Illinois Public Media News
Champaign County's METCAD 911 staff says a disruption to service this morning was the result of a cut cable on the University of Illinois campus.
A construction crew accidentally cut the cable at Illinois Street and Matthews Avenue, by the U of I's Noyes Lab, about 8-30 a.m.. METCAD says the worst of the problems were over in an hour, when some of its staff went to Rantoul's Police station to help anyone not getting through to the dispatch facility. Anyone in the county who's unable to use 9-1-1, should call 333-8911. Greg Abbott, METCAD's deputy director of technology, says if callers don't get a ring right away, they should use the alternate number.
So far, he says only a small part of Urbana was impacted. Abbott says it's a good thing the AT & T line was cut at a time when phone traffic is slow. "Usually once everybody gets to their offices or to school in the morning our call volume drops off until around noon," said Abbott. "So if it had to happen, that was probably a good time for it to occur."
The cut line has also affected phone lines to businesses in the area. Customers at the Urbana Schnuck's weren't able to use debit cards for purchases on Thursday. Abbott says the cut line impacted some banks and cell phone towers as well. A-T & T spokeswoman Brooke Vane there's been extensive damage to several cables and the company expects complete restoration to take several days. She says crews will be working around the clock. Vaine says splicing pairs of cables together at the same time is a tedious process.
Sen. Roland Burris' appointment by a disgraced governor made him an oddity and something of an outcast in Washington. But on Thursday he said that his time in the U.S. Senate, however short, was a "towering testament" to the American Dream.
Delivering a farewell speech on the Senate floor, Burris said he was proud of what he accomplished in just under two years in Washington.
"Together we have achieved passage of the most ambitious legislative agenda since the Great Depression," Burris said. He called his time in the Senate "the honor of my lifetime."
Burris cited more than 60 bills he sponsored and 300 others he co-sponsored during his time in office. He said he was particularly proud of his work on President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul and increasing funding for Pell Grants.
The Democrat was appointed to the seat by former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Burris will make way for Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, who won an election to fill the remainder of Burris' term and a full six-year term on Election Day. Kirk will be sworn in after Thanksgiving.
Burris is the Senate's only black member and when he leaves, there will be none -- a fact Burris said was painful to him. He used much of his speech to call for more diversity in government.
The great-grandson of a slave, Burris said his time in the Senate was "a remarkable testament to our nation's ability to correct the wrongs of generations past," but also said that is departure is a "solemn reminder of how far we have to go."
"I am today the only black American member of this Senate ... when the one 112th Congress is sworn in this coming January, there will not be a single black American who takes the oath of office in this chamber. This is simply unacceptable."
Burris has not announced what he plans to do after leaving office, but is expected to return to Illinois.
Nine candidates are vying to fill out the remaining two years of State Senator Dan Rutherford's term in the 53rd district - now that he has been named Illinois' next Treasurer. Republican leaders from nine counties will caucus on Saturday, and may take a straw vote to narrow the field of candidates down to three or four.
But McLean County GOP Chairman John Parrott Jr said a final vote vote is not expected until after the Thanksgiving holiday, probably December 4.
The field widened Wednesday, when State Representative Keith Sommer of Morton withdrew from competition for family reasons. Onarga State Representative and Iroquois County Party Chair Shane Cultra said it only seems logical to pursue the seat after eight years in the House, and 14 years before that on the Iroquois County Board, but Champaign County GOP chair Jason Barickman is also pursuing the seat. Cultra noted that could be a problem in Eastern Illinois.
"Because we're splitting the vote over here, and there's several new people now that are entering the race from McLean County and I think there's possibly a couple from Tazewell County," Cultra said. "So on the first ballot, I don't see anyone having enough votes to win."
Sommer's decision revives the candidacy of Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman who had expressed interest until deferring to Sommer. Zimmerman said he would do well in Springfield.
"I think I bring a lot of things to the table," Zimmerman said. "One would be just a lot of common sense. And my experience on the county board has taught me that 'you know what? We just can't spend more than we have."
The other front-runner for the post had been Jason Barickman, a Champaign Attorney and Champaign County party chair.
The GOP chairs will conduct a weighted vote on Saturday, based on the counties' populations. The largest ones in the Senate district are Tazewell, McLean, and Champaign Counties,but Cultra contended that the senator may not even emerge from Saturday's vote since multiple ballots may have to be cast for one person to receive just over 50-percent of the vote. He said names with the fewest votes will be removed from the ballot on each attempt.
Other announced candidates include former Saunemin Mayor Mike Stoecklin, University of Illinois Security consultant John Bambanek, Tazewell County Board member John Ackerman, Washington Mayor Gary Manier, former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy, and McLean County Board Chairman Matt Sorenson.
Champaign officials broke ground Wednesday on a new YMCA center in southwest Champaign.
Construction is set to begin on the $16-million facility in the next couple of weeks. The Y will include an eight lane pool, a child play center, and a gymnasium with an in-door track. Mark Johnson, a former University of Illinois wrestling coach who is now the Y's chief executive officer in Champaign County, said the center will be an excellent addition to the community.
"This is going to be a place that the rest of us can use on a daily basis," Johnson said. "We have problems with childhood obesity. We have problems with diabetics. We have problems with senior citizens. We have a problem with disabilities. This is going to be a welcoming place to everybody."
Talk about the project has been going on for about a decade, and up until a couple of years ago it never really took shape because of a lack of funding. However, that changed after Horizon Hobby Chairman Rick Stephens pledged $5 million to the $16-million project. Stephens said his contribution encouraged other people to step up and start donating.
"The reason we did this was for the community," Stephens said. "There was such a need for a new Y in this community. It's been a dream for a lot of people for a long time."
The project has raised about $12 million. Johnson said he is confident that it will be able to raise an additional $4 million by the time the project completed in early 2012. The new facility will replace the current McKinley Family Center and the Fitness & Family Center in Champaign.
The 75,000-square foot center will be located at 2501 Fields South Drive, which is just west of I-57. It will replace two current Champaign fitness center: McKinley Family Center at 500 W. Church St. and Fitness & Family Center at 707 N. Country Fair Drive.
(Design courtesy of the Champaign County YMCA)
Champaign's Virginia Theater is now without a marquee.
The sign that is been part of the theater since the 1940's came down Tuesday. The city's park district opted in June to replace it with one resembling the 1921 original.
Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said it is likely the theater will re-open without the new marquee in place. The Virginia closed six months ago, so crews could redo the lobby, which included plaster and electrical work, and renovated concessions. Private donations paid for the project.
Preservationists have called the marquee the Virginia's most defining feature. Auteberry said the controversy that initially arose over replacing that sign prompted the park district to make it a separate project.
"We actually pulled it out of the original planning process for the renovation so that the (Park District) Board had an opportunity to further study what we were looking at doing, and the replacement options for the marquee" Auteberry said. "So the whole process just got started a little later than we had originally anticipated."
Auteberry said the Park District board will sign off on a design for a new marquee at its meeting next month. She said the board plans to hold a re-opening event, a kind of open house, sometime in January. The Park District contends a new marquee would show off more of the Virginia's architectural significance.
Preservation planner Alice Novak said the sign change could impact the theater's position on the National Register of Historic Places. She said she expects Illinois' Historic Preservation Agency will consider such a recommendation.
"It could possibly change the standing," Novak said. "I have no doubt that somebody will present materials to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to see about de-listing the building from the National Register."
Novak added that could hurt publicity for the old theater. She sits on the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council.
(Photo courtesy of Champaign Park District)
The mayor of the DeWitt County city of Clinton has resigned.
Ed Wollet on Tuesday said he plans to move to Springfield at the end of the month. He was elected in 2007 and had previously announced that he didn't plan to seek a second term.
The retired Clinton school teacher says he's enjoyed being the mayor of Clinton but he now plans to move closer to his family so he can spend time with his grandchildren.
Tom Edmunds is the city's finance commissioner, and he'll take over for Wollet.
Edmunds tells The (Bloomington) Pantagraph that it's likely the city council will keep the mayor's position open until the April election, rather than appointing a short-term successor.
(Photo courtesy of Ed Wollet)
The University of Illinois plans to close its Police Training Institute by the end of 2011.
The decision to eliminate the training facility comes after a budget review panel raised concerns about the institute's long term economic stability.
The latest in a series of Urbana campus reviews looking at cost-saving measures at the U of I said there is no justification for the university to provide $900,000 a year to train police officers.
"We believe this decision to be necessary because we cannot justify using resources to fund PTI that derive from student tuition and the shrinking state funding available for our core education and research missions," according to the 'Next Steps' letter released by Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter and Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs as part of a recent 'Stewarding Excellence' report. "Fundamentally, our primary mission of educating lllinois' undergraduate, graduate and professional students must remain a priority."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the university can no longer rely on tuition dollars to keep the program going.
"The university has a very proud history of supporting law enforcement training," Kaler said. "Funding for this purpose hasn't kept pace with the increase in costs, and so we had to review where this kind of training falls within the missions and the priorities of the campus as a whole."
With the closure of the 55-year-old training program, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh predicts that police training will be moved to the Illinois State Police Training Academy in Springfield. Walsh, who was trained at the PTI and now teaches there, said it is unfortunate that the program will leave the university.
"I think it is advantageous to have it part of the University of Illinois because the police officers then at least socially during the 12 weeks there here can interact with students from literally around the world," Walsh said. "I think it's a good thing for diversity training."
The PTI has cut its expenses by 45 percent in the last three years, and the report said the institute could improve its cost structure by trimming $666,251 from its budget. Still, the commission said the chances that the institute will latch onto additional funding or new partnerships are slim. The PTI is considered Illinois' flagship training facility.
(Photo courtesy of the Police Training Institute)
Illinois has nine casinos, and another is being built.
If a plan percolating in the General Assembly has success, Illinois' total count would jump to fifteen. There would be a city-owned one in Chicago, and others in suburban Ford Heights, a town near Waukegan, in Rockford, and in east-central Illinois' Danville. Scott Eisenhauer, the mayor of Danville, said the new casino would create about a thousand new, permanent jobs in the area.
"The other thing that is does for a community like ours is it brings tourism dollars to the community," Eisenhauer said. "We have some, but limited tourism attraction opportunities today. This boat would bring additional tourism opportunities, convention opportunities to our community. That again increases the amount of revenue our community could receive."
The measure's sponsor, State Senator Terry Link (D-Waukegan), estimated that adding the new casinos would generate an extra billion dollars for the state's coffers.
Another change would let horse tracks have slot machines. Anti-gambling activists warn of the social dangers associated with the legislation. They say adding casinos in Illinois would cost the state, which will have to pay more to help gambling addicts. Meanwhile, current casino managers say the expansion will lead to over saturation, and may shut their operations down. Link said they are just fearful of competition.
"Go to Las Vegas," Link said. "They just built what two or three new huge endeavors out there, and I didn't see any of the old ones close down. I didn't see 'for sale" signs put up on it. Did they take a little bit of a hurt there, yeah. But like I said, they're still making profit."
Details are still being finalized, but Link said the main tenants of the gambling expansion plan are solid. He added that he expects to call the legislation up for a committee vote Wednesday. However, despite Link's hopes of advancing the measure, Governor Pat Quinn has signaled his opposition.
Following Verizon Wireless' announcement in October that it would refund customers $53 million in unnecessary charges, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) has come out with a report assessing Illinois' wireless industry.
The study found that cell phone users could save around $360 a year by identifying billing errors, cutting down on the number of available minutes, and not paying extra for cell phone insurance or roadside assistance.
Bryan McDaniel, a senior policy analyst with CUB, said high wireless rates are costing Champaign residents more than $13 million a year. Across the state he said it is much higher at just under a billion dollars. McDaniel said trimming cell phone bills could help the state's sluggish economy, as businesses struggle to stay afloat.
"If we didn't give that $13 million to the cell phone companies, and instead to local businesses and mom and pop shops, that'd be a good thing for our economy," McDaniel said. "Unfortunately every month, we're throwing away money to these cell phone companies when we don't need to be."
According to the report, the wireless industry should start providing more flexible plans, so that people are not deadlocked into paying extra for features that they do not want.
"Allow people to have 150 minute plans," McDaniel said. "I can't tell you the number of seniors I've talked to who just want a simple 100 minute plan that they can't get anymore."
McDaniel added that consumers also have a responsibility to trim their cell phone rates. He explained that they can visit Cellphone Saver, a free online service that allows users to upload an online copy of their wireless bills - AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular. Within a few seconds, the website spits out an analysis showing consumers how to cut their costs. The study used the web service to track data from August 2009 though July 2010.
(Photo courtesy of Major Clanger/flickr)
Months after a federal government U-turn in the long-running FutureGen clean-coal project, six Illinois locations have expressed interest in hosting a carbon dioxide storage site that could mean more than 1,000 short-term jobs and a few dozen permanent ones.
The bidders behind one of those locations, though, said Tuesday that their interest is laced with a heavy dose of skepticism after watching what appeared to be politics almost derail the project and then make radical changes in it.
The six locations that submitted bids before Monday's deadline are the city of Quincy; Christian County; the city of Tuscola along with Douglas County; Morgan County; Pike County; and the city of Vandalia along with Fayette County, FutureGen Alliance spokesman Lawrence Pacheco told the Associated Press on Tuesday. The alliance is made up of coal companies and other firms working with the federal government on the project.
"Our team of scientific and engineering experts has already begun review of those proposals, and we look forward to making an announcement on the final site in early 2011,'' FutureGen CEO Ken Humphreys said.
Until earlier this year the plan called for building a new power plant in Mattoon, Ill. and storing the carbon dioxide it produced just outside town. But the Department of Energy decided instead to use $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funding to refit an existing coal-burning Ameren plant in Meredosia, Ill., with different technology and pipe the carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, to another location for underground storage. That site would also become home to an education center to train people to build carbon dioxide pipelines.
The department said that, with delays in the FutureGen project, other projects had already bypassed the technology it had hoped to use in Mattoon.
The project had already been shelved once by the administration of President George W. Bush, only to be revived under President Barack Obama.
Many people in Mattoon tired of what they saw as politics holding up and changing the project, and the town withdrew.
Tuscola was among the four finalists, along with Mattoon, for the original project, and already had in hand much of the environmental and geological testing needed to bid to store the project's carbon dioxide, said Brian Moody, executive director of Tuscola Economic Development Inc. The area is interested, he said, but needs to know more from the Department of Energy about its plans.
"There's definitely a level of cynicism that we all have,'' he said. "It's obvious with the project, once it's gotten out of the site selection process and has been in the political realm, that's where it's had some problems."
"While we're generally supportive of the concept, we still need to know a lot more,'' Moody said. "In order to do that, we need to keep our name in the game."
Looking at the potential jobs, officials in Vandalia aren't nearly as skeptical, Mayor Rick Gottman said.
Unemployment in the area was 10.2 percent in September, the most recent month for which the Illinois Department of Employment Security has data.
Over the past few years, one major employer, Orgill Inc., moved a distribution center and about 140 jobs out of state, Gottman said. Another, Graham Packaging, has reduced its work force from about 800 to roughly 200.
"We're in a high unemployment area right now,'' he said. "We're looking at ways to create jobs.
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