Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hundreds Attend Illiana Expressway Meeting in Peotone

By Ann Baskerville

Hundred of citizens attended a public hearing on the proposed Illiana Expressway tonight at Peotone High School.   The hearing was held by the Illinois and Indiana Departments of Transportation for the purpose of presenting and requesting comments on the Illiana Corridor Study Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  The EIS describes results of the study team's evaluation of the three proposed corridors (A3S2, B3, and B4) and the "no-build" alternative that have been carried forward for further study.

Detailed map of the proposed corridors here.

A group from Lowell, Indiana collects signatures against the building of the Illiana Expressway

Several elected officials and candidates for office attended the meeting.  State Representative Larry Walsh, Jr. stated he is "not a big fan of the A3S2" corridor.  Walsh stated the purpose of the Illiana is to be an alternative to Interstate 80, and, with the A3S2 corridor connecting with I-55 about 3 miles from I-80, it "defeats the purpose."  Also, Walsh stated, the "Village of Channahon is completely opposed to it" and "building a bridge over the Des Plaines Rives would not be cost effective."

State Senator Patrick McGuire stated he attended the hearing "to listen and learn."  McGuire continued, "The Illiana Expressway could potentially have great economic effects."  McGuire stated that while studying and planning the Illiana, we need to "be sure to protect and limit damage to the environment and people."

Will County Board Chair Jim Moustis stated the Will County Board has not taken an official position on the Illiana Expressway.  Moustis went on to say that in his opinion, the B3 Corridor is the the most cost-effective, the most efficient, impacts the fewest people and property owners and is the least intrusive.  Moustis went on to say he believes the B3 can be built in a timely fashion, can attract private-sector investors, and is the corridor that can carry the most truck traffic off I-80.

Judy Ogalla, a Will County Board District One candidate, stated her greatest concern is the people who have lived with the threat of the Peotone Airport for 20 years are now the same people dealing with the threat of the Illiana Expressway taking their land.  Ogalla stated it is disgrace that the State "does not respect people at all."  Ogalla stated Illinois has some of the best farmland in the world and if development continues to build over all the good soil, it will "be too late when we wake up to the fact that we need farmland for food."  Ogalla said there are enough existing roads that could be upgraded to handle the truck traffic.  Ogalla stated she hopes people tell State Senator Toi Hutchinson, "no more tax and spend quick take bologna." Ogalla stated people are being put under great stress by passing the quick-take legislation before deciding if the road will be built, "putting the cart before the horse."  Ogalla stated she hopes "anyone reading this will register to vote and vote out incumbents who don't support your property rights."

State Senator Sue Rezin did not vote for quick-take eminent domain for the Illiana.  Rezin stated she is concerned for people who may have bought real estate at the height of the market whose home values have plummeted.  Illiana Corridor Study documents have stated that in regards to determining a fair market value for people forced to sell: "Many property values nationwide have recently decreased due to the economy; however the Illiana project schedule and availability of land acquisition funds are independent of the market.  By law, properties must be appraised at their current value." 

Rezin disagrees with this.  Rezin stated that people who bought at the market's high may owe more on the mortgage than the home is worth currently.  Rezin advocated that all people forced to sell for the Illiana be paid at least as much as amount the homeowner still owes on the mortgage.  Rezin stated affected propery owners should be paid, "the full value of what they've invested plus more for the upheaval" involved with a forced sale.   Rezin has heard from many Wilmington residents and at tonight's meeting learned of a new concern: how will the Illiana affect the taxing bodies of Wilmington schools?  A citizen gave testimony during the public forum that if the Illiana goes through the Water's Edge subdivision in Wilmington, many homes will be taken off the tax roles, impacting schools and other bodies that rely on local property tax revenues.

Public Forum on Illiana Expressway:
Peotone Village President Richard Duran stated the Village of Peotone passed a resolution supporting Corridors B3, B4.  The resolution also stated the Board of Peotone is against quick take:

Mayor of Channahon, Illinois Joe Cook spoke out against the A3S2 corridor:

Wilmington Mayor Marty Orr testifies that the Illiana B3 corridor will have a tremendous negative impact on Wilmington.  Orr stated "We have constantly presented an alternative that will reduce if not eliminate those impacts by utilizing a small portion of Midewin Tallgrass Prairie....without any consideration given to that alternative the City of Wilmington passed a resolution of the No Build option for the Illiana Expressway":

Members of the public and homeowners in the proposed Expressway's path raised questions about how the State would buy each homeowner's land, how would the State determine a price, and other questions related to land acquisition:

Friday, July 27, 2012

North Lawndale College Prep Students Work to Restore Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

By Ann Baskerville

Thanks to support from the National Forest Foundation, eight graduates from North Lawndale College Prep High School are working on restoration and conservation projects at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie this summer.  

In 2011 Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie was named part of the National Forest Foundation’s Treasured Landscapes campaign.  The focus of the campaign is to restore forests and Americans' connection to these public lands.  The National Forest Foundation is a non-profit organization charted by Congress and focused on connecting people to their National Forests. 

“As part of the National Forest Foundation’s Treasured Landscapes campaign, we have made it a priority to connect urban residents and youth to our spectacular National Forest System,” said National Forest Foundation’s President Bill Possiel. “Thanks to a generous donor, we were able to give a team of high school youth from the Chicago area the chance to help transform Midewin, while they gain a better appreciation for our forests and 

The connection between the two organizations began when North Lawndale College Prep's President John Horan learned through a National Forest Foundation connection that the Foundation was looking for students from Chicago to come and work on conservation at Midewin.  North Lawndale College Prep develops many partnerships and grants of this sort to provide real-world enrichment opportunities for students so the Midewin program was a great fit.  The students were recruited from North Lawndale College Prep's environmental science class and had to go through an interview process.  The students had already studied some aspects of conservation through the classroom and were ready to take their knowledge to the field.

North Lawndale College Prep High School is a charter school in the City of Chicago with an enrollment of 900 students in grades 9-12.  97% of the students are from the neighborhoods on the West Side of Chicago.  The mission of North Lawndale College Prep High School is to prepare young people from under-resourced communities for graduation from high school with the academic skills and personal resilience necessary for successful completion of college.  According to Skye Nicholson, North Lawndale College Prep High School Science Chairperson and faculty leader for the students working at Midewin, the students working at Midewin are gaining the academic and real-world skills that allow students to succeed in college and in the work world.  Each day the students travel beyond the comforts of usual surroundings to the more rural environment of Midewin.  Through interacting with professionals such as botanists, environmental scientists, and recreation specialists at Midewin, students gain valuable communication skills, practice scientific research techniques such as measurement and data collection, and discover many career paths related to forest restoration and management.

North Lawndale College Prep High School graduates Caprisha Treadwell and Jade Pillow are two of the students working at Midewin this summer.  The students said a typical day starts with the drive from Chicago, then the students "stop and pick up our assignment for the day, then we head to the field."  Field assignments have included: tracking and documenting bug populations, measuring grass growth throughout the summer, studying why certain birds pick areas to nest, planting native species, and removing invasive species.  With 19,000 acres, removing invasive species is one of the biggest jobs at Midewin.  Students have removed invasive plants such as parsnip and teasal.  According to Midewin's website: "Fire suppression and lack of management have allowed noxious weeds and invasive species to invade Midewin's ecosystems.  Noxious weeds and invasive species pose an increasing threat to native ecosystems and reduce the effectiveness of ecosystem restoration by competing with desired species for light, nutrients, and water.  They alter habitat structure, contaminate native seed production, and alter hydrologic regimes in certain wetlands."

The native species planted by the students were grown in Midewin's own native seed beds.  The seed beds--some located off River Road and some located near Turtle Pond along Chicago Road--allow Midewin to collect seed to use in prairie restoration.  Planting native prairie plants was one of student Jade Pillow's favorite parts of her job.  Pillow stated: "It's fun to be part of restoring prairie plants."

Left to Right: Student Jade Pillow, Student Caprisha Treadwell, and faculty advisor Skye Nicholson at Midewin's River Road Native Seed Beds

For student Caprisha Treadwell, her favorite part of working at Midewin was learning about the history of the land that is Midewin.  Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie was formerly the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant.  The Arsenal was created in 1941 and produced a majority of the TNT used by the US Army during World War II.   Many of the buildings used to store TNT and other products still exist.  Treadwell stated: "At first I didn't know what the buildings were, they were huge."  During their first days on the job, Treadwell and the other students toured Midewin and learned of the Joliet Arsenal's history.  Treadwell observed that the bunkers--also called "igloos", concrete structures covered dirt and grass which were used to store ammunition--remained cool even when the temperature reached the high 90s as it has this summer.   

Students also discovered evidence of the farm families who lived on the land before the Joliet Arsenal was developed.  Students cleared brush from the edges of Midewin's pioneer cemeteries.  The National Forest service took over the perpetual care of the cemeteries when the land was transfered to Midewin.  Students also helped clear brush from the foundation of a home built during the Civil War era.  Both students and faculty leader Nicholson agreed it is important to retain the history of the farm families.                         

                                                                 Klingler Cemetery in Midewin

Both Pillow and Treadwell are headed to college in the fall.  Treadwell stated she originally planned to major in environmental engineering, and is now also interested in pursuing classes in environmental science and investigating applying for the Peace Corps after college.  Pillow is exploring different majors and also considering joining the military in the future.  Whatever path they take, students have gained critical vocational skills throughout the summer.  Treadwell stated she has learned to wake up on time, wear appropriate clothing, and follow employer safety rules. Students have also formed a connection to Midewin.  As we were leaving the native seed beds, the students suggested stopping to see "the oak tree."  The oak tree in question is one of the largest at Midewin:
L to R: Student Jade Pillow, Student Caprisha Treadwell, Faculty Leader Skye Nicholson, and Midewin Acting Public Services Team Leader Rick Short 

Midewin's Rick Short stated Midewin's team of scientists and forest specialists were thrilled to be able to work with the students this summer.  Short is hoping the partnership with North Lawndale College Prep will spread the word about Midewin in Chicago and that more people will take advantage of all that Midewin has to offer.  

For more info on Midewin, including directions, trail maps, a calendar of special events and more, visit: http://www.fs.usda.gov/midewin/

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

2012 Will County Threshermen's Steam Show

The Will County Threshermen's Association is celebrating the 50th year of their annual Antique Tractor, Steam and Gas Engine Show from July 19-22, 2012 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Dollinger Family Farm, located at 7502 E. Hansel Road in Channahon, Illinois.

The event features of many types of antique tractors, especially vintage steam engines.  The members conduct demonstrations during the show such as:
Wheat threshing, the process of seperating the wheat grain from the chaff:

Antique tractor parades:

Antique Tractors:

Plowing Demonstrations:

Saw Milling with Steam Engines:

and much more!

Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children 11 and under.

Show Schedule:

Thursday, July 19th
9:00 am Grounds Open
10:00 am Threshing
10:30 am Corn Shelling
12:00 pm NOON Whistle
1:30 pm Parade of Power
3:00 pm Threshing
3:15 pm Corn Shelling
6:00 pm Members & Exhibitors Appreciation Picnic

Friday, July 20th
9:00 am Ground Open
10:00 am Threshing
10:30 am Corn Shelling
12:00 pm NOON Whistle
12:00 pm Kids Games & Magic Show
1:30 pm Parade of Power
3:00 pm Harvesting - Field Demonstration
3:00 pm Threshing
3:15 pm Corn Shelling
3:30 pm Plowing with Steam Engines & Gas Tractors
5:00 pm Sweet Corn Steamed by Steam Engine

Saturday, July 21st
9:00 am Grounds Open
10:00 am Threshing
10:30 am Corn Shelling
10:30 am Gas Tractor Plowing
10:30 am Tractor Games
11:00 pm Kids Games & Magic Show
12:00 pm NOON Whistle
12:05 pm Kid's Pedal Tractor Pull
1:30 pm Parade of Power
2:30 pm History of Will Co. Threshermen
3:00 pm Harvesting - Field Demonstration
3:00 pm Threshing & Corn Shelling
3:00 pm Garden Tractor Pull
3:30 pm Plowing with Steam Engines & Gas Tractors
5:00 pm Sweet Corn Steamed by Steam Engine

Sunday, July 22nd
9:00 am Grounds Open
9:00 am Church Service
10:00 am Threshing
10:30 am Corn Shelling
10:30 am Antique Tractor Pull
11:00 pm Kids Games & Magic Show
12:00 pm NOON Whistle
12:05 pm Kid's Pedal Tractor Pull
1:00 pm Tractor Games
1:30 Parade of Power
3:00 pm Harvesting - Field Demonstration
3:00 pm Threshing
3:00 pm Corn Shelling
3:00 pm AntiqueTractor Pull
3:30 pm Plowing 

All Day, Every Day
Steam Powered Sawmill
Petting Zoo
Farm Playground
Steam Train Rides ($2.00 children and adults)
Flea Market
Country Gift Shop
Great food of all kinds
Steam Engines
Antique Farm Tractors
Stationary Engines
Antique Farm Equipment
Antique Cars and Trucks

Monday, July 16, 2012

Caterpillar Strike in Joliet

By Ann Baskerville

JOLIET--Striking machinists at the Caterpillar plant in Joliet were joined on the picket line Saturday July 14, 2012 by several community members and two steelworkers who work at a Caterpillar plant in South Milwaukee. The Wisconsin workers stated their contract with Caterpillar is up in the coming months and they fear they may be in the same boat as the striking machinists at the Joliet plant.

Picket line outside the Caterpillar plant in Joliet, Illinois.  The machinists have been on strike since May 1, 2012.

Steelworkers from Milwaukee came down to Joliet to stand on the picket line with the machinists

Picket line on Route 6 outside the Caterpillar plant in Joliet

Machinists on strike at the Joliet Caterpillar plant

Picket line outside the Joliet Caterpillar plant
Around 7 p.m., two large buses left the Caterpillar plant to shouts of "scab" from the picket line:

Caterpillar has advertised for temporary workers for its Joliet location while the machinists are on strike, and has stated the plant has operated well using both the temporary labor and Caterpillar managers.  Caterpillar advertised for temporary workers in local papers and on a digital billboard on I-80 and the Des Plaines River Bridge:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rally Set to Support Striking Caterpillar Workers in Joliet

According to the Fox Valley Labor News Facebook page, there are two rallies planned to support striking machinists at the Caterpillar plant in Joliet.  The first rally is set for this Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 10 a.m. outside the Caterpillar plant on Route 6.

The second is for the same day--Saturday the 14th--starting at 7 p.m..  Info from the Fox Valley Labor News Facebook page:
"Workers Unite!! The time is now for us to stand up and fight back against corporate greed. The annual compensation of Caterpillar Inc.’s chairman and chief executive rose 60 percent in 2011, as the company posted record revenue of $60.1 billion. Now they seek to freeze the pay, and cut the benefits of the very men and women that make their products.
Join us Saturday July 14th at 7:00p.m. and begin the night with a SOLIDARITY bicycle ride to spread the word that workers are coming together and fighting back. The ride will depart from the picket line and return to it at around 9:30p.m. At 10:00p.m. get out your instruments and let's enjoy a little Labor song and dance. This night is a chance to unite as never before and forge bonds of solidarity that can never be broken. An evening for families, friends, and neighbors; let's make it happen and tag YOU'RE IT!!!
Stand Up, Fight Back!!!
Bicycle ride is optional, your smile and solidarity are REQUIRED!!"

The machinists at the Joliet Caterpillar plant have been on strike for 10 weeks. In early June, the machinists union at Joliet voted down Caterpillar's latest offer which expired at midnight June 10, 2012. 
Caterpillar's offer was not largely changed from its original offer.

Caterpillar has advertised for temporary replacement workers for its Joliet location:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Public Hearing on Illiana Expressway Corridors July 31, 2012, Peotone High School

The next public hearing in Illinois on the proposed Illiana Expressway willl be:
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
5:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Peotone High School                      
605 West North Street                   
Peotone, IL 60468

A public hearing will be held in Indiana the next day:
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
5:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Lowell Middle School
19250 Cline Ave.
Lowell, IN 46356

Here is the announcement of the public meetings from the Illiana Corridor website:

Tier 1 Public Hearing Announced

Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be Released for Public Comment
The Illinois and Indiana Departments of Transportation (IDOT and INDOT) are holding a public hearing.
The purpose of the hearing is to gain stakeholder input on the Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).The Tier 1 Draft EIS is a compilation of the stakeholder outreach and evaluation results of three proposed corridors (A3S2, B3, and B4) and the "no-build" alternative carried forward for further studies. The alignment of these corridors has been developed considering IDOT and INDOT environmental investigations, engineering studies, and public input.
After extensive data analysis and evaluation, the Tier 1 Draft EIS will be available for public review and comment on July 13, 2012 on this website, local libraries located within the study area and DOT offices. A complete listing of these locations can be found on this site beginning July 13. Comments on the Tier 1 Draft EIS will be accepted through August 29, 2012.
Throughout the process, IDOT and INDOT have placed a high priority on extensive public involvement as an important aspect to guide the study. Significant modifications were made throughout the study that resulted from public involvement and other findings. Following these hearings, public comment and other study findings will be considered to develop the recommended Preferred Alternative. All three current alternatives can be found on the home page of this website where a detailed, interactive map shows the corridor locations.

Map of the B3, A3S2, and B4 Alternatives: here.

The last public Illiana meeting was held in Wilmington after the study group originally recommended Corridor B3.  After input from public, the corridor team went back to studying the A3S2 and B4 alternatives.  Video from the last Illiana meeting: