Illinois Public Media News
Exelon Corporation is testing its emergency response plan this week in DeWitt County.
On Wednesday, county and state government officials are testing the Clinton Nuclear Power Station to make sure proper notification and actions take place under certain scenarios.
Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson says there are four levels of emergency declarations at nuclear power plants, and crews will progress through each of them in these exercises. But she says personnel won't know about the setup ahead of time.
"We never know exactly what the scenario will be, we just know that there will be some type of events simulated that we all need to react to," said Thompson. "Then we are judged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as to how we demonstrate our ability to respond under those conditions."
Thompson says usually, safeguards would be in place to prevent an emergency from occurring, but Exelon will take officials through all four stages.
Thompson says this is considered a full-scale exercise, with participation from Exelon, and all levels of government, with emergency personnel from not only DeWitt County, but Macon, Piatt, and McLean counties, but also a number of state agencies. The test will also have radiological field teams conducting samples of soil and vegetation.
Federal officials will report their findings in Clinton on Friday at DeWitt County's Emergency Operations Center.
Starting Monday, Oct. 31, the Champaign County Housing authority will begin accepting applications from people who want to be included on a waiting list for its Section 8 housing voucher program.
Housing authority executive director Edward Bland said the last time people could apply to be on the list was in 2007. The agency has received about $10 million from the federal government to support existing vouchers. He said there's no time line for when the next batch of vouchers will be available.
"The purpose of opening up the waiting list is to have future applicants available, so as vouchers become available in the future we will have a pool of qualified applicants to issue those vouchers to," Bland explained. "Those vouchers could be new vouchers that we may receive or they could be existing vouchers from a family (that) no longer needs that voucher."
Bland said participants will be considered for a voucher based on a number of factors, including their income level and criminal history. He said if more than 400 people sign up to make it on the list, then participants will be selected through a lottery system. The enrollment period to apply ends Nov. 14, 2011.
Applications for the voucher program can be picked up at the following locations:
Champaign County Regional Planning Commission - 1776 E. Washington, Urbana
Housing Authority of Champaign County - 205 W. Park Avenue, Champaign
Illinois Work Net Center - 1307 N. Mattis Avenue, Champaign
Oscar Street Place - 1202 E. Harding Street, Urbana
Rantoul Community Center - 520 E. Wabash, Rantoul
Refugee Center - 302 S. Birch Street, Urbana
Restoration Urbana Ministries - 1213 Parkland Court, Champaign
Salvation Army - 2212 N. Market, Champaign
Skelton Place - 302 S. Second Street, Champaign
The Times Center - 70 E. Washington, Champaign
Washington Square - 108 W. Washington, Champaign
The opportunity to get on the Section 8 waiting list comes less than week after the release of preliminary results from a homeless survey by the group C-U at Home. The organization interviewed around 300 homeless people in Champaign, Urbana, and Rantoul, and identified about a third of them as being vulnerable to dying on the street. Each person's situation was based on the Vulnerability Index, a tool developed by researchers at Boston's Healthcare for the Homeless.
John Smith was one of about 80 volunteers who interviewed the homeless, asking questions about physical and mental health, history of substance abuse, and time living on the street.
"It was amazing that the empathy that the volunteers felt from talking with the homeless doing the surveys, and the reverse," Smith said. "We saw the homeless appreciative that somebody would listen to their story."
The study was part of a national effort to find housing for 100,000 vulnerable people across the county within the next couple of years. Melany Jackson, the project coordinator for C-U at Home, said she plans to take the information collected from the survey in Champaign County, and find housing for a half a dozen people by the end of next year.
"There aren't nearly enough beds," Jackson said. "There aren't nearly enough support services for folks who are in desperate need. Many of them are falling through the cracks. They're falling through the cracks of the system that does exist."
According to the United Way of Champaign County, homelessness is on the rise with an estimated 418 individuals in Champaign County without a stable place to live at any given time. Jackson said her organization will work with churches and other faith-based groups to connect people with a place to live.
(Reported by Azra Halilovic)
The solidarity group Occupy Champaign-Urbana organized a demonstration Saturday afternoon in downtown Champaign. More than a dozen people met at the corner of Neil and Main to protest corporate policies and political inequality.
That's compared to the 300 people who attended the march and rally in West Side Park a couple weeks ago. Saturday's event was part of a series of smaller demonstrations the group is organizing in Champaign County. The demonstrators held signs and handed out fliers with details about their group and ways to get involved. The group is in solidarity with the anti-Wall Street movements that have erupted across the nation and globe.
The demonstrators included students, working class citizens, and retirees. While they have personal motives for participating in the demonstration, they are all seeking economic reform and greater political representation.
Pat Dewal of Champaign is a retired resident who became involved with the Occupy movement about three weeks ago. Dewal said she would like to see less corporate involvement in politics.
"I just have a lot of concerns about what's happening in our country and how much things have been in decline," she said. "I think it's time for citizens to speak up and do something."
Dewalt added that most people who organize and attend the events are on the political left, but that the group welcomes people of all political ideologies.
"Only a few Libertarians have been involved," she said. "It would be nice to hear more conservative voices. They would be enthusiastically welcome."
As cars stopped at streetlights, Eric Burton of Champaign approached them to hand out the group's fliers. He was there with his wife and child, and said he would like to see the government do a better a job representing families.
"I'm a working class citizen of this country," he said. "We can barely afford health insurance. I work about 70 hours a week between jobs and we just get by. And so that's my own personal impetus to be involved. I think it's more about a perception of what's right and wrong."
Other people at the demonstration expressed frustration with the role of lobbyists and the influence of money in politics. They hope to have a better and more diverse turnout at their future events. Organizers plan to hold a similar demonstration Tuesday at noon at the University of Illinois ' Urbana campus.
(Photo by Azra Halilovic)
Champaign's Police union says some members of the community are rushing to judgment on this week's arrest of 18-year old Calvin Miller.
In a press release issued by the state's Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, the union mentions the events of Monday's early morning hours, when police say the teen ran red lights, ran over a curb, and his van struck the front of a house after exiting the vehicle. Miller then reportedly ran on foot, and struggled with police before the arrest. The incident has led to angry comments from local activists, including Martel Miller, the teen's father, who claims police beat the teen repeatedly.
The FOP says it's encouraging all citizens of the city, and especially elected officials, to withhold judgment until all of the facts and circumstances have been released. The union says it's 'confident they will demonstrate that use of force was appropriate and reasonable under both department policy and the law.'
Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says officials with his department will likely address the city council on Tuesday night.
If legislation to use local funds for the salaries of Illinois' regional school superintendents can pass it two weeks, one of those officials says it should be enough.
Jane Quinlan is the superintendent for Champaign and Ford Counties. She says it's a little hard to tell what the overall amount in personal property replacement tax will be, but Quinlan says anticipated Department of Revenue figures for Fiscal 2012 appear to be slightly better than last year, and would cover areas vetoed by Governor Pat Quinn. The bill failed Thursday by four votes, but is expected to come up for another vote in two weeks.
Quinlan says she holds out hope for this measure.
"We do have funding to pay for the staff that provides the services and programs that we have," she said. "I think the question is out there about 'how do those services (function) without the regional superintendent, who has the authority to execute those?"
If the bill doesn't pass when lawmakers return to Springfield November 8th, Quinlan says each regional superintendent and their assistant will have to take a hard look at their options, which may include retirement. She says it's unrealistic for these officials to work a few months more without pay.
Quinn eliminated the money for the superintendents and their assistants in July because he says the state can't afford the $11 million.
State Senator Shane Cultra says the bill that failed Thursday is likely the only one that will be considered on this issue when legislators return to Springfield. The Onarga Republican says he's all for restoring these salaries, but not with the personal property replacement tax. The measure needed 71 votes to pass, but failed 59-to-55 in the House.
Cultra says this issue lies in the hands of Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, who isn't directly impacted, since Cook County has no regional superintendents.
"He's basically letting us fight over how we're going to pay them, and who we're going to take the money from" said Cultra. "Somebody's going to get hurt. Is it the superintendents, or is it going to be local units of government? So I don't like that discussion. I don't think it should be that way. But unfortunately, that's what we're stuck with."
Cultra says lawmakers should have been allowed to override Governor Pat Quinn's veto of those salaries, and take the funds out of general state revenue. The bill that failed was put on 'postponed consideration', meaning the sponsor can drum up support before bringing it up for another vote. The fall veto session continues November 8th.
It's been more than two years since Illinois American Water last filed for a rate hike. Now, the company is asking state regulators for a big enough increase to generate an additional $38 million statewide.
Getting approval for a rate increase is a slow process, and Illinois American's Chris Bacon says it may be 11 months before the Illinois Commerce Commission rules on their request. Bacon says about 70% of the money they're seeking would pay for new infrastructure.
In Illinois American's Champaign District, Bacon says their latest major project not covered by the current rate structure was an upgrade to their Mattis Avenue water treatment center in Champaign.
"The U-S EPA had made some recommendations in regards to our treatment center", says Bacon. "We always had high quality water, and maintained EPA standards with our water. But they did have some suggestions for our treatment plant, to make some upgrades. And we've complied with that."
But Bacon says the larger part of the money sought for the Champaign District would pay for replacing aging water mains.
"There are a couple of areas in Pesotum (along) Oak Street and then also on Coler Street (in Urbana) that we were looking to do some basic main replacement", says Bacon. "What those projects do is help improve customer service, reliability and fire flows for our existing customers in those areas."
In the Pontiac District, Illinois American says the requested increase would pay for new fire hydrants, valves and meters, as well as new water main. A project at the water treatment plant located along the Vermilion River includes additional flood protection.
In the Champaign District, Illinois American's requested rate increase would come out to about $7.21 for the average residential customer --- that same customer in the Pontiac District would pay $7.06 a month more. Rate hikes would differ in other service areas around the state --- and the ICC might decide to approve an increase lower than what Illinois American Water has filed for.
Belleville-based Illinois American Water is a subsidiary of American Water, based in Vorhees, N.J.
New Records Show More Restaurant Inspection Failures
(Reported by Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess)
When public health officials conducted a routine inspection of Quizno's in Urbana last month, they discovered 12 critical health-code violations.
Gov. Pat Quinn wants to know who cast votes for about 18 Illinois House members who weren't on the floor when utility rate-hike legislation he opposed passed.
Quinn said Thursday legislation involving such high stakes shouldn't have anyone other than the House member casting a vote. He said the action should be investigated by the House, adding it was a `'violation of ethical conduct."
On Wednesday, lawmakers gave electric companies the authority to raise rates to produce money for modernizing the state power grid. House rules bar a member from voting on a question before the House unless on the floor before the vote is announced. However, it is not unusual for the rule to be ignored.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown says Quinn is trying to explain a huge defeat.
When Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in the state earlier this year, it spared the lives of 15 men on death row.
But one of them may not be off the hook.
Andrew Urdiales, 47, a former U.S. Marine, could be put to death if he is found guilty in the deaths of five women in Southern California.
The Orange County District Attorney's office announced this week that it will seek the death penalty against Urdiales if he's convicted in the murders.
"We will be seeking the death penalty for the crimes that he committed in California," according to Howard Gundy, senior deputy district attorney for the Orange County D.A.'s office. "The factors of aggravation, which would call for the stiffest penalty, far outweigh any of the factors in mitigation."
Urdiales is now awaiting trial in Orange County for the deaths.
He was extradited from the Pontiac Correctional Facility in Pontiac, Illinois in late September.
At Pontiac, Urdiales had been on death row for the murders of Laura Uylaki, 25, of Hammond, Ind., and Lynn Huber, 22, of Chicago.
Their bodies were dumped near Wolf Lake which straddles the Illinois-Indiana state line near Hammond.
In 2004, Urdiales was sentenced to death again for the 1996 murder of Cassandra "Cassie" Corum, 21, of Hammond.
Prosecutors say Urdiales dumped her body in the Vermilion River in Pontiac.
But the change in Illinois law in March abolishing the death penalty commuted Urdiales' sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
Urdiales will be arraigned in Orange County on Dec. 1for the additional five homicides. Of the five homicides, three took place in Riverside County, one in San Diego County, and one in Orange County.
Gundy said it was decided to consolidate the five cases with the trial happening in Orange County.
Prosecutors say the killing started back in 1984 when Urdiales was a 19-year-old Marine stationed in Southern California until his discharge in 1991. That's when he returned to the South Chicago neighborhood where he grew up.
Four of the five California victims are described as prostitutes ranging in age from 21 to 32.
His first California victim was 23-year-old Robbin Brandley who had been volunteering as an usher at a concert. Prosecutors say Urdiales wanted to kill a random person so he sought Brandley out following the concert and as she walked to her car. He's alleged to have stabbed her 41 times with a six-inch hunting blade.
The case was cracked open in November 1996 when Urdiales was arrested by police in Hammond, Ind., for loitering in his truck near an area known for prostitutes. Police confiscated a handgun which he was not licensed to carry.
Ballistic testing in April 1997 by Illinois police found the gun confiscated by Urdiales was the same firearm used to shoot and murder three of the victims.
Urdialeswas soon after arrested for the three murders.
(AP Photo/Illinois Department of Corrections, File)
A former state lawmaker says he'll forgo a run for Congress and attempt a return to the legislature instead.
In a statement issued late Thursday night, Democrat Jay Hoffman announced he would run for State Representative in the new 113th district. Hoffman had already announced a run for Congress' new 13th district in an attempt to unseat Urbana Republican Tim Johnson. But now Hoffman says a run for the Illinois House gives him the best opportunity to advocate for the issues he cares about most passionately, including capital construction, education, and economic development.
The Belleville News Democrat reports the St. Clair County Democratic Party is endorsing Hoffman for the 113th district seat. Democrat Tom Holbrook quit the seat Monday in order to become chair of the Illinois Pollution Control Board.
Hoffman says running for the legislature allows him to serve the community where he grew up, and the people he knows best.
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