Illinois Public Media News
The debate over cleanup plans at the 5th and Hill gas plant site continued Tuesday night during a Champaign City Council study session. City Council members generally support the plan --- but only up to a point.
Some neighbors of the old manufactured gas plant site say Ameren's year-long multi-million dollar cleanup plan fails to address contaminants leaking into groundwater that may appear in flooded basements. But project manager Brian Martin says follow-up testing at the request of those neighbors has found no sign of toxic chemicals in yards or basements. He says testing in basements, of sump pump water, and soil vapors turned up nothing to cause concern about exposure.
The Illinois EPA is backing Ameren's cleanup plan. But Claudia Lennhoff of Champaign County Healthcare Consumers says the agency needs to conduct additional testing to see if toxic vapors are escaping from groundwater into basements. She says other state environmental agencies conduct vaporization testing, and the Illinois EPA should do the same.
While generally backing the cleanup plan, City Council members put off a vote directing staff to starting planning for the eventual redevelopment of the 5th and Hill site. Many members say they want to see how the cleanup goes, before committing the city to anything. Mayor Jerry Schweighart says "there are too many unknowns at this time".
Governor Pat Quinn says shuttered historic sites could reopen by summer.
The Chicago Democrat says he is committed to opening them by June 30, even though his proposed budget calls for leaving them closed.
We've got to get a little more money. We've made some reorganization, so the historic sites are going to get done as quickly as possible," the governor said at a stop in Savoy yesterday.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich closed a dozen historic sites and state parks last year to help fill a budget deficit. After Quinn became governor, he reopened the parks and said he would do the same for the historic sites, including the farm owned by Abraham Lincoln's family in Coles County.
Quinn now says money for reopening them will come from merging the agencies that oversee natural resources and historic sites.
With Champaign County Democratic leadership meeting tonight, there's uncertainty over whether their leader will resign.
Party Chairman Tony Fabri says he's thinking about stepping down from the post and concentrating his time on being the county's elected auditor. Fabri has come under fire for spending little time in the office and being inaccessible since he was appointed auditor in 2006 and won a full term last year. Fabri defends his handling of the auditor's office, which he says has won awards for its performance. But he admits that the backlash has made him think.
"Given the criticism I've been hearing lately -- some of it constructive, some of it just wrong -- some of it's been very helpful and I think I need to focus my attention on the office I was elected to serve," said Fabri.
Fabri won't say if he plans to resign at tonight's Democratic Central Committee meeting or what he'll otherwise tell members. The second-in command in the party leadership, Al Klein, says Fabri hasn't told him anything about resigning tonight, though he says Fabri has brought up the possibility in the past.
The Illinois Department of Corrections has returned 44 maximum-security inmates who were transferred out of Pontiac Correctional Center to the prison.
Pontiac prison was targeted for closing by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who claimed prisoners could be housed more cheaply at Thomson Correctional Center in western Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn announced earlier this month the facility will remain open.
Department of Corrections spokesman Derek Schnapp said the maximum-security inmates were transferred Tuesday from Menard Correctional Center. The transfer brings the total population of Pontiac prison to 1,105. Schnapp didn't say why the transfers took place.
Pontiac prison was set to close on Dec. 31, 2008, but a lawsuit filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents some prison workers, halted the process.
State forestry officials will conduct a controlled burn of prairie grass at the Newport Chemical Depot in western Indiana, where 275,000 gallons of deadly nerve agent was destroyed under an international treaty.
The Indiana Division of Forestry will burn about 336 acres of native prairie grass Friday or Saturday, depending on the weather, at the depot about 20 miles north of Terre Haute. The agency is also holding workshops on fire management. Officials say the controlled burns create habitats attractive to wildlife. The Depot has maintained the prairie for the past 15 years.
Destruction of the VX nerve agent stored at Newport was completed last August.
A $12 million bequest from a 1944 University of Illinois graduate will serve as a boost to areas in agriculture and liberal arts.
The gift comes from Arlys Streitmatter Conrad, who died in 2007. She lived in Speer, a small town near Peoria. She was the daughter of a farmer and teacher and wanted to honor both of her parents. So the money will be split between the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, or ACES.
Former ACES Associate Dean and U of I fundraiser Lynette Marshall also grew up in Speer, Illinois, where she says their families were connected. She and Conrad worked for more than 20 years to help establish a scholarship in Conrad's name, aimed at a junior and senior who planned careers in farming. Marshall also helped set up the financial donation. She says Conrad was happiest when talking with scholarship winners.
"In particular, young people who were hoping to go back to the farm and engage in production agriculture in her agricultural scholarships, or students that she met in the Department of English, when she felt like they really understood her goals for recognizing her mother in that way," says Marshall.
Marshall, who's now with the University of Iowa Foundation, calls Conrad a 'life-long learner' with an unending devotion to the U of I. Conrad attended the university on a 4-year scholarship, and her career included work with the U of I Airport and Alumni Association, and S and C Electric Company in Chicago, where she met her future husband, John Conrad. The 12-million dollar bequest will be part of the University of Illinois Foundation's $2.25 billion 'Brilliant Futures' campaign.
Illinois governor Pat Quinn is holding to his goal of getting state bills paid within a 30 day period. The governor is touring health-care establishments in downstate Illinois, places that have been waiting months for reimbursements from the state for Medicaid and other expenses. Quinn stood next to the pharmacy inside a supermarket in Savoy this morning to tout a budget plan that includes an income tax increase and additional tax burdens on businesses.
We have to clear off an 11.5 billion dollar deficit and balance the budget. It may take castor oil, but so be it," said Quinn. "The Land of Lincoln is not a deadbeat and never will be."
Quinn's pharmacy backdrop was to highlight businesses he says are hurting because the state isn't paying its reimbursements on time. Mark Black is a Danville nursing home administrator who says he's getting insistent letters from creditors who normally understand the payment backlog.
"If we're in a system where we're not being reimbur4sed and reimbursed on a timely basis, it puts our residents at risk. And it certainly makes it difficult in our community to pay to local vendors the bills that we owe them," said Black.
Quinn is also maintaining his opposition to raising the state motor fuel tax to help pay for a 26 billion dollar capital construction plan for the state.
Officials from the Champaign-Urbana area presented a long wish list Monday night, at a public forum held to hear ideas for spending money from a capital construction bill --- if state lawmakers ever pass one.
The forum in Champaign was organized by Illinois House Revenue and Finance Committee Chairman Jack Bradley. The Marion Democrat is holding forums across the state to find out specific local capital needs.
The transportation project most mentioned last night was Olympian Drive. Only about a mile of the north-side link between I-57 and U-S Route 45 has been built. Champaign Regional Planning Commission CEO Cameron Moore says businesses that moved into the north end of Champaign-Urbana were expecting Olympian Drive to be completed. "The fact that it hasn't been built", says Moore, "is having an impact on their ability to continue to operate efficiently. I also believe that businesses that are interested in coming into the area typically like to locate in growth corridors --- which this is. And being able to complete this significant arterial roadway would simply open up more opportunities for development in the area."
Moore says they're seeking five million in state funding for the 27-million dollar Olympian Drive project. They hope federal funding will take care of the rest.
Illinois lawmakers last approved a capital construction bill in 1999, and Bradley says a new capital bill is long overdue. He's proposed raising the Illinois Motor Fuel tax to fund the transportation component of any capital bill. Some who spoke at the Champaign hearing raised concerns that money would be diverted out of that tax revenue stream to non-transportation projects. Bradley says that could be avoided by additional language in the bill, and by sending the money to the state's Construction Account. He says diversions from that account are not possible.
Republican and Green candidates in the Urbana City election have asked the city clerk to hold a ballot lottery to determine the order in which candidates are listed --- even though the ballots have already been printed.
Those ballots list the Democratic candidates first. But the Republican and Green candidates say that without a lottery to determine the order, state law is being broken.
Republican mayoral candidate Rex Bradfield says he plans to take the matter to court if Urbana officials don't agree to hold a ballot lottery in a timely fashion. "They're running around like cockroaches when you turn the lights on", says Bradfield, referring to Urbana city officials. "The should just say, 'well, hell, let's try the lottery, maybe we'll get lucky'."
A letter signed by Bradfield and the other candidates was delivered Monday to Urbana City Clerk Phyllis Clark. It argues that putting Democrats at the top of the Urbana ballot without a lottery unfairly places other candidates at a potential disadvantage.
Besides Bradfield, the letter is signed by Green Party mayoral candidate Durl Kruse, and Green Party city council candidates Gary Storm and Mark Mallon. Republican Heather Stevenson, who's running for a second term on the Urbana City Council did not sign the letter.
City Clerk Phyllis Clark says she's checking with Urbana City Attorney Ron O'Neal before making a decision on the matter. If a ballot lottery led to printing new ballots in Urbana, the cost would run in the thousands of dollars.
Spring break at Champaign Centennial High School is especially sweet for the boys basketball team. The Centennial Chargers and Coach Tim Lavin are enjoying a vacation following their 61 to 59 win over the Oswego Panthers Saturday, to win the Illinois Class 3A Championship. I
Centennial Junior Forward Rayvonte Rice had 21 points, including the two winning free throws in the waning seconds of the game.
The team returned home from Peoria Saturday night to a rally at the Centennial gym.
Saturday's victory earned the Centennial Chargers their first state crown. The Chargers last saw state playoff action in 1984, when they lost the Class AA quarterfinal to Aurora (West), 73-44.
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