One of Editor & Publisher’s ‘10 That Do It Right 2021’
Light rain early. Then remaining cloudy. Areas of patchy fog developing. Low 31F. Winds N at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%..
Light rain early. Then remaining cloudy. Areas of patchy fog developing. Low 31F. Winds N at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%.
Updated: December 30, 2022 @ 5:11 pm
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A rather quiet week here at Mailbag World Headquarters, as several as our go-to sources are enjoying some extra time off.
We still managed to come up with some newsy items: what an Illinois State Police reorg means for our nearby posts, whether electric utility customers may see more rolling blackouts in the next few years, and why snowbirds can’t buy Illinois lottery tickets when they’re traveling or staying out of state.
“Snowbird here. Why can’t Illinois residents buy Illinois Lottery tickets online when we are out of state? Can’t understand why the State would pass up any opportunities to bring in revenue!”
Illinois State Lottery spokesperson Meghan Powers said, “It is in the Illinois law that you must physically be located within the state when playing. However, if in another state that has a Lottery, an Illinois resident can play it there!”
For the “why behind the why,” we turned to Landon Stenger, chief of staff for Illinois State Senator Chapin Rose. “In general, the prohibition on inter-state purchases of online lottery tickets has been a fixture in the Illinois Lottery Law [20 ILCS 1605] since the online pilot program was first created in 2009. The reasoning for this is connected to federal law and opinions by the U.S. Department of Justice, which has historically regulated inter-state gaming,” he said.
The Illinois Lottery Law specifically references this in its language: “The Department must establish a procedure to verify that an individual is 18 years of age or older and that the sale of lottery tickets on the Internet is limited to transactions that are initiated and received or otherwise made exclusively within the State of Illinois, unless the federal Department of Justice indicates that it is legal for the transactions to originate in states other than Illinois.”
So, “Without approval from the federal government, Illinois law will require the purchase of tickets from within the borders of our State,” Stenger said.
“I see a large construction project is underway at the southwest corner of Fourth Street and St. Mary’s Road. Is it an addition to the I-Hotel and Conference Center, or something else?”
It’s the future home of the University of Illinois Foundation, according to UIF’s Sue Johnson. “The Foundation is creating a new center for philanthropy that will celebrate the rich history of generosity at the University of Illinois, bring Foundation staff together from its two primary locations, and serve as a learning hub for the advancement community,” she said.
At this time, the building is on track for completion by early next winter. The final name of the building “is yet to be determined and will be finalized in the coming months,” Johnson said.
The new building is being constructed on the site of the old UI feed mill. “The Foundation is looking forward to being neighbors with the I Hotel and Conference Center, UI Research Park, Fighting Illini athletic facilities, and the entire south campus community,” Johnson said.
“The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) recently published this map depicting the likelihood of rolling power blackouts in the U.S. from 2023-2027. The Central Illinois area is designated as ‘high risk.’ How would this potentially affect Ameren customers?”
Before we answer this question, we probably should serve up a little alphabet soup. NERC is a non-profit organization that develops and enforces reliability standards, and assesses and monitors reliability of the U.S. power grid. The MISO area that’s shown on the map — which includes Ameren Illinois’ territory — is part of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator group of utilities that are involved in generating and transmitting electricity. MISO is the regional grid operator that manages the availability of power for a large swath of the U.S., including all or part of 15 states, plus Manitoba, Canada.
OK. If you’re still with me … Ameren spokesperson Marcelyn Love confirmed that MISO, “has warned that regions without sufficient generation may need to implement temporary, controlled outages in order to maintain grid stability” over the next few years. “If we are directed by MISO to reduce energy demand on our grid by implementing outages, our aim is to do so in a manner that would minimize interruptions to residential customers, health care facilities and other critical customers. The risk of our customers experiencing extended ‘brownouts’ or ‘blackouts’ is extremely low.”
Love said potential, temporary energy shortages would be “the result of a number of complex factors, including demand, weather, and the retirement (and planned retirement) of certain ‘always-on’ reliable power sources.”
She noted that Ameren Illinois does not generate energy. “Illinois is a deregulated energy market, which means that utilities like Ameren Illinois earn a profit for maintaining the poles and wires and technology that carry power to residential and commercial customers. The power that we deliver is purchased for our customers by an independent state government agency. Also under deregulation, our customers can choose to purchase power on the open market.”
For another perspective, we reached out to Tom Overbye, Director of the Texas A&M Smart Grid Center. If his name is familiar, it may be because he also is the Fox Family Professor Emeritus in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the UI. Overbye said Champaign County could see rotating blackouts in the next few years. “As noted by the NERC report, MISO is facing potential generation shortfalls in the coming years starting in 2023. The power grid is rapidly changing with the retirement of coal and some natural gas plants, and lots of new growth in wind and solar.”
“As I’m sure your readers know, wind and solar are intermittent. Usually things work fine, but there certainly can be weather conditions in which the wind might not blow across a wide region, it might be overly cloudy, or solar panels might be covered in snow.”
Overbye’s team at Texas A&M is researching the frequency and future likelihood of those events, known as wind resource droughts and solar resource droughts. He cites one such event that affected Illinois and Iowa in January of 2020 for several days. On Jan. 29, 2020, MISO had no (zero!) wind output over its entire multi-state footprint. “So under the right conditions, Illinois could run into an electricity shortage and rotating blackouts might be required.”
He said wind energy production often declines in summer, but this is somewhat offset by solar generation. “This variation is considered during electric grid planning. For example, maintenance of thermal and nuclear plants is scheduled during time periods in which the load is expected to be low, and increasing when wind is expected to be high. From a blackout potential, what is most important is unexpected events. One such event occurred in Illinois in summer of 1998 when we had very high temperatures during June while some of the plants were still off-line for spring maintenance.”
“I have heard that the Illinois State Police are renaming their districts ‘troops’ and that District Ten will soon be known as Troop Seven. Can you find out why?”
The new year will bring multiple changes to the agency, according to Trooper Jayme Bufford, a public information officer with ISP’s southern region. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2023, ISP will “modernize” its patrol division — going from 21 districts statewide to 11 patrol troops — and will create “a new statewide command focused on criminal interdiction.”
With the agency’s expanded focus on intercepting and arresting people engaged in serious criminal activity, “ISP is balancing its resources to fight crime and provide safety services in areas with high crash and high crime rates, as well as on highways with high levels of drug trafficking, while still providing coverage in areas with fewer public safety demands. Under this plan, we are simply modernizing the patrol structure. This will allow ISP to better meet the needs of the public while we continue to rebuild the agency.”
That “rebuilding” has seen 417 new Troopers added to the ISP force since 2019. Bufford said the largest fiscal-year budget in ISP’s history has allowed the agency to add more than 90 new troopers across the state this month alone. The ISP Training Academy’s most recent graduating class was a “lateral entry training program” (LETP) class. All 49 members of the class had previously served as law enforcement officers with other agencies.
“Their previous experience combined with comprehensive training through the ISP Academy has allowed ISP to more quickly put experienced and highly trained Troopers back into the communities from which they came,” said ISP Director Brendan Kelly.
As of Dec. 26, four of those newly graduated cadets have joined the ranks of Troopers based in Pesotum, and three are based in Pontiac. The new officers have already begun their patrol duties.
Realigning patrol staff into troops will enable more officers to be available each shift to respond to calls for service, Bufford said. “ISP is accountable to the taxpayers and we must allocate resources based on current data. The new organizational structure better matches other state patrols and is based on crime, population and crash data analysis rather than outdated past practices,” Bufford said.
Locally, the ISP posts at Pesotum and Ashkum will remain active. The new Troop Seven, headquartered in Pesotum, will have the same geographic boundaries as the current District 10. It serves Champaign, Coles, Douglas, Edgar, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt, Shelby and Vermilion counties.
The current Ashkum and Pontiac districts are being consolidated into a new Troop Five, and the posts based in those towns will remain active. Troop Five will serve De Witt, Ford, Iroquois, Kankakee, Livingston and McLean counties.
“We have really enjoyed your monthly puzzle books in the past. Are we going to be able to pass these long winter nights with them once again?”
The next puzzle book is tentatively scheduled for publication on Wednesday, Feb. 8, according to Mark Lukas, News-Gazette vice-president of sales. He said the puzzle books typically have “high reader engagement and great shelf life” – a good opportunity for advertisers to connect with potential customers.
“What is the history of Elm Boulevard in Champaign? Beautiful, older houses around a unique brick street boulevard….”
We could probably fill this week’s column with the rich and colorful history of Elm Boulevard. For those not familiar with its location, it’s about midway between Neil Street and Prospect Avenue in Champaign — and between John and Charles Streets. Elm Boulevard and its centerpiece, Harris Park, were the heart of the Harris Place development. Its plat was filed in April of 1907 on behalf of Janet Harris.
From its beginnings, Elm Boulevard was a close-knit neighborhood with plenty of charm and personality. Some of the homes are stately, while others are more modest; all of them were built to last. A book produced in 1996, Elm Boulevard Remembrances, included memories of many past and present residents. Some of their names would be familiar to townies as well as those familiar with UI history: Harris, Christie, Harding, Burwash, Newmark, Keck, Mulliken, et al.
Vi Schroder, 708 Elm, recalled in the book that when she and her husband were in the market for a home in 1963, “The neighborhood seemed to speak of permanence and continuity, a place for roots, and it has been so.” She described it as, “an oasis of quiet and big trees within walking distance of South Side, Edison, Central and the UI.” A different resident noted, “Other neighborhoods have yards; on Elm Blvd., we have terrain.”
Neighbors fondly remembered annual Fourth of July parades, children’s lemonade stands that raised money for charity, backyard chickens and horses, and kids playing endless rounds of “kick the can” and hide-and-seek. All of which sounds idyllic. But the neighborhood’s history had its more dramatic moments, too.
On Jan. 29, 1923, masked bandits entered the home of the Frank Keck family, 702 S. Elm, to steal a diamond stick pin. Son Charles was shot in the hip and suffered a serious head wound as he pursued one of the robbers. His father “was felled by a blow on the head,” according to an article in the Bloomington Pantagraph.
Mrs. Keck ended up with one of the robbers’ guns and “fired point blank at one of the desperatoes (sic).” Two of the seriously wounded bandit’s companions dragged him nearly a block, and “Mrs. Keck, in pursuit, battled them all the way. The gun she had was empty by that time. When they left their injured companion to retrieve their car, which was parked a short distance away, “Mrs. Keck attacked the wounded robber with the fury of a tigress. They rolled over and over in the mud, each with a death grip on the other’s throat. The struggle took place at the base of a large tree, examination of which afterward showed bloody shreds of hair hanging to the bark where the heroic woman had endeavored to put the bandit out by banging his head against the tree,” the newspaper article said.
The fight “ended only when Mrs. Keck had been knocked out by a blow on the head with a revolver butt, and attorney A.D. Mulliken, a neighbor, who had gone to her aid … shared the same fate.” Clearly, those early Elm Boulevard residents were made of strong stuff!
A while back, a friend said he was planning to send me a Mailbag question about researching an older home’s history — when it was built, who designed and built it, who-all had lived there, etc.
The folks at the Urbana Free Library and the Preservation and Conservation Association (PACA) must have overheard our conversation, because they’re sponsoring a January workshop on that very subject.
Brian Adams, a research archaeologist at the Illinois State Archaeological Survey, will lead the workshop at the Champaign County Historical Archives in the Urbana Free Library. It’s set for 6 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 11. If the topic’s of interest, mark your calendar!
Longtime multimedia reporter Kathy Reiser is the author of Kathy’s Mailbag, which runs in full every Friday on news-gazette.com and in part in Saturday’s News-Gazette. Submit your questions here.
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A fun mix of topics this week — a little local history, some Illini sports, wrapping up I-57 lane closures, and a happy use for your sad pumpkins now that November is here. Also, some follow-up on city rules regarding fireworks displays in the heart of a residential neighborhood in Champaign.
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The future of the Brookens Administrative Center, I-74 noise barriers, yellow traffic light times, abandoned Urbana streets, UI’s oral history project, Tuscola’s new dog park, mailbox graffiti, Parkland TV programming changes … and much more.
Extending Florida Avenue, teal pumpkins, a Tuscola hotel, disc golf, a new use for an old school, new development on the edge of downtown Champaign and future plans for the state’s fire academy that’s located just north of Windsor Road … plus much, much more.
When is Willard going to get more flights? What’s next for the Inman? Can we get a stoplight at Kirby and Crescent? Is Jet’s ever going to reopen? And what are those signs about at Hessel Park?
From speed bumps on a Champaign street to fast-food restaurants both past and present, today’s ‘Bag is stuffed.
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