Illinois Public Media News
Eastern Illinois University has replaced its old coal-fired steam plant with one the largest renewable energy projects in the U.S.
The school holds a grand opening Friday afternoon for its Renewable Energy Center. The facility using gasification technology will rely on more than 27,000 tons of wood chips a year to heat the campus. The chips are fed into a low-oxygen, high temperature environment, and gas emissions will generate the steam for that heat.
EIU President William Perry says just a handful of American universities have this type of plant, one that will provide some academic lessons as well.
"We can do some public service in the areas of alternative energy," he said. "We plan to use the site, which has more land available for field trips, for K-12 students, and other individuals in the community who are interested in that kind of operation."
Perry says the savings on the energy contract allowed Eastern to pay off the cost of the energy center without state money or student fees. EIU Energy and Sustainability Coordinator Ryan Siegel says a lot of things had to fall in place.
That includes two bills passed by Illinois lawmakers - one extended the payback periods for performance contracts to 20 years, and another allowed pilot projects to be paid for under that same window of time.
Siegel says those measures, and the energy savings from the Center itself, will pay for the $80-million facility.
"The entire project reduced the forward energy and water consumption of campus," he said. "It reduced our future costs, allowing us to pay off the debt over a 20-year time frame."
The facility is the result of a collaboration with Honeywell. It's expected to save EIU more than $140-million over the next two decades.
(Photo courtsey of Eastern Illinois University)
State Senator Shane Cultra has come up with one way to try and reign in Medicaid costs.
Legislation sponsored by the Onarga Republican would require drug testing for those on public aid. It would require an initial test when applying for Medicaid, and subsequent random tests for current recipients. Cultra says the measure serves a dual purpose in that it targets those who need help, who will cost the state more if they aren't treated.
"There's going to be a cost savings just in identifiying those that are on drugs," he said. "Usually, there are family situations there. It's better for the family, it's better for everyone involved."
Cultra says he's confident the measure will get co-sponsors, but is skeptical the measure will find its way through the legislature in the approaching fall veto session. He says Democrats haven't looked kindly on similar measures.
The Senator notes federal regulators have objected to bi-partisan Medicaid reforms that were passed in January. One of them would have required applicants to produce more than one pay stub to prove income eligibility. But Cultra says any other method that Illinois attempts is considered a 'new' and forbidden eligibility restriction.
'I don't understand why they would do that, but even if we got this passed, maybe the federal government would do the same thing, we don't know," he said. "But I think it's a start."
Cultra says reforming Medicaid and other entitlement programs has to start somewhere. He says savings from the bill could 'astronomical' if it properly identified those who get their lives turned around.
Former All-Star third baseman Robin Ventura is replacing the fiery Ozzie Guillen as manager of the Chicago White Sox.
The White Sox say that Ventura agreed to a multiyear deal on Thursday.
A longtime star with the White Sox, Ventura was hired by the club last June as a special adviser to director of player development Buddy Bell. Ventura is the 38th White Sox manager overall, including 17 who played for the team.
Guillen was released from his contract with one year remaining after eight seasons with the White Sox and immediately was hired by the Florida Marlins as their manager.
Ventura was a first-round draft pick of the White Sox out of Oklahoma State in 1988 and spent the first 10 seasons of his 16-year career with Chicago.
Known for his slick fielding, clutch hitting and left-handed power, Ventura also played for the New York Mets, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. He was six-time Gold Glove winner and an All-Star in 1992 and 2002.
Ventura's selection came as a surprise. Most speculation had the White Sox's top candidates as either Tampa Rays coach Dave Martinez or Cleveland Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. Both are former White Sox players.
"When I met with the media as our season ended, I identified one person at the very top of my managerial list," White Sox general manager Ken Williams said in a team release.
"I wanted someone who met very specific criteria centered around his leadership abilities. Robin Ventura was that man. His baseball knowledge and expertise, his professionalism, his familiarity with the White Sox and Chicago and his outstanding character make him absolutely the right person to lead our clubhouse and this organization into the seasons ahead."
Ventura, who has also dabbled in TV commentary, said he welcomed the chance to return to the city where his major league career started.
"When I rejoined the White Sox this June, I said this was my baseball home and that part of me never left the White Sox organization," Ventura said. "My family and I are thrilled to be returning to Chicago. Managing a major league baseball team is a tremendous honor. It's also an opportunity and a challenge."
Pitching coach Don Cooper and first base coach Harold Baines were already re-signed to multiyear contract extensions before the season ended. Hitting coach Greg Walker is not returning.
Ventura batted hit .267 with 294 home runs and 1,182 RBIs over his career. His 18 career grand slams are tied for fifth in major league history.
He appeared in 1,254 games over 10 seasons with the White Sox, hitting .274 with 171 home runs and 741 RBI. He ranks among the White Sox career leaders in grand slams, walks, homers, RBIs, extra-base hits and runs scored.
Ventura led Oklahoma State to the College World Series and still holds the Division I record with a 58-game hitting streak.
Guillen, who was a friend of Ventura's while with the White Sox, left after he couldn't get a contract extension from owner Jerry Reinsdorf. His relationship with Williams had become fractured over the last two seasons.
Expected to be contenders this season, the White Sox finished 79-83 and third in the AL Central as several key players, most notably DH Adam Dunn and center fielder Alex Rios, struggled offensively.
With the managerial search completed, Chicago's next big offseason move could be determining whether to bring back longtime ace Mark Buehrle, who will be a free agent.
(AP Photo/Capital One, David Goldman)
Urbana police have received two reports of attempted child abductions after nine reports of similar incidents in the Champaign area in the past two weeks.
The latest report occurred Tuesday just before 12-30 pm. In a press release, Urbana police say a 14-year old female was walking along Kinch Street on the city's southeast side when a man in a pickup truck offered her a ride. The student declined and he drove away. The driver is as a black male in his 30's with a 'chubby face' and mustache wearing a red shirt or jacket, driving a newer-looking silver truck.
The second report came from August 31st, when an Urbana Middle School student walking at Florida and Broadway reported a red-haired man in his 40's with a muscular build and goatee ordered the boy to get into his car. The student kept walking until he arrived home.
Urbana police say they're working with numerous local agencies, including District 116 schools, and extra patrols have been placed around school zones. Officers are reminding children to call 9-1-1 if a stranger offers them a ride, and to provide physical descriptions on the drivers, and license plate numbers if possible.
Opening statements are expected to resume Thursday in the public corruption trial of William Cellini.
In his opening statement for the prosecution on Wednesday, Greg Deis told jurors that Cellini wasn't on the board of the Teachers Retirement System and yet he controlled how the agency invested some of its $30 billion in assets.
Deis says Cellini got people jobs with TRS and got them appointments, and they did what he told them to do. He says that allowed Cellini to steer state contracts not to the most qualified businesses, but to those willing to give campaign contributions to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Cellini has long been influential behind the scenes in Illinois politics, but defense attorney Dan Webb said others hatched the plot - not his client. And he told jurors that whatever they think about fundraising, lobbying and politics, they need to judge this case on the facts.
Webb gave only half his opening statement late Wednesday and will finish it Thursday morning. Then prosecutors will call their first witness, which is expected to be Keith Bozarth, who once headed TRS.
Champaign Police say they have arrested a suspect in connection with one of several attempted child abductions reported in the city over the last several days.
Billy Wayne Mullins, 54, of Champaign's Dobbins Downs neighborhood is being held at the Champaign County Jail on attempted child abduction charges.
Authorities say Mullins was arrested Wednesday in connection with an attempted abduction at the Dobbins Downs Playground last Thursday evening. At that time, a 13-year-old girl said she was approached by a man on a bicycle, who offered candy if she would come to his home to help with groceries. The man rode away on his bicycle when the victim called out to a friend.
Champaign Police say they are continuing their investigation into the other attempted abduction reports, most of which involved men attempting to lure a child into their vehicle.
UPDATE: Mullins was in Champaign County Court Thursday afternoon, and formally charged with a count of child abduction, a Class 4 felony. Julie Ogle with the State's Attorney's Office says bond for Mullins is set at $250,000. He'll be back in court October 21st.
The head of one Urbana grade school says having parents walk there with kids at least once a year is nothing new. But she said the fear brought on by attempted child abductions in Champaign has reinforced the need for safer neighborhoods.
Three busloads of kids stopped a couple blocks short of school Wednesday to participate in International Walk to School Day. Around 50 students made the trek along Fairview Avenue, accompanied by a few teachers and parents.
King Principal Jennifer Ivory-Tatum said the school was quick to react to Champaign's 9 reports of attempted abductions in the last several days. She said the district reminded parents of expectations in terms of walking in groups with family members and neighbors. And Ivory-Tatum said the parents responded.
"We've had an increase in car pickups, and we've actually had a lot of parents who have been walking to the school at the end of the day, and walking home with kids," she said. "We're being pretty precautionary I think."
Marty Hynds said her grandchildren, both fifth graders, walk to Martin Luther King Elementary each day. She's felt safe, watching them from a window on their way to and from school. But Hynds said kids who don't regularly bus to school still need more safeguards.
"It would be nice if we have more police patrolling during school hours - just someone who can watch after the kids, if they needed someone, even a parent, who can be assigned to a corner," Hynds said.
Ivory-Tatum said the police reports prompted the term 'stranger danger' - a kid-friendly term to remind students to steer clear of strangers.
"Staying with the group and going straight home and not playing around in the neighborhood," Ivory-Tatum said. "We've had lots of conversations about (what to do) if a stranger walks up to you, what do you do? So yes, we want to be proactive."
Because of school, Amanda Campbell says her five-year old daughter Kaya would know what to do if confronted by a stranger, but said all parents are concerned right now.
"Usually, the mornings are taken care of, but we (Campbell and her husband) were a little worried about the afternoon stuff when all the attempts started happening," Campbell said. "And it's a crazy world. It's said that we have to think about it."
Walk to School Day has yielded other ideas from parents. Replies through District 116's Safe Routes to School Coalition have resulted in additional sidewalks and signage, reminding motorists to slow down.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Attorney General Lisa Madigan stopped in Danville on Wednesday to talk about tightening up a law that tracks the sale of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine.
The Methamphetamine Precursor Control Act, which was established in 2006, sets up restrictions for consumers who purchase more than two packages of pseudoephedrine products at a time or products with more than 7,500 milligrams of pseudoephedrine in a 30-day period. Madigan said those restrictions helped cut the number of meth labs in the state in half from 2006 to 2007.
"When meth first hit our communities, we hit back hard to drive meth makers and users out of Illinois," Madigan said in a statement. "But meth is a unique drug. It's like a virus that mutates, so we must retool our responses to how this drug is made."
Still, Madigan said drug users have pursued "one-pot" or "shake 'n bake" meth production, which can be accomplished using legal amounts of pseudoephedrine.
To address problems surrounding small-scale meth production, lawmakers are working to update a pilot system used by pharmacies to track the sale of pseudoephedrine permanent. That system, which has operated since June 2010 and is set to expire in January, allows pharmacies to block pseudoephedrine sales that exceed the legal purchasing amount.
State Rep. Chad Hays (R-Catlin) joined Madigan in Danville on Wednesday. Hays said the revised law will not only track people who buy more than the legal limit of pseudoephedrine products, but it will also check purchasing patterns of people who buy that substance at different stores over a short period of time.
"It really gives law enforcement a better tool to track frequent flyers if you will who are setting up a pattern of purchasing this substance for the intent of producing methamphetamine," Hays said.
In Illinois, customers must show a photo identification and sign a purchasing log maintained by pharmacies whenever they buy it.
The state this week also unveiled a marketing plan where posters will be placed in pharmacies across the state warning people to be aware of pill buyers for meth users or producers.
Madigan made stops throughout the day in Quincy and Cahokia. She was joined today by Sens. William Haine (D-Alton) and John Sullivan (D-Rushville), and Reps. Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) and Jil Tracy (R-Quincy). Also in attendance were representatives of the Illinois Sheriff's Association, the Illinois State Police, Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, Illinois Retail Merchants Association, Illinois Pharmacists Association, Illinois State's Attorneys Association, Illinois Department of Corrections, the Meth Project, and law enforcement in Adams, St. Clair and Vermilion counties.
A jury has been impaneled in Chicago at the last trial stemming from a federal investigation of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
A judge seated 12 jurors Wednesday, the third day of millionaire William Cellini's trial. The next step will be opening statements. Prosecutors say the 76-year-old conspired to shake down the producer of "Million Dollar Baby'' for a campaign donation to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Cellini denies the charges.
The Springfield Republican once called the King of Clout for the influence he wielded in the corridors of power in both Repubican and Democratic administrations, like Blagojevich's.
The judge vetted more than 50 would-be jurors over three days. He dismissed a few who said they believed lobbyists and political fundraisers undermined the political system.
Willard Airport at Champaign will be adding the Fort Myers Florida area to its passenger air schedule this winter.
Georgia-based Vision Airlines will be flying twice-weekly round trips between Willard Airport and the airport at Punta Gorda, Florida --- about 25 miles northwest of Fort Myers. The service will launch on December 19th, and run until the end of next March. Boeing 737 aircraft will be used for the route.
Vision Airlines Sales and Marketing Director Clay Meek says their service is aimed at leisure customers seeking a warm-weather getaway --- and he thinks the Monday and Friday flights will be a good fit for the Champaign-Urbana area.
"You're looking at 150 seats twice a week, about 300 seats a week," Meek said. "And it's falling on the proper days. So you're looking at a Monday-Friday, so people can get a very inexpensive getaway for the weekend, or midweek travel, or of course they can stay a whole week. The numbers line up that it should be successful."
Meek said their service will save passengers the trouble of connecting to flights at larger airports, and fares for the non-stop flights will be as low as $99 one way. He said Vision Airlines could consider other service to Willard Airport, if the Fort Myers/Punta Gordo flights prove popular.
Bruce Walden of the University of Illinois, which operates Willard Airport, said the new flights will be handy, not just for reaching Fort Myers, but for visiting the eastern Florida coast from Sarasota to Naples.
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