Illinois Public Media News
Sherriff's officials in southeast Missouri are urging residents near the Birds Point Levee to clear out.
Law enforcement was busy Friday afternoon ordering the area's 200 residents to leave the flood plain while the Army Corps of Engineers weighs a decision to intentionally break the Mississippi River levee.
The move is aimed at reducing pressure on the flood wall protecting the upriver town of Cairo, Ill.
The land is sparsely populated, and many residents had already left as the corps began moving equipment into place to break the levee. That break is expected to send water over 130,000 acres of farmland.
The state of Missouri has fought the plan, but the corps says it's monitoring river levels and may not make a final decision on a break until the weekend.
A federal judge on Friday gave the Army Corps of Engineers the go-ahead to intentionally break a Mississippi River levee in southeastern Missouri to spare a flood-threatened Illinois town just upriver.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr.'s ruling followed a five-hour Thursday hearing over Missouri's bid to halt the possible intentional levee break.
The corps has proposed using explosives to blow a 2-mile-wide hole through the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri's Mississippi County, arguably to ease waters rising around the upstream town of Cairo, Ill., near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
The corps halted its preparation for the break Thursday, saying it needed until the weekend to assess whether a sustained crest of the Ohio at Cairo would demand the extraordinary step.
The river's crest at the Cairo flood wall could reach 60.3 feet - nearly a foot above its record high - as early as Sunday, corps spokesman Jim Pogue said. The wall protects the town up to 64 feet, but there's concern the crest could last up to five days, putting extra pressure on it.
Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee all want the corps to move forward with the plan. Missouri had sought a temporary restraining order to block the detonation. It was not immediately clear early Friday whether Missouri planned to appeal Limbaugh's denial of the order.
John McManus, an assistant Missouri attorney general, had argued the break would unleash a torrent of water that would carve a channel through prime farmland, flood about 90 homes and displace 200 people. The rush of water also stood to cause an environmental catastrophe, sweeping away everything from fertilizer to diesel fuel, propane tanks, pesticides and other toxins, McManus and some of the four witnesses who testified for the state suggested Thursday.
Attorneys for the corps and the state of Illinois countered that the farmers already have land that's flooded and have been given ample notice to clear their properties of anything toxic. The state of Illinois and the town of Cairo argue the well-being of Cairo's 2,800 residents outweighs farmland that would be swallowed up by the rush.
The far southern Illinois city of Cairo is giving residents the option of voluntarily leaving as the Ohio River continues to rise.
Police dispatcher Cheryl James says, as of Tuesday morning, eight families have notified police that they're clearing out. Alexander County Emergency Management Coordinator Marty Nicholson says Cairo's levee and flood wall are holding their own against a river that's expected to reach a record 61 feet on May 3. Nicholson says the concrete flood wall at Cairo can hold back water levels up to 64 feet. On Tuesday, the river already had topped 56 feet.
The Mississippi River is also the center of attention for emergency officials. Already, St. Clair, Madison, Bond, Clinton, Monroe, Randolph and Washington counties in Illinois are under a flash flood watch.
Democratic Rep. Jerry Costello and Republican Rep John Shimkus met Monday with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Illinois Emergency Management Agency officials.
Afterward, the lawmakers said they encouraged the corps and IEMA to work closely with local officials in coordinating plans to deal with flooding.
According to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., a storm system that blew through northeast Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas on Monday will likely move into Illinois on Tuesday. It is expected to cause substantial flooding in a corridor that runs from Illinois to Arkansas.
The city of Chicago has launched a program that officials say will help the taxi industry buy hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles.
Mayor Richard Daley announced the program on Friday, the same day as Earth Day. It's called the Green Taxi Program and the goal is to help the city reach lower carbon emission goals. It also aims to passengers trips in environmentally sustainable vehicles.
A federal Clean Cities grant will fund the program. The program will use $1 million to reimburse the cost of certain green vehicles.
Hybrids will be reimbursed $2,000 and propane-powered vehicles can qualify for between $9,000 and $14,000. Eletric vehicles don't qualify.
Another Asian import has joined the Asian lady beetle and emerald ash-borer on the list of insect pests in Illinois.
The brown marmorated stink bug first showed up in the Chicago area last fall. By January, it was being seen in Kane County. And just this month, it was spotted downstate in Champaign and McLean Counties.
Kelly Estes of the Illinois Natural History Survey said the insects are a year-round problem, because they gather on and in the sides of buildings when cold weather comes.
"Looking for that place to hide out for the winter, and then in the spring," Estes said. "They move out and will feed on a wide variety of plants: ornamental shrubs and trees, as well as corn and soybeans, and many of the fruits and vegetables that we raise here in Illinois."
The brown marmorated stink bug is a big enough problem on the east coast that insecticides are marketed there to kill them specifically. Estes said experts tell her that insecticides may not be the best approach in Illinois, since the stink bug's numbers are still small.
"For infestations that people potentially have in their homes, just with the potential danger of using foggers and things like that, they're not recommending people necessarily bomb their houses to get rid of infestations," Estes said. "Vacuuming them up and physical removal is what they're recommending right now."
The brown marmorated resembles other stink bugs, but has a speckled body, red eyes, black and white banding along the edge of its body and white stripes on its antennae.
If you see any of them, Kelly Estes wants to know about it for the Illinois Cooperative Pest Survey. She would like to see a photo of any bugs that you find, or better still, a specimen in a crush-proof container. Kelly Estes can be reached at 217-333-1005.
There will still be an event Wednesday night in Clinton to discuss a plan to store toxic substances in the city's landfill.
But the purpose of the event has shifted from an environmental hearing to an informational meeting hosted by a concerned citizens' group. The U.S. EPA had postponed the hearing Friday night out of concerns that the federal government would shut down, and has yet to reschedule.
The owners of Clinton Landfill are seeking a permit to allow for the storage of toxic substances called PCB's. A group called WATCH, or We Are Against Toxic Chemicals, is afraid they could eventually leak from the landfill, threatening the Mahomet Aquifer.
Group President George Wissmiller said he has had his share of questions over the proposal the past few years.
"There apparently is no agency that can react to the idea that this is just a bad idea," he said. "It's irresponsible to dump PCB's on top of the water supply for 750,000 people. But if the U.S. EPA regulations and the Illinois EPA regs and everybody else's regs allow it, they're going to do it in spite of the fact that it doesn't make any sense."
Wissmiller said members had already promoted the hearing, and didn't want residents showing up, only to find that Clinton High School was locked. He said Wednesday night's main function will be to tell the public that there are ways to block the plan locally.
"If local government has an ordinance or a regulation that limits dumping of this particular type of waste, the federal government can't permit the hauler to violate that ordinance," he said. "So they are, in fact, restricted by local ordinances."
Wissmiller said the group could also enact a DeWitt County ordinance that stipulates how landfills are set up. The informational meeting runs from 6 to 8 Wednesday night at Clinton High School, with an open house starting at 5 PM.
The DeWitt County Board is staying silent on a proposal to allow PCB's into the Clinton Landfill.
County Board members voted eight-to-four Thursday night against a proposal to formally present a consultant's report critical of the PCB proposal at a federal EPA hearing next month. The hearing on the Clinton Landfill's request for a chemical waste permit --- which would allow PCB's --- is scheduled for April 13th from 6 to 8 PM, at Clinton High School.
One reason cited for voting down a formal presentation is the cost of bringing consultant G. Fred Lee to Clinton to present an updated version of his report. But another one is a 2008 clause in DeWitt County's agreement with landfill owner Peoria Disposal, to remain neutral on their application for a chemical waste permit. County Board member Sherrie Brown made the motion for the consultant's report, and would also like to see the neutrality clause rescinded.
"But ultimately it would lead to litigation," Brown said. "So I believe that in discussing this openly with my fellow board members, that they believe it would lead to litigation, and they're not willing to look at that."
Brown said she thinks the neutrality clause is not legally binding, because it concerns county board policy matters, but DeWitt County State's Attorney Richard Kortiz disagrees.
"When we start talking policy, the way I would look at this, that is more of a nebulous situation," Koritz said. "Maybe more into specific employment issues, or benefits, or we're going to put this area zoned this way or this area zoned that way. Those are policies, as opposed to contractual obligations."
The neutrality clause is part of DeWitt County's agreement with Peoria Disposal that sets out host fees paid to county government for the Clinton Landfill's operation.Koritz said that before the clause was added, the Clinton Landfill's request for a chemical waste permit had the county board's implicit support. But public opposition to the permit has grown, as reflected in the vote on two non-binding resolutions in 2008. Opponents say PCB's would eventually leak out of the Clinton Landfill, threatening groundwater supplies from the Mahomet Aquifer.
Meanwhile, opponents of a chemical waste permit for the Clinton Landfill argue that staying neutral on the issue won't protect DeWitt County from litigation. George Wissmiller of the local group WATCH predicts that the county will face litigation, from whichever side doesn't get its way in the dispute.
University of Illinois trustees have put off action on an Urbana campus wind turbine for at least three months, but speakers on both sides of the issue told trustees at their meeting in Springfield Wednesday they would prefer a quick decision.
For civil engineering student Amy Allen, the decision should be "yes". Allen, who is also president of Students for Environmental Concerns on the Urbana campus, told trustees that any further delay would just run up the cost for the wind turbine --- and perhaps kill the project entirely. She wants trustees to approve the wind turbine for its original site at South Farms.
"Re-siting the turbine and seeking an extension would kill the project," Allen said. "We ask that you approve the wind turbine at the next meeting of the board of trustees in June, or abandon it entirely, instead of consigning it to death by a thousand cuts."
But abandonment would be just fine for U of I faculty member Steven Platt. He told trustees that even if a site is found that won't disturb nearby homeowners, wind turbines are no longer on the cutting edge of energy technology.
"There are hundreds of large turbines in Illinois, thousands across the country," Platt said. "The time, if ever there was one, to erect what will amount to be a five-million-dollar symbol is long in the past."
A U of I board of trustees committee has decided to give the wind turbine project further study --- it could come up at the board's next meeting on June 9th in Chicago.
A health care advocates group says the findings of environmental experts from a Boneyard Creek pipeline confirm their fears about contaminants.
Champaign County Health Care Consumers brought in the researchers to investigate the old pipe that extends from the site of a former manufactured gas plant at Champaign's 5th and Hill Streets owned by Ameren. Grant Antoline, an activist with the group, said lab results confirmed there was coal tar in the pipe, and it contained organic compounds like benzene, and hydrocarbons that exceed safety standards.
"We've always been concerned that there's been some sort of dumping into the Boneyard Creek from 3 years ago when we started this campaign," Antoline said. "It's just common practice for these plants to be set up next to a waterway. But to see results of one million, 300-thousand percent higher than they should be is outrageous, and there's no excuse for not investing in the pipe when it's this serious."
Residents in the 5th and Hill neighborhood have long complained over odors in their basements, and nagging health problems. The consumer group's 60-day notice of intent to sue the city of Champaign over cleaning up the pipe will expire April 11th. Its executive director, Claudia Lennhoff, says they simply want the line capped off.
"Their part of the action should be fairly simple and straightforward in terms of the notice of intent to sue," Lennhoff said. "All that we require of them under the Clean Water Act and that notice of intent to sue is to block off the discharge into the Boneyard."
Lennhoff said the city should make Ameren pay for sealing up the pipeline. EPA Spokeswoman Maggie Carson said it is testing results from the Boneyard site have yet to be released, and Champaign city attorney Fred Stavins says the city is waiting on those results, and to find who's responsible for cleaning up the pipe.
In February, the Champaign city council recommended repealing its groundwater ordinance on a case-by-case basis. Stavins said the issue will re-surface by mid-April at the earliest.
Opponents of a plan to locate a coal mine in Southern Vermilion County will take their concerns before the County Board this week.
Sunrise Coal, which is in the process of buying mineral rights, wants to build on the county line, reaching into Eastern Champaign County. The group 'Stand Up to Coal' is led by retired farmer Charles Goodall of rural Sidell. He contends that a mine would devastate water quantity and quality, as well as public health.
"They (Sunrise) actually started sending out land agents well before there was any public discussion of the issues that inevitably affect everyone, not just a few people who are leasing," Goodall said. "The community in that sense was heavily disadvantaged. I happen to think that in a democracy, we all ought to be involved in these big discussions."
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said it's good to get these issues out in the open, but he says there are no zoning regulations in place to prevent the mine.
"Homeowners should be well informed of what is trying to be built in your community, and whether you support it or not." he said. "And that's when you come to your land usage people and say, 'You know what? The best interest of us might not be coal. Or the best interests of us might not be a hog farm.' That's when the public gets to stand at the plate, but when there's no zoning, there are no regulations that says they can't do any of that stuff."
McMahon said it would take two years before a land usage plan could be developed in Vermilion County. Champaign County Board members learned last fall that the Illinois Attorney General couldn't block Sunrise from locating in the area.
McMahon said there are no agenda items addressing coal at Tuesday night's Vermilion County Board meeting, but least two opponents to Sunrise's plan are expected to speak. The meeting begins 6 p.m. in the board room in the Vermilion County Courthouse Annex building in Danville.
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