Illinois Public Media News
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.
Champaign's City Council has recommended that it consider repealing the city's groundwater ordinance - but on a case by case basis.
A capacity crowd attended Tuesday night's 4-hour meeting and study session, urging the council to force the Illinois EPA and Ameren to conduct a full remediation of the former manufactured gas plant site at 5th and Hill streets, that includes neighboring properties.
Resident Lillian Driver operates a day care out of her home, where evidence of 6 different chemicals was revealed in a recent test.
"Imagine these are your children that I will be watching," Driver said. "You wouldn't allow them to be in this situation. You would take them out. Now that this has been exposed, more than likely, these children I'm attending to, these parents are going to remove these children."
City staff and an EPA official still contend that levels of chemicals like benzene don't pose a health risk. But two environmental experts hired by Champaign County Health Care Consumers say samples taken this week from a Boneyard Creek pipeline prove Ameren hasn't done nearly enough to remediate the gas plant site.
Council member Will Kyles said Ameren appears to have done a good job with its cleanup efforts, but he said tests for chemicals like benzene continually prove otherwise.
"All I know is that as we continue to look into these issues, and continue to dive in and do more tests, we do find more stuff," he said. "Every time we go into meetings, we have homework assignments. And so that creates doubt. And that shows doubt there's doubt in our minds that this clean up is effective."
The City Council is also recommending that staff prepare a statement for the Illinois Pollution Control Board on vapor intrusion standards. Mayor Jerry Schweighart said it will likely require another study session before the groundwater ordinance repeal receives a formal vote.
But the Council's recommendation was not enough to stop a potential lawsuit against the city regarding the discharge of contaminants in Boneyard Creek. Claudia Lennhoff with Champaign County Health Care Consumers has given the city 60 days to treat pollutants flowing from a drainpipe into the creek, or the citizen lawsuit will proceed.
Lennhoff said the city is violating the Clean Water Act by allowing contaminated groundwater from the Ameren gas plant site to seep into that pipe. And said says it may contain coal tar, like another section of pipe she found in Boneyard Creek.
"And any time that water washes over that, it's spreading some of the contamination from the coal tar," Lennhoff said. "It's very important for the city tor respond to this issue, but the city can thank Ameren for this pipe, or the predecessor company, but it is on city property and so the responsiblity is up to the city to get it cleaned up."
But Lennhoff commends the city council's recommendation to consider groundwater ordinance repeals on a case by case basis, saying it will provide more transparency for residents. She said if the ordinance still exists citywide, it will allow the owners of gas stations, dry cleaners, and other businesses to try and avoid cleaning up groundwater contamination.
An effort to build a wind turbine on the University of Illinois campus will appear on the Board of Trustees' agenda during its March 23 meeting in Springfield.
The plan calls for a single wind turbine on the university's South Farms site. It was estimated to cost $4.5 million, but last week the university increased that value by $700,000. University spokesman Tom Hardy said a challenge confronting the U of I is finding a way to close that budget gap.
"Still a lot of work to do on this project, not the least of which is how to close a nearly $700,000 funding gap," Hardy said. "In the meantime, the turbine project will be presented for consideration by the full board."
Suhail Barot, the Committee Chair with the Student Sustainability Committee, said he met Tuesday afternoon with U of I President Michael Hogan. Barot said Hogan told him the energy project would move forward.
"He did ask us to look into finding whatever we can do to help cover the budget shortfalls," Barot said. "We will help with it, but we don't know to what degree."
Students at the University of Illinois have been talking about setting up a wind turbine on campus for the last several years. It was originally introduced in 2003 by Students for Environmental Concerns (SECS), who initiated a student fee to support clean energy. By 2008, then-Chancellor Richard Herman canceled the project because of budget concerns.
A $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation supporting the project needs to be used before it expires at the end of May 2011.
At its meeting next month, the Board of Trustees is expected to vote on a contract with an energy company hired to build the turbine.
Champaign County residents have raised concerns about the project's cost, shadows produced by the turbine throughout the day, and the amount of noise pollution that would be generated.
Further tests from two environmental experts confirm that contaminants remain in the soil near the site of a former manufactured gas plant in Champaign.
Residents of the 5th and Hill neighborhood say evidence uncovered Monday from an old pipeline at Boneyard Creek proves that Ameren has failed to properly address the remnants of the site. The residents say if the city repealed its Groundwater Restriction Ordinance, it would force Illinois' EPA to require the utility company to do the necessary groundwater extraction. Environmental investigator Bob Bowcock said when he told the agency about the pipeline, the EPA chose to ignore it.
"They had conducted an environmental investigation," he said. "They said there was no evidence of a pipeline, they denied its existence, and basically said they wanted nothing further to do with environmentally investigating it. We call on the Illinois EPA to do the right thing, to conduct a proper environmental investigation, and get their butts out there and do the job right, and do it now."
Members of Champaign County Health Care Consumers say the groundwater ordinance offers no protections for human health or the environment, and only protects corporations by exempting them from the costs of cleaning up the pollution for which they're responsible. Bowcock said vapors from chemicals like benzene are exposing residents to levels that can cause blood-borne cancers.
5th and Hill neighborhood resident Magnolia Cook said she was hopeful as Ameren started its cleanup on the former plant site, but her opinion changed quickly.
"I was outraged and heartbroken when I learned that Ameren is planning to leave the toxic groundwater in place in this neighborhood - a site surrounded by a day care, woman's shelter, and people's homes," Cook said. "This is not a toxic site miles away from anything surrounded by cornfields. This is a site with toxic chemicals in the soil and groundwater in a residential neighborhood."
If the city of Champaign doesn't repeal the groundwater ordinance, Bowcock said lawsuits against Ameren are likely. He said the utility did the bare minimum of cleanup by only removing soil on its own property. Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said the gas plant site is in line with Illinois EPA standards, and does not pose a threat to human health or safety. Morris also said there is no evidence of a pipeline coming into the old gas plant site, and that the utility's remediation of the gas plant site will be completed next year.
The Champaign City Council will discuss the groundwater ordinance in Tuesday's study session, which begins at 7 p.m.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Offices on at least four different floors of the Illinois Capitol building have suffered damage from a broken water pipe.
The four-inch pipe broke Thursday night and gushed water for about 40 minutes. A spokesman for the state's Capital Development Board says it's not clear what caused the problem, although construction work is taking place in that section of the historic building.
Crews were assessing the situation Friday morning.
At a minimum, the water has damaged floors, ceilings, carpet and some computers.
Damaged areas include offices for legislators, the state treasurer and reporters.
Urbana's Common Ground Food Co-op has done away with single-use plastic shopping bags at its registers.
Common Ground's General Manager Jacqueline Hannah predicts that the company's decision to go "bagless" will prevent thousands of plastic bags from ending up in landfills. She encourages customers to start using their own reusable bags, and relying less on plastic grocery store bags that are tossed away immediately.
"You can see the trend happening nationally," Hannah said. "It's actually not really a difficult change to make that can make a big impact. It's simply a change in consciousness."
Back in April, the company asked its customers if they would support not having plastic bags at the registers, and it found that most people backed the plan.
"We knew that we were looking at something people were ready for," Hannah said.
Hannah points out that Common Ground is not giving up on shopping bags completely. In fact, the organic grocery store is selling them to people with the profits going to charity. Customers can pay $0.10 for a paper bag, or $0.99 for a reusable bag. There is also a section in the store where people can donate bags for other customers to use.
There are grocery stores across the country in states like Oregon, Colorado, and New York that have instituted similar policies. California came close last year to becoming the first state to ban plastic shopping bags, but lawmakers rejected the measure.
Some bumblebee populations in the United States are dropping at an alarming rate, and University of Illinois researchers are investigating the potential causes.
There are 50 species of bumblebees in North America. Researchers examined eight of them, and discovered that in the last 20 years, half of the species declined in relative abundance by as much as 96 percent and experienced a reduction in geographic range by as much as 87 percent.
The researchers compared historical data from 73,000 museum records dating back to the late 1800s with recent U.S. national surveys of more than 16,000 specimens from about 400 sites.
U of I entomologist Sydney Cameron, the lead author of the three-year study, said the rate of decline marks an important finding because bumble bees play important roles in the country's food production.
"That certainly could impact the efficiency of our food production for many crops, such as cranberries, blueberries, tomatoes," Cameron said. "Bumble bees are especially good pollinators of these types of crops."
Cameron said the bumblebees with significant population declines have a lower genetic diversity than bumblebees with healthier populations. She also said it has been hypothesized that North American queen bees may have brought a parasite, known as Nosema bombi, back to the United States from Europe after being raised in the rearing facilities of native bumble bees. However, she said it is unknown if these factors contributed to some species dying out.
"No one's pointing a finger at anyone," she said. "We're just trying to figure out where the Nosema that we're finding in our North American bees came from."
Scientists last year looked at another phenomenon affecting honeybees called "colony collapse" in which large numbers of a hive's worker bees disappear. Research suggests a fungus and virus may be to blame.
The reason for the population decline among the honeybees is still being determined. It may have something to do with climate change, disease, or even low genetic diversity, according to some researchers. But Cameron noted that it is too early to jump to any conclusions.
The report was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
(Photo courtesy of Johanna James-Heinz)
A garbage hauling and recycling firm has expanded its recycling drop off site on the north edge of Champaign, following the closing last week of the city's recycling drop off facility.
Illini Recycling owner Cindy Eaglen said she has expanded her intake capacity to serve the out-of-town users who had come to depend on the city of Champaign's drop off site.
"We've had a drop off site out here for many years, and just felt that there was a need to expand it, because so many people were going to be left with nothing to do with their material," Eaglen explained.
Another company, Green Purpose, is planning to open a new recycling drop off facility that would operate on a subscription basis. But Eaglen said they do not have to charge their users, because they already have the equipment in place to process the recyclables.
"Everything that we have is already in place," Eaglen said. "So basically, what we're doing is just adding additional material to it, which does not increase our cost, as if we were having to go out and buy all the equipment."
Eaglen said the success of her expanded drop off site will depend on whether the public can sort their recyclables according to their guidelines. She said they can accept most common paper, aluminum and plastic recyclables, but she said they cannot accept garbage, Styrofoam, plastic grocery bags, or toys and other plastic items that don't carry a recycling symbol.
Illini Recycling performs garbage and/or recycling pickup in Champaign, Danville, and several surrounding communities.
Eaglen said the company's public recycling drop off site is open weekdays from 8 to 5, at the Illini Recycling facility at 420 Paul Street, in the Wilbur Heights neighborhood just off North Market Street, near the Market Place Mall. There has no charge to drop off recyclables at the site.
A powerful storm packing what may have been a tornado damaged or destroyed nearly two dozen homes and injured one motorist in central Illinois today, authorities said.
The storm hit an area near Lake Petersburg in Menard County around 12:30 p.m., according to National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Smith.
He said damage was reported to homes around the lake near Petersburg, a community of about 2,200 people which is northwest of Springfield.
Petersburg Mayor John Stiltz told WTAX-AM in Springfield that at least two homes were destroyed and several others were rendered uninhabitable. Officials said shelter would be provided for those individuals left homeless by the storm. The station also reported some damage to boat docks around the lake and a building on a golf course.
One injury was reported when a tree or tree limbs fell on a woman's car, said Menard County Sheriff Chuck Jones. The woman's injuries weren't believed to be life threatening.
"It all happened very, very quickly as these things often do," Jones told The (Springfield) State Journal-Register. "Shortly before the storm, we did have the tornado siren, which was a good thing. A lot of people were alerted."
The National Weather Service issued severe weather warnings and watches -- including some for tornadoes -- for counties throughout central and southern portions of the state and for a large swath of the nation's midsection on Friday.
Some tornado watches, particularly along the state's southeastern border, were to remain in effect through Friday evening. Some of those counties include Alexander, Edwards, Franklin Saline and Union.
Tornadoes spawned by the same storm system killed several people in Arkansas and Missouri on Friday.
The city of Champaign's recycling drop off site on Kenyon Road is scheduled to shut down for good on Thursday, Dec. 30, at 2:30 PM. That's bad news for residents from outside the city who have been using the facility for years.
Champaign is closing the recycling drop off site because a new program for apartment buildings means recycling pickup is now available to all residents. Landlord pay a per-unit user fee for the recycling collection program that's been dubbed "Feed the Thing". Another program requiring garbage haulers to include curbside recycling pickup for single-family homes and smaller apartment buildings has been in place in Champaign for years.
Landlords and/or residents pay for recycling pickup in Champaign, but the city's recycling drop off facility has always been offered to the public free of charge. Champaign operations manager Tom Schuh said the site was costing the city $12,500 a month in recent years.
"It's never been free," Schuh said. "Unfortunately, recycling materials, the value of those materials just doesn't cover the cost of operating either a drop-off site or any other recycling program."
Whatever the cost, the city recycling drop off facility was popular with many out-of-town residents. And with its closing, Champaign County Regional Planning Commission recycling coordinator, Susan Monte, said those users will be at a disadvantage.
"It will be a very missed drop-off site," Monte said. "Lots of people that lived in rural areas did use that site, and they are now searching for an alternative."
One alternative could be a new drop-off facility that a Champaign-based startup company hopes to open, not far from the city drop off site. If the city approves a zoning change, CEO Steven Rosenberg of Green Purpose LLC said users would pay a $5 monthly fee to drop off recyclables, and he said the facility would also promote the company's strategy of re-purposing
"You'll be able to drop off things that maybe aren't recyclable at all," Rosenberg said. "Lightly used materials that are able to be reused, and even though specific people don't have a use for them anymore, other people might."
According to Monte, most Champaign County residents have access to recycling services. Curbside pickup is available in Champaign, Urbana, Rantoul, Savoy, Mahomet, St. Joseph and Tolono. In addition, Tolono, Homer, Philo and Ogden will continue to operate their own drop off facilities for their local residents. But Monte said 14 rural communities in Champaign County have no recycling service at all. She said some counties, including Macon County, rely on tipping fees from their landfill to fund county-wide recycling programs. Champaign County no longer has an active landfill.
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