Illinois Public Media News
Zoning rules for wind turbine farms in Champaign County won the approval of a county board committee Monday night on a 7 to 2 vote.
The Environmental and Land Use Committee endorsed rules regulating large arrays of wind turbines up to 500 feet tall on agricultural land. Currently, Champaign County rules only cover small individual wind turbines or windmills.
Committee members decided to cut the size of the buffer required between wind farms and the nearest dwelling. The proposal called for at least a 1500-foot buffer. But committee Chair Barb Wysocki says a 1200-foot buffer is more common, and preferred by developers. "The developers who were at the meeting admitted that 1500 feet would not necessarily be a deal-breaker," says Wysocki. "But it would encourage them to rethink the configuration of the wind turbines and their placement in Champaign County.
County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall says he's hoping for quick county board approval next month of the wind turbine rules, so that developers already looking to set up wind farms in Champaign County can take quick action.
In the meantime, the wind farm zoning proposal remains with the Environmental and Land Use Committee for public comment. If a local government in the county decides to protest the rules, that would force a super-majority vote on the county board for the proposal to pass --- 21 votes instead of 14.
Police in Champaign and Urbana are preparing for more than nine thousand runners, many of whom will take a 26 mile tour around the two cities Saturday morning.
The first-ever Illinois Marathon will require patience from drivers as runners hit the city streets. Champaign police sergeant Scott Friedlein says on many parts of the course runners and vehicles will share the roads, so motorists will have to take extra precautions or find alternate routes.
"When you mix runners and traffic, you run a risk of situations occurring," Friedlein said. "The better we do at marking and making it very clear where people are supposed to be -- and we're working on that diligently on that as we speak -- then the safer the route becomes."
Friedlein says some streets will also be totally closed at times, and no-parking signs are going up along the marathon routes in both Champaign and Urbana. He calls it the largest event he's ever had to prepare for in his 15 years on the force because of the long route and hundreds of volunteers.
Gov. Pat Quinn has pardoned 11 people and ordered that their criminal records be expunged.
He says it's part of an effort to clear what he calls a "shameful'' backlog of almost 2,500 clemency requests that built up under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Crimes committed by those who were pardoned include drug possession, aggravated battery and burglary.
Quinn says this is just the first in a series of clemency petitions he will act on with the goal of drastically reducing the backlog by the end of the year.
He says each person he pardoned underwent a criminal background check.
It was a long shot, but veterinarians at the University of Illinois were not able to save a rare whooping crane that had broken a leg. A spokeswoman for the College of Veterinary Medicine says the endangered bird died Wednesday night of complications not directly related to the injury. The college's wildlife clinic had scheduled surgery on the injured leg for Thursday. The crane was found in McLean County, where its flock had stopped on its migration from Florida.
Mahomet Aquifer Study Short of Funds
A major study on the Mahomet Aquifer has been left unfinished because its state funding was cut off. Now the consortium that oversees the project is trying to raise the money to complete it.
One of the leading researchers of a plan for securing the nation's power grid says any long-range strategy will have to include a number of protections.
William Sanders heads the Information Trust Institute at the University of Illinois. It's part of the Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid, or TCIP, which includes work at three other universities. Sanders says recent news reports of attempted cyber attacks on the grid show it has real vulnerabilities, and need to be taken seriously. He says the consortium is responsible for rebuilding the grid's entire Information Technology infrastructure. And Sanders believes it's not a simple matter of blocking out one hacker's virus:
"Too much today, the problem is that people take band aid approaches," says Sanders. "Patch a vunerability here, patch a vulnerabllity there. And obviously we should do that. But the real solution is looking forward to a new architecture that ends this sort of cat and mouse game that we have going right now." The White House isn't providing any details on the recent 'intrusions' to the power grid. Sanders says any serious attempt will likely involve a number of things in sequence that include not only cyber attacks, but physical damage. He says a 'cascading' failure could also occur, which may involve human error as much as the other factors.
TCIP is a $7.5 million dollar project funded by the National Science Foundation... with support from the US Departments of Energy and Homeland Security.
The voters of Champaign County approved a one percent sales tax for school facilities on Tuesday. But the tax proposal faces one more vote before it takes effect. That's a vote by the Champaign County Board. The Board cannot reject the sales tax --- but it could lower it to a half-cent or quarter-cent on the dollar.
But County Board Chairman Pius Weibel says he will vote for the tax rate that the voters approved. "The voters voted on it," he says. "I think it would be a disservice not to do that (vote for the full one percent rate), or if we do it, we'd have to have a very good reason."
And Weibel says if the new sales tax rate was reduced, he thinks it would take away the ability of school districts to offer the property tax relief that they promised.
Weibel says the school facilities sales tax will go before the county board's Policy Committee. Its chairman, Tom Betz, opposed the sales tax personally, and says it won't provide meaningful savings for the average homeowner. But Betz says the voters passed a one-percent tax, so that's what he'll vote for, too.
There are fewer than 500 whooping cranes in the world. And on Thursday afternoon, a veterinary surgeon at the University of Illinois Urbana campus will operate on one of them.
The young crane was found earlier this month in a field near the central Illinois town of Gridley, with a badly broken leg. It's part of a carefully monitored whooping crane flock based in Wisconsin. Dr. Avery Bennett of the U of I Veterinary Teaching Hospital says the bird's lower left leg bones are broken in "countless" places. But he says chances for recovery are good.
Bennett says he plans to stabilize the broken leg bones with carbonized rods. He says they'll be attached on the outside of the leg with pins connecting to the ends of the broken bones. Bennett says while the bones are mending, the bird's weight will actually be carried by the external rods, allowing it walk around until the broken bones knit.
Such devices are called external skeleton fixation devices. And Bennett says they're essential, because the whooping crane must get on its feet as soon as possible to survive.
The crane's broken leg bones could be healed in about a month. During that time, Bennett says they face another challenge --- how to keep the whooping crane from getting too used to human contact. He says if the crane loses its healthy fear of humans, it may spend the rest of its life in a zoo.
Voters in Champaign County have approved a 1% hike in the county sales tax to help school districts pay for construction projects and pay off bond debt. Champaign joins two other counties in the state with such a sales tax -- several other counties voted on similar referenda on Tuesday. The sales tax was passed with 53% of the vote. Voters in the Urbana Park District also passed a property tax hike.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing won a second term, easily defeating Republican Rex Bradfield and two other candidates. Incumbents David Gehrig, Robert Lewis and Heather Stevenson regained their Urbana City Council seats, and Democrat Diane Marlin won ther lone open seat.
In Champaign, William Kyles defeated Freddie Gordon to win the open District 1 council seat. Incumbents Michael LaDue and Marci Dodds also won. Republican Pam Borowski defeated D'Anne Winston to win the City of Chamapign Township Supervisor seat that had been occupied by Democrat Linda Abernathy. Incumbent Brian Christie held off Democrat Wayne Williams in the City of Champaign Township Assessor race.
Incumbent Dave Tomlinson regained his Champaign Unit 4 School Board seat -- Thomas Lockman will join him along with Stig Lanesskog, who defeated Lynn Stucky by only three votes for the third available seat.
Backers of health insurance reform in Illinois say companies need to put care for their recipients ahead of executive bonuses.
The AARP and state Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, are among those urging state senators to follow the example of the Illinois House, and pass the Health Insurance Consumer Protection Act.
The measure would require insurance companies to spend at least 75% of premium dollars on medical care instead of executive salaries, marketing, or profits. 76-year old Felicia Boss of Champaign says her monthly premium went up more than 60 dollars from one year to the next without any explanation. "You have to accept it, you can't live without it," says Boss. "I know many residents where I live are looking into new plans, if they can find something. And so if there was full disclosure out there for us from the companies, at least we'd be able to choose for ourselves what would best fit our budget." The bill would also allow the Office of Consumer Health Insurance to function as a watchdog group to ensure companies aren't denying claims or hiking premiums. The measure passed the Illinois House last week. Lawmakers, including senators, are currently on break, and return two weeks from today.
A spokeswoman for Urbana-based Health Alliance Medical Plans says 90-percent of the company's premiums are going to medical care. But Jane Hayes says Health Alliance is concerned that the bill as currently written doesn't allow insurance providers to provide input to help determine company standards.
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