Tom's #Mailbag, May 25, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, May 25, 2018

Do you have a question you want answered? Send it to Tom Kacich by clicking here and he'll track down and answer.

After a too-great vacation the 'Bag is back. We took a dive into a big backlog of questions and came up with answers about flags at the Veterans Memorial in downtown Urbana, a controversial property outside Mahomet, a new detention basin in Champaign, concert ticket prices, dog waste bags, sponsorship of The News-Gazette scoreboard page and a lot more.


Veterans memorial

"I was wondering who is in charge of the Veterans Memorial in downtown Urbana? The flags are faded and a couple have broken loose from their ropes. I was wondering if it could be corrected before Memorial Day. Our veterans deserve better upkeep of the memorial."

The memorial is maintained by the members of the Urbana VFW. Brad Gould, superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Champaign County, said the flags would be replaced in time for Memorial Day.


Detention pond

"We have a new detention pond just north of Mattis and Church, and it has a beautiful new water fountain complete with pet bowl, but it hasn't been turned on yet. I called the city and the lady told me she thought the water company was in charge of turning it on. She said she'd look into it, but it's still non-functioning."

There was some confusion about your question. I thought you were referring to the fountain in the basin of the detention pond, which I found working and quite nice. But Kris Koester of the Champaign Public Works Department said he believed you were referring to drinking fountains, which at last report were waiting to be activated by Illinois American Water. In that case I'd recommend bringing a water bottle in the meantime.

As for the detention pond, with the accompanying fountain, waterfall and walking path, it's quite a neighborhood attraction. Nice job, city of Champaign.


Scoreboard page

"Just curious as to why in the sports page there is a need for the scoreboard to be sponsored."

Interesting question. So it's OK for stadiums to have advertising on scoreboards, for TV sports shows to be full of advertising, for live TV and radio sports events to be sponsored, but an ad on a newspaper sports page is inappropriate?

Anyway, here's your response from John Reed, the CEO of News-Gazette Media: "Producing best-in-class journalism is not an inexpensive endeavor. We depend on support from advertisers and readers alike to provide the funding necessary to meet audience expectations for top notch local news and sports in print, online, and over-the-air. To that end we're adopting a few new approaches to advertising based on feedback from our advertising clients. The one referred to in the question is the first 'sponsorship' position we've offered in the sports section and it's likely that there will be more in the future."


Adolf Meyer Center

"I remember back in the 1980s there was a state psychiatric facility called Adolph Meyer. Does it still exist? I can't find any history on it."

The Adolf Meyer Zone Center was in Decatur from 1966 to 1995. In 2000 it reopened as the Decatur Correction Center, a minimum security female prison with an operational capacity of 792.


Corrections on traffic laws on private property

"Regarding the Mailbag of 5-12-18, I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with the esteemed judge's (former Judge Michael Jones) answer to the question concerning traffic law enforcement. While his answer is generally correct, DUI laws in Illinois are enforceable on private property and in fact are on an almost daily basis. You can get a DUI in Illinois on top of a flagpole."


"Minor correction. Article 4 of the Vehicle Code — all the leaving the scene matters and Article 5 — DUIs & reckless types are enforceable on private property."


Old Brixx building

"Any word on what's up with the former Brixx Pizza building in the Carriage Center on S. Neil? Was expecting to see something new right away, but it seems like it's been empty for some time now."

Deb Pressey had the answer earlier this month ... a new OSF urgent care clinic.

Here's a link to the story:


Golden Corral

"Hi Tom, where and when is Golden Corral being built in Champaign area?"


"Talked to manager at a Golden Corral, he said he had gone to a meeting last Thursday and as far as he knows they are still coming here. He said within the year. Have you heard anything more?"

Only what we reported earlier this month, that the city of Champaign had received revised plans for a Golden Corral at 1202 W. Anthony Drive, and that the plans were under review, according to Building Safety Supervisor Larry Happ.


Dog waste bags

"Are the plastic dog waste bags at the Champaign 'Bark District' on Windsor Road eco-friendly? If not, can the park district supply 'green' bags? So many of them get used (thankfully!) but I hate to think that our parks are contributing that much permanent plastic trash to the environment."

Here's your response from Joe DeLuce, executive director of the Champaign Park District: "Our current dog bags are from Dog Waste Depot and are not specifically labeled as 'Eco Friendly' or 'Green.' These dog bags are similar in content of most other bags on the market. Our staff is researching the various options for eco-friendly bags as we strive to do everything possible and feasible to protect the environment."


Ryan's property

"I saw some activity going on at the old Ryan's on Anthony Drive the other day. Do you have any information on what is going on with that property?"

As we reported earlier this month a building permit is on file for a Davita Dialysis Center, at 1004 W. Anthony Drive in the old Ryan's location.


Concert ticket prices

"I was looking at tickets for the Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss concert. There are two fees in addition to the ticket price. One is a facility fee in the amount of $3.50. The other fee ranges from $8-$10, depending on the ticket price. The ticket office staff do not know what the fees cover. Can you get an explanation?"

From Kevin Ullestad, manager of the State Farm Center: "These fees vary but are on every special event ticket, and go to help offset ticketing and event expenses. The ticketing fee can be avoided by buying at the box office window but the $3.50 facility fee still applies."


Traffic accident debris

"The southwest corner of Church Street and Elm Street is littered with debris from a recent car accident. Broken glass and other pieces of wreckage abound. The sidewalk and grass are even affected. Who's in charge of cleaning up this mess?"

Any debris in the public right-of-way can be reported to the Champaign Public Works Department at 403-4700, said David Oliver, code compliance officer for Champaign's Neighborhood Services Department.

"Any debris on private property can be reported to Neighborhood Code Compliance at 403-7070," he said.


Vacant house

"What is going on with the vacant and abandoned house at 309 W. Washington St. in Champaign? It has sat looking dilapidated and empty for over a year. I have made a few complaints to the city but nothing has happened recently. It looks like there's a complaint against the property but no actions have been taken. I also know through public record that it was sold at a sheriff's sale to Travis Heath in March. What are his plans with it and when does he get final possession? The neighborhood is being dragged down by this hulking eyesore with broken and boarded up windows, high grass and weeds, etc."

From Oliver: "Neighborhood Code Compliance was pursuing litigation for the violations at the property, however the mortgage company completed a foreclosure of the property and ultimately it was sold recently at a sheriff sale. Neighborhood Code Compliance is reaching out to the new owner with a list of the violations remaining at the property."


Hazardous tree

"What recourse do I have, as a Champaign property owner, when after two years a neighbor still refuses to remove a dead ash tree barely across the property line and a clear danger to my roof and chimney?"

From Oliver: "A dead tree that is presenting an imminent hazard can be reported to the Neighborhood Code Compliance Division at 403-7070. Neighborhood Code Compliance can issue a Notice to Abate to the property owner for the hazard to be removed."


Mahomet conforming property

"What is going on at the property at 1409 S. Division in Mahomet? It abuts the Sanagmon River. There are numerous old semi trailers, tanks, mobile homes and other seemingly junked vehicles and equipment there, the quantity of which varies daily. Sometimes the top of a backhoe is visible from Division Street, making one wonder what is being buried there. Property records show the property owned by Miller Enterprises of Champaign. The property is gated and there is a large berm so activities on the property are hidden from the road."

The property actually is outside the limits of the village of Mahomet, said Village Administrator Patrick Brown, and the village has no plans to annex the property.

That means it is under the jurisdiction of the county zoning office, and Zoning Administrator John Hall said there "is a very long and complicated history between Champaign County and this property but I will not recite all of that history.

"Miller Enterprises eventually sued Champaign County over enforcement of the county zoning ordinance in Circuit Court Case No. 93-C-558 and on June 27, 1994, the court determined that the activities of Miller Enterprises on that property were lawfully nonconforming under the Champaign County Zoning Ordinance and consisted of a contractor's yard, salvage and scrap storage, material storage, and equipment storage.

"There was also a Floodplain Development Permit for modification of the floodplain on the property that was approved by Champaign County and the Illinois Department of Transportation Office of Water Resources in 1983. That floodplain development was not actually inspected for compliance until October 2016 when Champaign County staff and staff from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Water Resources determined that the property was compliant with all relevant floodplain regulations."


No Parking signs

"On Cottage Grove across from Glenwood Oaks in Urbana there are two No Parking signs about 5 feet apart. Not sure anyone would actually fit a car between the signs. Please explain."

"The posted no parking signs on both sides of Cottage Grove Avenue are there for safety and visibility reasons accommodating the mid-block pedestrian crosswalk that provides access for residents crossing the street" to Crestview Park, said Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray.


Sanitary sewer questions

"I've been trying to learn more about our local sewer system and I have some questions I haven't been able to answer on my own. How much pipe is older than its suggested replacement age? How many of these pipes get replaced every year? How many feet of pipe are there per resident in Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District's service area, and has this number grown over time?"

Here's your response from Rick Manner, executive director of the sanitary district:

"Thanks for sending over a great series of asset management questions. I think you know that I love it when your readers give me an excuse to have you dive deeper into the subject of sewers and wastewater treatment.

"I think we need to start with a few facts about sewers generally. First, there are two types of sewers in the ground. Sanitary sewers are what take the waste from inside people's homes and businesses. Sanitary sewers ultimately receive treatment here at the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District. We clean such water up before it is discharged into our local streams.

"However, people should know that storm sewers may look the same, but they are fundamentally different. These are the sewers that have the open grates in streets and parkways. Storm sewers receive no treatment, they simply carry rainwater to the nearest ditch, creek or river.

"This is important to know because dumping pollutants or trash into storm sewers directly, or indirectly onto the street, is as bad as dumping that junk straight into the Middle Fork, Embarras, or Kaskaskia because the next rain will move it down there. Storm sewers are usually owned by whatever entity owns the streets in a given area, be they a city or village.

"Shifting back to my area of sanitary sewers, the fun new technology for us sewer aficionados has been robotic televising of sewers. This allows us to see and assess the condition of many sewers from the inside. We can temporarily drain a portion of the sewers and see 90 percent of the pipe's interior condition. That really changes the thinking about sewer maintenance (and these questions) dramatically. Instead of assuming a 20-year-old is in better shape than a 60-year-old sewer and that perhaps the 60-year sewer is overdue for replacement, we televise everything, and decide if every pipe needs to be maintained immediately or later, or if we can wait until we take another peek in a few years.

"Overall, our ability to assess from the inside is immensely helpful, but it is not foolproof. So for the first question how much pipe is older than suggested, there really isn't a suggested age anymore. What we now do is follow appropriate industry standards in inspecting and repairing all that we need to in any given year. I think this is the best way to manage the ratepayer's money.

"Regarding how much gets replaced annually, that too has changed with the use of cool technology. Now, rather than dig up pipes, we now have a less disruptive option. Often we can slide a flexible, uncured fiberglass liner on the inside of the pipe, then cure it in place, and reestablish service connections, all from the inside. When we are done we have essentially a new rigid pipe, form-fitted to the inside of the old pipe.

"The Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District (UCSD) owns about 90 miles of interceptor sewers. In a typical year we line 1 to 3 miles of that amount. That puts us on a schedule where after 40 to 100 years everything might be lined. When you count both internal and external costs, our annual budget for inspecting and lining sewers is about $1.3 million, which is appropriate for a sewer system that has a value of about $100 million.

"Then regarding the feet of sewers per resident question, at 90 miles of interceptors owned by UCSD and roughly 150,000 residents, everybody effectively 'owns' about 3 feet of UCSD interceptor sewer. And while the amount of sewers in the ground is increasing due to new developments on the edges of town, the service population has also been increasing, so that figure is unlikely to change very rapidly.

"Working our way upstream, there are more miles of smaller diameter sewers out there to consider. These are called collector sewers and are owned by the cities and villages. So returning to the last question about the length of publicly owned sanitary sewers per resident, each resident also effectively 'owns' another 10 feet of collector sewers in their community.

"And then continuing further upstream to smallest pipes, the sewer that is the service connection to your home also must be considered and maintained. It is critical for every property owner to recognize that the sewer that is connected to only their home is privately owned and is 100 percent their responsibility. This is true all of the way out to where it connects to the public collector sewer, even if service connection goes beyond your property and is partly under the street. In many instances the city has a program to help share the cost for repairs to service connection, but ultimately the service line that only serves your home is a part of the home."

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