Illinois Public Media News
A new dispute has erupted among a utility, environmental officials and neighbors near a Champaign site that decades ago hosted a manufactured gas plant.
Ameren has been treating soil and groundwater on the site but maintains that contamination from the residue buried in the soil has not leached out into the surrounding area. The Champaign County Health Care Consumers disputes that, and today they say a nearby water main replacement project is digging up some of that questionable soil.
The group's director, Claudia Lenhoff, says Illinois American Water, Ameren and the city left neighbors in the dark over the safety of the water main project.
"This corridor here should be tested in order to remove any doubt to whether it's safe or not to be digging this soil and into the groundwater," Lennhoff said. "Just a few feet that way (toward the site itself) is contaminated."
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris says the water company cleared the project with them. "We were aware of what they're doing. They are aware of what we're doing," Morris said. "They know what the extent of the contamination is. And there is no contamination that they would need to be concerned about.'
But one neighbor, Magnolia Cook, distrusts whatever Ameren is saying about the site's safety. "Ameren has never told us the truth about anything, so why would we believe what Ameren is saying as far as this site is concerned, "Cook said. "How come the Illinois EPA is not out here to see what's underneath this dirt while they're digging?"
Neighbors have questioned why the Illinois EPA issued a permit for the project using Ameren's test results. However, Randy West, local field operations superintendent with Illinois American Water, says they commissioned their own soil testing along the water main site, and found no evidence of any contamination from the old gas plant.
The Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals is in favor of hiring a consultant to help the county consider claims about noise made by applicants from wind farm operators.
The Zoning Board endorsed the proposal from County Zoning Administrator John Hall Thursday night. Hall expects Champaign County will receive its first application for a wind turbine farm next month, from Chicago-based Invenergy. And when such applications come in, he wants the expert opinion of an outside consultant to check claims about potential turbine noise and the impact on nearby residents.
"We would be in sort of a predicament", Hall told AM 580 News, "if the neighbors raised valid questions about what the wind farm developer says, because we would have no way to respond to either party". Hall says the county doesn't have expertise about wind turbine noise issues on its own staff.
ZBA Board member Paul Palmgren agreed during Thursday night's meeting, saying he wanted the county to be on firm ground, to avoid possible legal action from wind farm opponents.
"I don't want to be in a court of law some place, trying to defend what we maybe should have done", said Palmgren..
A memo from ZBA Chair Doug Bluhm "strongly supporting" Hall's request for a noise consultant will go to the Champaign County Board's Environmental and Land Use Committee. That committee will consider the request November 9th. Hall says some members of the committee have questioned the need for a consultant --- they note that most Illinois counties with wind farm ordinances haven't hired them. The cost of a consultant is low enough that Hall doesn't need county board approval to hire one --- but he says he prefers to have county board support.
we would be in sort of a predictament if the neighbors raised valid questions about what the wind farm developer says, because we would have no way to respond to either party. So having a consultant who could advise the ZBA on whether what the neighbors raise are valid concerns are not, I think that would be good to have.
In three weeks, a key vote takes place as a site that once contained much of the Army's chemical weapons supply reverts to civilian use.
An agency has put together a plan to reuse the Newport Chemical Depot as the Army lets go of the one-time nerve agent plant and storage site. It sits on 11 square miles in Vermillion County Indiana, just across the Illinois border.
Bill Laubrends is with the Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority. He says the plan is the end product of public meetings and input from a wide range of community leaders.
"We've had stakeholder interviews, which include local residents,property owners, business owners, elected officials, representatives of major employers, local and state economic development groups, representation of conservation groups, soil conservation districts, local civic organizations, school districts, et cetera," Laubrends said.
A five member board will vote on the plan November 19th. It recommends the Army set aside nearly 35-hundred acres for industrial or commercial redevelopment. Another 12-hundred acres would remain farmland, and 24-hundred acres would be left as natural areas and parkland.
The city of Champaign is getting ready to launch a recycling program for apartment buildings. At a study session Tuesday night, the city council told city staff to go ahead and develop a city recycling collection program that would be ready for launch next fall.
Waste-haulers in Champaign already must provide recycling pickup for single family homes and apartment buildings with less than 5 units. But under the plan endorsed last night, larger apartment buildings would also have recycling pickup. The city, using Urbana as an example, would contract for the service, and finance it with a mandatory fee charged to the landlords.
City Council member Mike Ladue says he's glad council sentiment has shifted since the early 1990s, when the city council voted to withdraw from a countywide solid waste consortium, and leave recycling to the private sector.
"This has been a question of a rising tide of public will making itself felt at the ballot box in election choices, and constituting a council more amendable to this type of development", says Ladue.
The council vote at last night's study session was met with applause from members of Students for Environmental Concerns at the U of I. Member Justin Ellis says Champaign officials should study recycling programs in other cities --- not just Urbana --- before moving forward.
"Champaign's coming late to the scene here with recycling", says Ellis. "And there's a lot of communities that have already learned a lot of the lessons related to this. And I hope that they look to those communities too in other parts of the country, and adapt the best of all these programs for us here in Champaign."
The program still awaits a final council vote, and is not expected to be up and running until next fall.
The soybean aphid was first discovered in Illinois just nine years ago, but an expert says this growing season was the first time the insect has made its presence known downstate.
University of Illinois crop sciences professor Mike Gray says this year's cooler weather lured aphids to Central and Southern Illinois - and that many people confuse the tiny insects with gnats. They use their needle-like mouths to remove fluids from the soybean plant early in the growing season.
Gray says the aphids will seek out two different plants to survive. He says they must feed on soybeans during much of their life cycle... but they will also seek out buckthorn, or woody perennials found along fence rows to exist and reproduce during the next few months:
"Next year after winter, a soybean plants begin to emerge in farmers' fields, we'll get the formation of winged aphids again", says Gray. "And they will fly from buckthorn into these emerging soybean fields. And they'll spend the summer and the growing season out there."
A single soybean plant can contain hundreds of aphids, or thousands if they go untreated by insecticide. Gray says farmers need to address the problem by July or early August.
The water utility for the city of Danville takes issue with an advocacy group's report that consumers may be subject to higher-than-allowable traces of a farm chemical.
The report from the Natural Resources Defense Council cited government figures suggesting Danville's water supply had exceeded standards for the herbicide atrazine.
But Kevin Culver, a compliance officer with Aqua Illinois, says the NRDC's numbers are from 2004, and since then, recent EPA tests found no detectable levels of atrazine. However, Culver says atrazine is a concern since Danville's drinking water source, Lake Vermilion, includes lots of farm runoff. He says the utility filters out the chemical with a simple process.
"It's actually the same component in your home water systems that they say to use, and one of the recommendations is activated carbon to remove it at home," Culver said. So it's the same type stuff, although we use a lot more of it during the growing season."
Chemicals like atrazine have been linked to birth defects and hormone disruptions in animals, though the federal Centers for Disease Control has not found the same effects on humans.
Ameren says an expanding portion of Southwest Champaign has necessitated plans for a new transmission line.
The first of two public meetings to help determine the route for the utility proposed 138-thousand volt line is Monday. It would extend from the Bondville Route 10 substation to one on the southwest portion of the University of Illinois campus in Savoy.
Spokesman Leigh Morris says what's key are any concerns about 'sensitivities' someone may want the line to steer clear of:
"It could be something like a cemetery, it could be a flood plain, it could be an archaeological site, a hospital, a school," Morris said. "But we need that kind of input, and we certainly want people to come because we need that input to develop the routes."
At a second open house this fall... Ameren IP will unveil its proposals for routes. Morris says feedback will still play a role then in what's submitted to the Illinois Commerce Commission. The filing with the ICC will take place in January, and its review process is expected to take 12 to 15 months.
Many routes for the line are already under consideration... they can be viewed on line at CI transmission-dot-com. Ameren's first public meeting on the transmission line is Monday from 4 to 7 at the Holiday Inn on Killarney Street in Urbana.
Ameren is planning a summer of public input as it proposes a new high-voltage electric transmission line around Champaign's western and southern outskirts.
The 138-thousand volt line would link substations in Bondville and Champaign's south side and would bring more capacity to the area around the University of Illinois campus, including the future Blue Waters petascale computer project.
Marty Hipple is supervising the planning for the line. "It provides capacity to serve that future load that's forecasted, and it provides a loop in network transmission to improve the reliability of existing transmission," Hipple said.
Doni Murphy, a planning consultant working with Ameren, says lists of "sensitivities" will be drawn up so that those planning the route of the new line can watch out for them. "Existing developments, proposed developments, whether they be residential, commercial or what have you," Murphy said. "And often times you'll see the traditional environmental considerations like wetlands, archaeological and cultural sites, protected species habitats, things of that nature."
Ameren says it will hold open houses and meetings with local officials to find three recommended routes for the line. The utility would submit those proposals this winter to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which would decide if and where the line would be built. Ameren hopes to finish it by 2014.
The small village of Philo in east central Illinois has a new water tower.
The village on Monday replaced a 50,000-gallon water tank thought to date back to the late 1800s with a new 250,000-gallon water tower. The older tank was wooden but was replaced by a steel tank in the 1920s or 1930s.
The company Aqua Illinois now runs the village's water system. Company vice president Tom Bruns says the new tower will be safer for the community because it can pump water for six hours if there was a fire, instead of only 45 minutes.
Philo is about 13 miles from downtown Champaign in Champaign County. Aqua Illinois serves residents in seven Illinois counties.
The Department of Energy has decided to move forward on a stalled futuristic coal-burning power plant in central Illinois that languished under the previous administration.
The project known as FutureGen would burn coal for power but store emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide underground. It was slated to be built in Mattoon but was canceled after a faulty cost analysis put the price of the project higher than it should have been.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a Friday morning statement that reviving FutureGen is an important step that shows the Obama Administration's commitment to carbon capture technology.
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