Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 27, 2010

More Hybrid Buses Coming to Champaign-Urbana

The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District is gearing up to replace half of its buses with hybrid models in the next couple of years.

The 40-foot diesel -electric vehicles are each priced at around $570 thousand dollars. Many of the existing gas burning vehicles are nearly 20 years old.

MTD Assistant Director Tom Costello said the typical life of a bus is 12 years, but that the mass transit district tries to keep its vehicles around for at least 15 years.

"Once you get to 15 years, your maintenance costs begin to go up exponentially," said Costello. "So, if we're going to replace them, we're going to try to replace them with vehicles that use less fuel and burn more cleanly."

Costello said the hybrids do not require nearly as much maintenance work as the gas-burning vehicles. The mass transit district first introduced hybrid buses in 2009. Spokeswoman Jan Kijowski said the long-term plan is to replace every one of its vehicles with hybrids.

Each bus will also include special filters that are designed to cut down on carbon emissions. Both the buses and filters will be supported through a combination of local, state, and national grants.

Categories: Transportation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 27, 2010

Gas Leak Affects Downtown Champaign During Noon Hour

A gas leak in Champaign prompted the re-routing of cars and pedestrian traffic for about 90 minutes Friday.

Lieutenant John Millls with the Champaign Fire Department says an excavator hit a plastic line under the railroad tracks east of the Illinois Terminal building. The gas could be smelled for blocks when the line was hit just past 11:30, and a couple of businesses had to be evacuated. Mills says a crew was able to shut off a valve at Water and Chester streets just past 1. Firefighters left the scene at 1:15, and turned the scene over to Ameren for further repairs.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 26, 2010

Outbreak of Stomach Ailments in Tuscola Shows Signs of Weakening

A wave of illnesses that hit dozens of students in Tuscola may be on its way out.

The superintendent in the Tuscola school district says about 36 students missed school today at North Ward Elementary School, though not all of them were affected by the stomach ailment that sent about 70 students home yesterday.

James Voyles says another ten new cases were reported today, but no students were sent home from school during the day. Douglas County Health Department officials are waiting for test results to determine what caused the stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea in the students.

Categories: Health
Tags: health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 26, 2010

Charges Dropped Against Robert Blagojevich

Federal prosecutors say they will not retry the brother of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.

Nashville, Tenn. businessman Robert Blagojevich had been accused of scheming with his brother to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and squeeze people for campaign donations.

A jury last week deadlocked on the four counts against Robert Blagojevich and 23 of 24 counts against the former governor.

Prosecutors said Thursday they made the decision based on the brother's less central role in the alleged schemes. But they have said they will retry Rod Blagojevich.

The hearing Thursday will also determine when a trial could be held.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 26, 2010

Engineers Focus on Design Phase in Latest Olympian Drive Roundtable

Another series of roundtable discussions on a proposed extension of Olympian Drive in Champaign County spent a lot of time on the design phase.

Engineers in Wednesday's public hearing in Urbana briefly ran through cost options of what's been identified as the first two phases through prior roundtables. Those are extending Olympian at Apollo Drive to Lincoln Avenue, and extending North Lincoln at Saline Court to Olympian. The full project calls for extending Olympian to US 45. The 60 people attending Wednesday night split up into roundtables on items like bike paths, wide medians, and installing roundabouts. But at least one elected official contends engineers have bigger issues to contend with first.

Champaign County Board Democrat Brendan McGinty calls the meeting a good effort, but says this issue is much more complicated. "There are going to be sticky issues regarding the sweeping 'S' up to connect Lincoln to Olympian," said McGinty. "Focusing on that to get the public behind that and the landowners behind that I think would be important. But, you know these are issues that would need to be addressed at some point. It feels like this is step 52 that we are taking now when we really need to be addressing step 1, 2, and 3."

McGinty says last night's forum also should have included talk on property acquisition, since it's been discussed among Urbana city leaders. County Board Republican Alan Nudo says he was impressed with the list of cost options, but says engineers need to do a feasibility study on the traffic in that area before deciding on a two or four lane road. Urbana City Council member Brandon Bowersox says he's glad stakeholders got to have a say. "There were no easy clear-cut answers, there were really a split of feelings, but at least it was good for me to see that everyone had a chance to come weigh in on that," said Bowersox. "That information will all be public, and all be available to people as we go ahead."

A longtime supporter of roundabouts, Urbana Mayor Prussing says she was happy to see support for traffic calming devices that cut down on accidents and save the cost installing traffic signals. Engineer Matt Heyen says Illinois' Department of Transportation has confirmed that part of $5-million in Illinois 'Jobs Now' funds can be used to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue. The next public meeting on the project is expected this fall.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2010

New Plans for FutureGen Lead Some to Question Its Fate

New revisions in the Department of Energy's FutureGen project has led one local lawmaker to question its viability.

The DOE had already scrapped a new clean coal power plant for Mattoon, in favor of a retrofitted plant in western Illinois. The DOE is also looking for a new site for underground carbon dioxide sequestration, after Mattoon decided to withdraw from FutureGen. Under the latest revised plans, the underground storage site needs ten acres of land --- about five times the size of the Mattoon site. State Representative Chapin Rose --- whose district includes Mattoon --- said the Energy Department's changes threaten to ruin FutureGen

"How on earth are they going to secure the easement for these property owners for a 10-square mile area," asked Rose, who said FutureGen was at one point a good idea. "I don't think the thing's ever going to happen."

The DOE wants to begin construction of the FutureGen project by 2012, but needs to produce an environmental impact report on the storage site first. John Thompson with the non-profit Clean Air Task Force said that alone could take up to three years. He said he wants FutureGen to succeed, but he is concerned the latest changes to the plan may put it in jeopardy.

"If they need to take more time to find the right storage site, they need to do that," said Thompson. "But what's happened over the last month or so is a number of changes that are occurring very quickly without careful consideration, and that needs to change."

A new storage site must be picked before September 30, the deadline when the federal government can dedicate billion of dollars in stimulus funds for FutureGen.

Thompson said he believes the DOE should carefully review the best possible storage fields across the state before it makes a decision, even if it means determining that a nearby power plant would be a better fit for the new oxy-combustion technique rather than the Meredosia plant.

Categories: Energy, Environment, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2010

UI Food Science Expert: Eggs, Chickens in Iowa Salmonella Scare Can Be Eaten

The Iowa farms whose eggs have been recalled in a Salmonella outbreak aren't saying yet what will become of their hens, but it's possible they'll wind up becoming meat for soup or other products.

Food safety experts like Bruce Chassy of the University of Illinois say there's no reason for the eggs or the meat not to be eaten as long as they're thoroughly cooked to kill any Salmonella bacteria.

The farms say they're already sending the eggs to be pasteurized and sold as a liquid product. Pasteurization should kill most if not all of the Salmonella.

Wright County Egg Farms and Hillandale Farms are the two Iowa egg producers that have recalled more than a half-billion eggs.

Both companies say they're waiting to hear from the Food and Drug Administration before deciding what, if anything, to do with their hens.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2010

Vermilion County Health Department Aims to End Friday Furloughs by October

The administrator of the Vermilion County Health Department said she hopes finances will allow her staff to return to a 5-day a week schedule in just over month.

Shirley Hicks said the Friday furlough days that started in June haven't reduced the volume of work. A lack of state funds forced the department to become a minimum certified facility that month, offering a handful of services, including immunizations, emergency planning, and the Women, Infants, and Children or WIC program. But Hicks said the department still has the same clients in those areas, noting the work has not been furloughed.

"High-risk restaurants - they need inspection three times a year," said Hicks. "Can you do all of those kinds of things? And what are doing on complaint calls? How effectively can you go out and respond to issues of communicable disease if you're not available three of seven days?"

At issue is continued budget problems caused by cash flow from the state. Hicks said in addition to that backlog of about $400,000, her department still owes Vermilion County for roughly half of a $300,000 loan made last year. County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said the county will help the department if it keeps the 4-day schedule, but not with a 5-day a week plan. McMahon said the funds that have come back from the state have led Hicks to believe that the health department can resume a normal work week in about six weeks.

"I don't share the same confidence, but at the same time, you have to let managers be managers," said McMahon. "So if you make that decision and go back to five days, basically what you're saying is you no longer would need the county board's help. So if you're saying that, you're back to five days - everybody's happy."

McMahon said if county decided to stick with the 4-day a week schedule, the county will provide 'whatever means necessary' to maintain a minimum certified health department to maintain services like immunizations and restaurant inspections.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2010

Mildew Causing Problems with Pumpkin, Cucumber, Squash Crops

University of Illinois scientists say they've found a destructive mildew in the state's pumpkin crop that could affect vegetables such as cucumbers and squash.

Plant pathologist Mohammad Babadoost said Wednesday that downy mildew has been found in pumpkin fields in central Illinois. He said the disease moves fast and can turn leaves brown in 10 days.

Babadoost said the impact on Illinois pumpkins grown for canning will be limited because many have already been harvested. But the disease can move to other vine-grown vegetables and fruits. The University says farmers should quickly spray fungicides.

Illinois has about 25,000 acres of pumpkins and last year produced almost a third of the country's crop.

Categories: Business, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2010

Stomach Ailments Send Home More than 70 Tuscola Grade School Students

A school in Tuscola will be back in session tomorrow even though nearly one out of every five students stayed home or were sent home with stomach pain or vomiting.

James Voyles is the interim superintendent in Tuscola, where absence levels at North Ward Elementary School were normal earlier this week. But he says today things changed.

"We had an unusually large number of absences to start the day, and during the course of the morning we had kids getting sick, throwing up, abdominal pain, some diarrhea, but but no fever," Voyles said.

Voyles says school is still on for tomorrow, but he asks parents not to send students back if they experience those symptoms. Tuscola's middle school and high school did not see the same illnesses today.

Voyles says just in case it may have been a virus at work, he called in custodians to give North Ward School a thorough disinfecting before tomorrow. He also says Douglas County Health Department officials have taken food samples, but he's not sure if food service had anything to do with the illnesses.

Categories: Education, Health

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