Lead pipes: In Chicago, out of sight should not mean out of mind

Joint op-ed by Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin and Rick Terven Jr, Legislative and Political Affairs Director for the Illinois Pipe Trades Association published in Crain’s Chicago Business August 23, 2016.
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Lead may be out of sight but it is not out of mind.
When we turn on the faucet, we expect that we’ll be drinking and using clean, safe water. As we’ve seen in Crain's LogoFlint, Mich., and in cities around the country—including Chicago, Highland Park,Galesburg and probably many others—that isn’t always the case. There is lead in the water of many cities, schools and homes. And it is something we need to solve now, not later.
There are over 1,700 community water systems in our state overseen by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. They serve more than 11.9 million residents. While the agency says 96.5 percent of these community drinking water systems are in full compliance with all health requirements, it also reports that “there are still more than 400,000 people in Illinois at health risk due to aging infrastructure.”

 

One of the hurdles to addressing this problem is that there isn’t nearly enough data. We can’t get the lead out of our water supply until we know where the lead is. And in many cases, we don’t. Communities may not even know they have a problem, much less where the lead pipes actually are in their systems. Under our streets and in buildings, these pipes are often hidden from view—out of sight, out of mind—but they pose a real threat to our safety. It’s long past time for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in and update its Lead and Copper Rule to make sure Americans know whether the pipes below them present a danger. We need a national inventory of these pipes—like we have for the natural gas pipes under our feet—and we need it now.

 

There’s an effort underway in Springfield to find these pipes and other infrastructure that needs to be modernized or replaced. The Illinois Senate has approved Senate Bill 550—a step forward in the fight for clean, safe water. This bill will also protect schoolchildren from lead poisoning by requiring testing of all drinking fountains and other sources of drinking water in our schools. We applaud state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, for sponsoring this proposal and urge the Illinois House and governor to quickly enact it into law. These are strong first steps, and combined with action from local, state and federal leaders, it will begin to help Illinois reduce the potential of lead exposure in our water.

Another example of action is happening in Galesburg. The city received a $4 million state grant to cover the cost of replacing approximately 2,000 lead service lines, which is nearly half its total lead lines. The principal of that loan will be forgiven, leaving the city to only pay the interest. This is exactly the type of program into which our state should be investing. Cities won’t be able to do this alone; we have to come together as a state and do the right thing by our children and grandchildren.

At the federal level, there are continued attempts to secure funding for Flint and other cities that are facing lead problems. Aside from congressional action, however, labor and environmental organizations are urging the U.S. EPA to update the Lead and Copper Rule with the requirement of a national inventory of pipe materials and to provide communities with more education on the dangers of lead in our water.

There are other benefits to taking action beyond making sure that our children are protected from the dangers of lead. Good middle-class jobs can be created and sustained cleaning up this mess. A recent report from the University of Illinois found that the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District that serves greater Chicago boosted the regional economy by $1.27 billion and created over 13,000 jobs in 2014. Increasing that investment also increases both the economic impact and the jobs impact.

With a concerted effort, we can face and overcome this problem. In doing so, we will both protect communities and grow quality, family-supporting jobs here in Illinois and around the country.

Jack Darin is the chapter director of the Illinois Sierra Club. Rick Terven Jr. is the legislative and political affairs director of the Illinois Pipe Trades Association, a collaboration of 19 local unions and 1,500 union contractors in Illinois, Iowa and Indiana.

Hiking Together for Our Planet

Our Clean Water Advocate, Katrina Phillips, participated in Climate Ride’s Climate Hike through Glacier National Park from August 3-7. Before the trip, she raised over $3,000 (with the help of many generous donors) to support Climate Ride and her chosen beneficiary organization, the Illinois Sierra Club. Feel free to email her at katrina.phillips@sierraclub.org if you want to learn more! 

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 As we ascended Apgar Mountain on the first day of our trip in Glacier National Park, I couldn’t help but don a ridiculous grin as I alternated between watching my footing on the path ahead and looking around me at the vast expanse of valleys and mountain ridges in the distance. I was finally experiencing the product of a seemingly long ago commitment, months of fundraising and a hectic weekend of scrambling to collect the right gear and pack my bags for the Montana wilderness.

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The immensity of the mountains and the landscape in view made me feel small in the way I think we’re supposed to feel when we consider our impact on this planet and the trace we will leave behind. We are one species among many, as I was reminded throughout the week by the sight of grizzly bears, moose, bighorn sheep and other wildlife that call the park home. We can’t afford to continue living unsustainably in the face of climate change and the challenges of limited resources, and our fellow species can’t survive the impacts of our wasteful actions.

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Glacier National Park provides us with a glimpse of the ways we are directly affecting what was once wild, and of our broader impacts on the planet and its climate. I saw a pile of discarded pistachio shells attract a band of chipmunks plump from food left behind by the many visitors to the park—projected to reach 3 million this year. At the top of the mountain, a melting glacier gave us an alarming view of how our collective actions are changing the climate and the landforms that depend on it. According to ongoing scientific studies, even the park’s largest glaciers could vanish by 2030. These visible impacts show that the “Leave No Trace” mantra cannot just apply to our behavior as we enjoy national parks, but must also guide the way we live our lives and treat our daily surroundings.

Climate Hike gave me the chance to see an incredible place seriously threatened by climate change, but it also gave me inspiration and appreciation for the work groups like Sierra Club are doing to bring environmental protection into the policies, media, political discourse and daily conversations that shape our country and the world. This work is critical because climate change isn’t just a phenomenon that’s melting glaciers in faraway places. It’s affecting the livelihoods of people who depend on predictable weather and a stable climate, the health of people in nations where good health care is scarce and disease is rampant, and the homes of people and animals where severe storms, flooding and heat waves are wreaking havoc. When I close my eyes and picture the beauty of Glacier National Park, and when I think about what’s at stake all over the world, I feel energized to continue this fight.

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Along with the incredible views, the beauty of the mountains and the mystique of its wild animals, my experience in the park gave me inspiration through the company I hiked over forty miles with and the conversations we shared. From age sixteen to sixty-five, my twenty-one fellow Climate Hikers each came with their own stories and reasons for being there. Whether it was to preserve the planet for their children, save the peace and serenity of nature for mental health patients they’ve treated, or to give back to the places that have served as refuges for their own sanity, the motivations each person brought to the experience gave me a renewed passion for the work we’re doing together. I know that every donor, volunteer, activist and staff member that I interact with on a daily basis has their own unique reasons for dedicating their time, money and energy to this effort. When we come together with the collection of our own stories and the stories we carry from others, our message becomes powerful and our actions form a movement.

This experience would not have been possible without the incredible generosity of the over fifty donors who contributed to my fundraising efforts and showed up to our fundraising events. I cannot say thank you enough and I am so excited to continue our work together for the planet.

If you’d like to make a donation, you can still do so here until December 1st. Thank you!

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Environmental Justice Legislation Signed Into Law

Legislation expanding the Illinois Environmental Justice Commission  was passed by both chambers and signed into law by Governor Rauner on July 8th.  The legislation adds members to the Commission on Environmental Justice, including new affected community members and labor representatives.  The bill was sponsored by Sen. Toi Hutchinson in the Senate and Rep. Silvana Tabares in the House.  The effort was led by Illinois environmental justice advocates, and Sierra Club supported their efforts through our volunteer lobbying program and our staff in the State Capitol.

The Illinois Commission on Environmental Justice, created in 2011, requires that no segment of the population, regardless of race, national origin, age, or income, should bear disproportionately high or adverse effects of environmental pollution. The Commission has administrative and other support from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Its duties are to review and analyze the impact and adequacy of current State laws and policies on the issue of environmental justice and sustainable communities; and, to recommend options to the Governor for addressing issues, concerns, or problems related to environmental justice, including prioritizing areas of the State that need immediate attention.

SB2920 added 4 new members to the board—2 from business and labor and 2 additional, for a total of 4, from affected communities. It also removed the Dept. of Aging and added the housing office of the Dept. of Human Services.

From the Illinois EPA website:

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA or Agency) is committed to protecting the health of the citizens of Illinois and its environment, and to promoting environmental equity in the administration of its programs to the extent it may do so legally and practicably. The Illinois EPA supports the objectives of achieving environmental equity for all of the citizens of Illinois.

“Environmental Justice” is based on the principle that all people should be protected from environmental pollution and have the right to a clean and healthy environment. Environmental justice is the protection of the health of the people of Illinois and its environment, equity in the administration of the State’s environmental programs, and the provision of adequate opportunities for meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

The assumption of this policy is that it is evolutionary. Environmental Justice policies and activities will continue to develop, as appropriate, through the normal course of the Agency’s regulatory and programmatic duties. In addition to the normal evolution of the policy, the Agency is planning outreach activities to gather comments and public input for this spring. The Illinois EPA recognizes that this policy alone will not achieve environmental equity in all instances. Moreover, public and private commitment to the implementation of this policy is needed to achieve the goals of this policy and to promote environmental equity in this State.

Earth Day 2016: Citizens for Climate Action

Illinois celebrated Earth Day this year with a rally and lobby day in Springfield.

The Sierra Club partnered with community leaders, climate activists, unions, and many other allies to bring over 350 people to the state’s capital to push for the passage of urgent environmental legislation.

On the top on the agenda was the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, a bill to ramp up renewable energy like wind and solar to 35 percent by 2030, cut energy use through efficiency by 20 percent by 2025, and limit dangerous carbon pollution. Activists also rallied and lobbied to begin a stakeholder process on state implementation of the Clean Power Plan, to protect clean energy funds from budget sweeps, and to ensure environmental justice participation in Clean Power Plan implementation.

The day started bright and early for many participants who boarded buses from their communities to the capitol:

The bus from Waukegan

The bus from Waukegan

Supporters gathered around the Lincoln Statue to hear from legislative champions and grassroots leaders. Of special note, we had a number of speakers from local Sierra Club teams and coalitions:

Dulce Ortiz from Clean Power Lake County spoke of the need to create a just transition for Waukegan’s lakefront. Props to Celeste Flores—our new Waukegan Beyond Coal organizer for inviting Dulce to speak, and for recruiting a full bus!

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Dulce Ortiz

Eden Vitoff, a high school student with Green Lyfe who has partnered closely with Metro Green Alliance, spoke about the need to protect the climate for future generations. Props to Elizabeth Scrafford for recruiting Eden to her campaign and getting 31 folks from Alton to join for the day!

Eden Vitoff

Eden Vitoff

JC Kibbey, a researcher with Unite Here Local 1 and member of Chicago Sierra Club’s Executive Committee, spoke about the importance of the partnership between labor and the environmental community.

JC Kibbey

JC Kibbey

After the rally, participants dropped off postcards at the Governor’s office, calling on him to pass the Clean Jobs Bill and begin a Clean Power Plan stakeholder process in Illinois. Many participants lobbied their legislators on top environmental bills.

Pastor Norma Prays with Sen. Haine that make the right decision to support the Clean Jobs Bill.

Pastor Norma prays with Sen. Haine for support the Clean Jobs Bill.

Pastor Norma prays with Sen. Haine for support the Clean Jobs Bill.

The postcards we dropped with Governor Rauner

The postcards we dropped with Governor Rauner

Big thank yous to: Illinois Climate Table—especially partners Faith in Place, People for Community Recovery, Illinois Environmental Council, Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network of Illinois, and Moms Clean Air Force; Press Pro: Emily Rosenwasser; Email hack: Debra Cohen; Legislative wizards: Christine Nannicelli, Terri Treacy, & Jack Darin; Organizing gurus: Kady McFadden, Allison Fisher; Sierra Club volunteer teams who rocked the turnout and the Captial: Woods & Wetlands/Clean Power Lake County,  Heart of Illinois/Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance, Piasa Palisades/Metro East Green Alliance, Illinois Statewide Clean Power Team; bus and carpool captain extraordinaires: Tim Milburn, Pastor Vance, Hari Lambda, Doris Davenport, Julian Chavez, Melinda Elliott, Celeste Flores, Erin Crilly, + Elizabeth Scrafford; Pastor Norma Patterson who brought her fiery spirit to speak at the Alton rally and make metro east legislators squirm as she prayed over them that they would do the right thing and co-sponsor the Clean Jobs Bill.

Press Hits:

WCIA Springfield

http://www.illinoishomepage.net/news/local-news/day-early-earth-day

Alton Telegraph

Rally for ‘clean jobs’ held in Upper Alton

WHBF Quad Cities

http://www.ourquadcities.com/news/clean-energy-rally-held-in-illinois

Preview from the RiverBender (Alton)

http://www.riverbender.com/articles/details/alton-to-join-hundreds-to-rally-in-springfield-for-clean-energy-and-climate-action-for-earth-day-12598.cfm

WBGZ Radio (Alton)

http://www.altondailynews.com/news/details.cfm?clientid=17&id=211913#.Vxpx8_krLcs

WAND

http://www.wandtv.com/story/31782183/earth-day-of-action-rally-underway-at-state-capitol

NBC Week/ABC HOI-19 CINewsNow Peoria

http://www.cinewsnow.com/news/local/Hundreds-travel-to-Springfield-to-rally-for-cleaner-energy-376636851.html.

Illinois Budget Crisis Threatens Ratepayer Protection and Clean Energy Programs

While the Illinois budget crisis wreaks havoc on social programs across the state, the budget impasse also poses a major threat to three other major funds. These funds, each funded by ratepayers, not tax dollars, that are the primary funding for Illinois’ programs to protect the most vulnerable, lower bills through energy efficiency, and create jobs in renewable energy projects. Each of these funds have been specifically targeted during this budget crisis. We must act together to ensure that these important resources are protected in this time of crisis.

psp take action button2SB3382 and HB5791 will protect our most vulnerable, create good jobs in clean energy, and reduce pollution. SB3383 and HB5971 both ask for full funding and protection for the the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards (EEPS) Fund, while SB3383 also asks for full funding and protection for the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Renewable Energy Resources Fund (RERF).

1. Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) This fund is a mix of ratepayer and federal funds, and helps low income utility customers pay gas and electric bills to avoid the shut-off of service. Funds are also used to help these customers save energy through weatherization projects. More than 300,000 vulnerable Illinois households use LIHEAP to assist with energy costs. This includes seniors, disabled persons and low-income families. LIHEAP is funded by federal funds and a charge on utility bills – no state tax dollars are provided. The program consists of two funds – the Supplemental Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Block Grant Fund In 2015, the LIHEAP program was targeted for elimination. SB 3383 would protect both LIHEAP funds in Fiscal Year 2017 by appropriating the full amount of anticipated funds collected from ratepayers and received from the federal government to protect our most vulnerable.

2. Renewable Energy Resources Fund (RERF) This fund, held at the Illinois Power Agency, is collected from alternative electric suppliers and is supposedly dedicated to buying renewable energy as part of Illinois’ electric suppliers. Payments from these alternative suppliers are part of their required compliance with Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires a certain percentage of each supplier’s energy portfolio to come from renewable sources. To date these funds have been used to buy renewable energy credits from newly constructed solar energy projects – directly creating good jobs in Illinois. Both the pending Clean Jobs Bill (HB2607/SB1485) and ComEd’s Future Energy Plan (HB3328/SB1879) depend on RERF dollars for a new low-income community solar program. No state tax dollars are used on these programs. They are entirely collected from electric suppliers. In 2015, $98 million was swept from the RERF. SB 3383 would protect RERF funds in Fiscal Year 2017 by appropriating $120M, the approximate current balance in the Fund, to create jobs in solar energy projects.

3. Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards (EEPS) Fund The Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (EEPS) at DCEO is used by ComEd and Ameren to help homes, businesses, and local governments save energy. These projects have lowered electric bills by well over $1 billion in the last decade and created good jobs modernizing and retrofitting homes, businesses, and local government buildings with energy-saving technologies. No state tax dollars are used on these programs. They are entirely collected from ratepayers and used by ComEd and Ameren on energy efficiency projects. In 2015, these funds were targeted for sweeps. SB 3383 would protect EEPS funds in Fiscal Year 2017 by appropriating up to $125M, or the maximum amount collected from ratepayers, to help lower electric bills through energy conservation.

DON’T SWEEP AWAY ILLINOIS’ CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE

Act Now — Support SB 3383 and HB5791

 

Students Explore Careers in Water on World Water Day

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Yesterday, the Sierra Club’s Chicago Water Team invited high school students to celebrate the UN-recognized World WaterDay and learn about opportunities to work in the water sector. Students met representatives from six different water-
related agencies, companies and organizations who shared information about the job, internship and training opportunities they provide to young adults.

The global celebration of this year’s World Water Day and its theme of “Water and Jobs” highlight the power that water and jobs have to transform people’s lives and the fact that nearly all jobs are related to water and those that ensure its safe delivery.

Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General and Chair of UN-Water, says in this video message: “There is no life without water. The fact that access to water underpins all of our efforts to achieve sustainable development is clear. What is not so often said, is that the availability and sustainable management of water has a clear and direct link with the creation of quality jobs…Water can contribute to a greener economy and to sustainable development. But for this to happen, we need more workers qualified to realize the potential of new green technologies.”

Yesterday’s event gave Chicago high schoolers a firsthand look at the jobs they could have in the water field, and the path to obtaining the qualifications needed for these important positions. Participating groups included the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the Water Quality Association, and several private companies offering water filtration, plumbing and wetlands consulting services.

Jack Darin speaks to the crowd, Cindy Skrukrud demonstrates water quality testing and Jill Ryan shares information about the Water Quality Association with students.

 

“World Water Day is a great opportunity for UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, employers, trade unions and citizens to come together to make a call for better water and better jobs,” says Ryder.

All of the participating groups play a role in protecting water quality, whether its by ensuring safe and clean delivery of drinking water, treating wastewater and removing pollutants, or preserving natural ecosystems that filter and recharge water supplies. Bob Reiter, Secretary-Treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor also spoke about apprenticeship programs run by several building trade unions that can prepare young people for good jobs in water infrastructure and technologies.

Water resources are essential to the functioning of every aspect of society. As climate change affects our nation’s water supplies, and our population continues to grow and shift, it is increasingly important to build a sustainable water future. To reduce the impact of water stresses on communities, we must develop and implement sustainable, long-term water management strategies. We need skilled, highly qualified workers to develop these strategies and manage our water resources in a way that protects the environment and ensures reliable delivery of clean water to everyone. Introducing students to opportunities to get involved in this important work can help lead them on the path towards a job in water.

A big thank you to our Chicago Water Team volunteers, the participating groups, and the interested students for joining us on World Water Day to explore jobs in water.

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Jill Ryan of the Water Quality Association and Vince Mosca of Hey and Associates, Inc. participate in the jobs fair. 

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From left to right: Krista Grimm, Katrina Phillips, Kady McFadden, Marty Durkan, Bob Reiter, Jack Darin, Kyra Woods and David Martin. 

Shawnee Parkway — New Name for a Decades-old Proposal in far Southern Illinois

Sierra Club is opposed to the Shawnee Parkway, a proposed multi-lane, high-speed highway to facilitate the trucking industry through a portion of southernmost Illinois. The negative impacts to the environment far outweigh any perceived advantages.

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Shawnee Parkway Study Area MapThe Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has invited the public to review and comment on the draft Purpose and Need Statement for the Shawnee Parkway Study. The study is being conducted to evaluate the need for a new east/west transportation “improvement” from the intersection of Illinois Route 3/146 and Interstate 57 in Alexander, Pulaski and Union Counties. The 350-square-mile study area includes several important natural resource areas that provide important habitat for federally listed species and migratory birds including migratory waterbirds, neotropical migrants and various raptors.

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Indiana bat. USFWS photo.

Nationally recognized Important Bird Areas include Horseshoe Lake State and Fish Wildlife Area, the Thebes-area Mississippi Kite Complex, and Union County State Fish and Wildlife Area. Cypress Creek NWR is globally recognized as an Important Bird area and the Cache River and Cypress Creek Wetlands Area RAMSAR site is located within the study area.

Illinois Natural Inventory sites within the study area include Brown Barrens’ Nature Preserve, Berryville Shale Glade Nature Preserve, and McClure Shale Nature Preserve. Additionally, the federally endangered Indiana bat has been documented throughout southernmost Illinois, with known hibernacula within the study area.

800px-Mississippi_KiteThe biologically rich and diverse environment and natural beauty of the entire study area makes it an important place for high-quality outdoor recreation experiences such as hunting, fishing, bird watching, canoeing, hiking, camping, nature photography and much more. Impacts from a multi-lane, high-speed, heavy trafficked highway on outdoor recreation enjoyment include noise and air pollution, intrusions on rural viewsheds, and damage to the ecosystem recreationists have come to visit.

h_truckMajor highways cause damaging environmental fragmentation to the landscape. Studies have shown that reduced landscape connectivity and limited movements due to highways, particularly those with high speed and high traffic volumes, result in higher wildlife mortality, lower reproduction rates, ultimately smaller populations and overall lower population viability. The fragmentation effect of roads forms a barrier to movement where animals become reluctant to move across roads to access mates or preferred habitats for food and cover. The degree of aversion to roads can generally be attributed to features associated with the road, e.g., traffic volume, road width or major habitat alterations caused by the road.  High-volume and high-speed roads tend to be the greatest barriers and most effective in disrupting animal movements and population interchange.

Cape Girardeau, Missouri and the trucking industry would be the primary benefactors of a high-speed truck transit route through Illinois, while southern Illinois has nothing to gain and everything to lose. The region would not only suffer from the negative environmental impacts brought by a multi-lane highway, Illinois would forever be responsible for the cost of its maintenance. We have difficulty keeping the two interstate highways already running through the study area in good repair—it would be fiscally irresponsible to add a third such highway.

Southern Illinois would be better served by IDOT if existing roads and bridges in the study area were adequately maintained. Additionally, enhancing existing recreation and tourism opportunities would create construction jobs while maintaining the integrity of the fragile environment. We would like to see projects such as expanding the Tunnel Hill Trail into a web of interconnected bicycle trails and lanes, and hiking trails throughout the region; additional campgrounds and compatible lodging; and full staffing and educational programming at the Cache Wetlands Center.

Comments can be sent before March 15, 2016 to:

Jeffrey Keirn
Illinois Department of Transportation
Division of Highways
Region 5, District 9
PO Box 100
Carbondale, Illinois 62903-0100

Background

The Shawnee Parkway proposal is the latest in a long line of proposals going back decades for running a major highway through the heart of southernmost Illinois. The three most recent proposals began in the early 2000s with a Kentucky Transportation Cabinet proposal to continue Interstate 66 from Paducah, Kentucky through Illinois to connect to Interstate 55 at Cape Girardeau, Missouri. That proposal died when Kentucky’s Purpose and Need Study showed no economic feasibility to build the highway.

In 2012 Cape Girardeau initiated a $3.6 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation with a 20 percent match from IDOT (thanks, Cape Girardeau!) generating a total of $4.5 million to conduct a new feasibility study. This proposal was given a new name, 66 Corridor, but was otherwise basically identical. A Community Advisory Group (CAG) was formed and a Purpose and Need Study was developed. In early 2015 payments to the outside firm conducting the “study” were halted and by July the project was cancelled.

In November 2016 IDOT announced the current, Shawnee Parkway, project. The main difference this time is the endpoints for the highway. Whereas the previous proposals called for the highway to go all the way to Kentucky, this particular proposal ends at Interstate 57 between Anna and Cairo. Since the current study area was derived from the 66 Corridor Project we are concerned about potential future impacts including the development of 66 Corridor. Therefore, it’s imperative that the cumulative effects of potential future development be included in the Environmental Impact Statement.

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