Friday, November 28, 2014

Wilmington Lighted Holiday Parade 2014

Wilmington's downtown merchants' windows are filled with holiday scenes, creating a festive backdrop for Wilmington's annual lighted Holiday parade.  This year's parade is Saturday, November 29th, 2014 at 5:00 p.m..  The tree lighting ceremony is at 6:15 p.m..

Antique store window in downtown Wilmington, Illinois 
Antique store window in downtown Wilmington, Illinois 
Antique store window in downtown Wilmington, Illinois
Christmas decorations on display at The Flower Loft in downtown Wilmington

Friday, September 12, 2014 Hosting Trans-Pacific Partnership Meeting in Joliet

The South Suburban Council of is hosting an educational forum regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Sunday, September 14, 2014 at 2:00 p.m. at the Black Road Branch of the Joliet Public Library.  The forum will be led by Carson Starkey of the Illinois Fair Trade Coalition.

Flyer of event made by
Trans-Pacific Partnership Meeting in Joliet

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Public Meeting on Medical Cannibus Cultivation Center in Manhattan

A public meeting was held Monday, September 8, 2014 at the Manhattan Village Hall to discuss plans for a possible Medical Cannibus Cultivation Center at Offner and Cedar Roads in Wilton Township.  Since the land sits outside the Village of Manhattan City Limits, the Village has no authority over the site.  The meeting was hosted by White Oak Growers, the business--owned by investors from New York and Connecticut--seeking to operate the cultivation center. 

White Oak Growers is seeking one of twenty-one medical cannibus cultivation center permits to be issued by the Illinois Department of Agriculture under the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannibus Pilate Program Act.  The Act was signed by Governor Quinn on August 1, 2013 and went into effect January 1, 2014.

White Oak Growers stated they will pay above the minimum wage and will seek to employ veterans and people with disabilities.  White Oak Growers stated processing the marijuana plants for wholesale sale creates jobs that requiring sitting while cutting and packaging the product.  When a member of the audience asked White Oak Growers to specify what wage they will pay, White Oak Growers did not state a number.

A farmer with land near the proposed site stated that while he is not opposed to the sale of medical marijuana, he does not agree that the Medical Cannibas Cultivation Center will be zoned agricultural.  He stated soybean fields do not have security systems and fence around them, so it seems obvious that there is a difference between corn and soybean fields and a medical cannibas facility. 

The site is at Offner and Cedar Roads, near a former farmhouse site.  The crib remains:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

O'Dekirk Advocates Truck Bridge Over Des Plaines from CenterPoint to I-80

August 6, 2014

Joliet mayoral candidate and current City Councilman Bob O'Dekirk released a press release yesterday regarding a bridge over the Des Plaines River to relieve traffic on local roads such as Route 53 in Joliet.  O'Dekirk states he was contacted by union officials claiming to have a plan and private money to build a toll bridge over the Des Plaines to connect CenterPoint with I-80 at Houboult Road.  Full press release from O'Dekirk:

"On the heels of yet another semitrailer rollover on I-55 Monday afternoon, Joliet District 2 Councilman, Bob O’Dekirk is calling for an expedited plan to build a proposed truck bypass bridge from CenterPoint to I-80 at Houbolt Rd.

"The horrific traffic accident on I-55 last week is a call to action” O’Dekirk said, “these types of accidents and numerous rollovers on both I-55 and I-80 won’t stop until we solve the truck congestion problem plaguing Joliet and the surrounding area.”   O'Dekirk would like to move a proposed project forward that has private financing and will not cost the city. 

Last fall, O’Dekirk was contacted by several union officials who shared a preliminary plan for a truck toll bridge from the CenterPoint intermodal to the interstate.  The plan was specific in detail and included proposed private sources of money, which would be used to pay for the project.  A toll would be paid by trucks, while allowing regular, non-commercial traffic to access it for free.  Private investment and toll revenue would pay for the project.  Ultimately, Joliet would take ownership of the toll bridge and all revenues would go to city coffers.

“While this plan has languished, the area around CenterPoint Intermodal has continued to be plagued by numerous traffic accidents involving trucks accessing the facility causing numerous fatalities,” O’Dekirk explained, “and I’m willing to lead the way in forging a partnership with this private group to get it done and get it done now.”

O’Dekirk also said the historic Rt. 66 corridor would benefit from this project and that would be an economic gain for the region.  Recently, a Rt. 66 Association of Illinois preservation committee member and historian, John Weiss, warned that the ongoing glut of truck traffic will discourage tourists and motorists from visiting the Rt. 66 historic area.  He said tourist dollars will continue to be lost if nothing is done.

O'Dekirk joins other elected officials, notably State Rep Larry Walsh Jr., in citing the need to relieve the congestion caused by the influx of trucks on local roads. He invites Walsh and other area elected officials and community leaders to join his team to move this project forward. " 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Stephens Raises Money for the Wounded Warrior Project

By Mary Baskerville

ELWOOD—Ron Stephens recently walked from Manhattan, Illinois to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery as part of his 350 mile walk to raise funds for the Wounded Warrior Project.  Stephens, a 66-year old Vietnam Army Veteran, has walked about 20 intermittent days since Memorial Day.

Ron Stephens and his wife, Lisa, at the point along Hoff Road where the Elwood’s escort met the Manhattan escort. 

Manhattan and Elwood’s emergency services, police, and fire escorts were exceptional, he said. “These guys have been so helpful.” When he expressed his thanks, he said that they simply responded, “It’s our flag too.

“God Bless them. The simple faith that people have. It’s symbolic: It’s our country; it’s our flag. And what more worthy cause than to take care of our wounded soldiers?”

As he walked along Hoff Road, he learned the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery had been carved out of the old Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. “It’s beautiful, beautiful country.”

He is the son of a sailor who served in World War II, “and my mother was a riveter for McDonnell Aircraft.” He still has her small certification card showing her hours of training. His father wanted to join the war effort. When he was 32, he tried to volunteer, but was told that as the father of three young children he should stay home. When he was 33, he was told “Earl, we won’t take you.” But, when he was 34, he was told, “Earl, we need you.”

He saw “fighting in the Pacific, and my mother, in the meantime, was a riveter.”   

Stephens most often walks alone.  “I’m usually out here by myself, and understand, first of all, the beauty and honor of living in the America, and I have thoughts from my past.
I walk with memories.”

He recalls those he served with, and those that died. The corporal in his unit was killed in the same battle that he was in. “My radio man . . . was killed by the same bullet that hit me.”

“So, I think about those guys. It can be a very emotional and somber occasion walking out here.”

He was combat wounded in 1970 and spent 18-months in military hospitals recovering from the shots, first at Scott Air Force Base in St. Claire County and later at the Brooke Army Hospital. 

His son, a West Point graduate, was wounded in Iraq where he served for 40 months. His son-in-law served 12 months in Afghanistan.

The number of veterans needing help is why he walks, he said. “The young men and women—and there are a lot---serving their country proudly and quietly."

0n Memorial Day, Stephens began his walks, pledging to walk one mile for every $100 dollars raised by 16 Doc’s Pharmacy stores and Dale’s Southlake Pharmacy in Decatur, where Stephens works on weekends. Cardinal Health Foundation, a pharmaceutical distributor, is matching every dollar.

At the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood he logged in with 293 miles.  With $35,000 raised, Stephens will walk the remaining 57 miles of his 350 mile commitment near his home in Greenville.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Working and Learning Laboratory this Summer at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

By Ann Baskerville

Federal Legislation transferring land that was the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant from the Department of the Army to the National Forest Service in 1995 outlined scientific, environmental and land use education and research as founding purposes for Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.  Midewin is fulfilling its mission this summer, partnering with colleges, high schools, and conservation groups to bring together young people from diverse backgrounds for a common purpose: restoring the native prairie at Midewin.

North Lawndale College Prep and YCC students remove invasive species at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

High School Programs
Midewin hosts two summer work programs for high school students, the Youth Conservation Corps and the National Forest Foundation North Lawndale College Prep High School Program.

The Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) is made up of six high students from communities near Midewin, including Wilmington, Kankakee, Braidwood, Coal City, Essex, and Minooka.   YCC is a federal program that provides summer employment for youths ages 15-18.  YCC is an eight-week program and the students are paid minimum wage.

During their first week of work, YCC students learned what lay beyond the imposing Arsenal fence. One YCC student said that although she had driven past Midewin on Route 53, she didn't know what the land behind the huge fence was or why it was fenced off.  Another YCC student from Wilmington had gained a basic understanding of Midewin from school field trips and hearing about the "Old Joliet Arsenal."

Students learned the Arsenal was now the Nation's first tallgrass prairie, and that they would be working to restore native prairie plants.   Although students said they did not know what an invasive plant was prior to working at Midewin, they saw first-hand how invasives quickly reproduce and crowd out native plants.  Students pulled invasives such as sweet white clover, amur honeysuckle, and autumn olive. Students also collected seeds from Midewin's native seed beds, planted native plants in restoration areas, and cut shrubs. A student from Kankakee said she is learning "team-building, communication skills, and how to work with others."  Another student said this job "was more than I expected, in a good way, Midewin staff don't just teach us what to do, they teach us why we are doing what we do to eventually restore the prairie."
Putting invasive species in vehicle for disposal at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

The North Lawndale College Prep High School Program consists of 16 students from the public charter school in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood.  The North Lawndale Program is funded through the National Forest Foundation, which secured financing to pay the North Lawndale students from Exelon.  Students are paid by the National Forest Foundation at the rate of $10.50 an hour and the program runs for six weeks. The National Forest Foundation's partnership with North Lawndale College Prep led to the first crew working at Midewin in 2012.

Two North Lawndale College Prep science teachers drive the students to Midewin each day, and, along with Midewin staff, teach and lead the work crews.  Teacher Kiel Smith said that upon first viewing Midewin, one student said, "it looks like we are driving into Jurassic Park." Jurassic Park is a pretty apt comparison, since, Smith said, there are spots in Midewin where students can turn around 360 degrees and see nothing built by humans.  Viewing a landscape that contrasts so sharply with the urban streetscape they routinely see is especially meaningful, Smith said, considering that some of the students, although living a few miles from the lakeshore, have never seen Lake Michigan. 

The program also provides students with an opportunity to gain marketable work skills and interact with scientists and students from more rural backgrounds.  Smith said the youth unemployment rate for kids in the North Lawndale area is near 100%, and those that do find work typically work in restaurants.  The program allows both YCC and North Lawndale students to gain skills such as identifying plants, working with Midewin scientists, seeing a task through to completion, and helping to carry out a restoration plan, skills that will likely help the students' resumes stand out.  Smith and his fellow teacher Luke McShane also use the van rides from Chicago to Midewin and back to discuss professional conduct and to reflect on each day's accomplishments and challenges.  Students board the van at 6:00 a.m. in North Lawndale to reach Midewin by 7:30 a.m..  Since North Lawndale College Prep is a charter school and students attend from throughout the city, some students wake up at 4:00 a.m. to travel from 63rd and the Dan Ryan to meet the van at their school.

Beyond gaining skills for a resume, Smith says, although apprehensive at first about the bugs and cows--asking, just to be safe, "will the cows try to eat us?"--- the students are now taking ownership of the restoration project.  Smith related that by the last few weeks of the program, the students were ending breaks on their own and continuing on with the day's plan rather than waiting for an adult to prompt them.  Smith reminds students they are building a prairie that can be enjoyed by all Midewin visitors.  Smith tells students: "you can take your kids out here 50 years from now, and no one will remember your names, but they will see the work that you did."

Tania Tribble graduated from North Lawndale College Prep and is working at Midewin during her summer break from Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio.  Tribble worked at Midewin last year as well and came back because she enjoyed working on the prairie.  Tribble said her first thought when arriving at Midewin was, "wow, this is a very big prairie."  Tribble stated: "Open land where I come from is not that big, maybe a block or two, this is a much larger area of open space and I feel like when I work here I am doing something for the environment."  Tribble said working at Midewin "teaches you leadership, how to take charge of a project, encouraging other people and saying 'let's go, let's get this,' and listening to everyone as well."

In addition to learning the science of restoration, Tibble is fascinated by Midewin's history.  Tibble thinks the remnants of the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant--bunkers, ammunition warehouses--are "amazing, every time we drive back by the bunkers, I can imagine the bunkers full of ammunition and the trains" that ran through the arsenal to transport the ammunition for the war effort. Tibble and all of the students toured the bunkers and viewed graffiti on the inside of the bunkers, where workers signed their names with dates from the 1940s.

Joliet Army Ammunition Bunkers in Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie:

Antonio is currently a junior at North Lawndale College Prep and plans to pursue pre-med studies in college.  Antonio said he enjoys learning about the science of plants, and that before working at Midewin and learning to differentiate species of prairie plants, "I would have assumed it was all just grass."  Antonio said he enjoys working with the Midewin staff because "they are nice and helpful, and they care about people and not just the job."  Antonio said his favorite part of working at Midewin this summer is meeting new people, "people from different parts of Illinois and not just Chicago."

Students from YCC and North Lawndale both stated that at the start of the summer, the two groups were separated and both groups felt a little awkward around the "new kids."  After some team-building activities and working on projects, however, students said it didn't even seem like they were two different groups.  In addition, the students make connections during educational field trips every Friday.  Students said they were fossil hunting---finding part of a jelly fish---in Braidwood and also visited a reptile museum.

In addition to the high school programs, Midewin is hosting two college students through a partnership with the Student Conservation Association (SCA).  SCA supplies the students with housing in Wilmington, which was a familiar setting for Iowa State University student Erica Anderson since she is originally from a small town in Iowa.  Anderson is majoring in animal ecology and said she is "learning a lot about plants, the ecosystem, and wildlife in the Midwest."  Anderson said her best memory from her summer at Midewin is bird watching and interacting with Midewin scientists such as botanist Jennifer Durkin.  Finally, three students from Northeastern Illinois are working on restoration projects.  Two of those students are particpating through a partnership between Midewin and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.   Pedro Solis is studying Earth Science at Northeastern and learned of the summer internship at Midewin through a professor who is also a United States Deparment of Agriculture Regional Coordinator.   Solis said faculty do a good job letting students know about internship and job opportunities.

Rick Short, Midewin's Public Services Team Leader, said the Midewin staff greatly enjoys having the students at Midewin for the summer.  Short said the students bring an enthusiastic desire to work and learn and that students are making a difference with tasks day in and day out.  Short said the students help Midewin fulfill its mission of restoration and education and will hopefully spread the word about Midewin to friends and family seeking educational and recreational opportunities.  For more info on Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, go here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Elwood Semi-Truck Traffic and Road Restrictions

The Village of Elwood, Illinois held a special meeting July 23, 2014 at 7 p.m. to discuss "AN ORDINANCE REPEALING ORDINANCE NO. 1027 ENTITLED “AN

Elwood had passed an ordinance in May restricting truck traffic on certain Village of Elwood roads in an attempt to reduce the number of trucks driving through Elwood and using U.S. Route 53.  Because trucks can currently only enter CenterPoint-Joliet from the south, trucks were getting off I80, coming south on 53, and then going through Elwood to reach the South Entrance to CenterPoint-Joliet. Elwood's May '14 ordinance restricted trucks from using CenterPoint Drive as a through street, among other restrictions. CenterPoint, Union Pacific,and APL Logistics brought a federal suit to remove the road restrictions, arguing they violated interstate commerce laws.

At the July 23, '14 meeting, the Village passed an ordinance repealing Ordinance 1027.   Elwood said now that it has repealed the ordinance, instead of spending hundreds of thousands it would have likely cost to argue against CenterPoint et al in court, the Village will focus its efforts on an August 20, 2014 meeting of the Illinois Commerce Commission.  There an administrative law judge will make recommendations for improving safety at the Walter Strawn Railroad Crossing.

The Village of Elwood posted a video to YouTube showing a truck breaking through the railroad gate.  According to the Village of Elwood, trucks broke the railroad gates at Walter Strawn 47 times in 2013.

Will County News spoke with Elwood Police Chief Fred Hayes regarding truck traffic in and around Elwood:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Secure the Border Rally held by Homer Lockport Tea Party

A group of citizens stood on the 127th Street bridge over I-355 holding signs reading "Secure Our Border", "Stop the Illegal Alien Invasion" and "A Nation Without Border is Not a Nation."  The rally was publicized on the Lockport-Homer Tea Party Website.  A woman named Stephanie from Lemont stated she organized the gathering because she felt something needed to be done to secure the border.  Stephanie stated "right now this country has a jobless situation, we have to straighten out our own country."  She stated she is not against helping children who have obviously suffered emotionally because of their experiences, but "it has to stop somewhere."

Will County Board Member Stephen Balich was also in attendance and stated we are experiencing "an invasion of the US by illegals" and that some of the unaccompanied minors could have gang affiliations and  "we have enough gang bangers already in the United States."  Balich went on to say the unaccompanied minors are "bringing diseases into this country....and they are coming to the Chicago area."  

US Senator Dick Durbin spoke recently on the issue:

People hold sign saying "Secure Our Border" on the 127th Street Bridge over I-355 in Lemont, Illinois 

"Secure our Border" Rally organized through the Homer Lockport Tea Party 

"Secure our Border" Rally organized through the Homer Lockport Tea Party 

"Secure our Border" Rally organized through the Homer Lockport Tea Party 

"Secure our Border" Rally organized through the Homer Lockport Tea Party 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

2014 Will County Threshermen's Show at Round Barn Farm in Manhattan

The Will County Threshermen's Association will host its annual Summer Show Thursday, July 17th through Sunday, July 20th, 2014 at the Round Barn Farm Park in Manhattan, Illinois.  Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children. 

Antique farming enthusiasts will display how steam-powered machines served the needs of farmers in the early 1900's by: sawing logs:

Separating wheat from chaff:

A wide variety of antique tractors will be on display:

Live plowing demonstrations are also planned:

The show is a great way to bring history to life for younger children.  For example, parents could create "where was it made?" scavenger hunt for kids.  Parents could ask their kids to look on each piece of antique machinery and write down where it was manufactured.

For a full schedule, go here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Illiana Expressway Meeting in Wilmington July 16, 2014

Will County Board Member Ragan Freitag is hosting a meeting on the Illiana Expressway at the Wilmington City Hall Wednesday, July 16, 2014 from 5-7 p.m..  The County's ombudsman will be in attendance, as will State Representative John Anthony (R-Morris).

"Residents have many questions about the proposed $1.3 billion Illiana project that will cut across Will
County and impact property owners in its path," said Freitag. "Elected officials at both the local and
state level should provide opportunities and forums for their residents' questions to get answered and
their voices to be heard. This is the purpose of next week's meeting in Wilmington."

According to Will County's Press Release on the meeting:
 "Last August, Will County appointed Michael Hansen to serve as ombudsman for the project and to
represent the interests of property owners affected by the proposed Illiana in dealings with the Illinois
Department of Transportation. The ombudsman's job is to facilitate clear communication between the
state and local residents. Since his appointment, Hansen has been attending informational meetings
like the one planned in Wilmington. Those landowners in the Illiana's path unable to attend next
week's meeting can contact Hansen at 815-744-9500, or"

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Loyola Sells Donated Land to State of Illinois for Peotone Airport

By Ann Baskerville

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation's South Suburban Airport Land Acquisition webpage, Loyola University Chicago has sold 90.72 acres to the State of Illinois for the Peotone Airport.  The parcel is located at Egyptian Trail and West Eagle Lake Road and was sold for $900,000.

The land was donated to Loyola by the late Mary and Anthony Rudis, well-known conservationists and airport opponents who were some of the largest landowners in the Airport Footprint.  As this 2004 Chicago Tribune article discusses, Mr. and Mrs. Rudis donated the land without restrictions on its use.

Will County News contacted Loyola for comment on the decision to sell the land and received the following response from Steve Christensen, Communications Director for Loyola:

"When the University was originally notified of this bequest, we considered using the land for an ecology station. Since that time, the University acquired nearly 100 acres in Woodstock, Illinois (home to our Retreat and Ecology Campus), that is more suitable for this use, as it includes rare acres of wetland and numerous species of trees. Therefore, upon the death of Mr. Rudis, the University made the decision to liquidate the land to the State with proceeds committed to the construction of the Quinlan School of Business's new building (John and Kathy Schreiber Center) on our Water Tower Campus."

Maps of Peotone Airport--also known as the South Suburban Airport--boundaries and land purchases:

Map of Peotone Airport--aka South Suburban Airport--land purchased by the State of Illinois, early 2014

Illinois Department of Transportation South Suburban Land Acquisition Status Map 2012
For an updated Peotone Airport Land Purchased Map, go here.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Wilmington, Illinois 4th of July Fireworks Cancelled Due to Storms

Due to recent storms and damage at North Island Park, Wilmington, Illinois has cancelled fireworks scheduled for July 5th, 2014.  There will be a fireworks display held on July 25th during the Catfish Days Festival.

This 4th of July, let's bring back Made in the USA:

Please remember firework events are subject to change by the organizations organizing the event.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Services in Manhattan

Members of Lincoln-Way ROTC and Manhattan American Legion Post 935 conduct Memorial Day Services at St. Joseph's Cemetery in Manhattan, Illinois

Members of Lincoln-Way ROTC and Manhattan American Legion Post 935 conduct Memorial Day Services at St. Joseph's Cemetery in Manhattan, Illinois

Sunday, May 18, 2014

National Weather Service Chicago Urges Citizens To Practice Weather Awareness

By Ann Baskerville

Meteorologists and support staff at the National Weather Service Chicago's Station in Romeoville, Illinois monitor weather conditions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to inform more than 10 million citizens in 23 counties of severe weather threats.  Matt Friedlein, Lead Forecaster for NWS Chicago, said that while technological advances have allowed for greater radar precision and more methods of relaying warning information since the Romeoville station opened in December 1991, the NWS Chicago's core mission remains the same: spreading the message of weather awareness and informing the public of severe weather threats.  

Friedlein said weather awareness begins with citizens remaining aware of weather conditions capable of producing strong storms and tornadoes.  Using advanced computer models to analyze weather data, meteorologists can recognize the potential for severe weather in a region days in advance.  For example, five days prior to the November 17, 2013 tornado outbreak in Illinois weather experts warned of atmospheric conditions creating the possibility for severe weather in the Midwest region.  By November 15, scientists warned more specifically that the Chicagoland region was at risk for severe storms.  The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center---based in Norman, Oklahoma---publishes forecasts on its website that include a rating of risk potential for severe storms.  Friedlein said a potential for severe weather in the region, "does not necessarily mean you cancel plans, but it does mean you need to have multiple means to hear a warning, such as public radio, outdoor warning sirens, TV, a NOAA weather radio, and texts and calls from family and friends."  

Freidlein urges citizens to prepare by thinking about how plans might shift in response to a severe weather threat.  For example, think about how a tornado watch or warning would prompt you to change plans regarding the commute home or picking the kids up from school.  A tornado can happen in the Chicago metro area and a majority of tornadoes develop in the afternoon and evening, overlapping with peak commuting times.  Everyone has experienced a Chicagoland traffic jam and can imagine why it is vital to do everything possible to avoid sitting stuck in traffic during a tornado or severe weather.  If you are caught by severe weather or a tornado while in your vehicle, the National Weather Service keeps recommendations for action here.

During times of increased threats, severe weather warning operators at NWS Chicago monitor evolving storm systems using radar and reports from on-the-ground storm spotters.  During times of severe weather, NWS Chicago's radar scans the atmosphere more quickly, Freidlein explains: 

Once NWS Chicago identifies a severe storm or tornado either on radar or through a storm-spotter report, the warning is issued over NOAA radio in less than a minute.  
Weather Radio Station at NWS Chicago

NWS also maintains on-line chat rooms that allow community emergency managers, media meteorologists and storm spotters to communicate in real time, which also helps to spread warnings.  Each spring and autumn, NWS Chicago meets with media to brainstorm the best ways to work together to inform the public of weather threats.  NWS Chicago enjoys a "great partnership" with broadcast meteorologists, Friedlein said. NWS Chicago takes its partnerships seriously since weather safety often spreads person to person.  For example, Friedlein relayed the story of a six year old who had learned tornado safety at school and told her family "we learned to go downstairs in a tornado warning."  That six year old's family lived in Washington, Illinois and their house was destroyed by the EF-4 tornado that ripped through the town.  

The six year old knew to get underground as soon as the warning was issued instead of waiting to visualize the tornado.   Friedlein shared that severe weather social science research shows: "people tend to want to verify the threat; seeing is believing and they want to see the threat."  When a tornado is on the ground, however, "you don't have time to see it and then take cover" Friedlein said.  That is particularly true when storms are moving quickly, such as the November 17 storms which moved at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.  It is vital citizens seek shelter immediately when a warning is issued and do not waste time trying to verify warning information.  According to Friedlein, over the last 20 years in Northeastern Illinois, on average, each county was under a tornado warning for one hour each year and each county was under a severe thunderstorm warning for 9 hours a year. 

In addition to radar, NWS Chicago relies on trained storm spotters to provide in-person reports of severe weather and tornadoes, reports that can prompt a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning.  Storm spotters who have completed the NWS's storm-spotter training volunteer to watch storms on the ground and phone-in reports to NWS Chicago.  Some spotters report using Ham radio.  During severe weather events, a volunteer often comes into NWS Chicago to take reports at the Ham Radio Station, pictured below:
Ham Radio Station at NWS Chicago
Friedlein said the spotters "are our eyes and ears, we can't see what's on the ground." Spotters provide reports that allows NWS to issue warnings that include statements such as "spotters have confirmed a tornado on the ground."  These first-person verified warnings resonate strongly with the public.  

During the November 17, 2013 tornado outbreak, members of the public using Twitter received tweets relaying those reports of tornadoes on the ground.  Friedlein stated NWS Chicago assigned a staff member "as the dedicated person monitoring social media" and updating the NWS Chicago Twitter feed because meteorologists "were expecting multiple tornadoes and we knew there would be a large flow of information" coming in through social media.  While the NWS Chicago does not routinely have a dedicated social media staff, advanced forecasts of conditions very favorable for multiple tornadoes allowed NWS Chicago to add extra staff for November 17th.  NWS Chicago also staffed more meteorologists November 17th to attend to the Center's duties to monitor conditions at airports and conditions on Lake Michigan.  

Whether citizens monitor weather conditions by listening to a NOAA radio, local media, social media, NWS products, or simply by keeping an eye on the skies, the message is clear: remain aware of the potential for severe weather and make sure you have the means to hear a warning.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Joliet Junior College Police Department Raises Funds for Special Olympics Illinois

 The Joliet Junior College Police Department recently held a spaghetti dinner to raise money for Special Olympics Illinois.  

Police Officer Randy Graves said he would like to thank the JJC Police Department, the entire JJC educational community, and cafeteria for their overwhelming support of Special Olympics Illinois: "During this fundraiser, we sold out of spaghetti in the first hour of the event; we then served mostaccioli; moved on to pasta shells, and finally bow tie pasta to feed our supporters. We sold more dinners during the first hour than we did in last year's entire Inaugural Event!  Thank you everyone for contributing to the success of our Special Olympics fundraiser!"  

Joliet Junior College Police Officers and volunteers serve spaghetti dinners to raise money for Special Olympics Illinois. 

Jeanne Lindholm, Records Department, JJC Police Department and Daryl Parsons, Department Secretary, JJC Police Department sell Torch Run Merchandise to raise funds for Special Olympics Illinois

Helping to sell dinner tickers were: Seated, L to R: Barb Courter, Plainfield  School District 202 Vocational Coordinator and Dee Graves, Plainfield School District 202 Assistant Director of Student Services;  Standing L to R: JJC Police Chief Pete Comanda, P.O. Regan Ready, and P.O. Randy Graves.

Joliet Junior College Police Officers hold a spaghetti dinner to raise money for Special Olympics Illinois

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Last Time?

Tom Spangler prepares soil for planting in a field that would be bisected by the B3 alignment for the proposed Illiana Tollway.

The B3 alignment for the Illiana Expressway would run East to West through this farm field directly East of Symerton

Farmer Tom Spangler says if the Illiana Expressway is constructed through this farm field, it will take him much more time to work the ground because of time spent traveling to the part of his farm that would be on the other side of the Illiana Expressway.  Increased fuel costs and the fact that the risk of breakdowns increases the more the machinery is moved weigh as consequences to Spangler's farm being bisected by the Illiana Tollway.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Midewin Volunteers Bring Prairie Plants out of Bunker Hibernation

By Ann Baskerville

Prairie Volunteers and Boy Scouts spent a Saturday morning helping Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie staff take native prairie plants out of winter storage.  According to Midewin botanist Jennifer Durkin, native prairie seedlings are housed in bunkers during the winter because the seedlings are still developing a strong root system and can not handle harsh winter weather.  The same characteristics that made the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant bunkers good places to store ammunition make them ideal for storing baby plants.  The bunkers's solid concrete covered by earth creates an insulated space that allows the plants to survive even the drastically low temperatures we experienced this winter.

Ammunition bunkers in Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.  Native prairie plant seedlings are stored in a bunker through winter.
Native plants stored inside a bunker at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Volunteers form an assembly line to move plants from the bunker to the trailer for transport
Volunteers and Midewin staff loaded seedlings onto a trailer for transport back to the Horticulture Center

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie staff and volunteers take native plants out of winter storage--an ammunition bunker
An example of a tray of plugs containing prairie plants: French Grass, Psoralea Onobrychis
Prairie Plants taken out of winter storage in the bunker were to be moved to the outdoor hoop houses near the Midewin Welcome Center

Volunteers viewed old Joliet Arsenal Ammunition Plant buildings during the group's caravan through Midewin to reach the site of bunkers storing prairie plants

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Illiana Landowner Receives Appraisal Letter

By Ann Baskerville

March 26, 2014

Virginia Hamann--whose home and farm lie in the most recently mapped route of the proposed Illiana Expressway B3 corridor-- received a registered letter this weekend from a real estate appraisal company contracted by the Illinois Department of Transportation.  The letter asked Hamann to call the company if she would like the company to come out and complete an appraisal on her land.  Hamann promptly contacted the company on Monday to state no appraisal company would be allowed on her land without a court order.  

Hamann, a member of No Illiana 4 Us, stated she has received anxiety-ridden emails from other landowners in the B3's proposed path.  One landowner described herself as "nearing a nervous breakdown" due to the uncertainty regarding if, when, and how her land will be taken.  

Virginia Hamann of No Illiana 4 Us responds to emails from landowners in the Illiana Expressway B3's path

While the letter Hamann received does not state the landowner is required by law to allow an appraisal team on the landowner's property, Hamann stated she feels contacting landowners regarding appraisals before a final Federal Record of Decision is on file amounts to "bullying and intimidation, and it needs to stop." Hamann said she encourages all concerned citizens who have not already signed the petition against the Illiana Expressway to do so at the No Illiana 4 Us website

Update: Will County News has received a response to questions from Guy Tridgell, Deputy Director of Communications at the Illinois Department of Transportation. Tridgell's responses to questions are in blue:

Q: Is it the policy of IDOT and the Illiana team to contact landowners like this before the Tier 2 Federal Record of Decision comes down?

As part of the overall land acquisition process, there has been regular contact between us and landowners within the project corridor through public meetings, face-to-face contact and letters.  We will not be making any offers until we receive a final Record of Decision. This is just part of the appraisal process.  

Q: Is IDOT contacting all landowners in the B3 path?

            We are in the process of contacting the owners of all 350 parcels within the expressway corridor.

Q: The landowner I spoke with stated she had been advised not to let any appraisal team on her property unless the appraisal team had a court order.  What is IDOT's procedure for appraising land if the land owner's refuse to allow the appraisers on the land?

If the owner chooses not to make their property available for inspection, the appraiser will perform the inspection off site, from the public way or from an adjacent property.

Will County News has emailed the Illiana Expressway Ombudsman for comment on this issue and will post any received comment as soon as possible. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Illiana Expressway Tier Two Hearing in Wilmington

Landowners in the B3 Illiana Expressway Corridor meet with land acquisition representatives at the Tier Two Illiana Expressway Public Meeting and Hearing in Wilmington, Illinois, February 2014

Poster about possible road closures due to the Illiana Expressway

Videos of citizens who spoke at the public hearing on the Tier Two Environmental Impact Statement for the Illiana Expressway:

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

Part Five:

Part Six:

Part Seven:

Part Eight:

Part Nine:

Part Ten:

Part Eleven:

Part Twelve:

Part Thirteen:

Part Fourteen"

Part Fifteen:

Part Sixteen:

Part Seventeen:

Part Eighteen:

Part Nineteen:

Part Twenty:

Part Twenty-One:

Part Twenty-Two:

Part Twenty-Three:

Part Twenty-Four:

Part Twenty-Five:

Part Twenty-Six: