Illinois Public Media News
Two environmental experts will continue to keep tabs on Ameren's efforts to clean up the site of a former manufactured gas plant in Champaign.
About 60 residents from the 5th and Hill Street neighborhood shared their concerns with Bob Bowcock and Mark Zeko in a community forum Monday night. The experts were brought in by New York-based law firms to address long-standing concerns of illness and contaminated soil. Much of the discussion focused on Ameren's efforts to clean the site, and whether the EPA will respond to resident's calls for soil tests at resident's homes. Ameren started its remediation of the site last year, with completion slated for 2015.
Both the experts say the biggest immediate concern is for Champaign's city council to repeal its groundwater ordinance. Zeko, who's a hydrogeologist, said reworking it would allow more flexibility for residents to pursue legal action.
"If there was no ordinance in place, they could leave it like it is," said Zeko. "Right now, basically Ameren can say 'we're complying with the ordinance - leave us alone. If you appeal the ordinance, they can say 'well, our health-based effects show that this is a problem, you need to clean it up.'"
Zeko said Illinois' EPA should require Ameren to do additional testing. Zeko also said new studies are coming out on vapor intrusions of substances like benzine, and their possible health effects. Environmental Investigator Bob Bowcock said Ameren was irresponsible for doing a slow to moderate cleanup after 20 years of the site going unnoticed. He said the groundwater ordinance needs more teeth.
"It's a very generic ordinance, as was stated by the Illinois EPA," said Bowcock. "It's very general. It's been used in 200 jurisdictions throughout the state of Illinois. So it's not site specific, and as technology and science evolves, it's being misapplied."
Champaign City council member Tom Bruno, who spoke at an earlier forum Monday, said repealing the groundwater ordinance might be the only way that Ameren will properly re-mediate the 5th and Hill area.
"It acknowledges the reality that the danger from contaminated groundwater isn't just when you drink the groundwater, but it's dangerous also when you merely breathe the vapors that are coming from that groundwater" said Bruno. "And we need to get rid of that contaminated groundwater whether people are drinking it or not."
Magnolia Cook lives in the 5th and Hill neighborhood. Cook said she has dealt with strange smells and nagging health concerns for about 50 years, so much so that it seems natural.
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said the utility company considered all aspects of the environmental impacts at the site of every former manufactured gas plant. He said everything at 5th and Hill is being done within strict accordance of the Illinois EPA, and he added groundwater at the site does not pose a human health or environmental risk. He said the company was not invited to Monday's forums.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
An attorney in Piatt County has filed a lawsuit to remove the current county clerk one month before Election Day.
Dan Clifton is an assistant deputy state's attorney in Champaign County - he contends that Republican Piatt County Clerk Pat Rhoades doesn't qualify to serve because her family moved to a house just over the Piatt County line last year. Clifton says a Piatt County judge is scheduled to hear his complaint Wednesday morning.
"What I'm hoping the court will be able to do is look at the facts of the situation, which are fairly simple, and look at the law, and declare whether or not she is still an inhabitant or whether she ceased to be an inhabitant.," Clifton said. "If she ceased to be an inhabitant, then I'm asking the court to declare the office vacant." If that happens, Rhoades' chief deputy would step in until the county board appoints a replacement to fill out the term.
Rhodes has not returned a phone call seeking comment. She has told the county board that she has been living in Champaign County temporarily while she and her family build a house in Piatt County. But in his suit Clifton claims that Rhoades has a registered as a voter - and voted - in Champaign County, and the property where the house was to be built is now for sale.
A Champaign political activist said he supports the idea of allowing voters to recall state elected officials. However, he said he is not backing the particular recall amendment on the Illinois November ballot.
John Bambenek said there are several things he dislikes about the governor recall amendment, but he added that the fatal flaw is the requirement that at least 30 lawmakers sign on to any recall proposal before any voter petitions can be circulated. That is 20 from the Illinois House and ten from the Senate, with at least 16 members of the general assembly coming from the sitting governor's party. Bambanek said if such a recall law was in place when Rod Blagojevich was governor, it would not have made any difference.
"If you recall back to Blagojevich, the Senate Democrats were unanimous behind him, and many of the House Democrats were overwhelmingly behind him," said Bambenek. "You wouldn't have gotten those 16 Democrats, even with Rod Blagojevich, until the day he was arrested."
Bambanek said such a requirement guarantees the recall process will never be used, and he said no other states with a recall process require prior permission from lawmakers. He added that other states that permit recalling governors also allow recall of all statewide elected officials.
Bambenek is launching a campaign to to defeat the Illinois proposal. While other opponents argue that giving voters any recall authority beyond regular elections would be bad government, Bambenek said defeating this particular recall amendment is the only way to give a stronger recall proposal a chance for approval in Illinois.
The Democratic and Republican candidates for Illinois treasurer are sparring over campaign contributions.
During a stop in Bloomington, Il. on Saturday, Republican State Senator Dan Rutherford of Pontiac accused his Democratic opponent, Robin Kelly, of accepting campaign contributions from banks, and he cautioned her to follow the state's campaign finance laws.
Kelly, who is the chief of staff for current treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, said Rutherford has violated campaign finance laws, and she added that there is no reason for him to be concerned because she has taken an ethics pledge to not take any money from banks or bank executives.
"I have not taken any money from any bank owners or any banks, whether we have contracts with them or not," said Kelly, who admitted that she has taken campaign contributions from banks during her time in the Illinois legislature. "I take money from bank PACS, but we don't do business with bank PACS. I think they've given me $500 hundred dollars."
Kelly accused Rutherford in September of violating pay-to-play laws by accepting $3,500 in contributions from several banks that do business with the treasurer's office. Rutherford later returned about $900 in contributions from Pan American Bank, which bid on a contract worth more than $50,000.
State law forbids candidates from accepting contributions from businesses bidding that much money. Rutherford said at the time he accepted the contribution, information about the contract was not made public by Kelly's office, but the treasurer's office maintains that it was public information with the Office of the Comptroller and the State Board of Elections.
With a month to go until election day, both candidates say they need to cover more ground before November 2nd. Rutherford said he plans on focusing his campaign in the Chicago region counties of Cook, Lake, Will, Kane, McHenry, and Dupage. Kelly said she plans to continue targeting the entire state. The third party candidates in the race include Libertarian James Pauly and Green Party candidate Scott Summers.
(Photos by Sean Powers/WILL)
Governor Pat Quinn's running mate said Illinois fiscal crisis will require more and "progressively harder" budget cuts in the year ahead.
Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate Sheila Simon said Quinn has proven he has the political courage to balance the budget --- because of his record of support cutting spending, while proposing a controversial hike in the state income tax.
Speaking to reporters at the Illinois News Broadcasters' Association convention in Bloomington over the weekend, Simon said the voters she has been meeting around the state are ready for the difficult choices ahead.
"I think most folks know that what's coming up ahead of us is not Easy Street," said Simon. "There's going to be some sacrifice involved, in places where probably everyone can say, 'wow, I wish you didn't have to cut there.'"
Simon chided Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady for refusing to propose specific budget cuts until he was elected and had made a thorough audit of state spending.
When reminded that Governor Quinn had not yet released full details of the spending cuts he has made so far, Simon said that those cuts were plainly visible to the people around the state directly affected by them. Simon noted the governor's cuts in state leasing and travel by government employees.
Sheila Simon is the daughter of the late U.S. Senator Paul Simon. Her opponents for lieutenant governor are Republican businessman Jason Plummer, the Green Party's Don W. Crawford, Libertarian Ed Rutledge, and independent Baxter Swilley - who is the running mate of Scott Lee Cohen.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) knows the new White House chief of staff well.
Pete Rouse served in a similar role under Durbin as chief of staff when he was in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1980's. Durbin calls him intelligent, more low profile than Rahm Emanuel, and "extremely talented."
"He is not the kind of person you are going to like as a newsman," said Durbin. "He just wants to go to work and do his job."
The Democrat Durbin said whether or not Rouse can advance the Obama Administration's agenda in the coming months depends on many factors, including the opposite party.
"The reality is there are likely to be fewer Democrats in Congress after this election," he said. "That's what happens in every off year election, and it means the President will have to carefully choose his agenda."
Durbin said Rouse as Chief of Staff will need a period of adjustment.
Emanuel left the post to run for Chicago Mayor. As Emanuel tries to garner support for a possible run, Durbin said he has no plans to endorse a candidate in what could be a crowded primary.
(Photo courtesy of the White House)
Two 16-year old boys are in Champaign County's juvenile detention center in connection with an unprovked attack on a Champaign man near Centennial High School on September 24.
The suspects are charged with aggravated battery for allegedly hitting former WILL forecaster Mike Sola while he was walking home from the Central High School football game last Friday night. Champaign Police Chief RT Finney said while this incident was outside the area where similar unprovoked attacks have occurred in recent weeks, the method of attack was the same. Finney said an anonymous tip led to the first arrest, and he expects it will lead to more.
"Right now, we're continuing to investigate each and every one of them and we expect to make as many arrests as we can," said Finney.
Julie Ogle in the Champaign County State's Attorney's office said the first teen arrested was upset about breaking up with his girlfriend and had prior contacts with police.
The first arrest was made Thursday, while the second teen was picked up late Friday morning. Sola sought treatment at a hospital for a cut to his earlobe and sustained a black eye.
Two people close to Rahm Emanuel say he will resign as White House chief of staff on Friday, and will begin his campaign for Chicago mayor by meeting with voters in the city on Monday.
The people who are familiar with Emanuel's plans spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to pre-empt his announcement.
The people say Emanuel will return to Chicago over the weekend and begin touring neighborhoods on Monday to talk with voters. They say Emanuel also will launch a website with a message to Chicago voters.
Emanuel's plans have been the source of widespread speculation both in Chicago and Washington, D.C. ever since Mayor Richard Daley announced he would not seek re-election earlier this month.
(Photo courtesy of the White House)
Federal officials have taken one more step toward making the re-worked FutureGen clean-coal project a reality.
The Department of Energy signed an agreement with Ameren Energy Resources to start design work to retrofit a power plant near Meredosia. Under FutureGen 2.0, carbon dioxide produced from that plant would be piped to a site where it would be stored underground. Mattoon bowed out of the project this summer, leaving the site of that storage facility in question.
Also in question is how much the project could cost Ameren and its customers. Utility spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said Ameren will have to ask state lawmakers for some sort of cost-recovery plan. Gallagher said it was too early to elaborate, saying, "We do have a lot of analysis, review, cost estimates, analyzing commercial viability before we go forward."
Gallagher said the first two phases of the project will have to be completed before any construction work begins and an exact dollar estimate would be in place.
On Tuesday the Energy Department formally committed $1 billion to FutureGen.
At least two people want to challenge Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart next spring.
For Charles Mingee, it is his second attempt at running for mayor. In 2007, some signatures were declared invalid on his nominating petitions. Mingee, who presently works for Wal-Mart, served in the Navy from 1978 to 1982. The northwest Champaign resident said the city has done a poor job handling the aftermath of last fall's police shooting death of Kiwane Carrington.
Officer Daniel Norbits' gun discharged in the 15-year old's accidental shooting death last October. Norbits remains on leave during an appeal of his 30-day suspension. Mingee said the appeals process is hurting everyone involved.
"They've got to make a decision," said Mingee. "Either get rid of him, or re-instate him. It's just prolonging the agony for everybody."
The Carrington family rejected a $470,000 settlement that Champaign city council members approved last week. Mingee said city leaders are too focused on 'throwing money' on downtown development instead of rehabbing areas like Wilbur Heights.
Longtime Champaign resident Don Gerard is also exploring a mayoral run. He said some of his priorities include developing infrastructure with the growth of the big broadband high-speed internet project, and future recycling needs. Gerard said he also wants leaders to reach out more to Campustown merchants to better serve alumni and visitors.
"These are the people who are serving the individuals who will be returning to the community as alumni, potentially for years to come," said Gerard. "And I think it's important to recognize that and to work with them to accommodate our guests as they may very well become a part of our community, or return often."
Gerard has been in the city more than 40 years, has served as a day camp leader for the Champaign Park District, and has kids in the city schools. The Central Champaign resident added it is his job as a Facilities Manager at three biology departments at University of Illinois that has earned him a reputation as someone who works well with others to solve problems. Gerard said the success of downtown music festivals should prompt consideration for such an event in the Campustown area.
Potential candidates need to collect 63 signatures on a petition before they can declare a candidacy in November.
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