Listen to this article

Almost as many questions to mailbag this week as subpoenas issued to the Trump White House and financial institutions that have done business with the president. Almost.

How about this lineup? What to do with a ditched bong, building artwork, the big fertilizer plant proposed in Douglas County, the big bulk terminal plant in Champaign County and University of Illinois hiring.

Also, debris dumped at a rural site, some restaurant news, a closed gas station, closed captioning of televised city council meetings, the Illinois Commercial College, a confusing street segment and a confusing highway sign.

Cronus update

"I guess at this point we have to assume that the Cronus fertilizer plant is no longer still coming to Tuscola. Any update on its status?"

This big project has been kicking around since the fall of 2014 when former Gov. Pat Quinn held a news conference in Tuscola to announce that construction of the billion-dollar-plus facility would start in 2016.

Last fall officials revised the timeline again and said construction would start during the first half of 2019 with completion sometime in 2022 or 2023.

The project is still going to happen, officials insist.

"No reason I know of to make this assumption," Brian Moody, executive director of Tuscola Chamber & Economic Development, Inc., said of your question. "Work continues."

Cronus spokesman Peter Gray said an announcement about the plant, to be built on 235 acres two miles west of Tuscola along U.S. 36, is forthcoming.

"Cronus is continuing to work on the project and it is on track for 2019 groundbreaking," Gray said. "We should have more details to share on the project soon."

The Cronus Chemicals website said the facility would produce 2,300 metric tons per day of anhydrous ammonia.

It would yield between 1,500 and 2,000 construction jobs and up to 200 full-time equivalent operators at commencement of operations, Cronus said.

Construction debris site

"Can you find out what's going on with the vacant lot on the northwest corner of 1900 N and Rising Road? Once in a while I'll see a couple of work trucks dumping a liquid substance on to the ground."

The site which has a security gate, is owned by Ameren Illinois, and has a permit issued by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that allows for "storm water discharges from construction site activities." A neighbor said that trucks from Ameren and its contractors occasionally dispose of concrete and other debris at what is designated as the "Rising Site Containment Basin."

"The Rising substation is being used for management of mud — clean soil and water — from some Ameren Illinois excavation projects. We use water to safely excavate around sensitive equipment rather than mechanical methods that could damage wires and pipes," said Ameren Illinois spokesman Brian Bretsch. "The Rising site is not related to, or used by contractors associated with the Champaign manufacture gas plant site."

The site has a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. The permit does not allow any chemical discharges, Bretsch said.

Closed captioned council meetings

"Can the Champaign council meetings be close captioned on the internet? I am hard of hearing."

"Thanks for the question about closed captioning televised city meetings," said Jeff Hamilton, Champaign's communications manager. "The city doesn't currently have the capability to produce closed captions for video programming.

"This is the first time this inquiry has come up, so we've started researching what options are available, including equipment costs and service fees."

Marathon bulk terminal

"I'd like to know more about the Marathon Terminal at 511 S. Staley Road in Champaign. What exactly do they do there, just distribute gasoline? I see trucks entering and leaving all the time, is the gasoline trucked in and out, or is there some sort of pipeline? Are there safety measures in place to protect local residents in case of some sort of disaster affecting this facility?"

The Champaign Terminal opened in June 1958 when Marathon was known as the Ohio Oil Co.

At the time the 109-acre site was three miles outside of Champaign. Over time, though, the city has developed right up to the terminal site.

When it opened it had six large tanks (now nine) that could hold 14 million gallons of refined petroleum products that came via a 12-inch pipeline from Ohio Oil's refinery 85 miles away in Robinson. Pipelines connected to Wood River and the Chicago area were added later.

The safety of the facility was stressed in a story in Ohio Oil's company magazine, noting that dikes, each with a capacity 1 1 / 2 times the storage tank, were built around each tank.

"Three fire hose houses are located on the grounds to protect the loading terminal and other operations," The News-Gazette reported. "Each house contains 150 feet of hose which discharges a flame-smother dry chemical supplied through a pipe system by a 2,000-pound central unit. In addition a 350-pound wheel-type unit and four 30-pound hand units also provide the dry chemical for further protection."

Today, according to Marathon, the bulk terminal stores gasolines and distillates. The website for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency says chemicals at the terminal include butane, a gasoline additive blend, petroleum transmix, ultralow sulfur diesel, biodiesel, denatured alcohol, fuel additives and a diesel fuel additive.

On its website Marathon Pipe Line LLC says it is prepared for what it calls "pipeine releases,"

"We prepare for a potential release by undertaking the following measures:

— Utilization of the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) System to constantly monitor pipelines and check for potential pipeline leaks. If a potential leak is detected, an Operations Center systems analyst is immediately alerted so that the line is shut down.

— Development and maintenance of an Emergency Response Plan (OPA 90) that details our response strategies.

— Utilization of the company's Corporate Emergency Response Team to ensure an organized response, utilizing best practices.

— Conducting HAZWOPER training for employees so that they can respond quickly and effectively to ensure the safety of themselves and the public.

— Conducting annual emergency response tabletop and equipment deployment exercises to ensure preparedness.

— Formation of the Rapid Ecological Assessment Countermeasure Team to coordinate the ecological activities associated with an emergency response."

The company says it regularly communicates "with local response agencies regarding pipelines in their community, and sponsor training sessions and drills to practice response protocols and coordination. We've developed extensive response plans for all of our facilities based on the knowledge of personnel, available equipment, tools and materials."

John Dwyer, the coordinator for the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency, said his organization has a general "hazmat response plan" for hazardous materials incidents.

Dwyer said Marathon also sponsors regular pipeline training seminars for first responders and excavators who work in the area.

Champaign Fire Chief Gary Ludwig said his department has "an excellent working relationship with the Marathon plant in Champaign. They consider safety a priority as much as we do. We regularly and often meet with them and train with them.

"In the past, when they have brought new products into the plant to change from their winter to summer blends, we interact and train with them to understand the product. We have also conducted other types of training at the Marathon plant facility. They will notify us whenever they are doing any type of maintenance work that involves confined spaces. Additionally, they notify us when they are doing specialized maintenance on their transfer facility and have personnel in place in the event an emergency occurs. Lastly, they value the first responders. We have been the beneficiaries on several occasions of their first responder grant program which has allowed us to update and purchase additional foam for our foam trailer."

Closed Marathon station

"The Marathon station on Monticello Road near Interstate 57 has been closed for going on two weeks now. Are they closed for good or will they be reopening? Wondering what may have caused them to shut down."

There's an issue with the fuel storage tanks "and when it's fixed we can open it back," said the station's operator, Iga Yaqub.

He said he hopes the station can reopen within the next three months.

Pekara art

"On the back (east) side of the new Pekara Bistro on the corner of Prospect and Springfield is a painting of a mouth that looks like the Rolling Stones logo. It has been there as long as I can remember and appears when the building was last repainted, that they painted around it as to not cover it up. Is there a back story?"

The story, according to a neighbor, is that the previous owner of the building at the southeast corner of Prospect and Springfield had a friend who painted the "tongue and lips" logo identified that is with the Rolling Stones. The painting has been on the east wall of the building for at least 30 years, the neighbor said.

University hiring

"The university has planned to spend to hire new professors over the next few years. When are they planning to spend to hire more in the (Facilities & Services) trades and crafts? Most of them are down to the bare minimum in terms of staffing."

Robin Kaler, Urbana campus spokeswoman, has your answer: "The president's goal of hiring more faculty is, of course, contingent on the state providing a level of funding that can support this effort, including the facility and auxiliary services required for such expansion."

Restaurant reopened

"I know it's not Golden Corral, but I have a restaurant-related question I was hoping to have answered. Sitara has a new sign and curtains in their windows Please tell me this means that they are getting ready to re-open!"

Yes, the restaurant at 114 S. Race St., damaged by a fire in October 2017, reopened last week. Its new name is Sitara Indian Cuisine.

"It has been a long wait for fans of the restaurant and a significant effort by both the business owners as well as by the new property owners, Jonah Weisskopf and Matt Cho, who completed a major renovation of the property to bring it back up to code after it was damaged in a fire," said Brandon Boys, who is Urbana's economic development manager.

Restaurant may reopen

"Is the KFC on South Neil Street closed?"

Yes, it has been closed since last summer.

But maybe not for much longer.

Savoy Village Manager Dick Helton said village staff "is working with new owners at this time to address some structural issues. We should start seeing some construction activity there soon."

Interstate sign

"On I-57 north just before the I-74 interchange, the sign for Indianapolis is down to 'anapolis.' If I exit, does that mean I'm heading to Maryland?"

Fixing that sign has been problematic, said Kensil Garnett, the Region 3 engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"The sign you are referring to was damaged in a crash on July 25th, 2018," said Garnett. "The work order for the replacement was held until the crash report was received. The work order was submitted in early November. The Freeway Sign Maintenance contractor has experienced trouble acquiring the materials to complete work orders within the 90-day contracted turnaround time and has cited President Trump's tariff policy as the reason that aluminum is scarce. "A time extension was granted that increased the turnaround time to eight months from three months at around the same time that the work order for this sign was written. We hope to see the sign replaced by this summer."

Confusing lane segment

"Driving east on Green street when coming to Lincoln to turn right there is a separate lane to the right that is not marked for bicycles or cars and has no turn arrows. It would be helpful if there were street markings to designate the purpose of the lane. Some drivers assume it's a right turn lane and others not. Which is it?"

Craig Shonkwiler, Urbana's assistant city engineer for transportation, said it's first and foremost for bicycles.

"That area is an extension of the bike lane, and it is marked with a dashed lane line. Bicyclists can occupy the lane when approaching the intersection and vehicles can move into that space to turn right if bicyclists are not present," he said. "The marking at that intersection is consistent with hundreds of locations throughout the city of Urbana where bicycle lanes approach intersections.

"Serious right hook crashes between vehicles and bicyclists can be avoided if vehicles move into that space when making right turns. Turn arrows are not placed within that lane section due to space limitations."

Illinois Commercial College

"Not a question, just a little more info. Before it (the old building at the southwest corner of Fourth and Green streets) was the College Corner Mall it was Illinois Commercial College. This predated the Parkland College development and people wanting to expand their high school classes in shorthand, typing, accounting, etc. attended ICC. I believe it was run by a Colbert. I worked in the 1950s and '60s with many other young people who had come from all over Illinois and beyond to attend ICC. Many of them roomed in large houses surrounding the area, occupied by town families. Very good educational opportunities there."

Yes, Illinois Commercial College, at 313 E. Green St., was founded in 1930 by James and Ernest Colbert. Its motto was, "A Business College for College People."

It closed in 1980 after a fire in a dormitory next door caused damage to the business school.

Touchy subject

"Recently while walking in my neighborhood, I noticed there was a large bong or water pipe laying in the tall grass near a sidewalk. That's not exactly something I'm comfortable carrying around to dispose of. If people find illegal or dangerous items like this, what is the proper course of action or who to call for disposal?"

Call the police, said Champaign Police Department spokesman Tom Yelich.

"If an individual comes across something they believe to be drug paraphernalia, they shouldn't try to dispose of it themselves," he said. "It is encouraged they call the Champaign Police Department's non-emergency number at 217-333-8911 and allow police to properly and safely dispose and/or collect the item."

Solar panel recycling

Laura Barnes at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, in response to last week's item on the reclamation of solar and wind energy sites, notes that her group is working with other statewide organizations on the solar panel recycling issue.

For more information see https://www.istc.illinois.edu/cms/One.aspx?portalId=427487&pageId=1010909

Columnist

Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is tkacich@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).