Illinois Public Media News
A health care advocacy group is renewing its call on the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to investigate an underground pipeline in Champaign's Fifth and Hill neighborhood.
Champaign County Health Care Consumers held a news conference Tuesday in the neighborhood, and cited a recent report that identified chemical waste in the pipeline know as "coal tar" as petroleum-based. The group's executive director, Claudia Lennhoff, said the toxins are likely linked to a gas manufacturing plant that had been in the area from 1887 until 1953.
"This is like a sleeping giant underground," she said. "It's highly toxic. One of the problems with the material that we found is that these contaminants can also leach off and can spread and move through the groundwater and through the soil."
But Eleanor Blackmon, who's an assistant engineer in the city of Champaign, said the pipe has been dry every time it has been inspected.
"We inspected it after rains from the time that (Champaign County Health Care Consumers) expressed their concerns about it," Blackmon said. "We never saw any outflow from the pipe. The dirt inside the pipe was always dry."
Furthermore, Blackmon said there is no way to connect the pipeline to the old manufactured gas plant.
The city agreed this year to plug the pipe facing Boneyard Creek after Champaign County Health Consumers filed a notice of intent to sue the city over cleaning it up.
The Illinois EPA said it is already looked at the site, and that any toxins that might be there are so far underground that they don't pose a health risk to people living in the area.
"We have done an investigation and this was our finding that no one was at risk,' Illinois EPA spokeswoman Maggie Carson said. "Secondarily, even if it were connected to the site, our primary concern would be is someone at risk? And the answer here is 'No.
Tourism dollars were up in East Central Illinois in 2010. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity cites figures from the U-S Travel Association showing that tourism dollars rose last year in Champaign, Vermilion, Douglas, Piatt, Ford and Iroquois Counties.
In Vermilion County, tourists contributed $70.5 million dollars to the local economy in 2010, up 6.2% from 2009.
Jeanne Cooke of the Danville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau says Vermilion County tourism dollars had dipped in 2009 to $66.34 million --- she blames the recession for cutting into business travel that year. But she says last year's showing brought the county back up to 2007 levels.
"We're really happy about that", says Cooke, "because we had anticipated that it might take us as much as three years to return to our 2007 figure."
Now, despite recent shocks to the national and global economy, Cooke hopes that a variety of things to do in Vermilion County will keep the tourists coming.
"For example, we just finished the Walldogs (outdoor mural) event", says Cooke. "The end of September, we have Civil War Days that brings people from all over annually. We have the NJCAA Division II Men's Basketball Championships. We have outstanding state and county parks --- 15,000 acres."
The DCEO says the economic impact of tourism in east-central Illinois ranged from $5.8 million in Piatt County to $266.1 million in Champaign County. Iroquois County, with $29 million in tourism dollars, saw the sharpest increase by percentage last year --- 8.4%. The figures are based on purchases of such things as restaurant meals, hotel rooms and gasoline by out-of-towners.
Summary of US Travel Association data released by DCEO: Economic Impact of Tourism in 2010
Champaign County: $266.1 million, up 5.9% Douglas County: $30.6 million, up 3.1% Ford County: $5.4 million, up 3.7% Iroquois County: $29.0 million, up 8.4% Piatt County: $5.9 million, up 5.3% Vermilion County: $70.5 million, up 6.2%
Indiana residents who felt Tuesday's earthquake that shook the East Coast are being urged to report those tremors to a federal agency.
The state Department of Homeland Security and the Indiana Geological Survey is asking Hoosiers to submit online reports if they felt any tremors at 1:53 p.m. Tuesday, when a magnitude 5.9 quake centered below Mineral, Va., rattled the East Coast.
People as far away as Michigan have reported feeling tremors from that quake. The more data scientists receive from other states where citizens reported feeling the earth shift the more accurately they can gauge the quake's intensity and the area affected by it.
To report feeling tremors, people should go to the U.S. Geological Survey website. Then, they should click on the "Did You Feel It? - Tell Us!'' link.
Champaign city manager Steve Carter says there are two sides to every issue, and he says it is only fair to hear the police department's reply to an anonymous e-mail alleging favoritism among its leaders.
But Carter said changes have been made, including some agreed to Monday by the city's Board of Fire and Police Commissioners
The e-mail alleges that reference material for a 2008 lieutenant's exam had been used twice before, giving an edge to veterans who had already taken it. The e-mail also contends Sgt. Tom Walker held an advantage since he is friends with Lt. Scott Swan, who helped develop the test, one that Walker scored highly on.
But Carter said that test didn't result in any promotions, and he said new safeguards are now in place when it comes to giving exams.
"We utilized an outside testing firm to do the work," Carter said. "Our human resources department oversaw the entire process. And outside of some general guidance in terms of 'here are the issues' - policies and procedures of the department, issues that are important to them - the department really wasn't actively involved in the development of any of the questions."
Carter said the Champaign Police Department has also changed the oral interview process, so that officers are no longer on interview panels. Another accusation concerns ratings within the department. Carter said the city has now included separate officer rankings from the police chief, deputy chief, and lieutenants, so the impact of any one person is limited in terms of promotions.
The e-mail was sent to city officials on Friday, the same day that Police Chief R.T. Finney announced he was retiring on Jan. 20, 2012. The note came from the e-mail address "firstname.lastname@example.org." Carter says he hasn't set a date for a response from the police department, but he said it's important to give the police department time to respond.
"Whether it's one employee or a group of employees, we're concerned about that, and want to respond appropriately," Carter said. "We want all of our employees to feel like they're being treated fairly inside the organization. That's not to say that it would be unusual to have a situation where there aren't some employees who are unhappy with decisions made by supervisors. I think that's kind of a normal part of business.
UPDATE: A link to the website for the U of I/Sweden INSPIRE program has been added - 8/26/11
The University of Illinois has institutional agreements with more than 200 other colleges and universities. But their newest partnership may be the most extensive one yet.
The university has announced a "long-term strategic alliance" with one of Sweden's largest technology schools - KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. The agreement covers both academic and research projects, as well as forays into public service and economic development.
Tim Barnes of the U of I's Strategic International Partnerships Initiative says he says the agreement with KTH is more wide-ranging than any of the university's previous institutional agreements.
"Because it represents the first sustained commitment by the central campus administration to coordinate and try and leverage our international engagement and relationships into something broader", says Barnes, "something that is broadly and deeply impactful across the campus, that crosses all of our core academic and research missions, and that also involves students and faculty at all different levels from different colleges."
Barnes says the two schools are already exchanging students. He says KTH will offer Illinois students some unique learning opportunities.
"We'll have a component that's actually going to be taught in the Arctic that KTH has access to", says Barnes. "So that's an example of giving University of Illinois students access to and opportunities to study in places that would be difficult to manage, here on the prairie."
Barnes also cites projects that go beyond the university campus --- such as plans to bring state and Chicago housing officials to Stockholm to study their work in energy-efficient housing.
Barnes says the alliance between KTH and Illinois grew out of working relationships already forged between faculty members of both schools. The U of I and KTH each hosted bilateral conferences during the past year to explore the potential benefits of a long-term relationship. Barnes says the U of I plans to host the president of KTH and other Swedish officials in the spring.
The first lawsuits filed over the Indiana State Fair stage collapse could challenge the state's rules on same sex marriage.
Attorney Kenneth Allen said his clients were recently married in Hawaii, a state that allows same sex civil unions. Beth Urschel was injured in the stage collapse. Her spouse, Tammy VanDam, died from the incident.
Allen said the lawsuits address a legal gray area in Indiana.
"Tammy was her wife and Beth is entitled to be treated as any spouse should be treated: fairly, equitably and justly under the law," he said Monday. "That's something we intend to challenge because as it stands now, Indiana law does not recognize her as a spouse and we expect to change that.
Allen said the court is the best place to address the issue because the state legislature hasn't taken action. Allen is seeking more than $50 million in damages on behalf of Urschel and the estate of VanDam.
The family of a cheerleading coach from Ohio who suffered brain injuries when a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair says they've decided to "allow her to be at peace."
The family of 24-year-old Meagan Toothman says it became apparent Sunday night "that our Meagan was no longer with us." The family writes in an online journal posting that an organ donation surgery is planned for later Monday.
Marchele Hall of the Marion County coroner's office says Toothman is on life support at Methodist Hospital. Authorities earlier announced she had been pronounced dead.
Six others have died from injuries suffered when powerful winds toppled the stage onto fans waiting for the country act Sugarland to perform Aug. 13.
One the two magnet schools starting up in Champaign Monday will immediately expose its students to other cultures and languages.
For the expanded and renovated Garden Hills Elementary, it's taken on an international baccalaureate program. Principal Cheryl O'Leary says students and visitors will right away notice the international hallway, representing the heritage of students from overseas.
She says each grade level will partner with a school from another country, and each student will learn Mandarin Chinese. And O'Leary says international baccalaureate schools are also required to focus on 10 learner profiles - words like inquiry, open-minded, and principled.
"We have those written above throughout the hallways in the building in five different languages for the children as they go through the halls " she said. "They'll have to know what it's like to be an inquirer and what it's like to be curious. So those are some of things that we'll be instilling in them pretty young during inquiry-based learning, and hoping that it continues on in their middle and high school years."
O'Leary says planning at Champaign Unit 4's district level should allow younger students, particularly those in kindergarten, to continue similar lessons once they reach middle school.
Just over 400 students attended Garden Hills last year. An April lottery was held for additional students wanting to attend the district's two magnet schools. That will boost Garden Hills' attendance to more than 520 this fall, near capacity for the building.
Unit 4's other magnet school opening Monday, the new Booker T. Washington Elementary, carries the STEM theme, or focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math.
School principal Asia Fuller-Hamilton says it's her hope that the students develop a love for science, have an appreciation for it as they grow older, and perhaps seek out a career in it. The program will allow the school to collaborate with the U of I's I-STEM initiative.
Fuller-Hamilton says lessons integrating the subjects will literally be all around the students.
"We want to be able to answer the question, 'Why do I need to do this math problem? Why do I need to learn this about these people, or about this in science?' We try to show them how it all goes together," she said. "And actually, the way that the building is built, it allows them to do that. The gym has geometric shapes as well as area and diameter math concepts on the flooring."
The school itself includes laptops for students, conference rooms at every grade level, art and music rooms, and a reservoir for rain water in order for students to maintain a garden. Prairie grass will be planted outside, keeping students from having to travel to a park to connect with those lessons.
About 300 students will attend the new Booker T. Washington school this fall.
A tour of Champaign's Booker T. Washington Elementary School from Illinois Public Media on Vimeo.
A federal appellate court has ruled that an automotive parts company didn't violate a collective bargaining agreement by closing its plant in Paris, IL and moving operations to its non-union factory in Kentucky.
The decision from 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago backs a lower court ruling that ZF Boge never offered a commitment to the United Auto Workers that it would keep its plant open in Paris.
Shortly after the Paris workers went on strike in 2008, the manufacturer announced it was shutting the factory and moving all operations to an existing plant in Hebron, Ky.
The Paris facility was closed at the end of 2009. ZF Boge produces rubber and metal brushing for use in the automotive industry.
The city of Champaign will start looking for a new police chief to take over when current chief R.T. Finney retires.
Finney has announced his decision to step down Jan. 20, 2012. In a press release, Finney said he is leaving with joy and trepidation after more than 30 years in the law enforcement profession. He became chief of police in Carbondale in 1999 and took the top post in Champaign four years later.
"I entered into law enforcement over 30 years ago as a civilian employee and since that time I have enjoyed working in every facet and position that law enforcement has to offer," Finney said in a statement.
Champaign city manager Steve Carter said Finney managed to help the police department earn its first accreditation and boost police community relations.
"We probably are doing a lot more as a police department in terms of trying to reach out to the community now than we ever have," Carter said. "R.T. has been very supportive of expanding those outreach efforts in the community."
Finney was one of the first two officers to respond to the incident that led to the 2009 police-shooting death of teenager Kiwane Carrington. Carter said efforts to improve citizens' image of police continue.
Carter noted that a search for Finney's successor will begin immediately, though a new chief might not be in place by the time Finney retires.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
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