Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 08, 2011

Champaign Unit 4 Continues Discussion on Replacing Central HS

The Champaign Unit 4 School District is mulling over the idea of building a new school to relieve overcrowding at Central High School.

The school board held the fourth public meeting Monday night to discuss the project, this time including board members of the Champaign City Council and the city's park district.

Seven sites are being considered to house the new school. Four of the sites are near the north end of Prospect Avenue, two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign. Each location is roughly 60- to 80-acres. Lynn Stuckey, a parent of a Central High School student, said wherever a new school is built, location is key.

"Frankly, I'm not in favor of a new high school given the locations that I've seen," Stuckey said. "I live four blocks away from Central High School. I like the location, and I think we can do more to keep our school in the middle of our community."

School board President Dave Tomlinson said the seven sites are being reviewed based on population growth and proximity to public transportation. Tomlinson added that the board is still gathering input from the community, and has not made a final decision on how it will proceed.

"We need more people to give us input...because we're not going to make the best decision we can unless we have the right input," Tomlinson said.

If a new school is built, voters would have to approve a tax referendum of at least $50 million to begin construction.

Feedback about the project can be e-mailed to CentralComments@ChampaignSchools.org

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 07, 2011

Experts Say New Findings Prove Contaminants Remain in Neighborhood of Old Gas Plant

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 The residents say if the city repealed its Groundwater Restriction Ordinance, it would force Illinois' EPA to require the utility company to do the necessary groundwater extraction.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)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - February 07, 2011

Illinois Seeks to Prevent Ex-Police Commander From Getting Pension

The Illinois attorney general is suing to stop a former Chicago police commander convicted of lying about the torture of suspects from getting his $3,000 a month pension.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office said Monday it has filed a lawsuit against Jon Burge and the Policemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago seeking to end Mr. Burge's pension benefits.

Mr. Burge was sentenced last month to 41/2 years in prison for lying in a civil lawsuit when he said he'd never participated in or witnessed the physical abuse of suspects. A pension board vote on terminating Mr. Burge's pension failed last month.

Ms. Madigan's lawsuit claims that the pension board unlawfully allowed Mr. Burge to keep the benefits.

Mr. Burge's attorney Thomas Pleines said his office intends to "vigorously defend" Mr. Burge's right to keep his benefits.

"These [pension board] trustees are elected to their office, and they took a long, hard look at the facts in the case, and they rightfully concluded that events that occurred 10 years after Jon Burge was no longer a police officer were not related to his service, and therefore he was entitled to keep his pension," Mr. Pleines said.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 07, 2011

Legislation Seeks to Reel in Revenue from Online Retailers

A bill meant to get more tax revenue from online retailers is on Governor Pat Quinn's desk. As Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows reports, it's a measure the governor probably would not be considering if people paid more attention to paying the state use tax.

(Photo courtesy of Maximum PC)

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 04, 2011

Mysterious Package at Champaign City Building Turns Out to Be Food

A suspicious brown paper bag at the Champaign City Building this morning turned out to be nothing more than food.

A bomb squad unit was called after a city worker reported a suspicious package left outside the building at a little after 7 a.m. Champaign Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels said emergency crews used a large water cannon to destroy it.

"The way we look at it is this could also have been an explosive," Daniels said. "We've seen across the country where packages have been called in and they were explosive, and what happens is if you just go up to it and start to manhandle it, you can be very badly injured or killed."

Daniels said most suspicious packages reported to police are found not to be dangerous, but he said precautions are always taken keep everybody safe. Traffic was blocked off on a section of Neil Street, between University Avenue and Park Street near the location of the package. City employees were allowed back in the building by 9 a.m.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 03, 2011

Hogan: Faculty/Staff Raises Still a Priority

The president of the University of Illinois says if it were up to him, faculty and staff would get raises in the years to come.

Many U of I employees have had to deal with flat salaries for the past two years, and most also had to take unpaid furlough days last year. But U of I president Michael Hogan says an administrative review and restructuring program has already lead to five million dollars in savings, and it will pay off in the longer term.

"I feel confident, with the reforms we're putting in place and with other measures we've taken, that we'll begin to see enough of a kitty of money that we can begin certainly avoiding furlough days and begin reinvesting in our faculty, not just in raises but hopefully in new appointments and new hires," Hogan said in an interview and call-in show Wednesday night on Illinois Public Media.

Hogan frequently voiced his displeasure with the backlog in state funding. He says budgeting would be much more accurate without more than $400 million the state of Illinois owes the University, including $60 million in scholarship money through the Monetary Award Program, or MAP, the state- sponsored scholarship program for students in need.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 02, 2011

Traffic Restrictions Removed as Emergency Crews Continue Working

Emergency crews in Illinois spent all day Wednesday helping stranded motorists and clearing snow-covered roads following this week's large blizzard.

The state police and the Illinois Department of Transportation restricted access to certain parts of major interstates, so that crews could do their job. But by the end of the day, just about everything that was restricted was re-opened, according to Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson. The only area still closed off to non-emergency vehicles is I-55 at Lakeshore Drive.

"If you do have to go out, make sure you have that survival kit in your car," Thompson said. "If you do get stranded out there, it could still be a while before someone could be there to assist you."

While the snow is being cleared, it is going to be dangerously cold on Thursday. People are encouraged to drive with a cell phone, bottled water, food, flashlight, and a blanket.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 02, 2011

Situation Improving on Champaign County Roads

Conditions are improving along county roads in Champaign County, but authorities still say traveling is not a good idea.

Emergency Management Agency director Bill Keller says highway crews stopped plowing overnight because of low visibility but resumed before dawn. Since then, he says they've made headway on most primary county highways despite high winds.

"As soon as those die down, the crews can clean things up quicker, and we should be in fairly good shape by tomorrow morning," Keller said. "We'd still like to deter people from being out. Number one, it's not really safe, and number two, it gives our crews a better chance to get stuff cleaned up without all that traffic out there."

Keller says any drifting is happening mainly on east-west roads. He says thanks to light traffic, they've not had to rescue many stranded motorists on county roads.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 02, 2011

State Police Road Update—Travel Discouraged

Illinois State Police say state highway conditions in East Central Illinois were improving late this morning, but they don't stay that way for long due to blowing and drifting.

Sergeant Bill Emery says most of the 17 accidents handled by troopers since early this morning have occurred on Interstate 57 between Mattoon and Rantoul, but he says only one of them resulted in minor injuries. They've also responded to more than 100 vehicles in ditches. But Emery says US Route 150 between Mahomet and Mansfield is impassable, as is Route 128 north of Shelbyville.

He says anyone leaving the house for even a minor errand needs to prepare as if they were taking a road trip. "Make sure you have plenty of gas in your car before you take off, even if it's just to the store," Emery warned.. "If you look up in the Chicago area, there were many people along Lake Shore Drive who were in traffic for hours due to what was happening maybe just a mile ahead of them, like a crash, and (they were) running out of gas."

Emery says troopers are relocating stranded motorists, but they shouldn't expect their vehicles to be towed for two to three days because of the weather and road conditions.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 01, 2011

Political Turmoil Leaves Egypt in Unrest

The political turmoil in Egypt has brought between 250,000 and two million people taking to the streets in protest. The country's leader, President Hosni Mubarak, has promised not to run for re-election after his term ends in September. But University of Illinois professor Aladdin Elaasar predicted Mubarak's downfall back in 2009 in his book "The Last Pharaoh: Mubarak and the Uncertain Future of Egypt in the Obama Age." Elaasar spoke with Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers about the future of Egypt.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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