strong, masculine side of ultrarunning combined with the softer, feminine side of yoga inspired her to start a small business, Mountain PrimaDonna LLC, a homemade jewelry and accessories business.

She first started making her own jewelry through metal-working in college. Several years ago, she worked at an independent sporting-goods store in Virginia called Mountain Sports Ltd. where she picked up the skills needed to run her own business.

In 2014, she started an Etsy site and fields requests of different projects daily. Her work combines the masculine and feminine of yoga, running, metalworking, and jewelry making. Jenny even provided the awards for the VHTRC Women’s Half Marathon.

With the business, mothering, wife-ing, and her running and yoga, her typical day includes rising super early to get a headlamp run in before the boys wake up. After fixing breakfast and preparing lunches for the boys’ school days, Jenny spends the rest of her days working on orders and running back and forth to the post office. She’ll train clients at various times throughout the week at the yoga studio before picking the boys up from school for the night.

“I have to balance life in a way where my passions are not disruptive of everyone else,” she said. “It took me a while to get there, but life is short and we have to embrace the time we have.”

Her life is the metaphor of an ultra, she said.

“The 100 miler strips you raw till you’re whittled to nothing. It is the life, death, and rebirth journey.”

Jenny Nichols 5 - Jewelry

In her running she has experienced the lively aspects, such as winning the Grindstone 100 Mile in 2012.

Despite being laden with allergies and bronchitis leading up the race, resulting in not being able to train as she would have liked, and receiving a text from her worried parents warning her not to run, Jenny toed that start line in October, determined to run the race she spent $300 on.

“For whatever reason, everything came together,” she explained. “All the stars aligned and I felt good.”

Claiming she started off too fast with the top-three women, Jenny said she kept the pace up through the night, eventually passing all the women before ticking off many of the men.

“I really like night running, I am just so happy and carefree,” she said, adding in that she remained happy and carefree while ignoring the coughing and running nose.

At the turnaround marker, Sophie met her to pace, at which point the runner was pretty spent from running so hard for so long.

“She kept me eating, drinking, and moving,” she said, throwing the praise of her win to her fellow Dirty Mom.

“Jenny ran a flawless first hundred at Grindstone,” Speidel claimed. “She took it out steady but not too fast as she felt great for most of the race–until the quad-busting downhills in the last 15 miles. We just had a lot of fun running together on trails we knew well, so it felt like a faster training run for most of the race.”

To this day, though, Jenny said she has no idea how or why she ran so fast, but said it was a beautiful course for an amazing journey.

Jenny Nichols 6 - Stony Man

It was the race of a lifetime, but over the next three years Jenny had trouble keeping up with the stress of the multiple hats she was wearing. She was filled to the brim with more ultras, job demands, and yoga teaching. Her life was beginning to teeter-totter into the unbalanced, threatening to end some of her beloved passions. To save them, she needed to make a change.

From January 2015 until the beginning of 2016, Jenny has taken a sabbatical from running, finally acknowledging the overtraining and racing she was putting herself through.

“I had no enthusiasm,” she said. “I was getting injured frequently, I was tired and fatigued, and just couldn’t recover.”

Yoga, two boys, a rising business, ultrarunning.

“I had to realize I was only one person, that I couldn’t do it all,” she said. She took the time to build up her business and clientele and devote more time flowing into poses at the yoga studio.

But, instead of having a passion pass away, the year off allowed her to refocus and regain the energy she needed to rebirth of her running life again.

Now, Jenny feels back on track, this time knowing how to keep both sides of her teeter-totter level, knowing her limits.

With the help of Andy Jones-Wilkins coaching her to several ultras this year, Jenny has 2016 planned out for her rebirth into the running world. She was en route to running the Thomas Jefferson 100k on March 12, however a nagging runner’s-knee problem forced her to say no.

“I was stretching and foam rolling so much, and still literally dragging my leg behind me,” she said. “I probably could have ran and survived, but I decided not to do the race and take some time to heal.”

And heal is what she needed to get the bounce back to her step, she said.

Trying to catch her breath in early April after a beautiful 72-degree Fahrenheit run, Jenny said everything in her life–kids, running, yoga, and her business–were all doing really well.

Jenny Nichols 7 - yoga class

Despite the small injury setback, Jenny has her eyes back on the training book, with the Greyson Highlands 50k race penned into her calendar for April 23rd. The Yeti 100 Mile Endurance Run is scheduled for September 30th.

Both races, she said enthusiastically, are located near her home, allowing her to finish the race and be back home within the hour of finishing.

“My goal is to finish every race I start and to be more present,” she said. “I want to be more present with my family, friends, and just in my world. Ultrarunning helps that, helps you be in that present moment in nature.”

Over the last year, Jenny has changed the way she looks at sponsorships, the way she thinks about others’ perceptions of her, even how she looks at why she has chosen her passions.

“As an ultrarunner baby, all I wanted was to be sponsored,” she said, and thanks to her Grindstone win both Salomon and GU picked her up as athlete to represent their companies. “But then I put so much pressure on myself, and when I was not running, I didn’t want to let people down, so I let it all go.” She’s now let go of that pressure, and feels free to run without any need to prove herself to others or her own self.

Slowing down and balancing her priorities has allowed her to question what her true motivations are for running, yoga, and her business, in addition to her unwavering duties of being a wife and mother.

“I want to be there with a pure heart, and run these races because I am happy and I enjoy it,” she said. “People will respect me whether I am fast or slow. Whether I am supermom or a yogini.”

Her realization speaks the truth, according to Speidel.

“I know I can speak for many of her female friends in the ultra world when I say we are in awe of her energy, drive, focus… but mostly her sincere desire to be authentic, real, and true to herself,” Speidel said. “She seems so happy and fulfilled with her life, and she is a great example of someone who found her callings, and wasn’t afraid to take risks to grow.”

It has been a learning process, one of balance, self-assessment, and reaching a new kind of maturity.

“I didn’t have all that at the beginning,” she admitted.

Now, she flows into Warrior II Pose, arms outstretched and chin lifted high. Her legs slightly quiver of fatigue from her morning run.

She has a long week of working and mothering, only taking breaks to skateboard down the street with her two boys.

In this pose, no one and nothing can touch or daunt her.

“This is my home base,” she explained. Breathe in. Exhale. “It is a very strong and powerful pose.”

For a very strong and powerful woman.

HA: HB-1337 protest held in La Porte


La PORTE — Along with the snowy winds whipping through downtown La Porte on Saturday were screams and chants against Indiana House Bill 1337, which increases the regulation surrounding abortions.

Gov. Mike Pence signed HB-1337 into law on March 24, making Indiana the second state to ban abortion if it is sought because the fetus was found with a disability or defect such as Down syndrome.

The first state to ban this type of abortion was North Dakota in 2013.

The ban will also disallow the abortion if the decision is based on sex or race of the fetus, and the law requires all fetal remains to be buried or cremated, instead of being treated like medical waste.

Physicians who perform the abortions, while knowing of the woman’s reasons, could face disciplinary actions or civil liability for wrongful death.

Jared Gracia-West, District Two Chair of the Indiana Young Democrats, helped organize Northwest Indiana’s rally.

There was also a rally for human rights on Saturday at the Indiana State House. West said he and other members of the Young Democrats decided to have a rally in La Porte for those in the northern regions of the state.

The rally was publicized through Facebook, attracting many community members who believe the law goes beyond pro-life or pro-choice.

They gathered on the sidewalks surrounding the La Porte County Courthouse at noon, determined to make people aware of the bill, which they said was destroying basic human rights.

West and men and women from across the region held signs that read, “FIRE PENCE,” “#Pro-Choice” and “Private uterus, not for sale.”

“This rally goes far beyond the pro-choice, pro-life argument,” West said in an email statement. “They first attacked the Union, and then the LGTB community with the religious freedom act and made Indiana look extremely unwelcoming and now they are going after women. Who is next on their extremist agenda?”

West and his companions agreed Pence and the 97 state legislators who signed the bill are violating human rights and pushing their belief on the women of the state.

In La Porte County, it has been acknowledged by several people, particularly the candidates running for the La Porte County government positions, how difficult it is to be a Democrat in the county.

However, West believes it may finally be changing.

“I think more people are changing their minds here and in November we will definitely become blue again,” he said. “People are tired of the Republicans we have in Indiana.”

On the other side of the sidewalk were protestors against the rally.

Co-ordinated the by St. Joseph of Arimathea House, an Orthodox Church, located at 402 Niesen St., participants came from La Porte County Right to Life, St. Joseph County Right to Life, the Apostolate of Divine Mercy in South Bend, Abolish Human Abortion of Indiana and also included some unaffiliated individuals.

Father Jim Rosselli said he and the “pro-lifers” of La Porte just found out about the rally on Friday.

On Saturday they held their own signs along the courthouse, displaying their beliefs that all lives matter and thanking the community who voted for Pence.

Rosselli said he was pleased with the turnout, despite the weather, and said the group was planning on staying out a couple of hours to oppose the rally.

The voice of Georgia Hatfield, 49, of La Porte, rang out above the others. She is a single mother with one son. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree and owns the Fox Art Gallery in Lake Station.

“I am a working mom and trying to get a second job,” she said. “I cannot get daycare for my son and I have had to use food pantries. I love my son, and it was my choice to have him, but it is hard.”

Hatfield spoke more about the Indiana legislator’s goal of trying to control women by taking away their right to make their own choices.

“Why do they have the right to tell me what to do with my body?” she asked.

Alisha Stoewer agreed, saying the laws are affecting all women, but fall the heaviest on those in poverty or are causing women and families to be in poverty for having a child who they cannot afford.

“They think you are lazy because you can’t afford things like daycare or have to go to food stamps and (use) pantries,” she said.

Hatfield and Stoewer agreed the next thing to be affected by the state officials is healthcare regarding women’s issues and birth control.

“When that happens, we will have an even bigger problem,” Stoewer added.

For the next few hours, voices rang out trying to show the beliefs they stood for in regards to the HB-1337. For some, it was down to pro-life or pro-choice, but for most it was more than that.

“I am not here to say abortions are right,” Stoewer said. ‘I am here to say women have a right to make that choice.”

HA: “We were so close”


The Worthy Women Recovery Home, which was inches from being done and open to the community, has another few months to go after a fire broke out around 5 p.m. Wednesday at the house.

According to Sonshine Troche, the director of the home, it was caused by a toaster oven. Troche said there was a bag of cat food on the counter, which fell and turned the oven into the ‘on’ position.

La Porte Fire Chief Andy Snyder confirmed it was the toaster oven after reading the report.

Troche had left just a few hours earlier Wednesday to spend the holiday out of town with a friend. She said she stepped right into her friend’s house when she received calls from the security system and La Porte City Police Department.

“No one was in the house, luckily,” Troche said. The home’s cat Moses was lost for the night, but returned on Thursday morning safe and sound. “It’s overwhelming; I am still soaking it in.”

The fire department was called out at 5:24 p.m. Wednesday and about 25 firefighters were able to break into a window in the back corner of the kitchen. More arrived and entered through the main door, Snyder said.

The fire, which was under control in 15 minutes, was contained to the kitchen, but there was heavy smoke and heat damage to the entire building.

“The damage inside is substantial,” Snyder added. “The heat had built up for awhile. It looks like the food accidentally fell over or was bumped and engaged the ‘ON’ button.”

The damage extends from appliances to the dry wall, to possibly the wiring throughout the house, Troche said.

The new refrigerator and freezer, along with every other kitchen appliance, will need to be replaced. Most of the drywall will need to be taken down and redone, as well as the windows because the heat melted the siding panes, Troche said.

She is afraid the wiring in the ceiling is damaged, but will have to wait to see what inspectors will say.

There was no structural damage to the building, but the floor will need to replaced.

Laura Francesconi, the board director of the home, said she got the call and quickly came to watch firefighters work on the building.

“Watching the firefighters was beautiful,” she said. “They were truly amazing. It was the first time I have seen our service providers in action helping the community, and it was phenomenal.”

Francesconi said the building will keep going on.

“Progress will slow down, but the insurance process will start and we will just keep going,” she said. “We can’t lose faith in the home, God or the community. These ladies need our help.”

Troche said she is thankful no one was in the building, but is devastated.

“We were so close,” she said. “But, we’re going to be okay.”

HA: Area Runner following her dreams to the top


The biggest hills in northwest Indiana are made of sand. For a runner, the trails through Indiana Dunes State Park are some of the best training routes one can tackle. For Anna Weber, these trails were one of the keys to her success.

Anna began running for her Michigan City cross country team Aug. 1, 1999, when she was a sixth-grader. Since that first day, she has been running with different teams and at races throughout the state.

And on Oct. 4, Anna competed in the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota. From a girl just running to make the basketball team, to a sixth-place overall female finish with a U.S Olympic Trials time, the region runner is on her way from small hometown star to professional athlete.

The beginning

Anna, now 27 and living in both Bloomington and Indianapolis, began running when her coach told the team whoever ran cross country would make the basketball team.

“Turns out, I was pretty good at running,” she said.

Anna ran cross country and preferred the mile and two-mile races during track season.

“I loved running in high school,” she said. “(I) felt like I belonged and had a group of people who did the same quirky thing every Tuesday and Saturday.”

Anna was recruited by Marquette University, where she spent five years on both running teams.

“I really loved the team,” she said of her future teammates, one of which was Cassie Peller of Chesterton. “The team was small, which was what I was used to, and the team had a lot of success. They had won nationals the last six years before.”

Though she enjoyed running in college, she said she liked the high school dynamic more.

“High school was more simple,” she said. “We spent every weekend at New Prairie, the most beautiful course in the world, and we just had one goal: to compete.”

In college, life got in the way. Injuries, including stress fractures and tendonitis, followed Anna throughout her college career and a degree in chemistry led to taking tests in the hotel before championship meets.

She graduated in 2011 and went directly into earning a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry at Indiana University Bloomington.

It was during her years in Bloomington she decided to try and accomplish a goal that had been in the back of her mind: The B standard qualifying time for the U.S Olympic Trials in the marathon distance, 26.2 miles, is 2:43.00.

Living the dream

“It has been a dream I’ve had since senior year of high school,” she said. “It has always been in the back of my head.”

Anna planned on racing her first marathon quickly after graduating from Marquette, but recovering from the last five years took her awhile.

While obtaining her Ph.D., Anna figured she would have plenty of time to start training for the trial cut. She completed two road marathons, finishing in 2:50 at the Chicago Marathon in October 2013 and then in 2:47 at the Pittsburgh Marathon in May of 2014.

“I was a few minutes off,” she said. “I knew that if I’m going to do this then I need to go all in. Getting my Ph.D. and training was just too hard.”

Taking a risk and ignoring several negative viewpoints from others, Anna decided to take a leave of absence from her grad work starting in August 2014 through Janurary 2015.

“On paper, it was a very risky move,” she said, looking at a four-minute drop. “But, I knew I would do it. I knew I had the capability.”

Without grad school taking up her time, Anna has spent the last three months doing everything she could to help her running and make her body ready for the October marathon.

She bounced between the house in Indy she shares with boyfriend Dave Santelik, and her apartment in Bloomington, where she goes when she needs a strong hill workout.

Her old high school running coach Tim Bumber agreed to help her, and introduced several changes in her training program.

While preparing for the marathon, Anna did one hill workout, long run, and tempo run per week, while maintaing between 85 and 100 miles a week.

Her relationships with a sports massage therapist, sport psychologist and sport nutritionist, along with dutiful yoga and foam rolling resulted in only taking two days off between the months of July and September for a small calf issue.

“Everything I did was geared to keeping my body healthy,” she said.

The finish line

Crossing the finish line in Minnesota in five minutes under the B standard and less than one minute from the A qualifying standard for the U.S Olympic Trials shows her hard work paid off.

The Twin Cities Marathon is curvy and slightly hilly, a perfect course for Anna, whose strength is in hills and more difficult routes.

She went into the race planning on running the first 20 miles at a 6:10 pace. By the 5k she was a hair under that, and by the half-way point she knew it was going to be her day.

“I tucked into a pack and kept going,” she said. “At the half I knew without a doubt my ticket was punched. I just couldn’t get hurt or fall off a cliff for the next 13.”

The time, which was the 23rd fastest time run this year, qualified her to run at the trials on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.

Until then, Anna will keep up with her training, tweaking it for speed.

“I hope to be in the top 20,” she said, which will call for a low 2:30 time she expects. “I just want to gain as much experience as possible.”

Her time introduced the possibility of becoming a sponsored professional runner, an opportunity she plans on pursuing 100 percent.

From now until the trials, Anna has one goal: It will be 26.2 miles of running with the miles trained in her Indiana hometowns pushing her forward.