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Thomas Clatterbuck

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President Barack Obama was the first African American president of the United States, and the fourth to have strong ties to Illinois. His two terms as president usually draw the most attention, but a new exhibit at the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum focuses on the start of his political career. Before rising to national prominence as a US Senator and later as President, Obama served in the General Assembly right here in Springfield.

Obama worked with many people in the Springfield area, many of whom are still active in the community. At the exhibit opening, two of his former staffers and mentors, Beverly Helm-Renfro and Nia Odeoti-Hassan, shared their experiences working with the then Senator Obama. From the first time they met the future president, to Michelle Obama’s reaction to Obama getting his first bill passed, to his eventual move to DC, these two women spoke about a side of him most outsiders never got to see. You can watch their full talk in the player.

The Obama exhibit showcases memorabilia and other artifacts from Obama’s time in the General Assembly all the way through his time as president. Community members from Springfield provided their own items to share their link with the president.

The museum is located at 1440 Monument Avenue, near the entrance to Oak Ridge Cemetery, and is open from 12 PM – 4 PM Tuesday through Friday, and 10 AM – 5:00 PM on Saturday. You can also check out their website at spiaahm.org.

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Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

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LIVE | Springfield City Council Meeting September 17th

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This is the live feed for the Springfield City Council meeting for September 17th, 2019. The zoning for a new homeless shelter in Ward 2 is up for discussion. Regulations for recreational cannabis are also up for passage after discussion last week.

The proposed location homeless shelter has drawn significant public discussion, and the council chamber is standing-room only. The discussion of the shelter begins at ~22 minute mark of the video.

Update: The city council voted 8-2 to approve the zoning for the Helping Hands facility. Aldermen Gregory (Ward 2) and Turner (Ward 3) opposed.

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Graves, Davis talk flooding at transportation summit

Thomas Clatterbuck

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When thinking about transportation infrastructure, it is easy to get focused on the roads we use every day. But for Congressmen Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Sam Graves (R-MO), waterways are another serious concern. This spring, both their districts suffered significant flooding. In Illinois, Calhoun County was completely cut off from the rest of the state. Their ferries had to close and the road into the county was washed out.

In Missouri, the flooding was often just as bad. Davis shared his story of telling Graves he had levies topped in Illinois, to which Graves responded he had 57 levy breaks. These breaks did more than just wash away buildings, whole roadbeds were reduced to craters. With the highway trust fund already scheduled to run dry by 2021, it is unclear where the funds to fix the damage will come from.

When asked why the flooding was so bad, Graves highlighted two issues. This spring saw record snow melts and rainfall. But Graves said management by the Army Corps of Engineers made the flooding worse along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The Missouri River has a series of seven reservoirs for flood mitigation. However, the Corps’ priorities for the river are fishing and recreation, rather than flood control; making the river run high. Once the rainfalls hit the already high Missouri, a flood along the Mississippi was all but inevitable.

Davis and Graves expressed further frustration with this situation because of Congress’ limited ability to direct the Corps of Engineers. Graves suggested there was widespread dissatisfaction with how the Crops manages rivers across the country, but said that with how the budget is set up, Congress has little direct control over how the money is spent. Davis said congressional leaders are looking to craft a bill to change these rules.

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Jacksonville hears proposals for municipal solar arrays and park grants

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Several new projects may be coming to Jacksonville. The Parks and Lakes committee discussed two state grants to improve local recreation. A 50-50 matching grant could provide up to $400,000 to help restore the Nichols Park pool. 

A second grant would provide funds to be used on the lakes. The committee decided that fixing the boat ramp area for Lake Mauvaisterre was the best use of the grant. Although lots of work has been into the lake, many boaters are reluctant to put their boats out due to the poor conditions of the launch ramps. Other projects were considered, but fixing the main point of entry for the lake was considered a prerequisite for any other recreation project. 

Both projects depend on a successful grant application, which will be submitted in the coming weeks.

Solar Plans

Next, Joe Christian from Simpleray came to discuss potentially adding solar arrays to the city’s water plants. These plants require large amounts of power and solar is one possible way of cutting down on these costs. They also have considerable amounts of open space, making them plausible candidates for solar arrays. 

The proposal calls for a 25 year deal with Simpleray, where they would install and operate the arrays, and sell power to the city. They want a locked-in rate that is currently below the market price. Based on Simpleray’s cost projections for electricity, the city could save over $2 million over the duration of the deal. At the end of the deal, the city would buy the arrays, which are projected to last for at least another ten or fifteen years.

There are some concerns with the deal. Technical questions remain about facility planning. New structures are planned at the treatment plants, and any new solar arrays would need to be built around both current and future structures. There were also finical concerns. 25 years is a long commitment for a utility price. Even though it is below projections, no one knows what the price of power will be in the future. 

The arrays themselves also had unknown costs. Since the city would take ownership of the arrays after 25 years, the city would be responsible for disposing of the panels once they reached the end of their usefulness. The Simpleray consultant was unsure how expensive it would be to dispose of the panels even under current regulations. Like many forms of electronic trash, it is not known what new rules may apply to solar panels in 25 or 30 years. 

Simpelray was interested in moving forward quickly, because there are Federal incentives that will expire at the end of the year. Despite some interest from the council, Alderman Wankel pointed out that the city’s engineers will need to examine the plan, and it may need to go out for a bid. Special Studies is planning a dedicated meeting to discuss solar options in the near future.

Ward 2 retirement

Monday’s meeting was also the last for longtime Alderman Tony Williams. Williams was recently reelected in April, but is moving out of the ward. Mayor Ezard will appoint his replacement, but there is no word on who will be selected to fill the term. 

You can watch the full workshop session in the player above.

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