Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 14, 2011

Chicago, Airlines Strike Deal to Continue Expanding O’Hare

After a long and bitter debate, a partial deal has been reached to continue expansion of O'Hare International Airport.

It took the federal government to mediate negotiations between the City of Chicago and United and American Airlines, the biggest carriers at O'Hare. For now, the newly announced $1.17 billion dollar agreement funds parts of the O'Hare Modernization Program, including rerouting roads and installing a runway on the airport's South Side.

The airlines had long said that O'Hare isn't busy enough to warrant an expansion, but United CEO Jeff Smisek says U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood helped changed his mind.

"Do we need this runway today? Of course not. But we do believe that with time, we will and we're willing to help fund our portion," Smisek said.

When asked what the city gave up to move negotiations forward, Mayor Richard Daley would only say, "I'm not gonna mention it."

Negotiations over the rest of the expansion are expected to resume in two years.

Categories: Business, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 11, 2011

Carle and Hoopeston Look at Integrating Service

Carle Foundation Hospital and Hoopeston Regional Hospital are mulling over a plan to improve medical services by expanding their affiliation.

Under the proposal, Hoopeston - in addition to all of its primary-care facilities in Hoopeston, Cissna Park, and Rossville - would become an independent operating unit of Carle. Hospital officials say this effort would pave the way for better patient care between the two medical centers, especially with medical records, labs and imaging.

"We don't think people should be disadvantaged because they live in a small town 50 miles away about the health care that's delivered," Carle CEO James Leonard said. "This type of relationship allows that dream to become a reality."

Hoopeston CEO Harry Brockus said by teaming up with the larger Carle hospital, he believes the partnership will make it easier for his medical center to get loans to buy new equipment, bring on more staff, and start up medical departments.

"One of the things that this integration will bring about for us is to be able to work with Carle to access those markets because they're so much larger than us," Brockus said. "Hoopeston Hospital struggled for several years prior to this and only became financially solvent within the past two years."

Carle providers have teamed with Hoopeston Regional Center since November 2009 in areas including cardiology, psychiatry, and surgery. Carle previously loaned Hoopeston Regional Hospital $4 million to expand its emergency room and surgical area...that project is expected to start in April.

In order for this latest partnership to be finalized, board members from both hospitals and the Illinois Health Facilities and Service Review Board have to approve the agreement. If all approvals are met, then by October 2012, Hoopeston's hospital and clinics would be part of Urbana's Carle system.

Categories: Business, Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 07, 2011

Judge To Weigh Rival Plans In Trib Bankruptcy Case

A two-week hearing begins Monday to determine the fate of Tribune Co. more than two years after an ill-advised $8.2 billion buyout drove one of the oldest U.S. media companies into bankruptcy protection.

The proceedings follow four years of tumult and intrigue at Tribune Co. The company has been through the disgrace of a bankruptcy case that has lasted far longer than planned, a CEO departure triggered by complaints about management's raunchiness and the whiff of a financial scandal fanned by a court-appointed examiner's conclusion that parts of the 2007 buyout had bordered on fraud.

The hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., will affect the ownership of the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Sun of Baltimore, other daily newspapers and 23 television stations. The TV stations include Chicago-based WGN, which reaches more than 70 million homes nationwide, mostly through cable and satellite systems.

The hearing edges Tribune Co. closer toward shedding most of the roughly $13 billion that it carried into bankruptcy protection. If it can unload the debt, the company believes it can make money while it tries to adapt to a marketing shift to the Internet.

Judge Kevin Carey is being asked to choose between two competing reorganization plans. The plans differ in their appraisals of Tribune Co.'s current value and their limitations on which participants in the troublesome buyout can be sued for saddling the company with too much debt.

Either way, the outcome is likely to leave Tribune Co. controlled by its creditors. The new owners are expected to replace the patchwork management team that has been running the Chicago-based company since the previous CEO, Randy Michaels, resigned in October amid complaints about risque conduct.

Tribune Co., founded in 1847, filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2008, making it the first major U.S. newspaper publisher to do so during the Great Recession. The deep downturn magnified the challenges facing newspaper publishers as readers and advertisers moved from print to digital alternatives.

The slump prompted more than a dozen other newspaper publishers to follow Tribune Co. into bankruptcy protection. Like Tribune Co., several of them were saddled with billions of debt taken on during better times. Most of them have emerged from bankruptcy protection already.

The complex 2007 buyout engineered by real estate mogul Sam Zell complicated Tribune Co.'s effort to return to normal business operations. The allegations of financial conduct made many creditors less inclined to make concessions during negotiations on a reorganization plan. The independent examiner's report last summer prompted the company to back off one proposal.

This month's hearing makes it more likely that Tribune Co. will finally emerge from bankruptcy court this year. The legal fallout could last for years, however. Both plans envision creditors pursuing lawsuits in an attempt to recover more of their losses, and there could be an appeal of Carey's decision in the case.

The stakes riding on the resolution of the convoluted saga are expected to attract a crowd. Carey is setting up a video feed in an overflow room to accommodate up to 100 more people beyond the 175 spectators that can cram into his courtroom. The judge also is clearing space in the courtroom for more than 2,000 exhibits expected to be submitted during the hearing.

"It will take some time and involve some tedium," Carey said during a housekeeping hearing last week.

The hearings also could shed more light on Tribune Co.'s operations and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that led to the Zell buyout, which took the company private and turned employees into part-owners.

Reams of documents in the case have been kept under wraps to protect what has been described as confidential business information. Carey so far has rejected requests to unseal the documents, but he has warned that some of the information could come out during the hearing because he doesn't plan to close the courtroom.

Tribune Co. favors a plan that would turn over ownership to the company's major creditors, including some that had helped line up the ruinous financing, which already has triggered lawsuits. It would shield the lenders involved in the buyout from lawsuits after the company emerges from Chapter 11. Opponents of the plan contend it would also block attempts to sue former Tribune Co. shareholders who received $4.3 billion in the buyout's first phase.

This proposal has the backing of Tribune's Co.'s proposed new owners - a group led by banker JPMorgan Chase & Co., distressed debt specialist Angelo, Gordon & Co. and hedge fund Oaktree Capital Management. It's also supported by Tribune Co.'s committee for unsecured creditors.

A group of creditors that owns Tribune Co. debt issued before the Zell buyout has proposed an alternative plan primarily because they want fewer limits on which parties can be sued for alleged fraud. The plan also contends these note holders, led by hedge fund Aurelius Capital, are entitled to be paid bankruptcy claims totaling $1.2 billion instead of $761 million offered in the proposal backed by Tribune Co.

Zell, still Tribune Co.'s chairman, has filed objections to both plans because he and a business arm, Equity Group Investments, would remain exposed to lawsuits alleging fraud.

The competing reorganization plans also came up with dramatically different estimates on Tribune Co.'s business value. The company-backed plan pegs it at $6.7 billion, compared with $8.3 billion in the Aurelius-led proposal.

Tribune Co. has been gradually recovering from the recession, primarily because of an industry-wide revival in television advertising. The company's revenue last year totaled $3.1 billion, 2 percent below 2009, based on court documents.

But the company still gets more of its revenue from newspapers and other publishing sources. Tribune Co. has predicted its revenue this year will decline 4 percent, dip another 2 percent in 2012 and slip 3 percent in 2013.

Those forecasts assume the new owners won't break the company apart by selling some of the newspapers and TV stations.

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 04, 2011

Students, Graduates, Instructors Give Vote of Confidence to UI Institute of Aviation

Students, instructors, and graduates of the University of Illinois' Institute of Aviation say administrators want to close a valuable program at a time when it's needed most.

About 80 of them Thursday discussed an industry that stands to lose about 37,000 pilots in the U.S. alone over the next 10 years. U of I Graduate Nathan Butcher is now a Delta pilot. He said there's a decline in training overall, and many pilots are nearing their mandatory retirement age. Butcher said administrators have a very narrow view of the Institute, which is turning out more than pilots.

"The Institute of Aviation is a long standing center for excellence in the field of professional pilot training, aviation research, and aviation safety advancements," he said. "Unfortunately, the university's administration defines the Institute of Aviation's role as being very technical and only worth of trade school status. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Willard Airport Tower Air Traffic Controller Kevin Gnagey said two thirds of his workforce is nearing retirement age, and that the Institute generates 85% of the traffic they direct at Willard. Gnagey contends the U of I is also throwing away the chance for future research on airport grounds.

"I would also be so bold as to assert that losing the Institute of Aviation could pose a large loss to the University of Illinois," he said. "This loss may not be immediately evident, but as the FAA is investing billions of dollars into research and development in new technology for the next generation of the national airspace system, opportunities would be lost."

Instructor and U of I graduate Joseph McElwee said while no decision has been made, he says administrators are trying to make closing the institute easier by moving remaining faculty to other academic units, and denying Fall 2011 admission to new applicants.

"They say that no decision has been made, so we don't have to bargain with your VAP's (Vistiing Academic Professionals)," McElwee said. "But at the same time, if you think about this, it's just an academic institution. And so the backbone of this is the students. And if we don't have students, there's no one to teach."

U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the recommendation to close the facility came after evaluating competing interests of students, faculty, and the public, and determining that closing the Institute and discontinuing degree programs were in the best interests of the Urbana campus. She also cites declining enrollment at the Institute in the past decade, noting it had 176 applicants in 2002, admitting 119, and 65 freshman enrolled. In 2010, the Institute had 112 applicants, admitting 65 and 34 enrolled.

A hearing on the Institute's future will be held Tuesday before Urbana campus Senate. The plan must also go before the U of I's Board of Trustees and the State Board of Higher Education.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 02, 2011

Champaign County Board Rejects ‘Green’ Option on Olympian Drive

Champaign County Board members have narrowly rejected a plan to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue.

Tuesday night's 13-to-10 committee of the whole vote followed another backing the long-debated extension of Olympian itself. But opponents felt plans for the 'green route' or north-south 'S' curve connecting Lincoln to Olympian would impact too many landowners, with no guarantee the route would lure industry. Republican Alan Nudo favors further research, with those residents involved.

"I'm all for Urbana having commercial-industrial in this area, because that's what it's going to be," Nudo said. "It's in a mile and a half, and I think it's a fait accompli. But we need to take care of the residents in there, and do it right."

Nudo said a new phase of research will provide options, and enable for compromise.

Democrat Tom Betz said it is hard to disagree with those arguments and side with economic interests, but he supported the plan.

"We are creating an artery, and method by which development can take place," Betz said. "But I think it is more likely to happen as a result of this than if we do nothing. Right now, Olympian Drive kind of is a road to nowhere. The county needs some economic development. It's not just the city of Urbana."

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she hasn't given up on the green option, and could return to the county board in two weeks. She said she wants to develop some cost estimates for an altered plan, but won't start over from scratch.

"We''ll modify what things cost, but we're not prepared to say 'we need to spend $170,000 (on a new study)," Prussing said. "What this is really - we can't find perfect. And sometimes, my philosophy is, you just gotta settle for excellent."

A study of options to the west would take 18 months. Champaign County Highway Engineer Jeff Blue said consultants can estimate the cost of some new alignments. But he said a new study should start by April, or the Olympian Drive project could risk losing the $15-million in state and federal money.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 27, 2011

FutureGen CO2 Decision Site Expected on Monday

The wait is nearly over for the four Illinois counties hoping to be the FutureGen clean coal project's carbon dioxide storage site.

The FutureGen Alliance will announce its selection Monday. The alliance is a group of coal companies and other firms working with the U.S. Department of Energy on FutureGen.

The sites in contention are in Christian, Douglas, Fayette and Morgan counties.

Leaders hope the project could bring 1,000 construction and 150 permanent jobs to their communities.

The carbon dioxide would be generated by a power plant in Meredosia the project aims to refit with low-emissions technology. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

The project was announced last year after the Energy Department scrapped plans to build a new experimental coal plant in Mattoon.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 25, 2011

Maple Syrup Fair Time in Parke County, Indiana

This is the season for tapping maple trees for syrup, and while Vermont is the nation's big maple syrup producer, other regions produce it, too.

This weekend and next, Parke County in western Indiana celebrates its maple syrup producers with the 48th annual Maple Syrup Fair. Rebbecca Pefley is one of those maple syrup producers. Her great-grandfather started the Smiley Sugar Camp, which --- thanks to her grandson --- is now a fifth-generation family business. Pefley said there is a big difference between real maple syrup, and the cheaper syrup most people put on their pancakes.

"What you buy in the grocery store is just mostly Karo or corn syrup, and with some slight amount of maple syrup in it," Pefley said. "But what you get here in Parke County, and what we make is 100% pure. It has nothing added. It is just the sugar water boiled down to the syrup stage".

Besides the big difference between real and artificial maple syrup, Pefley said there is a difference between Indiana maple syrup and the better-know Vermont product, noting that her syrup is a little milder.

In all, five local maple syrup camps will be selling their product at the Parke County Maple Syrup Fair. Cathy Harkrider of Parke County Inc. said she expects attendance over the two weekends to total around 8,000 to 10,000, depending on the weather. Maple syrup will be on sale, to take home or pour on pancakes right at the fair. Directions will be available to visit local maple syrup camps, to see how the syrup is made. In addition, the Parke Players will present their production of "Nunsense" in conjunction with the Maple Syrup Fair, at Rockville's Ritz Theater.

The 48th Annual Parke County Maple Syrup Fair takes place Saturday and Sunday, February 26-27 and March 5-6, at the 4-H Fairgrounds on U-S Route 41 near Rockville, Indiana. Pancakes will be served each day from 8 AM until 4 PM.

Categories: Biography, Business, Community

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 22, 2011

Rally on UI Campus in Support of Wisconsin Workers

As protesters flock Wisconsin's capitol in response to legislation to strip most public employees of bargaining rights, a group held its own rally on the University of Illinois campus.

About 125 people made up of university students and staff, and nearby residents stood in front of the Alma Mater statue chanting: "The workers united will never be defeated. The workers united will never be defeated. The workers united will never be defeated."

The Graduate Employees' Organization, a labor union representing 2,500 U of I teaching and graduate assistants, helped organize the event. Union member Stephanie Seawell said workers in Wisconsin and all across the country should be able to negotiate for better contracts, a right she criticizes Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for trying to take away.

"That fundamental right is being challenged in Wisconsin, and if it can be challenged in Wisconsin, it can be challenged here," Seawell said. "Workers should join together and say this is enough."

At the close of the rally, participants marched to the YMCA on campus to hold a 24-hour-a-day vigil, which Seawell said will last until Governor Walker backs down from his proposal to eliminate collective bargaining rights for most of Wisconsin's public employees.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 18, 2011

Litigation Over Airport Expansion Delayed Again

There's another delay in litigation over O'Hare International Airport expansion that pits United and American airlines against the city of Chicago.

A statement Friday from United Airlines and American says a new five-day delay will give the parties more time to resolve their differences over the financing and timing of construction of new runways and other improvements at O'Hare.

It says the latest delay comes at the request of U.S. Department of Transportation. The agency has been trying to mediate an agreement.

On Thursday, the sides asked a judge to lift a one-week delay on hearing the airlines' lawsuit that opposes the issuing of bonds for the expansion.

Mayor Richard Daley has accused the airlines of reneging on their promise in 2001 to help see through the overhaul of O'Hare.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 17, 2011

Governor Pat Quinn Introduces New Budget Plan

Getting more revenue for the state was the main goal of Governor Pat Quinn's previous budget addresses. But this year, with a new income tax hike in effect, Quinn on Wednesday made no such pitch. The Governor mentioned a few new initiatives ... such as efforts to attract start-up companies to Illinois, and to double the state's exports. But the governor says the main focus of his proposed spending plan is exercising spending restraint. As Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky reports ... for some, the cuts Quinn has proposed don't go far enough. Others call them devastating.

(Photo courtesy of Chris Eaves)

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