Tom's #Mailbag, Feb. 8, 2019

Tom's #Mailbag, Feb. 8, 2019

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This week's Mailbag is more packed than a fat man at the Golden Corral. On the menu: legalized pot, the Solon House, the Ice Arena, the Illini pay to play on WLS. Also: potholes, borrow pits, mounds at Champaign Centennial and along the Canadian National tracks, hazardous chemical recycling, a popcorn shop and a donut shop and an update on i3 Broadband.


Legalized marijuana

"Has a recreational marijuana bill been introduced in the Illinois Legislature yet?"

Of the more than 3,600 pieces of legislation that have been introduced in the House and Senate so far this year, several deal with cannabis but only one contains a full-blown path toward the legalization of recreational marijuana. That is HB 902, the Cannabis Legalization Equity Act, sponsored by state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana.

Here's a link to the 231-page bill:

Among the highlights:

— People could possess up to 225 grams of cannabis or 24 mature cannabis plants

— If you had 25 or more plants you would be guilty of a civil law violation punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000.

— There would be a 10 percent excise tax on the sale or transfer of cannabis from a cultivation facility to a retail store.

— At least 51 percent of the licenses issued by the Department of Agriculture for cannabis cultivation facilities and at least 51 percent of the licenses issued by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation for retail cannabis stores would be in "communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs."

— law enforcement agencies would have to expunge the records of persons who had committed Class 4 felonies or misdemeanors under the Cannabis Control Act.

— localities could, by ordinance, prohibit the operation of cannabis cultivation facilities, cannabis testing facilities or retail cannabis stores.

— employers would be able to have policies restricting the use of cannabis by employees.

Ammons' bill is not likely to pass given that Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, and Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, have been negotiating a recreational marijuana bill with various interest groups and expect to introduce it this spring.

Ammons and state Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, will host a town hall meeting on marijuana legalization from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 18 on the top floor of the Illinois Terminal, 45 E. University Ave., C.


Illinois sports on WLS

"How much will it the cost the University of Illinois athletic department each year to have their games broadcast on WLS? How much did it cost them on the Score (WSCR-AM 670)? Why did they switch Chicago stations?"

Learfield IMG College, the Texas-based company that owns the multimedia rights for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics under the name of Fighting Illini Sports Properties, does not "disclose the financials on any partnerships we do," said Jennifer Duncan, spokeswoman for Learfield.

Any agreements "between radio affiliates on our nearly 50-station network are between (Learfield) and the stations, including WLS," said Kent Brown, associate director of athletics at Illinois.

Chicago media writer Robert Feder reported this week that WLS would be paid to air the Illinois games and the weekly coaches' shows with Brad Underwood and Lovie Smith.

"Terms of the new deal, which runs through the 2023-24 season, were not disclosed. Sources said the University of Illinois is paying Cumulus Media to air the games," Feder wrote.

Brown said the deal with WLS means greater exposure in the Chicago market.

"The number one reason for moving from WSCR to WLS was to find a consistent home to our football and men's basketball games in the Chicago market," he said. "Once WSCR acquired the rights to the Cubs and Bulls, we have multiple conflicts each year with our games being bumped to different stations.

"We are the only sports property on WLS-AM 890. The signal for WLS is huge, reaching as many as 48 states at nighttime."


Ice Arena architect

"Do you know who the architect was that designed the Illinois Ice Arena?"

The Ice Arena was designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Holabird & Root, which dates to 1880 and has an impressive array of credits including Memorial Stadium and University Laboratory High School locally and in Chicago: Soldier Field, the Palmolive Building, Chicago City Hall, the Chicago Daily News Building, the Palmer House Hotel, the Chicago Board of Trade Building and Wrigley Field's scoreboard and center field bleachers.

The Ice Arena opened on Nov. 6, 1931, according to stories in the Daily Illini.

"The University can well afford to appreciate the work of the Athletic Association in giving to it a $300,000 skating rink which has been bought and paid for in cash," the Daily Illini editorialized. "The fine spirit shown in the building and operation of the rink is illustrated by the Athletic Association's definite declaration that the rink will be devoted almost entirely to recreational purposes."


Solon House

"I've noticed work being completed lately — does this signal that it soon will be open for business?

"Also, with renovations coming to Edison Middle School, is it in danger of being taken down?"

We asked your question of Chris Knight, the owner of the Blind Pig Brewery and bar, who purchased the 152-year-old Solon House (503 S. State St., C) about a year ago.

"Yes, there is indeed work going on there. No construction yet, just basically tidying, cleaning, organizing, and planning. I hope to start construction later this year, when the weather is more agreeable," he said.

"And please rest assured, despite the renovations planned for Edison Middle School, the house most definitely will not be knocked down. It is on the National Historic Register and is a truly beautiful and unspoiled example of Tuscan-style Italianate architecture. Demolishing a building like that would be a crime against our entire community, and nothing could be further from my mind. Moreover, the house is a Champaign City Landmark, which affords it legal protection from the wrecking ball."

He added this clever footnote: "With very best wishes for the Year of the Pig!"



"Who is responsible for fixing the massive crater that has formed near the tracks on Duncan and Springfield? I drive a small car, can I take legal action if my car gets swallowed up by it?"

Yep, it's February and there are a lot of potholes. No duh. The reason is the widely alternating temperatures (the freeze-thaw cycle) and a lot of precipitation in the ground. Champaign-Urbana has had more than 7.5 inches of precipitation since Dec. 1 while the normal would be about 5 inches, so potholes are plentiful.

Springfield is a state route and Duncan is a city street. You can try to collect on any damage to your vehicle but it's not likely you'll succeed.

Here's how the Illinois Department of Transportation spells out its procedure for filing a claim:

"IDOT cannot assume liability or responsibility for circumstances beyond its control, including but not limited to:

— Weather related events and conditions such as ice, snow, flooding, and tornadoes, etc.

— Damages caused by other motorists/vehicles.

— Unreported road debris or conditions."

IDOT says that it "evaluates each claim based upon strict standards on negligence and liability established by the Illinois Court of Claims. Those standards hold that IDOT is not a general insurer of motorists traveling state highways and before it can be held liable for damages, IDOT must have prior notice of a condition and be allowed an adequate length of time (given the circumstances) to remedy or repair the condition. Notice is a prerequisite that cannot be waived according to the Court."

And in Champaign The News-Gazette reported five years ago: "From 2011 to 2013, the city took 62 claims. It only paid on three of those — totaling about $1,700 during those three years.

In 2017 and 2018, said Champaign's risk manager Larry Krause, the city received 20 pothole claims and paid on none.


South Mattis Avenue rehab

"I keep seeing all the road construction plans for Champaign, and I am wondering when they will improve Mattis Avenue from Windsor to Curtis? That stretch is very busy with lots of people going to Carle on Curtis."

"This project is in the City's 10-year Capital Improvement Plan. It is currently scheduled for construction in 2025," said Kris Koester of the Champaign Public Works Department.


Deactivated left-turn arrow

"New in town — why doesn't the traffic turning left out of Target and Lowe's get the green turn arrow when turning on to Prospect?"

"Traffic lights in Champaign typically run on an 80-second to 110-second cycle which allows all directions get a green light, including any phases, like a leading or trailing left turn arrow," Koester said. "In order to allow more time for the high volumes of north/south traffic on Prospect Avenue to get through, the decision was made to deactivate the left turn arrows on some of the low-volume side streets."


I-57 ponds

"Driving south on I-57, crossing Route 10 (Springfield Avenue), to the immediate west it appears that a 'pond' is being filled in. Aren't these 'ponds' intended for storm water management?"

No, those ponds weren't built for stormwater detention but are "borrow pits" (also known as "excavation lakes") left over from the construction of I-57 more than 50 years ago. You see them all along interstate highways in central Illinois. Soil was excavated to build overpasses, embankments and level grades for the highway.


Mounds along the railroad tracks

"On Olympian Drive when you cross the Canadian National Railroad, if you look south along the railroad there seems to be constantly growing piles of stuff, what's happening there?"

Mike Friend, engineering manager at The Farnsworth Group in Champaign, was very helpful in sorting out the possibilities here.

That area of north Urbana along the Canadian National tracks has become increasingly industrialized in recent decades and includes a number of mostly construction-related plants: Mid-America Concrete Recyling, Open Road Paving, Blager Concrete Co., Vulcan Materials Co., Midwest Fiber Inc., Henson Disposal and Recycling, Cross Construction, Emulsicoat Inc. and the Republic Services solid waste transfer station.

"It could be asphalt singles that are being recycled for reuse. It could be concrete that is stockpiled there for reuse as aggregate. It could be either of those two things they're seeing," Friend said. "Or it could be aggregate that is being imported by rail and is being stockpiled for use in concrete and hot mix asphalt production.

"Probably the most visible of it is the recycled shingle pile."


Mounds along Crescent Drive

"Can you explain what is a growing mountain of dirt to the north of Champaign Centennial High School?"

The mound, according to Centennial Athletic Director Tony Millard, is from a nearby retention pond that was built to provide drainage for the improved Centennial football and track facilities.

"On the other side of that mound is a big hole that we created to build a retention pond," he said. "That mound will eventually be used around some of the new building (at Centennial) for landscaping and that's why it's still there."


i3 Broadband

"How much has i3 expanded the UCBB service that it took over in 2017? Their website said they 'plan to aggressively expand the system,' but their map does not look very impressive to me."

Josh Bradbury, the sales director for i3 Broadband in both Champaign-Urbana and Peoria, said that "in the last two years since i3 Broadband's ownership has taken over the maintenance and the obligation to grow that system we have done that at a faster rate than ever before. We have passed thousands of homes in each of the last two years (with fiber) and 2018 was our largest growth year to date. Our end goal is to get to all of the homes in the area."

That could include eventually going beyond Champaign and Urbana, he said.

"Potentially. Where demand is high is where we tend to build out," Bradbury said. "But our focus now is residential in Champaign and Urbana."

There are still neighborhoods in Champaign and Urbana without i3 Broadband fiber, he said.Bradbury said construction trucks will be out again soon.

"Typically we start drills in the ground around the beginning of April, although that is dependent on Mother Nature," he said. "We'll be coming to thousands more homes this year."


Hazardous chemicals recycling

"Years ago, the Champaign Public Works Department held an event to collect household chemicals/automotive liquids. Is there any chance that they or maybe the county will hold an event similar to the electronic recycling event? Or any suggestions of business that accepts them for a fee?"

The last Illinois EPA one-day household hazardous waste collection event held in Champaign County took place in September 2012. Soon after that collection, Champaign County Recycling Coordinator Susan Monte submitted another application request to the IEPA.

"We have been waiting since 2013 to be selected as a site for an IEPA one-day HHW collection," she said.

In order to improve household hazardous waste collection options locally, Monte said, the HHW Leadership Team, a group of concerned citizens formed in 2017, has continued to meet with local government recycling coordinators "to guide efforts toward implementing a convenient, safe and environmentally responsible household hazardous waste management options for Champaign County residents," she said.

The group's current initiative is to launch a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting these efforts. For more information about how to become involved or how to assist in these efforts, call Monte at 217-819-4021 or email her at

Monte also offered links for recycling motor oil and transmission fluid:

Motor oil collection options in Champaign County...

Transmission fluid collection options in Champaign County ...


Central parking

"I was motivated to do some research after reading a question a couple of weeks ago about parking around Central High School. I decided to do a little research myself. From using Google Earth it appears Central had about 85 staff parking lot spaces and another 15 or so on Park Ave. reserved for Central staff (total around 100 staff only spots) As your reader pointed out it appears they have taken another 25 public/student spots away from both New and Lynn streets. So here is my question: I would like to know what are the total new spots available after subtracting the 100 they already had and the 25 they took from the neighborhood? In other words what is the net gain? Then I would like to know the total cost of acquisition, demolition, and paving the new staff lot so that us taxpayers may know what we are paying per new spot."

According to a report provided to the Champaign City Council this week, the Champaign Central project provides parking for 217 vehicles. It necessitated a waiver from the requirement of parking for 316 vehicles.

"The nature of the site in a dense urban neighborhood makes it difficult to provide all the necessary classroom, administration, parking and athletic space necessary to accommodate 1,700 students and 200 staff. As such, compromise and flexibility are necessary to achieve the goal of keeping Central in an easily accessible location in the core of the city," said the document.

"The School District will provide 217 parking spaces, a 95-space increase in its current supply. These parking spaces will be for faculty and staff. Central High School's location in the core of the City makes the school easily accessible for students. Multiple transit routes in addition to the dedicated service that the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District provides to Unit 4 mitigates the demand for student parking. The School District also encourages students to be dropped off rather than driving to school."


Tepper Electric warehouse

"I read your 12/28 column about the building being torn down in 600 block of S. Neil St. to be replaced by a supermarket. But the building that needs tearing down is the old home of Thompson Lumber just south of Tepper Electric. It is a major eyesore. Any information on what is going to happen to that building?"

Tepper Electric is building an addition to its warehouse at 608 S. Neil and hopes to eventually demolish the "eyesore" to the south.


Donut shop

A followup from an Oct. 26, 2018, item:

"I wanted to give you an update, straight from the source. As you know, (Industrial Donut) will be located at 501 Commerce Dr., Savoy (behind Aldi's). We are a made-to-order donut (and coffee) shop, specializing in fresh cake donuts customized with a large assortment of icing and topping choices. We are planning a spring 2019 open date and are posting updates via Facebook and Instagram."

— owner Rebecca Powers


Popcorn shop

"Some time ago I visited Cool Bliss Popcorn store to use two discount coupons. I went in before the coupon's expiration date in December to redeem them and saw the business was no longer there. I was told by the business who issued the coupons that the owners moved the store. I've asked twice for the new address but they do not respond. Thanks for any help for where they moved."

Now known as the CBPB Popcorn Shop, it has relocated to 1506 S. Neil St.