Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2011

Wind Farm Proposal Goes Before Champaign Co. Zoning Board of Appeals

A proposed wind farm for Champaign and Vermilion Counties goes before the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals tonight.

The ZBA's 7 PM meeting at the Brookens Center in Urbana is the first of four scheduled meetings on the proposal from Chicago-based Invenergy Wind. County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said he hopes the zoning board can reach a conclusion on the proposal by its Sept. 29 meeting --- so the county board can act in October. But he said if there's enough public interest, more meetings may be scheduled.

"This could go beyond Sept. 29, if necessary," Hall said. "We absolutely have to listen to what people want to say, provided it's no redundant, and it's relevant to the application. And if that literally takes longer than Sept. 29, that's what we'll have to do."

The Champaign County Board could vote on the application as early as Oct. 20.

Invenergy's proposed California Ridge wind farm would place 30 wind turbines in northeast Champaign County, north of Royal, and 104 turbines in western Vermilion County.

The Vermilion County Board approved a building permit for the project in July.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2011

Champaign Council Members Give Initial Backing to Stormwater Fee

A Champaign city council member says a proposed stormwater utility fee goes beyond the problems of a couple of neighborhoods, and impacts the city's marketability to prospective residents and businesses.

Marci Dodds and other council members unanimously backed the plan for a tiered fee system in Tuesday night's study session. She has heard years of complaints from residents who have seen their streets, basements, and backyards flooded by excessive rain.

Dodds said the problem came to head about ten years ago.

"The council and the city then took a step back and looked at the stormwater problem as a whole," she said. "They said 'Ok, where are the low points - let's start with those, and then work our way upstream. I mean really, how are you ever going to invest in this town if you're taking a canoe down Green Street?"

The tiered system means the majority of homeowners would pay less than $4 a month. Anyone with more than 6,000 square feet of impervious area on their property, like roofs or driveways, would pay close to $8 a month. And those with 8,000 or more square feet of such an area would pay about $10 monthly. But Dodds said residents can avoid paying the fee by investing in a rain barrel or rain garden, and earning credits in return from the city.

Champaign Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt said he recognizes there hasn't been a lot of public input on the idea yet. A committee formed by his department will be doing some outreach over the next several months.

Schmidt said the panel will meet with park districts, school districts, homeowners' groups and apartment owners to explain why the fee is needed, and how it will affect individuals. He said the city has identified about $80-million in needed stormwater improvements.

"Whether you're talking about 4th and Green (Streets), flooding viaducts, flooding in the John Street or Washington Street areas, I think the flooding is well documented in this community," Schmidt said. "I think there's other issues of areas where there's just no stormwater handling capabilities at all in the area."

Schmidt said discussions on the fee won't resume until February, so it if the plan passes, it will likely be 2013 before residents paying start it.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2011

Wind Causes Fatal Accident at Indiana State Fair

The summer evening at the Indiana State Fair turned strangely cold. The wind blew hard, then harder still, tearing the fabric from the roof of the wobbling grandstand stage.

The crowd, waiting under a thunderous sky for the country duo Sugarland to perform Saturday, had just been told over the loudspeakers that severe weather was possible. They were told where to seek shelter if an evacuation was necessary, but none was ordered. The show, it seemed, was to go on.

None of the phone calls workers had made to the National Weather Service prepared them for the 60 to 70 mph gust that blew a punishing cloud of dirt, dust and rain down the fairground's main thoroughfare. The massive rigging and lighting system covering the stage tilted forward, then plummeted onto the front of the crowd in a sickening thump.

Five people were killed, four of them at the scene, where dozens ran forward to help the injured while others ran for shelter out of fear that the devastation had only begun. Dozens of people - including several children - remained hospitalized Sunday, some with life-threatening injuries.

"Women were crying. Children were crying. Men were crying," fairgoer Mike Zent said.

The fair canceled all activities Sunday as officials began the long process of determining what happened and fielded difficult questions about whether the tragedy could have been prevented.

"We're all very much in mourning," Cindy Hoye, the fair's executive director, said during a news conference Sunday. "It's a very sad day at the state fair."

Gov. Mitch Daniels called the accident an "unthinkable tragedy" and said the wind burst was a "fluke" that no one could have foreseen. Dan McCarthy, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Indiana, said the burst of wind was far stronger than gusts in other areas of the fairgrounds.

The seemingly capricious nature of the gust was evident Sunday at the fair, where crews placed a blue drape around the grandstand to block the view of the wreckage. A striped tent nearby appeared unscathed, as did an aluminum trailer about 50 yards away. The Ferris wheel on the midway also escaped damage.

First Sgt. Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police said the lack of damage to structures on the fair's midway or elsewhere supported the weather service's belief that an isolated, significant wind gust caused the rigging to topple.

"All of us know without exception in Indiana the weather can change from one report to another report, and that was the case here," he said.

The stage toppled at 8:49 p.m. A timeline released by Indiana State Police shows that fair staff contacted the weather service four times between 5:30 and 8 p.m. At 8 p.m., the weather service said a storm with hail and 40 mph winds was expected to hit the fairgrounds at 9:15 p.m.

Bursten said fair officials had begun preparing in case they needed to evacuate visitors for the impending storm. At 8:30, additional state troopers moved to the grandstand to help in the event of an evacuation, according to the timeline.

Meteorologist John Hendrickson said it's not unusual for strong winds to precede a thunderstorm, and that Saturday's gust might have been channeled through the stage area by buildings on either side of the dirt track where the stage fell, at the bottom of the grandstand.

Fair officials said the Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration and state fire marshal's office were investigating. Bursten said the investigation could take months.

The owner of Mid-America Sound Corp., which installed the rigging, expressed sympathy for the families of those killed or injured. Kerry Darrenkamp also said the Greenfield, Ind.-based company had begun "an independent internal investigation to understand, to the best of our ability, what happened."

Zent, of Los Angeles, said the storm instantly transformed what had been a hot, sunny day.

"Just everything turned black. ... It was really cold, it was like winter, because I had been sweating all day. Wind blew over the ATM machine," Zent said.

He and his girlfriend, Jess Bates, were behind the grandstand when the heard a noise - the stage collapse. They began running as the wind buffeted them.

Bates said a woman who had been in the second row of the concert with her teenage daughter grabbed her and sobbed as she recounted pulling her daughter to safety while others rushed forward to try to help those pinned beneath the scaffolding.

"She was gripping me very tight, and I could just feel her shaking," Bates said. "She said, 'My daughter is all I have in this world and I almost lost her tonight,'" Bates said.

 Dr. Dean Silas, a gastroenterologist from Deerfield, Ill., said it took about five minutes to work his way from the grandstands to the track after the collapse. He saw three bodies covered with plastic when he arrived.

He said it took about 25 minutes for volunteers and emergency workers to remove victims from beneath the rigging and load them onto makeshift stretchers.

"There had to be 75 to 100 people there helping out," he said.

Bursten identified those killed as Alina Bigjohny, 23, of Fort Wayne; Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago; Tammy Vandam, 42, of Wanatah; and two Indianapolis residents: 49-year-old Glenn Goodrich and 51-year-old Nathan Byrd. Byrd, a stagehand who was atop the rigging when it fell, died overnight.

Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles sent a statement to The Associated Press through her manager, saying she watched video of the collapse on the news "in horror."

"I am so moved," she said. "Moved by the grief of those families who lost loved ones. Moved by the pain of those who were injured and the fear of their families. Moved by the great heroism as I watched so many brave Indianapolis fans actually run toward the stage to try and help lift and rescue those injured. Moved by the quickness and organization of the emergency workers who set up the triage and tended to the injured."

Nettles and Kristian Bush, who perform as Sugarland, canceled their Sunday show at the Iowa State Fair.

Concert-goers and other witnesses said an announcer warned them of impending bad weather but gave conflicting accounts of whether emergency sirens at the fair sounded. Some fair workers said they never heard any warnings.

"It's pathetic. It makes me mad," said groundskeeper Roger Smith. "Those lives could have been saved yesterday."

Fair spokesman Andy Klotz said the damage was so sudden and isolated that he wasn't sure sirens would have done any good.

Indiana is prone to volatile changes in weather. In April 2006, tornado-force winds hit Indianapolis just after thousands of people left a free outdoor concert by John Mellencamp held as part of the NCAA men's Final Four basketball tournament. And in May 2004, a tornado touched down south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, delaying the start of the Indianapolis 500 and forcing a nearly two-hour interruption in the race.

Daniels stood by the fair and its officials as they prepared to reopen Monday with a public memorial service to honor the victims.

"This is the finest event of its kind in America, this is the finest one we've ever had, and this desperately sad ... fluke event doesn't change that," he said.

Sunday's accident was the worst at the Indiana fairgrounds since a 1963 explosion at the fairgrounds coliseum killed 74 people attending an ice skating show.

(AP Photo/Jessica Silas)

Categories: Environment, Government

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 12, 2011

Settlement Could Lead to Big Park in Chicago for Mexican Neighborhood

The city of Chicago could be near the end of a five-year legal battle for control of a former industrial parcel with potential to help form a 24-acre park. If an eminent-domain settlement holds up, the space could be an asset for a Mexican-American area of the Southwest Side.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sanjay T. Tailor this week signed off on the deal, under which the city will pay $7.5 million for 19 acres owned by 2600 Sacramento Corp.

The money will go to the Cook County Treasurer's Office and remain there as the company's owner, Joanne Urso, tries to settle with her lender, Texas-based United Central Bank, which last year filed a federal suit to foreclose on the property.

"I don't get a penny," Urso said Friday afternoon.

Urso's property would combine with a 5-acre plot the city already controls.

Activists in the Little Village neighborhood hailed the settlement.

"We have not seen any park development in over 75 years," said Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

Wasserman's group has been pushing for the land to become a park for five years. She said the deal could inspire residents of other neighborhoods.

"Regardless of language and regardless of immigration status, as long as there is determination in these communities, we can continue to get the things that we need," she said.

The park concept has the backing of the local 12th Ward alderman, George Cárdenas.

The land was once the site of an asphalt and tar manufacturing facility. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the plant operated from about 1918 to 1982. The agency eventually declared the land a Superfund site. The contamination included cancer-linked chemicals that turned up in nearby homes and yards. An EPA statement says Honeywell International Inc. finished a site cleanup last year.

The city filed its eminent-domain suit in 2006. Reaching an agreement became more complicated last year, when the foreclosure proceedings began.

The payment, due September 7, will consist of $6 million from the Chicago Park District and more than $1.5 million from city general-obligation bonds, according to Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The time-frame for turning the land into a park is not clear. Ownership will transfer to Chicago upon payment, but the city is not specifying a date for transferring the acreage to the Park District. Hoyle said that could possibly happen later this year.

Categories: Community, Environment, Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 28, 2011

Caterpillar to Pay $2.55 M for Air Act Violations

The U.S. Department of Justice says Caterpillar Inc. has agreed to pay $2.55 million to settle allegations that it violated the U.S. Clean Air Act.

The department said Thursday that it believed the Peoria-based heavy equipment-maker had shipped more than 590,000 engines that lacked proper emissions controls. The engines were for vehicles made for highway travel and for other purposes.

Engines lacking such controls can emit excess nitrogen oxides and other pollutants that can harm human health.

As part of a consent decree signed with the department, Caterpillar also must continue recalling the engines to make repairs.

Caterpillar spokeswoman Bridget Young says the company denies any wrongdoing and will comply with the decree.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 25, 2011

Quinn Returns from Trip to Israel

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is back from a week-long trip to Israel.

Quinn raved about the trip Monday. He says he hopes he can bring businesses from Israel to Illinois. He also wants to export some of the state's technology there in the areas of biotechnology and water conservation.

He says there is "great opportunity'' for renewed and even greater partnerships with Israel. Illinois has trade representatives there.

While he was there, Quinn signed a sister lakes agreement between Lake Michigan and Lake Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee. He says there is great potential in that partnership, which could mean jobs and research.

Quinn's trip was paid for by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 25, 2011

Gov. Daniels Seeks Disaster Status for Vermillion, Wayne Counties

Gov. Mitch Daniels has asked President Barack Obama to add Vermillion and Wayne counties to 32 counties approved for a federal disaster declaration last month.

If Monday's request is approved, state and local governments and certain non-profit organizations in the two additional counties would be eligible to apply for federal aid to pay 75 percent of the approved cost of debris removal, emergency services and repairing damaged public facilities such as roads and buildings.

The disaster declaration Obama issued last month covers damage from flooding, tornados and straight-line winds between April 19 and June 6.

Wayne County is along the Ohio state line and Vermillion is along the Illinois state line.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 22, 2011

Ameren Reports Record Power Usage this Week

The electric utility serving most of central and southern Illinois says it churned out a record amount of power this week.

Ameren says consumers used more than 9600 megawatts of electricity at one point Thursday, breaking a record that was just set on Tuesday. The old record was set four summers ago, in August 0f 2007.

Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said as long as there are heat advisories in place for the area, no one's power will be deliberately shut off, even those who are haven't paid their bills. But they will not be safe once the weather cools, and Morris said they have had plenty of warning.

"They have received many many notices advising them that they are falling behind in their bill," Morris said. "Eventually they will receive what is called a disconnection notice. However again they are encouraged to contact us to set up a payment plan because we don't want to disconnect them."

Morris said Ameren has not had any heat-related outages, and it has been able to handle the high demand without calls to cut back on power use.

Categories: Business, Energy, Environment

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 14, 2011

Rare Flower Expected to Bloom at UI

It is just a matter of time before a rare tropical plant housed at University of Illinois' Plant Biology Building starts to bloom.

The plant is a titan arum, but it is commonly known as a "corpse flower" because of its pungent odor. Greenhouse Manager Debbie Black said the scent, which smells like raw meat, will travel once the plant blooms, so that it can attract beetles, flesh flies, and other pollinators.

"They have to move out to bring that pollinator in because you're not going to find a field of titan arum's anywhere," Black said. "They're not real prevalent, and so this odor really has to move quite a long distance."

To improve its chances of pollination, the corpse flower heats up to near human body temperature by burning stored carbohydrates. Black said the flower will only be open for two days, and it well then go dormant for up to six months.

The plant was grown from a seed given to the U of I by a botanist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who cultivated "Big Bucky," the first titan arum to bloom in Wisconsin. After that plant flowered in 2001 in Wisconsin, the seed was harvested and shared with Illinois and several other institutions.

Less than 100 plants of its kind have bloomed in cultivation in the U.S. since the first titan arum unfurled at the New York Botanical Gardens in 1937.

The greenhouses and plant collections at 1201 S. Dorner Drive, Urbana are open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The hours may be extended and may include 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, depending on when the flower blooms.

Categories: Education, Environment

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2011

Asian Carp Discovered Near Lake Decatur

Decatur city officials say low water levels and high heat is what killed several thousand fish, including the invasive Asian carp, below the dam between Lake Decatur and the Sangamon River.

The discovery of the fish did not come as much of a surprise to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Spokesman Chris McCloud said the fish tend to move in migratory areas.

"Illinois has the most rivers, lakes and streams of any state in the entire country, and many of those tributaries are connected," McCloud said. "So, is it a surprise that they're there? No. It's just that we have not seen them in that many numbers in quite a while."

Asian carp have long been in the Sangamon River, but have never been seen so close to the lake. Lake Maintenance Supervisor Joe Nihiser said he noticed the Asian carp a couple of weeks ago, but he said there is no evidence to suggest that the carp have made it into Lake Decatur.

"We will just continue to monitor the tail pool to see what kind of activity we have with these Asian carp," Nihiser said. "Naturally they swim upstream to where there's water that is moving or has ripples in it."

The fish have spread throughout the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio river basins.

The Asian carp are known to compete with other fish for food by eating large quantities of plankton. Decatur city officials worry that the fish may damage sport fish populations.

Anyone who catches a silver carp or bighead carp alive should call Decatur Lake Management at 217-424-2837.

Categories: Environment

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