Four area lawmakers say it took the approval of the DeWitt County Board to send a controversial proposal to store PCB's at the Clinton landfill to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But those lawmakers say that under their proposal, one county's OK would not be enough.
Under their legislation (House Bill 6153), any hazardous waste facility located over an aquifer would need the approval of county boards of all the counties with land over that aquifer. The Clinton Landfill lies over the Mahomet Aquifer, which spreads out over 15 different counties.
That includes Champaign County, where the county board has already gone on record opposing the storage of PCB's at the Clinton Landfill. However, the Champaign County Board vote has no legal effect, because the landfill addition would be built in DeWitt County, not Champaign County.
State Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said requiring all 15 counties in the Mahomet Aquifer area to approve the storage of PCB's is a good way to avoid what he calls "pollution without representation."
'There are communities throughout east-central Illinois that are going to potentially have grave harm to their drinking source, their aquifer, and not have some say in the siting of this landfill. And that's the problem we're hoping to rectify," Frerichs said.
Besides Frerichs, the measure also has the backing of State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, (D-Urbana), Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth) and Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet).
Rose drafted the legislation, working with Piatt County State's Attorney Dana Rhoades. Rose said he hopes he can win approval for the measure in the General Assembly, before the EPA makes a ruling on the Clinton Landfill proposal.
"There's a race to beat the clock here," Rose said. "If the federal EPA issues a permit, then we have a problem. So we're trying to do this as quickly as possible."
The EPA has delayed making a ruling on the Clinton Landfill PCB proposal, pending further study.
Champaign city leaders have asked staff to set up a fee charged by stores for using plastic or paper bags.
Concerns in a city survey about bag litter prompted a 2-and a half hour discussion in Tuesday night's city council study session, and a 6 to 3 vote favoring the fee. All but a handful of comments favored the plan to encourage use of reuseable bags when buying groceries and retail items.
In an online city survey, nearly 900 respondents indicated they reuse the bags, but many were also concerned about the amount of litter they produce. Cindy Eaglan of Illini Recycling says she's all for using tote bags instead, but says Champaign should focus on other areas of recycling instead of taxing seniors who can't afford the fee, and driving consumers elsewhere.
"I will not be penalized to shop here," Eaglan said. "And that's basically what you're doing. Putting a tax on bags is simply a penalty for choosing to shop in Champaign."
Backers include current and former owners of Champaign Surplus. Dan Epstein says encouraging cloth or canvas bags will help his business.
"Whether it's a few pennies per pag, or 15 cents, or some of the other quotes that were (suggested), every time you do that, there's a cost," he said. "Being able to reduce bags helps all merchants. Certainly from Champaign Surplus' pespective, I know that reduce costs will help us create jobs."
Other supporters include 10 members of the University of Illinois' Students for Environmental Concerns, who displayed pictures of bags littering Boneyard Creek and farm fields. Council member Deb Frank Feinen says a fee shows the city wants to do something about the environment, and set a community standard.
"I'm not looking for a new tax to generate revenue to fill our budget gap," she said. "I'm looking for a disincentive for people to choose plastic or paper bags at the grocery store."
Council member Karen Foster voted against the fee, saying the city shouldn't legislate over a business' right to carry the bags. Foster says the city is 'nickle and diming' people to death, and can't afford another tax. Councilmen Will Kyles and Kyle Harrison also voted it down.
Champaign City Manager Steve Carter says it will likely be summer before a fee amount is decided and set up. Proceeds would go towards an education campaign on recycling.
The vote supporting the fee didn't include an outright ban on paper or plastic bags, which Mayor Don Gerard called 'egregious'.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press and Illinois Public Radio)
Gov. Pat Quinn has activated the State Emergency Operations Center after a tornado left six people dead in the southern Illinois city of Harrisburg, and about a hundred others injured.
The storm has caused heavy damage in Saline and Gallatin counties and more than 12,000 Ameren Illinois customers have lost power.
Quinn toured Harrisburg on Wednesday to survey the damage. Quinn said Illinoisans have to band together "as a family.''
"Those men and women who went to bed last night and lost their lives in this tornado, we pray for their souls and we pray for their families," Quinn said. "I think it's important for us as a family in Illinois to come together and honor their lives and mourn their loss."
His disaster declaration will make recovery resources available to affected areas of Saline County. Quinn's office said earlier Wednesday that the governor would survey the storm damage.
The governor said President Barack Obama called after waking up to news of a disaster in his home state.
Quinn also said he hopes God will bless the "immortal souls'' of those who died. Quinn said Illinoisans have to band together "as a family.''
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency earlier reported that 10 were dead, but the agency said that information was incorrect.
Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson said Harrisburg authorities say they have accounted for everyone and outside search-and-rescue teams have been called off. Thompson said specially trained rescue teams from emergency-response agencies in Charleston, Marion, St. Clair County, Springfield and Urbana were on their way to Harrisburg on Wednesday but have been told to return. She said outside agencies have supplied light poles and nine ambulances, however.
Jennifer Fuller, of Illinois Public Radio, was in front of the Harrisburg Medical Center. Fuller said that when she canvased the city, she saw "entire neighborhoods destroyed." She said she saw some trees split in half next to piles of rubble that used to be homes.
"It's devastating for these people," Fuller reported.
She noted that because the severe storms - it is not yet confirmed if they spun tornadoes - moved through Harrisburg in the early morning, it's possible some people were asleep.
"It's ironic," Fuller said. "Just this week the Illinois Emergency Management Agency was telling people to be ready for storm season in March and to have those weather radios handy."
Harrisburg resident Margaret Shimkus' home was nearly destroyed by the pre-dawn storm that ripped through theregion says she had to run to take shelter in her bathtub. Shimkus described the moment the storm hit at around 5 a.m. Wednesday, recalling how she was awoken by the sound of loud crashing and shattering glass.
Shimkus first tried to get under her bed, but then ran to her bathtub as parts of the building blew apart. The 61-year-old woman said only the walls of her duplex were left standing. Besides a cut on her leg from flying glass, she wasn't seriously hurt. Four other apartments in her complex were destroyed.
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg promised that his southern Illinois city will rebuild. He said the community "will make this city stronger.''
Gregg called the tornado "heartbreaking'' and said city officials are doing everything they can to protect citizens. He said the city will make sure everyone is accounted for.
State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) led the General Assembly in observing a moment of silence. Legislators from southern Illinois, including Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton) and Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), are back in their districts.
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) said he will visit southern Illinois areas devastated by the powerful tornado.
"I was saddened to learn of the loss of lives and such violent damage in Harrisburg and other areas of Southern Illinois," Shimkus said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost loved ones and those who were hurt or lost their homes or businesses."
Severe weather warnings are still pending for parts of southern Illinois that have been pounded by a deadly tornado.
Meteorologist Beverly Poole said the National Weather Service office in Paducah, Ky., was still issuing warnings late Wednesday morning.
The storm system that produced multiple reports of tornadoes struck early Wednesday, violently sweeping across the region as people slept. Poole said the storm system hit locations in all four states, and more than 50 warnings have been issued.
The National Weather Service has given the tornado an EF4 rating. That's the second-strongest rating given to tornadoes.
Sideshow of the storm damage in Harrisburg, Ill. (Courtesy of The Associated Press)
Video of the damage in Harrisburg, Ill. (Courtesy of WSIL-TV)
The U.S. Supreme Court is once again deciding to stay out of the fight over invasive Asian carp.
The high court on Monday shot down an appeal from Michigan and four other Great Lakes states. The states are suing the Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Chicago.
The states had wanted the court to order that fish nets be laid out to prevent Asian carp from swimming into Lake Michigan. They also wanted an order saying the Army Corps of Engineers has to hurry up with a plan to isolate carp-infested waterways.
John Sellek, with the Michigan Attorney General's office, said Monday's denial from the justices is disappointing.
"Asian carp are, essentially, right at downtown Chicago," Sellek said. "They are lurking about and about to go into the Great Lakes. And that's something that would be detriment to - not just the other states, but to Illinois, as well."
Sellek says Michigan will now try other legal methods meant to prevent the hungry fish from devouring the Great Lakes ecosystem.
The Army Corps and the state of Illinois have maintained the threat posed by carp is not as drastic as the other states would argue.
Monday's ruling marks the third time Supreme Court justices have opted to stay out of the fight over the spread of Asian carp. The high court had earlier denied emergency requests to close down some Chicago-area waterways that link Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.
Sewers are among the basic of city services --- and one of the least exciting, until something goes wrong. City officials in Champaign and Urbana have seen enough flooding over the years, that they're proposing a new fee to pay for maintaining and improving the storm sewer system --- a fee already used by about a dozen Illinois cities. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows has more on the storm water utility fee.
Illinois is getting more than $7.7 million to help cover the costs of repairing roads and bridges damaged by last year's flooding and windstorms.
Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin announced Monday that the money will be coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation's emergency-relief funds.
The Illinois Department of Transportation will dole out more than $4.7 million to help northwest Illinois communities affected last July by strong wind and rains that totaled more than 12 inches. That's meant to defray costs of repairing drainage and roadway washouts, in addition to slope failures.
Southern Illinois communities affected by widespread heavy rain and flooding last spring largely along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers will get roughly $3 million.
Starved Rock is located in Utica, Illinois - a two hour drive southwest from Chicago. It's a popular destination for fishing, rock climbing, hiking and picnicking.
Tony Giordano said a new silica sand mine adjacent to the park would mean new jobs and could inject $9 million into the local economy. He's the president of Mississippi Sand, the company proposing the mine. It mines a special kind of sandstone found in this part of the state and sell it to companies who frac for natural gas around the United States.
Giordano said he's not surprised that people are concerned about what the mine could mean for Starved Rock.
"We don't believe in any way that our utilization of our proposed parcel will negatively impact anybody within the park," he said. Giordano added that regulatory bodies are in place to make sure of that, too.
But environmentalists worry about its effects on the local ecology. Mike Phillips is a Geology Professor at Illinois Valley Community College and said the mine would hurt 73 acres of wetlands.
"The process of creating the mine will de-water part of that wetland initially and then the mine plan has them mining most of it," Phillips said.
Phillips said the aesthetic value of the park is at risk, too, "If there's noise, if there's dust, if you can feel vibrations from the occasional explosions at the mine - what would the value of that be? And that's very, very difficult to determine."
Phillips said he and many others he's spoken to learned about the proposed mine in November. He's hoping LaSalle County will slow the process down of issuing permits to the mining company and that they'll first make a comprehensive assessment of how a mine may impact the ecology and economy of Starved Rock, as many people's make their livings off the park's tourism.
The LaSalle County Board voted unanimously for the mine in December and they could make a final recommendation next week.
Different communities are asking residents to recycle their Christmas trees instead of throwing them out.
The Champaign County Forest Preserve has set up tree drop off points at three of its forest preserves in Mahomet, Penfield, and Homer. Trees can be dropped off through Jan. 20.
The forest preserve's Director of Natural Resources, Daniel Olson said some of the donated trees are put underwater in lakes and rivers, so that fish can have a place to hide. Meanwhile, he said other donated trees are used to provide nutrients to existing vegetation.
"We chip a lot of it into mulch, and then we do put it around our tree that helps with the health of the tree," Olson said. "It helps with the longevity of how long that tree will be around."
Olson said tree giving appears to be down this year, but he said he expects it to pick up soon.
Urbana is also reminding people to recycle their Christmas trees this season. Each year, the city collects around 1,600 Christmas trees for its annual recycling program.
Urbana Environmental Sustainability Manager Bart Hagston said during the first couple of weeks of January, residents should leave their trees out on the curb before 6 a.m. on days when their recycling is picked up.
"Well, to preserve landfill space, we like to keep these trees out of the waste stream and they also help to provide material which can be used for landscaping projects and that's why we like to send them out to the landscaping recycling center where they'll be grounded up," Hagston said.
People who do not live in Urbana can still recycle their Christmas trees through the city by dropping them off at the Urbana Recycling Center at 1210 E University Ave.
The city of Champaign has a similar recycling program in place from Jan. 2 through Jan. 13. Residents can leave their trees within four feet of the curb by 6:00 a.m. on their scheduled collection date.
Danville city officials will also be collecting Christmas trees from curbs from Jan. 3 through Jan. 13. The trees will be collected and processed through the city's yard waste recycling program. Questions may be directed to Danville Public Works - Solid Waste Division at 431-2288.
People interested in recycling their trees in any of these communities are reminded not to include any extra debris, like tree stands or ornaments.
An environmental group in Illinois says it's happy that the federal government is following Illinois' lead in requiring power plants to cut down on mercury levels.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would force hundreds of the nation's power plants to control mercury and other toxic pollutants.
Max Muller with Environment Illinois said the state passed its own mercury restrictions in 2006, and they have proven to be successful.
"We've shown that in Illinois that mercury can be reduced cheaply, that the lights aren't going to go out, and it does in fact yield very good results in terms of decreasing mercury pollution on the environment that harms health," Muller said.
Muller said the new federal standards are expected to cut toxic mercury pollution from power plants by more than 90 percent.
But the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity has come out against the plan, saying it will destroy jobs and raise energy rates.