Tom's #Mailbag, Feb. 9, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, Feb. 9, 2018

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There's a lot of Champaign-centric questions in the 'bag this week — a cool building near downtown, snow shoveling rules, the possibility of red light traffic cameras in the city, Glenn Park improvements, changes around Champaign Central High School — but that's not all.

We answer questions about Bald eagles poisoned by lead, the odd shape of Ford County, a construction project under way in north Urbana, unwanted political emails and all that money from video gaming machines that spilled out on I-74 last month.

Bald eagle poisonings

"In The News-Gazette article about the Snowy Owl that the University of Illinois Vet Med Clinic was trying to help, there was mention of two Bald eagles that died from lead poisoning. How did they ingest lead, and were they in close proximity to each other?"

We talked with Dr. Sarah Reich at the UI's Wildlife Medical Clinic who said that a third Bald eagle arrived at the clinic Tuesday, suffering from lead poisoning. The bird died Friday.

Although all three were found in Illinois they were not found in the same area. One was found in Charleston, another in Decatur and the third in Low Point, in Woodford County by the Illinois River.

"They all tested positive, and, honestly, anything over zero in eagles is usually a problem," she said. "These guys usually accidentally ingest lead pellets from a gunshot or lead from a sinker from a fisherman's equipment because people don't realize that eagles are scavengers. They're kinda lazy birds actually, and if there's something that's been pre-killed accidentally or on purpose left out, they'll go and ingest that."

Whether accidentally or purposely, it's the fault of humans that the birds are poisoned, she said.

Many states are trying to ban lead, said Reich, "because our birds are very susceptible to lead poisoning."

Often the birds are brought to the clinic with "inappropriate neurologic behavior. They'll be very, very dull and very quiet. A lot of them can't stand, and they're just lying down on their stomachs. They may have other signs like a head tilt, or they'll have seizures or tremors."

She said, "We usually don't see this many at one time."

"I'm concerned, obviously, but I'd be a lot more concerned if they were coming from the same area because it would mean that someone was specifically poisoning these animals by leaving out carcasses or by fishing. But they're all from different parts of Illinois," said Reich.

She said she hopes to talk with Illinois Department of Natural Resources officers and other wildlife clinics to see if they also are seeing more instances of animals with lead poisoning.

"This could just be a big coincidence. Usually you see this during hunting season, and it's not really hunting season now. It's just a very odd time frame."

In 2015, the clinic treated four eagles. In 2016, it had six ,and last year there were seven.

"This is more eagles in one small time frame than we've ever seen. We usually don't see three — bam, bam, bam — like this. And we never get them all positive for lead. It's interesting," she said. "Maybe it's a good year for eagles, and there's been a population boom, and that's why we're seeing a bunch. But it's a lot of eagles in a short time frame.

"Someone was asking me, when do you know if it's a trend or not? I don't have a great answer for that because we've never seen anything like this before. But if we have another eagle come in with lead toxicosis, then I'm going to be very, very concerned. At this point I don't know what else it could be besides coincidence, just a bad coincidence," Reich said.

Cool building

"We are curious about the building at 75 E. Chester in Champaign. Can you tell us the origin of this interesting looking building? Thanks for any info you may have."

I don't have a lot, but I have this about the building that now is the home of Rumours Hat Shoppe ...

According to a report done in 1984 for the Preservation and Conservation Association, the unique terra cotta structure was built in 1926 and is known as the V.A. Roland building in honor of Vernon Anton Roland. He began the Roland Apartments business, which at one time was the largest owner of private apartments in Champaign-Urbana.

Roland graduated from the UI as a structural engineer, and his first apartment building was built in 1922 in the 900 block of South First Street.

The "Honesty Best Policy" inscribed in the facade of the building supposedly was the motto of Roland's business.

Condominium sidewalk shoveling

"I live near the Cheshire Drive condos in Champaign. I note that whenever it snows, the complex plows its parking lot, but does nothing to clear the surrounding sidewalks of snow. This means that most of the city block at the northwest corner of University and Prospect is left impassable, even though many pedestrians and Champaign Central High School have to use these sidewalks on a daily basis. Why doesn't the city of Champaign require multi-unit properties like this one to clear its sidewalks?"

According to the city code those walks should be cleared.

Champaign Public Works spokesman Kris Koester cites City Ordinance Sec. 30-812 (a) (2) that states: "Throughout the City, the owner ... of a lot containing a building occupied by four or more dwelling units, shall be responsible for removal of accumulations of snow ... from the adjacent public sidewalks ..."

This applies to multi-family residences, including apartment buildings and condominium associations, he said.

Non-compliance can be reported to the Neighborhood Services Department at 217-403-7070.

Champaign Central neighborhood

"Two questions for Unit 4:

"First, is there an actual detailed plan for maintenance of properties on Church Street that (the Champaign school district) now owns outright, but has yet to demolish? My observation is that sidewalks aren't shoveled, leaves aren't raked and, most obviously, garbage and trash are not collected from the yards, parkways and driveways of these buildings. The mess is quite unsightly and is only getting worse while the sides argue about the new high school.

"Second, the one-way signs on Park Street in front of Central High School are not changed to indicate that traffic reverts to two ways after school is out. Why? The block between New and Lynn Streets perpetually goes east, regardless of the day or the time. Could you put a bug in (the school district's) bonnet to get these one-way street signs changed on a routine schedule?"

Emily Schmit, the school district's director of communications and community relations, handled your questions and reports that the district eventually hopes to close Park Street around the high school.

"Our custodial staff at Central High School picks up the general vicinity around Central weekly, which includes the nearby properties on Church Street. The Central custodial staff also takes care of snow removal on the sidewalks as needed. The Unit 4 grounds crew visits the properties on Church Street weekly to address any lawn or outdoor needs," she said. "Trash cans located adjacent to Central are all emptied daily. Currently, we do not have any garbage cans at the Lyndhurst properties, the old YMCA facility or other properties we own on Church Street that are unoccupied. The church currently leasing 602 W. Church manages their own trash removal and also kindly assists the District with picking up trash on the adjacent sites if needed.

"We are working diligently to keep the properties maintained as we do our schools. Since the properties are unoccupied, and we are there weekly, some needs may go unnoticed. We welcome nearby homeowners to contact our facilities department at 351-3996 if they believe something needs our attention."

Regarding your second point about traffic on Park Street, she said:

"Central High School regularly hosts events and activities during the evening hours. Park Street is a very busy street with both vehicle and pedestrian traffic during these activities. Oftentimes, you will see busses (both visiting athletic teams and home teams leaving or returning to school) and parents picking up students after activities or events.

"At one time, we spoke to the city of Champaign about the possibility of making Park Street one-way on a permanent basis. A decision was not made at the time' however, it may be a good idea to start the discussion again if the road is causing confusion for neighborhood residents. As the Central High School renovation project proceeds, there will be a need to relocate utilities feeding the school and a need to eventually vacate the street as the addition is constructed. In the coming year, Park Street will have intermittent closings as we begin this process."

E-verify

"Is E-Verify still mandated by law? It seems if this was actually utilized, illegals would not be working in the U.S. Just wondered if this had been rescinded at some point in the last few years."

Perhaps the most important think to remember about E-Verify is that it is generally voluntary.

Anita Rios Moore, a public affairs officer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, provided this background:

"Under federal law the program is voluntary for employers except for participation by federal agencies and the legislative branch. Many federal contractors also participate in E-Verify as a condition of their contracts," she said. "Additionally, DHS regulations published in 2008 require employers to register with E-Verify before obtaining certain benefits. These include: (1) a regulation enabling certain F-1 students in Optional Practical Training to apply for a 17-month extension of their employment authorization if they are employed by an E-Verify registered employer and (2) the rule allowing H-2A workers who are changing employers to begin work with the new employer before the change is approved only if the new employer participates in E-Verify.

"E-Verify helps employers maintain a legal workforce by giving them an effective and reliable tool to distinguish between legal workers and unauthorized employees who are foreign nationals. It gives an employer a greater certainty that its new hire is authorized to work by comparing the information from the new hire's Form I-9 to government records and providing a reliable response."

E-Verify is still in place, she stressed.

"You can see more information about at uscis.gov/e-verify. The E-Verify program continues to grow rapidly," she said. "As of Nov. 6, 2017, the total number of employers registered for E-Verify is 751,883. This represents 2.4 million hiring sites. In FY 2018, the weekly average for the number of employers registering is 1,493. So far in FY 2018, 3,987,495 queries were run through the system."

Glenn Park renovations

"How close is Glenn Park to being done? It looks great!"

and

"I've been walking around the lovely new retention basin near Mattis (great work, city of Champaign!) and noticed that Wirco is in the process of tearing down a building that looks like it could have been a train station. What is the history of that building?"

I agree; the work at Glenn Park looks great. Imagine how terrific it will look this spring and summer.

Alex Nagy, a civil engineer in the Champaign Public Works Department's environmental section, reports that the project officially known as "Phase 2 of the West Washington Street Drainage Improvements" at the Glenn Park detention basin was substantially completed in December and the park is open for use.

"Only a small section of the park on the east end along Miller Avenue requires additional work, which includes a rain garden, sidewalks and a new parking area," Nagy said. "Storm sewer work and street reconstruction will take place in 2018 along Miller Avenue, Washington Street and the streets north of Washington Street including Fair Street, Carson Avenue, Columbia Avenue, Garfield Avenue and Draper Avenue. This work includes piping that will connect Preservation Pond (at Russell and Washington Street) to the new detention basin at Glenn Park. The project is on schedule for full completion in December 2018."

Nagy did double duty, presenting this history of the Wirco plant site going back to its beginnings as the Bonner Manufacturing Co.:

"The land where the current WIRCO manufacturing plant is located was originally granted to James Curtiss by the United States government in 1853 under the Grants under Warrants Act, which granted land to soldiers for their military service in the 1800s. The land changed hands multiple times between 1853 and 1910, until in 1910 it was purchased by Clarence E. Bonner who formed the 'C.E. Bonner Manufacturing Company' later that same year. The company was known for producing work tool implements, such as the 'Victor Chain Pipe Wrench.' In 1914, the 'C.E. Bonner Manufacturing Company' was adjudged bankrupt and reformed as the 'Bonner Drop Forge Company' in 1915 and then later changed to 'The Forged Products Company' in 1919. In 1920, the plant was sold and turned into the 'Locomotive Crane Company of America' until it closed in the late 1920s.

"The plant was purchased by the Ben F. Harris family, who started the 'Alloy Engineering and Casting Company' in 1945. In 2005, the plant was purchased by 'OMW LLC' who is the owner of the current business 'WIRCO.' WIRCO produces high temperature castings for radiant tubes, furnace parts and other metal fixtures."

Now, about the building that you noted looks like a train station "served as the main office building for the plant until 2017 when WIRCO reconstructed a large section of the plant that was destroyed by a fire in 2016," Nagy said. "This reconstruction included new modern office space for the plant, which made the old office building unnecessary for the plant operation."

Also, I did a column on the Bonner company in 2016. Here's a link

Empty lot

"On the west side of Mattis, north of Springfield Electric and the Sherwin-Williams paint store, there is a sale pending posted on the real estate sign. What's happening there? Another godawful chain restaurant coming to town?"

The city of Champaign hasn't received a building permit application for the lot, said Building Safety Supervisor Larry Happ.

Red light cameras

"So every day this week I have seen cars blow through stoplights. I know (Champaign County State's Attorney) Julia Rietz wants to know where people are abusing lights. Short answer is everywhere. Long answer is Windsor/Prospect, Windsor/Galen, Windsor/Mattis, Prospect/Kirby, Kirby/Neil, Windsor/Neil, Neil/Devonshire, Neil/Green, Bradley/Mattis, just to name a few. Why can't we install cameras?"

My guess is because red light cameras are wildly unpopular.

Entire political careers have been built on opposition to red-light cameras.

Installing red-light cameras would require approval by the Champaign City Council, and Mayor Deb Feinen said she believes the council discussed and rejected the idea "several years ago."

In 2009 there was a bill in the Illinois House to allow municipalities in Champaign County to operate red light cameras, but then state Reps. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, got the sponsor of the legislation to remove Champaign County. Neither of the mayors of Champaign or Urbana at that time supported the bill.

Clark-Lindsey taxed?

"A promo for an upcoming event at Clark-Lindsey (on WDWS) says something about it being 'the only non-profit retirement community in the area.' When I hear 'non-profit' I think 'not taxed.' Surely that big CLV complex doesn't enjoy tax-free status — does it?"

Yes, it is taxed and pays a pretty substantial bill to Champaign County, says Treasurer John Farney.

"Clark-Lindsey Village is a non-profit organization, but that doesn't necessarily translate to being exempt from property taxes. In fact, Clark-Lindsey paid $439,364.84 in real estate taxes on two parcels of land in 2017," he said. "To qualify for a property tax exemption, the property owner would need to apply for an exemption and show supporting documentation as to why it should be tax exempt, similar to the exemption applications that have been subject to lawsuits involving the Carle Foundation and Presence Covenant Medical Centers. Certain thresholds need to be met before exemptions are granted."

According to the Supervisor of Assessments Office, Clark-Lindsey Village has never applied for an exemption on its property, said Farney.

North Urbana construction activity

"What is happening on North Lincoln Avenue, north of Mack's?"

The project at 3202 N. Lincoln Ave. is the foundation construction for Roanoke Concrete Products, a ready-mix concrete batch plant and concrete materials recycling facility, said John Schneider, Urbana's community development manager.

"The permit for foundation work was issued Jan. 26, and upon approval of the final submittals the building permit will be issued, likely within the next two weeks," he said.

Video gaming receipts

"Recently, an accident on I-74 scattered U.S. currency all over the highway, reportedly the take from one or more of the local gambling parlors. Apparently the loot was being transported out of town in a bag in a private car. Peculiar. These businesses are supposedly regulated. What's the story here?"

The money that spilled out on the interstate was receipts from video gaming terminals around central Illinois.

Gene O'Shea, a spokesman for the Illinois Gaming Board that oversees video gaming, said the agency doesn't regulate the transportation of what you called loot.

"There's nothing in the act or the rules that has us telling them how to do that," said O'Shea.

Unwanted emails

"I am receiving emails from current and past county clerks, but they are political ads. Who authorized the county to sell email lists to these people? I have tried to unsubscribe but have had no luck. Good way not to get my vote."

First, both County Clerk Gordy Hulten and County Recorder Mark Shelden say they're sorry for the intrusion.

Here's a statement from Hulten:

"The county clerk's office collects email addresses for its own use (emailing voter cards and election reminders mostly) but does not sell or release them to candidates, political campaigns or anyone outside of official use by our office. My campaign does not, has not and will not have access to the email addresses collected by my office.

"The email addresses I have for my campaign I've been collecting since I first became a candidate in 2010. If your reader is on my campaign email list, it's possible that they subscribed so long ago that they've forgotten (I only recently began to send campaign emails again after a multiple-year hiatus), or possible that someone else subscribed them without their knowledge. "There is a one-click unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email sent, or the individual can email me at gordy@gordyhulten.org, and I'll manually unsubscribe them. I do apologize for intruding into their inbox.

And Shelden says that he has sent out emails on behalf of county clerk candidate Jon Rector from his sheldenforrecorder@gmail.com address.

"I've purchased lists in the past. The state party also has email addresses that campaigns can access. There's a lot out there for people to get their hands on," he explained.

Shelden says that he apologizes "whenever I bother people who'd rather not be bothered" by a politician.

"At the same time, I'd never meet a new voter if I didn't take a chance and talk with people I had never met before. And those unsolicited meetings for me and other office holders often result in productive ideas and improvements to our offices," he said.

The shape of Ford County

"Of all the counties in Illinois, Ford County has to be the strangest as far as shapes go. Why isn't it a square? And what dummy made the boundaries?"

Ford has its odd shape out of inconvenience: it was the last county of 102 legally organized in the state (1859), much of it with land that no other county wanted.

"Politically, this boot-shaped area was a no-man's-land because it was not incorporated into any county government, as an entity. But for decades previous it had been viewed with less desire than surrounding areas, by Indian tribes and immigrant settlers alike," said the online publication "Genealogy Trails."

"By the late 1850s, it was no secret that a new county was needed to take in that land left over after the formation of Iroquois, Champaign, Livingston, and others, all some 20 to 30 years earlier. Residents of the area forming the Panhandle wanted a county seat closer than that at Danville," says Genealogy Trails.

The Central Illinois Gazette, published in Urbana, complained in early 1859 of the "mutilation of Champaign County" because under one proposal before the Legislature a small amount on the south end of the county would become Douglas County, while a small amount on the north would become Ford County.

"This would leave Champaign County but 27 miles long and nearly square," the Gazette said.

Whew, it didn't happen, and Champaign County remains the fifth-largest county in Illinois.

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