Huzzah! Monday is the 200th anniversary of Illinois becoming a state, when on Dec. 3, 1818, President James Monroe signed the resolution for our admission to the Union. In honor of that occasion, all answers this week will deal with people, places or things in Illinois.
We have questions about an Illinois golf course, farm bankruptcies in Illinois, accidents on an Illinois interstate, an excuse for speeding on an Illinois highway, school buses in Illinois and the apparent belief that there are not enough fast food restaurants in Illinois.
Stone Creek's future
"I have seen some work being done on the golf course at Stone Creek and assume that means it will be open in 2019. But has any announcement been made? There was a lot of uncertainty earlier this year."
Last April Spencer Atkins of the Atkins Group disclosed that the southeast Urbana golf course might be closed after the 2018 season and "repurposed" into something else, such as a private golf course, a public park, a private park, gardens, concert pavilions, horse stables or other uses.
Atkins, whose father Clint established the golf course and subdivision two decades ago, said the golf business had declined during that time.
"In Clint's vision golf was the right thing to do in the long term," he said in April. "But quite frankly it's probably not now. It was at that time."
But it looks like Stone Creek will survive for at least another year, he said this week, unless he gets an offer he can't refuse.
"We will continue to run Stone Creek just as we have for the past 19 years," Atkins said. "Unless there is a really good reason not to."
Stone Creek also has posted its 2019 annual membership rates online at stonecreekgolfclub.com/request_membership.
I-74 accidents spike during construction
"How many traffic accidents were reported to authorities during the recent road construction on I-74 from Urbana to Ogden?"
There were 77 accidents reported for that segment from April 6 to Nov. 17, said Kensil Garnett, the region 3 engineer with the Illinois Department of Transportation.
During the same period in 2017, he said, there were 35 accidents on that segment.
"It does appear that the construction project did contribute to a higher number of accidents," he said.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis recently reported that at least 84 farms filed for bankruptcy from June 2017 to June 2018 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana, and North and South Dakota, an increase from 32 farm bankruptcies over the same period in 2014.
"Any chance we could get a Mailbag answer in regards to if and where this is affecting farms in Illinois and to what extent?" wrote a reader.
The Minneapolis Fed report covered only its region and noted that much of the problem was centered on one state: Wisconsin.
"But not all states are feeling the same effects. Wisconsin, for example, is seeing about 60 percent of all bankruptcies among Ninth District states," said author Ronald A. Wirtz. "It appears that bankruptcy filings have been particularly high among dairy farms there. Though the state is the country's number two milk producer, it still has many small farms, which tend to be more exposed to large price fluctuations. The average dairy herd in Wisconsin is still just 153 cows; in California, the average herd is 1,300."
There was no similar report about farm bankruptcies in central Illinois, which is within the region of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
But the Chicago Fed reported this month that surveys of regional farmers showed areas of concern.
"For the sixth year in a row, crop net cash earnings were expected to contract over the fall and winter from their levels of a year earlier, based on the predictions of survey respondents. Only 5 percent of survey respondents anticipated crop net cash earnings to rise over the next three to six months relative to a year ago, while 82 percent anticipated these earnings to fall," said the Chicago Fed report.
"Additionally, survey respondents expected loan repayment rates to decline this fall and winter from a year ago; only 2 percent of the responding bankers forecasted a higher volume of farm loan repayments over the next three to six months compared with a year earlier, while 57 percent forecasted a lower volume. Moreover, forced sales or liquidations of farm assets owned by financially distressed farmers were anticipated to increase in the next three to six months relative to a year ago, according to 61 percent of the responding bankers (only 1 percent anticipated a decrease)," the report said. "An Iowa respondent emphasized the 'concern from row crop farmers regarding interest rate increases next year and low commodity prices.' This concern was echoed by livestock operators. So, there was a decidedly downcast outlook for agriculture based on the latest survey responses."
Although the Chicago Fed didn't issue a farm bankruptcy report, I checked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of Illinois (46 counties) and found that the number of Chapter 12 bankruptcies (for family farmers or family fishermen) has been fairly stable over the last six years.
There has been one in 2018 (a Piatt County) family, one in 2017 (Pike County), three in 2016 (in Putman, Macon and Christian counties), two in 2015 (in Greene and Bureau counties) and none in either 2014 or 2013.
Market Place stores
"Is there a list of all the stores that have been in Market Place mall? My wife and I are trying to remember some of the places and couldn't Google a list."I couldn't find a list, either. And Market Place hasn't kept one.
"There are tenant changes every year. We do not have a master list of stores that have been at the mall," said Dennis Robertson, the general manager of the shopping center.
Market Place opened on Oct. 15, 1975, when a Sears store that had been in downtown Champaign moved a mile north to the new mall. It was fully opened on March 17, 1976.
"So I'm flying in on I-74 last night, and I realize I'm now in the 60 mph zone. My GPS has not updated the new limit. And the snow has covered the new speed limit signs, making them unreadable. If I can't read the signs, do I really have to obey them?"
No excuse, says Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz.
"Yes, you really have to obey the posted speed limit. Obstructed signs could be a reason why an officer might write a warning or we may use our discretion in resolving the ticket, but the posted speed limit remains in effect regardless of the GPS update or the snow," she said. "On the other hand, if it is snowing so much that the signs are obstructed it probably would not be safe to drive in excess of 60 mph in the first place."
Is this code?
"I live on South Prospect in Champaign and have seen dots/circles appear on the mailboxes in the area. They're attached to the lower edge and consist of various colors and amounts, around an inch in size. What are these for and why are they there?"
I believe the scientific term is "reflectors." They allow a homeowner to identify her or his home on a dark night.
I asked my colleague Traci Nally, who lives in that area, for confirmation.
"At my house, the reflectors are for me so I can see the damn mailbox at night. The mailbox is my marker for the edge of my driveway," she said. "There are no street lights or curbs in that area and I need all those little dots, round and square, so I can make the turn to my house. I don't know about my neighbors, but I suspect their eyes are getting as old as mine."
"It is a great day to be a Sage! After the Monticello Sages won the IHSA Class 3A State Championship this past Friday we noticed the lights outside Memorial Stadium were purple, which is Monticello's school colors. Very nice touch to see this. Is this something they do for every championship school or is this something new?"
No it isn't, said Kent Brown, the assistant athletics director at the University of Illinois.
"It sounds like if the color was anything other than orange that it was an issue with the control unit that runs the lights," he said. "The columns are scheduled to be orange from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day with the exception of special events or holidays when they are changed accordingly.
"For example, the lights will change to red and green in mid-December for the holidays. We will look into why it was something other than orange, but it was not done purposefully."
Rough railroad crossing (part 3)
"The railroad crossing on Springfield at Duncan Road is in terrible condition. Are there any known plans to repair it?"
This is our third bad railroad crossing question in recent months. Unfortunately the answer is the same. There are no plans to repair that crossing.
But you and others can do something about it.
You can file a "Railroad Safety Complaint" at the Illinois Commerce Commission website icc.illinois.gov/railroad.
You also can write to the railroad and request an improvement. That crossing is owned by the Illinois Central Railroad (Canadian National). Here's the link to write to the railroad: cn.ca/en/contact-us/#.
MTD service to Carle on Curtis
"When is (Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District) bus service coming to Carle at Curtis and Mattis? I believe Carle made changes over a year ago to their parking lot and driveways to accommodate the MTD buses. There are still people walking on Mattis just trying to get to and from Carle for appointments. And with no sidewalks, this is extremely dangerous."
The biggest problem is that the property is outside the MTD's service area, said MTD Managing Director Karl Gnadt."Both MTD and Carle would like there to be fixed-route bus service to that facility, as well. We have had very positive conversations about it, and in fact, the driveway work mentioned is the result of that coordination. However, there are some stumbling blocks to providing the service," Gnadt said. "The facility is outside of our service district and we are not allowed to provide service outside the district without recuperating the costs for the service.
"We have no interest in making a profit on the service, but the full cost of the local share does need to be covered. We have given our proposal to Carle and they have been close to accepting it in the past, but have not green-lighted it yet, for reasons unrelated to the service."
He said it isn't possible to annex the property into the MTD district.
"There are specific rules in place regulating our annexation processes and that property is inaccessible by our boundaries. We of course would very much like to provide the service and certainly recognize the need, but we just aren't able to at this time," he said. "However, our board did authorize provision of our ADA specialized service for riders with disabilities to the facility several years ago. In addition, Carle services that are at that facility like primary care and convenient care are also available at other Champaign-Urbana locations that do have fixed-route bus service."
Curtis Road upgrade?
"Is there any plans to update Curtis Road from Illinois 130 to First Street?"
The Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study did a report on Curtis Road corridor in 2016 and 2017. The 256-page report is available online at ccrpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Curtis-Road-Corridor-Study-120117.pdf.
In short it recommends a number of improvements along Curtis Road between now and sometime after 2040. Among them: a roadway underpass at the Canadian National tracks, a traffic signal or possible roundabout at Curtis and First Street, and wider pavement with bike lanes.
The problem, of course, is funding. If you want to see it happen contact your state and congressional legislators. Perhaps it could be included in a state capital development program or a federal infrastructure program, both of which have been talked about in recent years without action.
South 45 stoplight?
"U.S. Route 45 and County Road 900 North, Tolono is a very busy and dangerous intersection. Has a traffic survey been completed to determine if a stoplight is warranted?"
The Champaign County Highway Department recently requested such a study of the intersection (where Illinois Foundation Seeds and Martin Equipment are at the southwest quadrant) by the Illinois Department of Transportation, said Champaign County Engineer Jeff Blue.
IDOT found that a stoplight wasn't warranted, primarily because there wasn't a high enough traffic count nor a crash history.
Tow truck plates
"Why aren't tow trucks required to have license plates on the back of them? In the last couple weeks I've watched several zig zag in and out of traffic on Bradley Avenue and been recklessly passed on the interstate but there's no way to identify trucks or plate numbers."
Tow trucks should have front and back plates, like other vehicles.
"The Secretary of State's office actually issues a set of three plates to tow trucks," said Henry Haupt, a spokesman for the secretary of state office.
Here's the statutory language that's relevant in 625 ILCS 5/5-202):
"One 'tow truck' plate shall be attached to the front and rear of each registered vehicle, and one 'tow truck' plate shall be attached to the rear of the vehicle being towed unless the towed vehicle displays a valid registration plate visible from the rear while being towed, so that the numbers and letter on the plate are clearly visible to any person following the vehicle being towed.
However, illumination of the rear plate required by subsection (c) of Section 12-201 of this Code shall not apply to the third plate displayed on the towed vehicle."
School bus emissions
"Do school buses in Illinois have to pass any type of emissions testing? I'm frequently behind school buses in Champaign on my morning commute and many are spewing out black fumes that smell especially toxic. As a side question, do any of the local school districts have plans in place to curb emissions like buying hybrid school buses?"
No, the Illinois EPA does not conduct emissions tests on school buses, said spokeswoman Kim Biggs.
"Our emissions testing program is required in areas that do not meet federal air quality standards, which is limited to the Chicago Metropolitan area and Metro-East St. Louis," she said. That includes the following counties: Cook, DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Kane, Kendall, Will, Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties.
"In addition, our program does not test diesel powered vehicles and school buses typically use diesel fuel," she said.
The Champaign school district "does not have any plans to purchase hybrid school buses," said spokeswoman Emily Schmit.We did not hear back from the Urbana district.
Fast food updates
"Not to bring up a sore subject, but I'm guessing I won't be able to take the family to Golden Corral on Christmas."
"Whatever happened to Golden Corral coming to Champaign? If they are not coming why not? We have no American buffets in Champaign. What is going on with Chick fil-A? I know they put in for a permit and then nothing was said after that. Are they starting construction?"
Larry Happ, Champaign's building safety supervisor, said that building permits for both restaurants have been issued but haven't been picked up.
He said that a building permit for a Chick-fil-A at 2301 N. Prospect was issued Nov. 13.
"The applicant has been reminded that the permit is approved but has not picked up the permit yet. No further information was provided. The permit application is good for six months," he said.
I emailed the Golden Corral permit holder earlier this week and reminded him that the permit would expire in January. I haven't heard back.
"I heard that CVS at Country Fair was going to build a new store where the Chase Bank is now at Country Fair. Are there plans on building a new Chase bank close to the original location?"
If there are they haven't notified the city of Champaign.
"No building permit applications have been submitted for a new Chase Bank or a CVS," said Happ.
Police and courts headlines
"I've noticed that The News-Gazette seems to have an inconsistent way of headlining criminal blotter articles. For example, a headline on Nov. 27 referred to a black 18-year-old high school student as '18 year old,' a Nov. 28 article referred to a white 18-year-old as 'teenager,' a June 5 article that involved a 25-year-old (former) UI student referred to the perpetrator as 'Former UI doctoral student,' while an article about a 20-year-old referred to him simply as 'Man.' Who writes the headlines and does The News-Gazette have a style guide for what biographical information gets used in these headlines?"
Many different editors and copy editors write the headlines that go on print and online stories.
And yes, there is a style guide. In part it says:
— If they are being charged as an adult, try to avoid referring to them as "teen," "teenager," "boy" or "girl." Use their exact age ("16-year-old"), another descriptor that infers their age ("student") or even "male"/"female."
— If they are 18 or older, never use "teen," especially in online headlines. For the purposes of crime stories, 18- and 19-year-olds are adults, so please use "man," "woman" or "18-year-old." Also, avoid using "youth."
— When in doubt (they were 17 when the crime occurred but turned 18 before pleading guilty/being convicted), err on the side of avoiding "teen."
Here's a link to a recent News-Gazette story explaining the policy: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2017-07-17/top-morning-july-17-20...
"What's the latest concerning Judge Collin Bruce?"
U.S. District Court Judge James Shadid, the chief judge for the Central District of Illinois, in August temporarily barred U.S. District Judge Bruce, who sits in Urbana, from hearing any cases involving prosecution by the U.S. Attorney's Office, where Bruce worked for 25 years.
Shadid's action came after two-year-old emails surfaced in which Bruce shared with a former co-worker his criticisms of the performance of prosecutors in a parental kidnapping case.
But Bruce continues to hear civil cases, including a recent ruling on a lawsuit filed by a local environmental group against Dynegy Midwest Generation LLC over coal-ash pits at its former power plant in Vermilion County.
It's worth noting that Shadid at the time called the move temporary.
Aaron Ammons' UI job
"After reading the question in last week's Mailbag, I have a couple more questions about (Champaign County Clerk-elect) Aaron Ammons. Do all University of Illinois jobs allow someone to take a four-year leave of absence and return to the same positions? And how can Aaron Ammons remain on the State Universities Retirement System board if he is no longer an active University of Illinois employee?"
Requests for leaves of absence "are handled on a case-by-case basis and are granted only if the leave does not adversely impact university operations," said Urbana campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler.
"Mr. Ammons negotiated this request for a special leave of absence Nov. 8 under the university's Policy and Rules for Civil Service Staff, Rule 11.06, which states 'Special leave without pay may be granted for the purpose of continuing the employee status of an individual whose performance warrants it and who requests such leave for sufficient cause; for example ... an employee engaged in public interest work ...'"
Ammons said he can remain on the SURS board because "I am still employed by the University. I am on a leave of absence to serve the public's interest."
News staff changes
"There seems to have been a lot of changes in the news staff at WDWS and WCIA? Are they cleaning house?"
At WDWS the only recent change was the retirement of Carol Vorel, although she continues to work at News-Gazette Media on a part-time basis.
And it's just the usual turnover at WCIA, said News Director Rich Flesch.