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Evergreen Park, Chicago files lawsuit against CSX

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

The village of Evergreen Park and the city of Chicago have taken legal action against CSX Transportation, Inc., seeking sanctions against the railroad company for repeatedly blocking grade crossings – the intersections of railway lines and roads -- along the Elsdon railroad line in violation of federally imposed requirements.

“The little guys need a voice. I guess it is time for us to speak up,” said Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton on Monday, during a meeting with Chicago Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th), and state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th), as well as a couple of 19th Ward residents who live between the heavily used railroad crossings on the Elsdon Line at 103rd and 111th Streets on Sacramento Avenue in the city.

Five railroad crossing pass through Evergreen Park too, including two close by, at 94th and Kedzie and 95th and Sacramento, where trains can tie up traffic on two major roads at the same time.

The group met to discuss the issue with attorneys from Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell in Washington, D.C., who have been enlisted to file a formal petition with the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that reviews proposed railroad mergers and resolves railroad rate and service disputes, in order to remedy the serious harmful effects created by CSX’s operations along the Elsdon Line.

The petition filed Monday seeks a number of potential remedies, including the imposition of sanctions, including fines; continued monitoring; and additional auditing.

All the politicians and the residents agreed that CSX is not living up to the commitments it made when it was allowed to take over the Elsdon Line in 2013.

Burke pointed out that CSX promised in 2013 that trains would pass through the area without stopping and blocking intersections, but that has not been the case.

The attorneys involved, Allison Fultz and Chuck Spitulnik, thanked the Evergreen Park police for documenting the number of blockages, sometimes100 a year, that have caused problems in the village.

“Typically, there are a lot of anecdotal evidence and vague complaints. For a community to be very specific, and detailed, is a rare opportunity for us,” said Fultz.

The residents, John Jacob and Colette Wagner, have also filmed instances where trains block intersections for so long that children on their way to school have climbed over and under the stopped trains, risking serious injury if they started moving.

Another major concern raised is the possibility of lives being put in danger if ambulances are stopped by trains on 95th Street, heading to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park or Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

Jacob also pointed to asthma and other health issues caused by residents breathing diesel fumes for extended periods of time as well.

For their part, CSX officials have stated that they have improved the infrastructure on the line since taking over.

Burke and Cunningham said they tried to address the issue at the state level, but courts found that municipalities could not fine railroads so the decision was made to take it to the federal level. State Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th), who wasn’t at the meeting, was also credited with trying to find a solution in Springfield.

“Ever since CSX secured the right to operate on this track, residents have told us that trains along the Elsdon Line routinely cause lengthy delays that not only inconvenience residents but threaten public safety by blocking access to area hospitals,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement.

“For the past three years, we have tried to work cooperatively with CSX to address the many public safety and quality of life issues their takeover of the Elsdon line created for our community,” said O’Shea. “Unfortunately, we have very little to show for that effort and are now forced to take more serious action.”

"For too long, CSX has ignored their own promises to operate a safe and efficient rail line in our community," said Cunningham, describing their statements as “demonstrably false.”

A legal review of CSX’s quarterly reports indicates that the railroad has admitted that it has not fully complied with the 2013 requirements as a condition of its receiving approval to operate on this line. In fact, the railroad has cut only one train over the past three years.

Precedent exists for the Board to impose significant penalties on CSX. For instance, in a 2007 case against Canadian National Railroad in connection with its operations in the Chicago area, STB fined the railroad $250,000 for violating obligations similar to those binding CSX.

“We have fired the opening salvo,” said Fultz, regarding the complaint filed with the Surface Transportation Board on Monday.

CSX now has 21 days to respond.

But Fultz said that it will likely be months before there is any resolution.

“If CSX would just comply with what they agreed to in 2013, we would be in great shape,” she said.

But the officials said that if there is no accommodation made, fines amounting to millions of dollars could be assessed.

Moraine Board might increase tech and tuition because of budget stalemate

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

The Moraine Valley Community College Board of Trustees discussed the possibility of raising technology and tuition rates to help offset the ongoing budget stalemate in Springfield.

The board made the proposal during a meeting held Saturday morning at the Palos Hills campus. A vote may be taken as early as next month.

Dr. Sylvia M. Jenkins, president of Moraine Valley Community College, said that the school is in good shape. However, the problems that are affecting other local colleges are real, added Jenkins.

“We are there right now,” she said. “Some colleges will have to close programs and some teachers will have to be let go.”

Jenkins said she recently talked to two local legislators about where this is all leading to in terms of negotiations in Springfield. She was not encouraged by their response.

“Right now, it seems pessimistic” she said. “Currently, we are OK. But Moraine maybe OK today but that can change.”

Jenkins added that a bill sponsored by state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) to provide for funding for colleges and universities was vetoed by Gov. Rauner. Robert Sterkowitz, board treasurer, provided an overview of the Moraine’s financial situation and how they are managing with no funding from the state.

“We have been preparing for this for a while,” said Sterkowtiz. “We didn’t want to go there, but we are getting there.”

The treasurer said that funding could be shifted to provide more revenue sources in the short term.

“The problem with that is that we have allotted money for a budget over a few years, “said Joseph Murphy, chairman of the Moraine Board. “Now because we have to move the funding around it makes it more difficult to make decisions on our budget later on.”

Murphy said a tuition hike was inevitable.

“A tuition increase was necessary,” said Murphy. “Everybody keeps asking me about (funding for) rainy days. Well, now it’s kind of pouring.”

Sterkowitz said that he anticipated the college will spend $3 million less than the $95 million that was approved, unless a budget settlement occurs. In the interim, Sterkowitz said Moraine will be able to manage despite the budget shortfall.

“We don’t want to be just another local community college,” said Sterkowitz. “We have a lot of offer. We have a large amount of online classes.”

Sterkowitz said the FY2016 budget for Moraine is $95,237,029. The estimated 2017 budget is $93,845,502, if no settlement can be reached. The estimated figures for 2018 are $95,908,357, and for 2019 the figures are $97,097,413, according to Sterkowitz. The 2020 estimated budget is $98,309,575.

“The main issue is state funding,” said Sterkowitz. “State colleges beginning the fiscal year could see a 30 percent reduction in state funding.”

Sterkowitz added that waivers are applied to the the top 11 percent of high school graduates who maintain a 3.5 grade point average. Scholarships are also provided for student-athletes.

“We make cuts every day,” said Sterkowitz. “But there is only so much you can cut.”

Some colleges have closed their childcare center due to the lack of funding, which is something Jenkins would like to avoid.

“The problem with that is that students who have children in childcare centers that close end up dropping out of school,” said Jenkins. “We don’t want to do that.”

Moraine can hold a maximum of 72 children in their childcare facility. The state has reduced funding for the centers by 30 percent in 2016.

“We want to keep it affordable because we have had the governor make some changes,” said Jenkins. “Some students who once qualified for childcare funding no longer qualify.”

Jenkins did add that the 30 percent reduction figures are just an estimate.

“You’ve seen what seven and a half months has done to some schools,” said Sterkowitz. “If this goes on for another year, some schools will shut down.”

The meeting began with a presentation by Kam Sanghvi, who co-chairs the Strategic Technology Plan. Sanghvi argued for the $3 increase for technology. Sanghvi said that costs continue to rise and WiFi improvements have to be made.

“Our hope is that students can access information through WiFi off campus,” said Sanghvi. “The students’ major complaint is WiFi.”

Murphy said that teachers need additional training. Sanghvi said that various levels training are available on a one-one-one basis.

Murphy said that technology is expensive but teachers and students cannot afford to fall back. The board, after some debate over costs, stated that they tentatively would approve a $3 hike from $7 to $10 for each semester for technological studies.

Board members also mentioned that the Learning Management System Review team recommended that Canvas by Instructure replace the existing Blackboard Learn web system. The board was in agreement that Canvas would best meet the current needs of the students, faculty, staff and campus community. The board approved using Canvas at their November meeting.

Oak Lawn fire and police departments battle in ‘supermarket sweep’

  • Written by By Kelly White

The Oak Lawn fire and police departments are usually fighting fires and enforcing the law, respectively. However, the first responders recently competed against each other in a friendly rivalry at an unexpected location – a supermarket.

This year marked the 16th Annual Food Checkout Day sponsored by the Cook County Farm Bureau, Country Financial and Jewel-Osco. To honor the day, the friendly Supermarket Sweep style competition took place at Jewel-Osco, 9424 S. Pulaski Road, Oak Lawn. The firefighter and police teams collected packaged goods and kitchen products for families at all five Ronald McDonald Houses located in the Chicago area on Feb. 9.

“Jewel-Osco is a wonderful host and the scavenger hunt is such a fun addition to the day thanks to the Oak Lawn Fire and Police departments for participating in the friendly competition,” publicist Megan Reidy said.

Broken into two teams, the fire department was led by Chris Ward and the police department was led by Sgt. Jim Pacetti.

Each team received a list of clues for the scavenger hunt, which hinted toward items the Ronald McDonald House really needs. The teams then raced through the store gathering the needed items as fast as they can. The more correct items collected, the more points the team received.

Both teams were assisted by members of Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood, who aided in the pushing of the shopping carts through the hectic aisles.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) also made an appearance to cheer on the departments.

The Oak Lawn Fire Department has won the supermarket sweep the past three years. The fire department took home a fourth title, defeating the Oak Lawn Police Department in the six-minute race for food items throughout the grocery store.

Jewel-Osco hosted the fun and fierce competition to benefit families at the Ronald McDonald House near Advocate Children’s Hospital. Food Checkout Day highlights the safe and nutritious food grown by local farmers while also drawing attention to those families who struggle to find solutions to feeding their families healthy food on a tight budget.

Through Farm Bureau’s partnership with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana (RMHC-CNI), Cook County Farm Bureau members are able to assist families during the most difficult time of their lives, when their child is ill, by holding a huge food drive to support all five Ronald McDonald Houses located in the Chicago area.

“Food Checkout Day, led by the Cook County Farm Bureau, brings the community together in support of families at RMHC-CNI,” Reidy said.

The scavenger hunt was inspired to have quick and healthy food available for families in need and home cooked meals are provided by volunteer groups at each of the five Chicago area Ronald McDonald Houses, according to Reidy.

Prior to the event, the local community collected many everyday items, including bottled water, coffee, creamer, cereal, individually wrapped cookies and snack and quick meals, mac and cheese, canned soups, granola bars, and peanut butter and jelly. This allows families the flexibility to grab and go with food items, so they have the energy and strength they need to be their best for their children at the hospital.

A post-event dinner was held at the Ronald McDonald House near Advocate Children’s Hospital located at 4410 W. 93rd St., Oak Lawn, where 16 families currently staying at the house enjoyed a delicious dinner.

All food collected during the event went directly to the Ronald McDonald House.

Two-story medical facility to be built in Chicago Ridge

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

 

A new two-story medical facility is coming to Chicago Ridge, offering pulmonary, thoracic and cancer care to residents from throughout the southwest region.

Sana’a Hussien, a local attorney representing the developers, explained at the Chicago Ridge Village Board meeting on Tuesday that a group of doctors affiliated with Advocate Christ Hospital, Little Company of Mary Hospital and Palos Community Hospital plan to have offices and treatment facilities in the center.

The Village Board gave its final approval on Tuesday for the $15 million-$17 million development plan for the as-yet unnamed facility, which will be built at 10604 Southwest Highway.

“I’m very excited about this. It is extremely beneficial for Chicago Ridge and the surrounding area,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar.

“When will they break ground?” Tokar asked.

“They can start tomorrow,” said Hussien. “The plans have been ready for a year. All they need now are the permits,” she said.

“I’ll bring a shovel,” joked the mayor.

Hussien said after the meeting that construction will begin in the spring, with the center slated to open in 2017.

Tokar pointed out that the 40,000 square-foot facility is being built on vacant land just east of Harlem Avenue, in the Harlem Avenue TIF District.

“The increment on taxes is going to mean a lot. It is a big difference in what is being collected now on vacant land. It will mean some jobs too,” he said.

He said that with the Chicago Ridge Nursing Center already located next door at 10602 Southwest Highway, and the Davita dialysis center nearby at 10511 S. Harlem, “we’re getting a nice mixture of medical facilities in that area.”

Hussien said that pulmonology services will be based on the first floor of the center, which will open into a two-story lobby with a water feature, coffee shop and outdoor patio. A retail pharmacy and shop will also be included, as well as exam rooms and offices.

She said cancer specialists will be based on the second floor, where infusion bays for patients receiving chemotherapy treatments will look out on the wooded area nearby.

Patients will also be able to get blood drawn onsite, rather than having to go elsewhere.

“They expect to draw clients from throughout the area, probably from as far away as Burr Ridge,” she explained, noting that the center will be open to everyone, not just patients of the doctors involved.

At the request of Trustee Jack Lind, Hussien said that when jobs do become available at the center, the application information will be shared and posted on the village website so residents can apply.

 

Some Worth residents oppose multi-family units for village

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

A number of residents who attended an Open House Long Range Planning meeting for the Village of Worth last October returned Tuesday to hear the first report on the findings of the group at the village board meeting.

However, some residents were not pleased about some aspects of the report.

Farr and Associates, a consulting firm, was hired last year through a $75,000 Regional Transportation Association grant received by the Village for the purpose of establishing a Transit Oriented Development project near the 111th Street METRA Station.

During an hour-long presentation, Doug Farr, principal founder of the organization, outlined a report indicating that Worth has 5,129 residents living within a half mile of the station. Sixty-seven percent of commuters using the station drive to the station and are mostly from the northwest areas, including Palos Park. Only 17 percent of the commuters walk to the station.

In the October meeting, Farr had explained that TOD projects are designed to find ways to improve rider access to public transportation, while attracting residential and commercial development to the area. Increased walkability in the area is the goal, which could draw restaurants and shops appealing to commuters.

Farr’s presentation on Tuesday hit a snag when he mentioned a proposed design scheme for six-story multi-family units along Depot Street with up to 48 units per building. A number of people in the audience spoke up, saying that Worth did not need any more multi-family units and the problems that often come with them.

Her stated that prior to the meeting he had met with the village officials and learned that three-story, mixed-use buildings, with commercial/retail use on the first floor and apartments on the second and third floors, would be more acceptable in the village.

Farr said he was willing to revise the proposed designs but he also asked the audience to think in terms of a 30-year plan.

“None of this is going to happen overnight. We have to start really small. This is the most dramatic change that could be made in Worth,” he said.

“A row of three-story buildings with small shops on the first floor would encourage people to walk to the station. It could be done by small businesses, such as a small coffee shop, or a bakery, making it a cute place, with a nice ambiance. Worth doesn’t have anything like this now.”

Farr added that there has not been any new construction in Worth in more than 30 years, with the exception of the Chieftain’s Irish Pub on 111th Street.

“Developers need to know that there is a market here for new construction, and it is the responsibility of the village leaders to set the table for developers. Developers need to know that the market will support an up-scale apartment building. An occupied first building will attract a second building,” he said.

When questions arose about developments in northern suburbs and why they couldn’t be repeated in Worth, Farr suggested that he could provide a bus tour for village officials and the Long-Range Planning Steering Committee to view TOD’s in other communities.

After the meeting, Mayor Mary Werner said that the bus tour was a great idea and that she would be working with Farr to put it together. “This project is definitely a work in progress,” she said.

John Staunton, owner of Chieftain’s Irish Pub and chairman of the village’s Economic Development Commission, said that he thought the presentation had been well-received overall. He added, however, that he realizes there is some fear among the residents of any large changes.

“This is a very small manageable project and it has to happen in Worth, if we are going to move forward,” he said.

In other business, the board approved an amendment to the village’s Intergovernmental Agreement with the Worth Park District for the exchange of services between the two entities, calling for an annual meeting at the beginning of each year to determine the scope of services requested by each party regarding grass cuttings and asphalt services.

Also approved was expenditure, not to exceed $3,000, for a beautification plan for the northeast corner of 111th Street and Harlem Avenue.

The mayor also announced that the Water’s Edge Golf Club was hosting a new event, the Penguin Open, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27 with a shotgun start. The cost is $50 per person, which includes a continental breakfast, green fee, cart fee and a buffet lunch following play. For registration, call (708) 671-1032.

Trustee Tedd Muersch Jr. was absent from the meeting.