Illinois Public Media News
Officials from Dynergy Inc. have raised concerns about the Vermilion Power Station's long-term stability.
The Houston-based company owns four power plants in Illinois, in addition to the Vermilion plant located near Oakwood. Dynergy spokesman David Byford said because of challenging market conditions coupled with the cost of transporting coal that is trucked to the plant, his company is looking at 'options' for the 54-year-old power station.
"For the short term, it's business as usual for the plant," Byford said.
Byford would not go into detail about what options the company's pursuing.
Dynegy may soon merge with the Blackstone Group for about $4.7 billion, which would include the assumption of Dynegy's debt. Dynegy Shareholders are scheduled to vote on the merger next week in Houston.
University of Illinois officials are holding a forum Saturday afternoon to address the U of I's response to the recent wave of campus violence.
On Monday, a student was sexually assaulted in a dormitory bathroom. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Renée Romano said that attack prompted U of I officials to organize the meeting, which she hopes will help inform parents about what they can do to protect students.
"Students are in a lot of contact with their parents," Romano said. "So parents can remind their students to lock their doors, remind their students to use safe walks, to walk with friends, to use safe rides, and that sort of thing."
The university in recent weeks has agreed to hire more police officers, installed dozens of security cameras, and activated a call center where operators who can answer questions about the attacks. Romano added that she hopes this town hall meeting will encourage students to come forward if they witness violence.
"If they report a crime or if they see something suspicious, and perhaps they've been drinking," she said. "They're not going to get a drinking ticket."
U of I Police Chief Barbara O'Connor reported that police have made more than 25 arrests related to the campus assaults and robberies.
The town hall meeting will start Saturday at 3pm at the Illini Union's Courtyard Cafe. The event will be streamed live at http://illinois.edu/here_now/videos.html as well as for viewing at a later time. Questions may be phoned in during the meeting at 217-244-8938.
American Eagle plans to add a flight route between Savoy's Willard Airport and Chicago's O'Hare Airport starting February 10.
Willard Airport manager Steve Wanzek said there has been a steady increase in Chicago-bound flights on American Eagle following Delta Air Lines' decision to leave Willard on August 31.
"We've long wanted additional service out of here," Wanzek said. "The airline itself saw that they were overbooked, and they didn't have enough seat capacity to handle the passengers that wanted to fly on their airline out of here."
The new flight would depart Chicago at 10:15 am and arrive at Willard at 11:05 am. It would then leave Willard at 11:30 am and arrive in Chicago at 12:20 pm.
Wanzek said that he has working with Sixel Consulting Group, an Oregon-based consulting firm, to find out if other airline carriers would be interested in coming to Willard. He also said he is trying to convince American Eagle to bring more air service to Willard Airport.
(Photo courtesy of caribb/flickr)
A new study on state university teaching programs is being called 'questionable' by the head of the teacher certification unit at the University of Illinois.
The Washington-D.C. based National Council on Teacher Quality gave the U of I high marks this week for its undergraduate elementary and graduate secondary programs. However, it reported that Illinois State University has failed designs in elementary and special education, while Eastern Illinois University earned a 'fair' rating.
The council reviewed on-line course guides and syllabi at 53 schools, a total of 111 undergraduate and graduate programs. The executive director of the U of I's Council on Teacher Education, Chris Roegge, said without site visits and a real dialogue, the report commissioned by Advance Illinois is somewhat superficial.
Roegge added that even the U of I received a low rating in one area, before he rectified the situation. One component was not covered in the coursework the NCTQ researched on line, so Roegge sent the council syllabi for three additional required courses that covered those areas.
"I received a reply that said 'well, those courses aren't part of our analysis - which makes no sense," Roegge said. "We got that rectified. I said 'regardless if it's part of your anaylsis or not, these are courses that are required in the program. You're looking for this particular element in the program. Here's where it is. So there were a lot of things of that type that we came across."
Roegge said what is lost is that recent graduates are just getting started in the field.
"All of the great lengths that we go to to prepare them, and all of the assessments that we give them, and all of the hoops that they jump through," Roegge said. "When they receive their bachelor's degree, and in some cases, a master's degree, and they're initially certified by the state, they are still novice teachers. And the development of their skills and abilities as a teacher is just beginning."
Organizations that include all 53 teaching programs issued a response to the report, calling it 'faulty' and 'narrow in focus.' Groups like the Illinois Association of Teacher Educators also point out that the Council on Teacher Quality hasn't been accredited by the federal government, or any state board of education.
The annual ceremony in Urbana recognizing the efforts of those who enlist in the U.S. armed forces was also a call to help local veterans in need.
About 40 people attended Veterans Day ceremonies at the Champaign County Courthouse Memorial on Thursday. Mark Friedman, the Superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Champaign County, spoke at the event.
Friedman's organization exists in about half of Illinois' counties. Groups like the VFW and American Legion has requested their county governments to form such a group, in which tax dollars help indigent veterans with areas like utility bills and assistance paying their rent or mortgage. Friedman said his organization has only been in the talking phase for the last 10 years, but its mission is starting to take shape.
"The VAC will be liasoning with groups like the (Champaign County) Regional Planning Commission for low-income energy assistance and programs like that," Friedman said. "We're basically going to be a clearinghouse to help route people who don't know where else to go. We're still looking at what we're going to describe as to what our complete mission is going to be."
Illinois' Military Assistance Act, passed in 1992, allows veterans organizations to form such groups. In other counties, the assistance groups also provide transportation for some veterans.
Meanwhile, veterans' groups say there is a new appreciation for what men and women in uniform do when serving in the armed services. Lieutenant Clifford White of Lincoln's Challenge Academy said only veterans know what it is like to stand guard all night while others sleep, and believes he is instilling those same values into the young cadets in Rantoul.
"It's not just a one-day event, it's an every day event," White said. "Our country is having turmoil everywhere, and they need to understand that if it wasn't for the men and women, both young and old, if it wasn't for that we wouldn't have the freedom to be able to do what we need to do and what we can do in our country."
White said since the Gulf War, Americans have learned to appreciate the role of the military.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency have awarded $2 million to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The grant will be used to create a new research center to study how exposure to common chemicals may affect childhood development.
Center director neurotoxicologist Susan Schantz said studies will focus on bisphenol A (BPA), which is widely used in plastics, and phthalates, which are components of many scented personal care products, like lotions and shampoos.
"We know from laboratory animal studies that both of these chemicals are endocrine disrupters," Schantz said, "so they can mess with certain hormonal systems in the body."
One study will involve pregnant women volunteers from local health clinics. "We're going to follow their health and take urine samples during their pregnancy so we can assess their exposure to the two chemicals, and then from the time their babies are born we're going to follow them developmentally," Schantz explained.
A related study at Harvard University will examine how exposure to BPA and phthalates relates to cognitive development in adolescents.
A Champaign County Judge has been asked to provide local taxing bodies with some clarity over whether they are free to use property tax funds paid out by Provena Covenant Medical Center.
Champaign County Treasurer Dan Welch wants to know what years between 2002 and 2009 will not remain part of a legal battle over the hospital's tax-exempt status.
"Tell us which ones are in jeopardy, and which ones are not," Welch said. "Just let Provena make their case to the judge about what legal authority they believe they have to tie up any of that money. If they can't, then I assume Urbana will be able to release whatever they want, but leave it up to the judge, let them make their legal argument."
Welch said Provena is appealing its 2006 property taxes. More than $8 million of the remaining funds, or 99 percent, is earmarked for a Tax Increment Financing District in Urbana. Welch said the city is not required to give it to anyone else, but Urbana opted to release some to other local governments. Champaign County's share of tax dollars for that stretch is about $600,000.
"Urbana wants to give this money to the taxing districts, and all taxing districts are in need of some money," Welch said. "So it makes some sense if we can clarify it once and for all. Yet some money is not in jeopardy of not having to be refunded again, and some money may be. Whatever the answer is, we just want to know what that answer is."
Welch said it could be several years before the county finds out what a judge's ruling will be for 2006. While his office still is not holding any of this money, it is still up to the Treasurer to keep track of tax dollars that have been paid or refunded. Welch said it has been difficult keeping track of the tax liability for each of the taxing districts.
Illinois Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) has joined the list of Republicans seeking to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee next year.
News reports have listed Michigan Republican Fred Upton as a front-runner for the position. He has more seniority than Shimkus, but some conservative groups say he's too moderate. Shimkus stated that he will leave that question to the House Republican Steering Committee, when decisions on leadership posts are made next month.
"The steering committee has to decide, kind of what position do you want to lead from?" Shimkus said. "I'm viewed as more conservative; Fred's viewed as a little more moderate. They may want that. I don't know. I just want to have the opportunity to make my pitch."
Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-Florida) and former Energy Committee Chairman Joe Barton of (R-Texas) are also seeking the chairmanship. Shimkus said he would step aside if Barton receives a waiver that would allow him to be chairman again.
Shimkus said a top priority as Energy and Commerce chairman would be to have a vote on repealing the federal health reform law. A repeal is unlikely to make it through the Senate, but Shimkus said the sooner the House takes action, the faster it can focus on oversight and making revisions to the law. He said there may even be changes where both Republicans and the Obama administration can reach agreement.
"Hopefully there will be some that the administration helps identify as problems that we fix, that will not be controversial," Shimkus said. "Obviously there'll be things that they'll want to keep, and we're just going to have to have those fights."
Shimkus said one such change could be the repeal of a requirement in the health care law that companies issue 1099 tax forms whenever they buy more than $600 in goods or services in a given year. Shimkus said the millions of new tax documents that result would be a burden on small businesses.
Shimkus is a 14-year member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He is currently the ranking minority member of its Health Subcommittee.
Employees at the Southern Illinois University campus at Carbondale will be facing four unpaid furlough days during the current school year.
Chancellor Rita Cheng's office announced this week that an agreement has been reached with several unions on campus that will allow for the furlough days, as one way to close a budget shortfall. Cheng says other suggestions --- like requiring more furlough days for higher-income employees had been discussed as a way to make their burden more equitable --- but the idea was ultimately turned down.
"For example, if someone makes $30,000 (a year), a day is about $100," Cheng said. "For someone who makes $300,000, a day is $1,000. So there will be a difference of what people contribute, based on scaling of a day, rather than taking a flat rate from everyone."
Six unions on the Carbondale campus are still holding out for more information and options to avoid the furlough days. Leaders of those unions --- including ones for faculty and civil service employees - announced Tuesday night they would work together against the furloughs
Faculty Association President Randy Hughes said six campus unions are united in their intention to fight the furlough plan.
"All six of us will work to protect the rights of others to negotiate, to be free from any sort of unilateral or illegal action on the part of the university to impose administrative closures without bargaining in good faith," Hughes said..
The planned closure days are scheduled during student breaks in November, December, January and March, and won't affect classes. The university's student employees are exempt from the unpaid days.
An 11-member board that will redraw districts for the Champaign County Board has received tentative approval from board members.
The county's Redistricting Commission was supported in last night's committee of the whole meeting on a 23 to 2 vote. The concept of the panel is to have an open and transparent process for re-drawing boundaries based on 2010 census numbers. County Board Chair Pius Weibel selected the 11 names after interviewing 39 applicants. Democrat Brendan McGinty said it is unlikely that any other county board member would have chosen all the same names, but that's not his concern.
"I would have preferred to keep it completely non-political, but I do think that it's important to have some people on there with some experience at doing this," McGinty said. "It's not only the job of the other members to take into question how best to do this, but it's also our job and the community's job to watchdog how this takes place."
Republican Alan Nudo called this a groundbreaking decision for the county, state, and nation.
"This is not just a 6-month project, this is a 10-year project," Nudo stated. "The voting cycles from now through the end of 2020 will be affected by this. So we have to make sure that those seven citizens and the four County Board members look at it from the standpoint of what's right for the citizenry of the county and not the party."
The two 'no' votes from Democrat Carol Ammons, who said the group lacks diversity, and Royal Republican Ron Bensyl, who rejected it despite being named to the committee. Bensyl said he rejected two names on the panel, but other board members said they likely would have chosen different candidates among the 39 that applied.
The commission will consist of two Democrats and two Republicans from the County Board. Besides Bensyl, Republican Jonathan Schroeder, and Democrats Alan Kurtz and Michael Richards have been recommended. The seven at-large members include former State Senator Rick Winkel, former Urbana City Council member Esther Patt, and Unity High School teacher Diana Herriott of Sidney.
Meanwhile, a draft resolution has been prepared based on an advisory referendum approved by 74-percent of Champaign County voters last week. It calls for reducing the county board from 27 to 22 members, and changing from 9 districts of three members each to 11 districts of two members each. If the County Board follows through with the changes, they will take effect with the 2012 election. Board Chair Weibel said the next county board will likely review the plan in December.
Meanwhile, Weibel said he has not decided whether he wants to continue as County Board chair, but will announce his plans soon.
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