Illinois Public Media News
Two environmental experts will continue to keep tabs on Ameren's efforts to clean up the site of a former manufactured gas plant in Champaign.
About 60 residents from the 5th and Hill Street neighborhood shared their concerns with Bob Bowcock and Mark Zeko in a community forum Monday night. The experts were brought in by New York-based law firms to address long-standing concerns of illness and contaminated soil. Much of the discussion focused on Ameren's efforts to clean the site, and whether the EPA will respond to resident's calls for soil tests at resident's homes. Ameren started its remediation of the site last year, with completion slated for 2015.
Both the experts say the biggest immediate concern is for Champaign's city council to repeal its groundwater ordinance. Zeko, who's a hydrogeologist, said reworking it would allow more flexibility for residents to pursue legal action.
"If there was no ordinance in place, they could leave it like it is," said Zeko. "Right now, basically Ameren can say 'we're complying with the ordinance - leave us alone. If you appeal the ordinance, they can say 'well, our health-based effects show that this is a problem, you need to clean it up.'"
Zeko said Illinois' EPA should require Ameren to do additional testing. Zeko also said new studies are coming out on vapor intrusions of substances like benzine, and their possible health effects. Environmental Investigator Bob Bowcock said Ameren was irresponsible for doing a slow to moderate cleanup after 20 years of the site going unnoticed. He said the groundwater ordinance needs more teeth.
"It's a very generic ordinance, as was stated by the Illinois EPA," said Bowcock. "It's very general. It's been used in 200 jurisdictions throughout the state of Illinois. So it's not site specific, and as technology and science evolves, it's being misapplied."
Champaign City council member Tom Bruno, who spoke at an earlier forum Monday, said repealing the groundwater ordinance might be the only way that Ameren will properly re-mediate the 5th and Hill area.
"It acknowledges the reality that the danger from contaminated groundwater isn't just when you drink the groundwater, but it's dangerous also when you merely breathe the vapors that are coming from that groundwater" said Bruno. "And we need to get rid of that contaminated groundwater whether people are drinking it or not."
Magnolia Cook lives in the 5th and Hill neighborhood. Cook said she has dealt with strange smells and nagging health concerns for about 50 years, so much so that it seems natural.
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said the utility company considered all aspects of the environmental impacts at the site of every former manufactured gas plant. He said everything at 5th and Hill is being done within strict accordance of the Illinois EPA, and he added groundwater at the site does not pose a human health or environmental risk. He said the company was not invited to Monday's forums.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
A new operator is now formally in place for a pork processing plant that shut its doors more than a year ago.
Trim Rite Food Corporation is based in the Chicago suburbs -- produces hams, pork loins and other cuts for stores and restaurants. It's agreed to lease, retool and reopen the former Meadowbrook Farms plant west of Rantoul for 5.6 million dollars.
The state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity says Trim Rite plans to hire about 100 people for the plant later this fall -- the state agency has chipped in $767,000 in tax credits based on job creation and training.
Meadowbrook Farms was a farmer-owned cooperative that ran into financial difficulty soon after it opened the pork processing plant in 2004.
An attorney in Piatt County has filed a lawsuit to remove the current county clerk one month before Election Day.
Dan Clifton is an assistant deputy state's attorney in Champaign County - he contends that Republican Piatt County Clerk Pat Rhoades doesn't qualify to serve because her family moved to a house just over the Piatt County line last year. Clifton says a Piatt County judge is scheduled to hear his complaint Wednesday morning.
"What I'm hoping the court will be able to do is look at the facts of the situation, which are fairly simple, and look at the law, and declare whether or not she is still an inhabitant or whether she ceased to be an inhabitant.," Clifton said. "If she ceased to be an inhabitant, then I'm asking the court to declare the office vacant." If that happens, Rhoades' chief deputy would step in until the county board appoints a replacement to fill out the term.
Rhodes has not returned a phone call seeking comment. She has told the county board that she has been living in Champaign County temporarily while she and her family build a house in Piatt County. But in his suit Clifton claims that Rhoades has a registered as a voter - and voted - in Champaign County, and the property where the house was to be built is now for sale.
A Champaign political activist said he supports the idea of allowing voters to recall state elected officials. However, he said he is not backing the particular recall amendment on the Illinois November ballot.
John Bambenek said there are several things he dislikes about the governor recall amendment, but he added that the fatal flaw is the requirement that at least 30 lawmakers sign on to any recall proposal before any voter petitions can be circulated. That is 20 from the Illinois House and ten from the Senate, with at least 16 members of the general assembly coming from the sitting governor's party. Bambanek said if such a recall law was in place when Rod Blagojevich was governor, it would not have made any difference.
"If you recall back to Blagojevich, the Senate Democrats were unanimous behind him, and many of the House Democrats were overwhelmingly behind him," said Bambenek. "You wouldn't have gotten those 16 Democrats, even with Rod Blagojevich, until the day he was arrested."
Bambanek said such a requirement guarantees the recall process will never be used, and he said no other states with a recall process require prior permission from lawmakers. He added that other states that permit recalling governors also allow recall of all statewide elected officials.
Bambenek is launching a campaign to to defeat the Illinois proposal. While other opponents argue that giving voters any recall authority beyond regular elections would be bad government, Bambenek said defeating this particular recall amendment is the only way to give a stronger recall proposal a chance for approval in Illinois.
The Democratic and Republican candidates for Illinois treasurer are sparring over campaign contributions.
During a stop in Bloomington, Il. on Saturday, Republican State Senator Dan Rutherford of Pontiac accused his Democratic opponent, Robin Kelly, of accepting campaign contributions from banks, and he cautioned her to follow the state's campaign finance laws.
Kelly, who is the chief of staff for current treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, said Rutherford has violated campaign finance laws, and she added that there is no reason for him to be concerned because she has taken an ethics pledge to not take any money from banks or bank executives.
"I have not taken any money from any bank owners or any banks, whether we have contracts with them or not," said Kelly, who admitted that she has taken campaign contributions from banks during her time in the Illinois legislature. "I take money from bank PACS, but we don't do business with bank PACS. I think they've given me $500 hundred dollars."
Kelly accused Rutherford in September of violating pay-to-play laws by accepting $3,500 in contributions from several banks that do business with the treasurer's office. Rutherford later returned about $900 in contributions from Pan American Bank, which bid on a contract worth more than $50,000.
State law forbids candidates from accepting contributions from businesses bidding that much money. Rutherford said at the time he accepted the contribution, information about the contract was not made public by Kelly's office, but the treasurer's office maintains that it was public information with the Office of the Comptroller and the State Board of Elections.
With a month to go until election day, both candidates say they need to cover more ground before November 2nd. Rutherford said he plans on focusing his campaign in the Chicago region counties of Cook, Lake, Will, Kane, McHenry, and Dupage. Kelly said she plans to continue targeting the entire state. The third party candidates in the race include Libertarian James Pauly and Green Party candidate Scott Summers.
(Photos by Sean Powers/WILL)
Governor Pat Quinn's running mate said Illinois fiscal crisis will require more and "progressively harder" budget cuts in the year ahead.
Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate Sheila Simon said Quinn has proven he has the political courage to balance the budget --- because of his record of support cutting spending, while proposing a controversial hike in the state income tax.
Speaking to reporters at the Illinois News Broadcasters' Association convention in Bloomington over the weekend, Simon said the voters she has been meeting around the state are ready for the difficult choices ahead.
"I think most folks know that what's coming up ahead of us is not Easy Street," said Simon. "There's going to be some sacrifice involved, in places where probably everyone can say, 'wow, I wish you didn't have to cut there.'"
Simon chided Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady for refusing to propose specific budget cuts until he was elected and had made a thorough audit of state spending.
When reminded that Governor Quinn had not yet released full details of the spending cuts he has made so far, Simon said that those cuts were plainly visible to the people around the state directly affected by them. Simon noted the governor's cuts in state leasing and travel by government employees.
Sheila Simon is the daughter of the late U.S. Senator Paul Simon. Her opponents for lieutenant governor are Republican businessman Jason Plummer, the Green Party's Don W. Crawford, Libertarian Ed Rutledge, and independent Baxter Swilley - who is the running mate of Scott Lee Cohen.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) knows the new White House chief of staff well.
Pete Rouse served in a similar role under Durbin as chief of staff when he was in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1980's. Durbin calls him intelligent, more low profile than Rahm Emanuel, and "extremely talented."
"He is not the kind of person you are going to like as a newsman," said Durbin. "He just wants to go to work and do his job."
The Democrat Durbin said whether or not Rouse can advance the Obama Administration's agenda in the coming months depends on many factors, including the opposite party.
"The reality is there are likely to be fewer Democrats in Congress after this election," he said. "That's what happens in every off year election, and it means the President will have to carefully choose his agenda."
Durbin said Rouse as Chief of Staff will need a period of adjustment.
Emanuel left the post to run for Chicago Mayor. As Emanuel tries to garner support for a possible run, Durbin said he has no plans to endorse a candidate in what could be a crowded primary.
(Photo courtesy of the White House)
The Ameren Corporation is trying to cut costs and improve service by merging three of its electric and natural gas subsidiaries. The St. Louis-based utility says it will consolidate AmerenIP, AmerenCIPS, and AmerenCILCO into a single public entity known as Ameren Illinois.
"This merger is the logical next step in the evolution of our business in Illinois," said Thomas R. Voss, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Ameren Corporation. "For the last several years, we have been moving towards operating our Illinois utilities as one company to reduce the cost of operations and gain efficiencies for our customers.
The parent company will be headquartered in Peoria, and spokesman Leigh Morris said the reorganization will not affect electricity and natural gas rates. Morris added that he expects the merger will lead to greater customer service for approximately 1.2 million customers in the state.
"It's those kind of stream lining things that will go forward, and it's going to allow us to become more efficient," he said. "It's going to allow us to reinforce our commitment to providing safe, reliable energy delivery service."
Ameren Illinois serves all or part of 85 of Illinois' 102 counties and ranks as the second-biggest Illinois electricity delivery operation in terms of total customers. The subsidiary has 813,000 natural gas customers.
While each one of the electric and gas utilities that now make up Ameren Illinois charged different rates, Morris said flat fee will eventually be available to all Ameren customers. However, for now, customers will continue to pay the same rates they were paying before the merger. Customers who want to report an outage or obtain account information can call a toll-free number at 1-800-755-5000.
Two 16-year old boys are in Champaign County's juvenile detention center in connection with an unprovked attack on a Champaign man near Centennial High School on September 24.
The suspects are charged with aggravated battery for allegedly hitting former WILL forecaster Mike Sola while he was walking home from the Central High School football game last Friday night. Champaign Police Chief RT Finney said while this incident was outside the area where similar unprovoked attacks have occurred in recent weeks, the method of attack was the same. Finney said an anonymous tip led to the first arrest, and he expects it will lead to more.
"Right now, we're continuing to investigate each and every one of them and we expect to make as many arrests as we can," said Finney.
Julie Ogle in the Champaign County State's Attorney's office said the first teen arrested was upset about breaking up with his girlfriend and had prior contacts with police.
The first arrest was made Thursday, while the second teen was picked up late Friday morning. Sola sought treatment at a hospital for a cut to his earlobe and sustained a black eye.
Two California men are in custody in Champaign County for allegedly possessing more than $600,000 worth of methamphetamine.
State's Attorney Julia Reitz said nearly seven pounds of the drug was discovered after State Police made a traffic stop on I-57 late Wednesday afternoon. Reitz said 25-year old Leonel Galaviz-Galaviz and 34-year old Jose Canizalez-Cardenas, both of Los Angeles, were pulled over north of Rantoul for speeding and tailgating.
"Illinois State Police had their drug detection dog present, and the dog alerted on the vehicle, then following that alert, the troopers searched the vehicle," she explained.
Police found a hidden compartment underneath the vehicle, which is where they discovered the drugs. Reitz said this is by far the biggest amount of meth discovered locally, but she noted there is no indication the men were bringing the drugs into the Champaign area.
"Certainly they were passing through with the drugs in their vehicle intending to deliver them somewhere," she said.
The two men made their first court appearance Thursday afternoon. If convicted for intending to deliver methamphetamine, the men face a Class X felony with a six to 30 year prison sentence.
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