Illinois Public Media News
A federal mediator will sit down with administrators and teachers in the Mahomet Seymour district in hopes of bringing progress to contract talks.
Thursday night, Mahomet Seymour Education Association members rallied before a negotiation session - union president Joan Jordan and Unit 3 superintendent Keith Oates says those talks made some headway. The next step is a 6:00 session tonight with a mediator who was called in on short notice - if there's no deal tonight another session is set for Sunday afternoon.
Jordan says salary, insurance and contract language issues are still unresolved. She says teachers don't want to start the new school year next Thursday without a contract agreement - last week they filed an intent to strike notice.
Late summer has become the season for West Nile virus in Illinois. In central Illinois, a mosquito sample collected last week in Champaign tested positive for West Nile, and as did five mosquito batches collected in Macon County.
Robert Millinger of the Macon Mosquito Abatement District says the discovery of West Nile virus comes at a time when the mosquito population is high.
"It's fairly high now, because of the amount of rain that we'd had", says Millinger. "A lot of containers and everything are full of water. And we're getting mainly culex mosquito right now, that is the carrier of the West Nile virus. They like, dark brackish water, to lay their eggs on."
Millinger says his crews test standing water for mosquito larvae in places like drainage ditches and abandoned swimming pools --- treating them when necessary. But he says people can cut down on mosquito population themselves, by targeting the standing water in their back-yards. He advises people to put screen coverings on containers kept out to collect rainwater, clear gutters of debris, and to empty old tires, wheelbarrows or other objects around the yard that collect water. Millinger says plastic swimming pools are another place where mosquitoes can breed, if allowed to hold the same water for several days.
No cases of human West Nile virus infection have been reported in Illinois so far this year. But the virus has shown up in mosquitoes or birds in 18 counties, including Champaign, Macon and Tazewell.
Jurors in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich say they have reached agreement on just two of 24 counts against him. The judge says he'll tell them to go back and deliberate some more.
Late this morning he jurors said they have not discussed 11 counts of wire fraud. They indicated they have discussed the remaining 11 counts and appear to be deadlocked on them.
The jury had sent a note to Judge James B. Zagel on Wednesday saying they were stuck, and Zagel had asked for clarification. Zagel said he wants the jury to go back and discuss the wire fraud counts.
Blagojevich and his brother have pleaded not guilty to charges including trying to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.
A group fighting to preserve an Indiana museum dedicated to World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle says it sees the state's decision to open the site for a local festival as a step in the right direction.
The Ernie Pyle State Historic Site in the Vermillion County town of Dana will be open through Saturday as part of the Ernie Pyle Firemen's Festival.
The state closed the site in December and has sought to have it deeded or sold to community groups or local government.
The nonprofit Friends of Ernie Pyle hopes to vote on a plan to take over the site in September.
President Cynthia Myers says the group plans a national fundraiser to help pay operating costs.
The group also hopes to open the museum during the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival in October.
Senator Dick Durbin is recovering today after undergoing a surgical procedure that removed a portion of his stomach.
A release from the Democrat's office says a routine checkup a few weeks ago revealed that Durbin had a small growth in his stomach - the small gastro-intestinal stromal tumor was removed this morning at a Chicago hospital. Durbin's office says it appears the tumor had not spread elsewhere, and no cancer was found in Durbin's stomach or esophagus.
A spokesman says the senator could be released from the hospital and resume a light schedule in a couple of days and a full schedule in a week.
The Illinois community that was runner-up to Mattoon in the race to get the original FutureGen project has submitted its interest in the revamped version of the pollution-control project.
But the head of Tuscola Economic Development, Brian Moody, says local leaders need a lot more information on what's now being called FutureGen 2.0. Instead of a brand new coal-burning power plant, the project now involves piping carbon dioxide emissions from other power plants to an underground storage facility. On Wednes+day Mattoon leaders backed out of FutureGen, saying public opinion is against hosting only the CO2 storage site.
Moody says his community needs to know if Douglas County residents would want the site - and if the US Department of Energy will follow through.
"Folks feel like, can we trust any of these folks or not?" Moody said. "To me it's largely about what will they put in writing and what they can solidly commit to, and is that a potential positive for this area."
Moody says raw emotions have led some area lawmakers to call the underground storage concept a dumping ground - he says it's already happening in the Tuscola area with natural gas storage and a coal-burning generator at a local chemical plant.
Moody says Tuscola would have to draft a new plan since they don't have an option on the land once proposed for FutureGen.
Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson says he holds out hope the Department of Energy officials will visit Mattoon despite the community's desire to move on.
The Republican has been urging the DOE to reverse its decision since last week's announcement to make the city a storage site rather than home to a new coal-fired power plant. Johnson says Department Assistant Secretary James Markowski made a commitment to him Tuesday that Energy Secretary Steven Chu would still come to Mattoon. "He said he said he'd come here, so I can only take him at his word." said Johnson. "However, given the lack of credibity of the Department of Energy in this whole decision making process, their lack of transparency and lack of communication with me, I've come to not believe anything they would tell me. So the fact he said he would come, or at least his undersecretary said he'd come, is just about as believable as the fact he told us in April he'd keep us posted on an hour by hour basis."
Johnson has called the Department of Energy's decision an 'absolute betrayal' of lawmakers like him that have pushed for the FutureGen project for years. He says Coles Together made the right decision to reject the new FutureGen, adding that the reconfigured project involving a power plant in Western Illinois likely won't happen either. Johnson calls FutureGen 2.0 a bureaucratic effort to 'kick the can further down the road.
The head of a Coles County economic development group says her community is bowing out of the FutureGen project if it doesn't revert back to its original form.
In a letter to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin released today, Coles Together director Angela Griffin says the community is almost unanimously against the revised plan for the experimental power generation project as revised last week by the Department of Energy. Griffin writes that the site chosen for FutureGen is best suited for the original proposal of a coal-burning power plant matched with an underground carbon sequestration facility. The new FutureGen plan would use only the underground repository, with the carbon dioxide piped in from existing coal-burning plants that are retrofitted with another new technology. Durbin also said a training facility for the new oxy-combustion technique would be built on the site where the power plant would have gone, but no funding was committed for that facility.
In the letter, Griffin writes that "we agreed to host what was presented as the world's first near-zero emissions research and demonstration facility - the latest in power generation technology paired with underground storage for the facility's greenhouse gas emissions." But she adds that "unfortunately, our role in FutureGen 2.0 does not support that effort. If FutureGen 2.0 moves ahead with the revised structure described today, it must be without Coles County."
Speaking with Illinois Public Media, Griffin also said that public opinion had turned almost unanimously against Coles County's participation. "We didn't believe -- and the community certainly didn't believe -- that the tradeoff in giving up the site and all of the work and engineering and surveying and studying that had been done out there was worth the carbon storage facility that DOE was proposing, that there could be many more uses for that site," Griffin said.
Durbin issued a written statement Wednesday afternoon saying he was disappointed by Mattoon's decision to drop out of FutureGen. He also wrote that he is soliciting proposals from other Illinois communities that would offer to host the CO2-storage facility. Durbin wrote, "I wish cost overruns, project delays and rapid advances in science in other parts of the country had not necessitated a change in the FutureGen project. But we must face reality."
The overhauled FutureGen proposal would shave $100 million off the $1.2 billion price tag. But soon after Durbin announced the change, local lawmakers and 15th District Congressman Tim Johnson slammed the change, saying they weren't informed and that Mattoon was given only one week to decide whether to proceed. They also derided the underground CO2-storage facility as a dumping ground for outside pollution.
Mattoon's decision to drop out ends several years of lobbying for FutureGen. The area won the project in late 2007, beating out Tuscola and two Texas locations. But soon after that announcement, the Energy Department scuttled the project out of cost concerns. It was revived by the Obama administration the following year, but last week Energy Secretary Stephen Chu said technology had already passed the original FutureGen proposal by, and that retrofitting existing plants with oxy-combustion technology would be a wiser and more effective way to spend the stimulus funds earmarked for FutureGen.
Two Republican lawmakers who represent Mattoon are angry about a deadline over the future of that city's role in the FutureGen project.
They include 15th district Congressman Tim Johnson, who says he plans to question the U-S Department of Energy about the government's decision to change the scope of the clean-coal experiment. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin told Mattoon government and economic development officials that they have a week to decide whether to continue their participation - last week Durbin announced that FutureGen would not include a coal-burning power plant in Mattoon, but the site would hold carbon dioxide piped in from existing power plants.
Durbin says federal funding needs to be ironed out soon. But Johnson calls the deadline insulting, saying the original plan was the result of arduous scientific examination. He says selecting another site would ignore the science that went into the selection. State representative Chapin Rose also questions how long Durbin knew of the change in plans before alerting Mattoon officials.
Champaign city officials are hoping for plenty of feedback on a draft version of their plan to improve police-community relations. The plan was posted on the city's website last week, and city spokeswoman Joan Walls says they'll be taking comments online through this Friday.
Walls says the plan is distilled from the input they received during the community forum they held on the issue last March. About 300 people attended the forum, which was held in the wake of the fatal shooting by a police officer of Kiwane Carrington last year. Walls says this is a chance for the forum participants to provide feedback on the plan developed from their discussions.
"We released this draft plan to the Forum participants as promised", says Walls, "to ask them to take a look at it, to make sure we've not lost any important information. And if there was something that maybe they heard at the Forum that perhaps was not included, to provide us with feedback. And so there's an opportunity for them to do that, through an electronic survey."
The draft plan lists 32 specific actions meant to improve relations between Champaign police and the community, especially youth.
Walls says the feedback from both forum participants and the general public will be incorporated into the draft plan to be discussed by the Champaign City Council at their August 24th study session.
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