Illinois Public Media News
The cities of Champaign and Urbana are close to signing off on plans that will start construction on the 'Big Broadband' project with the University of Illinois.
The U of I has taken the lead in getting the more than $22-million federal grant and a $3.5 million state grant, but is leaving much work to the cities as work starts up.
The university's Mike Smeltzer, the principal investigator of the grant, said the agreements will explain the relationship between the two cities and U of I with regard to the project. The U of I will then agree to reallocate a portion of grant funds to the cities for the project, along with contracts dealing with construction companies. Smeltzer said these agreements, by and large, mean avoiding disagreement later.
"We're getting some things down in writing that certainly have been in some people's heads," he said. "But you know, if three people have a conversation and not everybody walks away from that conversation with the exact same memory of what was talked about, this is getting it all down in writing so there's really a not a whole lot of room for misunderstanding in terms of who's doing what, and where's the money going, and why."
Smeltzer said the construction contracts for both and Urbana and Champaign's portion of Big Broadband, or UC2B, are expected to go before their city councils by next week. He said that means construction could begin by late August or early September, and the project should be completed on time, by February of 2013.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
The three victims of a fiery plane crash in Rantoul have been identified.
Fifty-six-year-old Jon Buerkett, his wife, 47-year-old Dana Buerkett, and their daughter, 19-year-old Morgan Buerkett, all of Champaign, were killed Sunday when the single-engine plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Rantoul Airport.
A preliminary autopsy conducted late Monday by Champaign County Coroner Duane Northup indicates all three family members died from blunt force trauma.
Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber says severe weather was rolling into the area at the time of the crash. The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
Tom Fiedler, a friend of Jon Buerkett, said Monday they were co-owners of Melody Music in Champaign, a coin-operated music and equipment company. Dana Buerkett owned her own marketing business and Morgan Buerkett was a University of Chicago student.
The Champaign School District is between superintendents - and while an interim is in place while the search begins for Arthur Culver's replacement, his time in the post is limited. The law allows the school board to employ Dr. Robert Malito for only 100 days, which translates into a complicated calendar that has Malito representing the district for only a few days a month.
Malito retired last year from the top post in the Parkway School District near St. Louis. He has also headed districts in Bloomington and Palatine.
Malito tells Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers that Unit 4 is a goldmine waiting to be tapped because of its achievements at the top levels - but there are obvious challenges.
(Photo Courtesy Parkway School District)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is back from a week-long trip to Israel.
Quinn raved about the trip Monday. He says he hopes he can bring businesses from Israel to Illinois. He also wants to export some of the state's technology there in the areas of biotechnology and water conservation.
He says there is "great opportunity'' for renewed and even greater partnerships with Israel. Illinois has trade representatives there.
While he was there, Quinn signed a sister lakes agreement between Lake Michigan and Lake Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee. He says there is great potential in that partnership, which could mean jobs and research.
Quinn's trip was paid for by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has asked President Barack Obama to add Vermillion and Wayne counties to 32 counties approved for a federal disaster declaration last month.
If Monday's request is approved, state and local governments and certain non-profit organizations in the two additional counties would be eligible to apply for federal aid to pay 75 percent of the approved cost of debris removal, emergency services and repairing damaged public facilities such as roads and buildings.
The disaster declaration Obama issued last month covers damage from flooding, tornados and straight-line winds between April 19 and June 6.
Wayne County is along the Ohio state line and Vermillion is along the Illinois state line.
The recent heat wave in the Chicago area has now claimed 12 lives.
Autopsy reports released Monday by the Cook County medical examiner's office show heat stress was a secondary factor in the death of a 78-year-old woman. The primary cause of her death was heart disease.
Prior to Monday the death toll was 11. Authorities say most people killed by the heat have pre-existing conditions that are made worse by high temperatures. The last similar heat wave in the region in 1995 resulted in more than 750 deaths over a five-day period.
The Chicago area has since developed a heat response plan that includes more cooling centers and well-being checks to the elderly.
The National Weather Service is predicting highs in the upper 80s for Tuesday.
(AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Thousands of contractors have been ordered to stop work on airport construction projects. Meanwhile, Illinois lawmakers continue to disagree over legislation needed to put those workers back to work.
The Federal Aviation Administration's operating authority expired Friday night - after the House and Senate couldn't agree on a bill to extend it.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said he tried to pass a temporary version of the bill - but Republicans objected.
"This political brinkmanship may be somebody's idea of a victory," Durbin said. "It's my idea of a defeat for workers across America and for the maintenance and the construction of new airport facilities."
But Illinois Republican Congressman Randy Hultgren said his chamber is being proactive - passing a plan that Senate Democrats don't support.
"What they're doing is they're just kicking the can down the road another couple months each time that this happens," Hultgren said.
The modernization program at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is not expected to be affected by the work stoppage yet. But according to the FAA, the $1.5 million re-paving of a parking lot there will not happen until Congress reaches an agreement.
Meanwhile, the manager of Champaign-Urbana's Willard Airport said a construction project slated to start this fall at his airport could be affected if the partial shutdown at the FAA continues.
Willard manager Rick Wanzek said the project to widen part of an airport taxiway is to be bid in August.
"If they're not back to operating, and if they haven't released funds for a grant, then that would delay the project," he said. "That would be a significant impact that - we wouldn't get a project done this year that we were hoping to get done."
But Wanzek said air traffic controllers are exempt from the shutdown at the FAA, which means flights can continue as usual. An FAA spokesman said investigators are still on the job --- including those taking part in the investigation of Sunday's fatal crash of a single-engine plane at the Rantoul Airport.
(AP Photo/Jim Prisching, File)
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The names of three people who died in a fiery plane crash Sunday in central Illinois have been released.
Rantoul police have not released the names of the people on the plane, but multiple news reports cite a family member who identified the victims as Champaign residents Jon Buerkett, 56; his wife, Dana Buerkett, 47; and their daughter, Morgan Buerkett, 19.
According to an official with the Federal Aviation Administration, the single-engine Piper PA 46 airplane went down shortly after takeoff at the Rantoul Airport about 125 miles southwest of Chicago. Agency spokesman Roland Herwig said federal authorities were notified of the crash before 10 a.m. Sunday, and that the plane was destroyed by fire.
Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber said severe weather was rolling into the area at the time of the crash.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
Autopsies are scheduled Monday, according to Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup.
Retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, the first foreign-born chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who counseled President Bill Clinton on the use of troops in Bosnia and other trouble spots, has died, the Army said in a statement. He was 75.
Shalikashvili died Saturday morning at Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington state following complications from a stroke suffered on August 2004 that paralyzed his left side.
President Barack Obama said Saturday that the United States lost a "genuine soldier-statesman," adding in a statement that Shalikashvili's "extraordinary life represented the promise of America and the limitless possibilities that are open to those who choose to serve it."
The native of Poland held the top military job at the Pentagon in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1997, when the general retired from the Army. He spent his later years living near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington state, and worked as a visiting professor at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation.
Clinton pointed out that "Gen. Shali" made the recommendations that sent U.S. troops into harm's way in Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, the Persian Gulf and a host of other world hotspots that had proliferated since the end of the Cold War.
"He never minced words, he never postured or pulled punches, he never shied away from tough issues or tough calls, and most important, he never shied away from doing what he believed was the right thing," Clinton said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement that he relied on Shalikashvili's advice and candor when he served as Clinton's chief of staff during the foreign policy crises in Haiti, the Balkans and elsewhere.
"John was an extraordinary patriot who faithfully defended this country for four decades, rising to the very pinnacle of the military profession," Panetta said. "I will remember John as always being a stalwart advocate for the brave men and women who don the uniform and stand guard over this nation."
In a farewell interview with The Associated Press in 1997, Shalikashvili said American military and civilian authorities need to cooperate more when they decide to get involved in such trouble spots, because so much of what the military is asked to do involves humanitarian or peacekeeping operations.
For example, he said, the military might need assistance from the Justice Department to help set up police forces, or advice from the State Department on economic aid.
"We know the agencies, but who is responsible for coordinating it, bringing it all in at the right time?" he said. "Haiti, Bosnia, Rwanda, even Somalia, showed us these things go forward from the first day, and there is no coordinator."
Shalikashvili was head of the Joint Chiefs when the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military was adopted. He had argued that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would hurt troop morale and undermine the cohesion of combat units. Years later, though, he said that he had changed his mind on the issue after meeting with gay servicemen.
"These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers," Shalikashvili wrote in a January 2007 New York Times opinion piece.
Earlier in his career, under the first President George H. W. Bush, Shalikashvili served as NATO's supreme allied commander and also commander in chief of all U.S. armed forces in Europe. At the end of the first Gulf War, he was in charge of the Kurdish relief operation in northern Iraq.
In 2004, Shalikashvili also served on a senior military advisory group to the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, as did another former NATO commander, Gen. Wesley Clark.
Not long before his stroke, Shalikashvili spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, saying, "I do not stand here as a political figure. Rather, I am here as an old soldier and a new Democrat."
Shalikashvili was born June 27, 1936, in Warsaw, the grandson of a czarist general and the son of an army officer from Soviet Georgia. He lived through the German occupation of Poland during World War II and immigrated with his family in 1952, settling in Peoria, Illinois.
He learned English from watching John Wayne movies, according to his official Pentagon biography, and he retained a distinctive Eastern European accent.
Shalikashvili, who studied engineering at Bradley University in Peoria, enrolled in the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps, but his eyes were not good enough to be a pilot, according to a Defense Department biography. He became a U.S. citizen in 1958 and was drafted months later. In addition to being the first foreign-born Joint Chiefs chairman, he was the first draftee to rise to the top military job at the Pentagon, the Defense Department said.
"He knows how to put combat power together, understands policy options and will also be highly regarded by the troops," retired Col. Roy Alcala, who worked with Shalikashvili in the Pentagon, said in 1993.
Shalikashvili was the 13th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The current chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, said Shalikashvili "skillfully shepherded our military through the early years of the post-Cold War era, helping to redefine both U.S. and NATO relationships with former members of the Warsaw Pact."
Shalikashvili and his wife, Joan, moved to Steilacoom, near the Army's then-called Fort Lewis south of Tacoma, Washington, in 1998.
Shortly after Shalikashvili was tabbed by Clinton, the Simon Wiesenthal Center said documents it found indicated the general's late father, Dimitri Shalikashvili, collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. The center said it found the elder Shalikashvili's unpublished writings in the archives of Stanford 's Hoover Institution.
Shalikashvili is survived by his wife Joan, their son, Brant, and other family members.
(AP Photo/Ruth Fremson)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn won a temporary halt on paying state employee raises that were due earlier this month.
Cook County Circuit Judge Richard Billik granted Quinn's request Friday to hold off paying the 2 percent raise. An arbitrator ruled earlier this week that Quinn had to pay.
Another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
Quinn announced July 1 he wouldn't pay the 2 percent raise ---_worth about $75 million --- that's owed to nearly 30,000 state workers. He says lawmakers didn't give him enough money to cover them.
The arbitrator had said the contract requires paying raises to members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union has already delayed another 2 percent raise to help in the budget crisis.
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