Illinois Public Media News
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.
Better traffic flow, new streetscape designs and a more pedestrian friendly setting are part of a long-range plan for University Avenue in Champaign-Urbana. The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission held a public meeting on the project last (Tuesday) night in downtown Champaign.
Between now and 2035, the project aims to transform University Avenue from downtown Champaign to the Four-Corners-Cunningham. Part of the corridor lies within the county board district of Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz, who says the plan is sorely needed.
"The corridor itself is getting old"m says Kurtz.. "It hasn't been revamped, only in certain areas. And I think a long range plan working in this way to run the corridor both through Champaign and Urbana and to renew both ends right through the cities are very important to this mistake."
Kurtz says one remaining question is the cost of the project. Eric Halvorsen of the Regional Planning Commission says they'll be working on the cost estimates --- and strategies for paying the cost --- over the next few months.
Starting Thursday, Champaign-Urbana will have two farmers markets.
The parking lot just north of Champaign Police headquarters will be the site of the North First Street Farmers Market every Thursday afternoon and early evening. Its coordinator, Wendy Langacker says it's not meant to compete with Urbana's long-running Market on the Square Saturday mornings - instead, it's meant to put fresh food within walking distance of a neighborhood where it's been hard to find in the past.
"For a lot of people in this neighborhood it might be difficult," Langacker said. "Even for people who live across the (CN) tracks, in downtown condos and apartments, it's still a ways away. So it's a nice way to bring fresh food to people in this downtown area."
Langacker says 26 vendors expect to have booths at the market, including a few merchants from the North First Street area. The farmers market will also include entertainment each week. Its 11-week run wraps up at the end of August.
Supporters of relocation aid for tenants who are forced to leave condemned buildings took their case to the Urbana City Council last Monday night. The idea was sparked by the sudden closures recently of apartments in Rantoul and Champaign, after their owners failed to pay utility bills.
Danielle Chynoweth of Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice says that in such cases, the city should provide emergency funding to help displaced tenants find new housing. The former Urbana alderwoman says the city could recoup the money through fines on landlords whose negligence led to the shutdown. Chynoweth says there's little danger of the landlords being unable to pay.
"The first question the Council should ask its staff is how many condemnations have happened against landlords that were bankrupt," Chynoweth told the Council. "I think you will find not very many in Urbana. So in most cases, you'll have recouped the costs."
But Urbana Neighborhood Services Director Libby Tyler says the proposed level of relocation assistance --- at least 2-thousand dollars for each displaced tenant ---- is too expensive for the city. "You can imagine situations where a municipality would not be able to afford to condemn an unsafe building, would not be able to afford the relocation costs," Tyler said.
She also worries that money might sometimes go to tenants who don't need the help. Tyler says Urbana will work with Champaign and other agencies to create a coordinated plan for helping displaced tenants. That plan could be ready in the fall. Meanwhile, Tyler says Urbana already has a small fund for tenant relocation assistance, and the city may look for ways to boost it.
Flooding from last Friday's heavy rainstorm was too much for a group of neighbors living south of the Kraft plant in Champaign. They want the city to do something about the poor drainage in their neighborhood.
James Creighton says his neighborhood has it worse than anyone, and he doesn't just mean last Friday's downpour.
"I believe it was Council member (Karen) Foster who asked three of four weeks ago if John Street was the worst neighborhood. And the answer was no, it was Copper Slough -- my neighborhood, south of Kraft, that's the worst neighborhood," Creighton told the council
He was among about a dozen people from the Copper Slough or Washington Street neighborhood located between Prospect and Mattis who came to Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting for some flood relief. They brought photos and eyewitness accounts of flooded basements and streets from last Friday and from previous rainstorms. Mary Ann Keith says last Friday's floodwaters came at her from both sides.
"When the water comes from Prospect, it comes from Mattis," Keith said. "It drains both directions. We actually stand outside and watch it come down the street."
Mayor Jerry Schweighart says the problem is a big one, and fixing it won't be easy. An upgrade of the neighborhood's storm sewer system would cost the city millions of dollars it doesn't have. In the meantime, Champaign's Neighborhood Services Department will hold a meeting in the neighborhood next week to listen to people's concerns. And City Engineer Roland White says new eco-friendly techniques like water permeable pavements and raingardens to hold in groundwater could help limit the degree of flooding during future rains.
The Champaign City Council is not protesting the Champaign County Board proposal to allow wind turbine farms in the county --- but it does have a suggestion.
Council members voted 5 to 4 Tuesday night to ask the county board to consider extending the city's buffers outside its borders where it has a say in zoning decisions to 2-and-a-half miles for wind farms. It's currently 1-and-a-half miles for all city zoning issues. Councilman Tom Bruno says he supports wind farms, but believes it's important that they not be built close to areas the city has slated for future development.
"I think that sound planning would have these wind farms, if they're appropriate for Champaign County, be built at a little safer distance from what is already inhabited municipality to allow for years of possible future growth without the conflict between wind turbines and residential housing," Bruno said.
Bruno supported a protest of the county board proposal, but the measure was narrowly defeated, 5 to 4. By the same margin, the Champaign City Council passed a resolution asking the county board to simply give them the 2-and-a-half mile zoning buffer. It's a request that's already been turned down by the county board's Environment and Land Use Committee. The full Champaign County Board will consider the wind farm proposal Thursday night.
Last week's sudden closure of a residential hotel in Champaign forced dozens of people to look for a place to live on short notice. It also forced the City of Champaign into action - not just to condemn the Gateway Studios for lack of utilities, but to help arrange housing for those residents, most of them low-income. Housing advocates see the evictions - and a similar incident at the Autumn Glen apartment Complex in Rantoul - to call for changes in housing policy in Champaign and Urbana. Former Urbana alderman Danielle Chynoweth has brought a proposal to the Champaign and Urbana city councils to offer cash assistance for relocation to people left homeless by condemnation - the landlord would be held responsible for that money. She spoke with AM 580's Tom Rogers.
The head of Champaign's Neighborhood Services department, Kevin Jackson, told AM 580's Jim Meadows last week that while rental help is available from agencies, some of it is based on the applicant's background. Jackson says the city is open to discussion on permanent policy changes.
Champaign city officials say they did what they could to help residents of Gateway Studios, who were forced to move out when Ameren turned off the gas and electricity yesterday (Tuesday). The owners had fallen behind in its utility bills, but residents paying for rooms by the week or the month didn't learn about the impending shutdown until late last week.
Neighborhood Service Director Kevin Jackson says the city worked with local service agencies to make sure everybody who lived at the Gateway had a place to stay last night, and help in finding more permanent living quarters. Now, Jackson says he now wants to look to the future. "I know, going forward, we want to learn from this to see if there is something we could do from a local policy standpoint to prevent something like this from happening again," Jackson said.
Prevention was also on the minds of several people who came to last night's city council study session, but were not allowed to speak. After the meeting, they met in small groups with Jackson and about five city council members. The group was organized by Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice. Many of them said the city of Champaign should have a policy in place to identify motels and apartment complexes in danger of closing, so residents have more advance warning. They also called for a special city fund help people who face motel or apartment closings through no fault of their own.
The Champaign County Board is expected to vote this month on a proposal to allow the development of wind turbine farms on agricultural land. Some Champaign city officials say that's fine with them --- if the county inserts a new rule to keeping the wind farms further away from the city.
Champaign and other communities already have a mile and a half around their borders where they can overrule the county on zoning. It's called 'extra-territorial jurisdiction" or ETJ. For wind farms, Champaign city planners and the city Plan Commission recommend asking the county for an additional mile of ETJ. Land Development Manager Lorrie Pearson says they want to make sure the city can grow without bumping up against a wind farm. "Whereas today if a wind farm is located immediately adjacent to the ETJ, in the future it may actually be within the ETJ or perhaps even within our growth area," Pearson said. "So we want to really look at how our city grows and have that be more consistent with our comprehensive plan rather it be regulated by wind farms that are existing within our county."
The Champaign City Council hasn't discussed the matter yet, but the County Board's Environment and Land Use Committee will look at the ETJ request at their meeting tonight, prior to a county board vote next week. Committee Chair Barb Wysocki isn't commenting on the idea. But she says the current proposals for Champaign County wind farms would be built well away from Champaign.
The confusion in the wake of Hurricane Katrina four years ago included serious problems evacuating and caring for society's most vulnerable people.
Hospitals and nursing homes were thrown into chaos, and in some cases patients died for reasons that could have been avoided. The Illinois College of Emergency Physicians held a seminar Friday in Urbana to address the problem of moving people in health care facilities, psychiatric hospitals or group homes. Doctor Moses Lee, the medical director for the Illinois Medical Emergency Response Team, said "I think many people have seen from Katrina all the difficulties of transporting patients out of a hospital and stabilizing them and figuring out how to place them. So there have been a lot of requests from our audiences over the years that they want to learn more about this dilemma and this challenge. There are not a lot of answers out there, but there are a lot of great people thinking about it."
Lee says many Illinois responders went to Louisiana to help care for Katrina patients in 2005 - but he says Illinois has also seen the potential for such emergencies with special needs populations, such as during last spring's Mississippi River flooding.
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