Metro East Coverage | St. Louis Public Radio

Metro East Coverage

Edwardsville Approves Shopping Bag Fee. Will Other Metro East Cities Follow Its Lead?

Oct 17, 2019
Mike and Vicki Blunt, of New Douglas, load their vehicle with groceries in single-use plastic bags at Schnucks in Edwardsville in March. The couple usually bring their own reusable bags, but on this day, they bought too many groceries and needed more.
Teri Maddow | Belleville News-Democrat

Edwardsville will become the first city in downstate Illinois to require retailers to charge for single-use plastic and paper shopping bags to help protect the environment.

Edwardsville City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved an ordinance that was first proposed by a grassroots organization called Bring Your Own Bag Glen-Ed. Members argued that single-use bags pollute land and water, harm wildlife and human health and waste resources.

The intersection of Collinsville and St. Louis Avenues in East St. Louis is where a mob of white rioters first gathered before they rampaged through the city, seeking out and killing black residents.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Illinois’ slow but steady population decline could jeopardize the home rule status some Metro East cities enjoy.

Home rule grants cities broad taxing and regulatory powers, making it easier to quickly tackle local issues and fund projects and services. Status is automatically granted to any Illinois city with more than 25,000 residents. Towns can also achieve home rule through a referendum, as Fairview Heights did. 

MidAmerica Airport Director’s Future Unclear As County Posts Job Listing For Position

Oct 15, 2019
Allegiant Airlines is the only passenger carrier at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport.
Belleville News-Democrat

St. Clair County officials are being tight-lipped about a newly posted job listing airport director at the county-owned MidAmerica St. Louis Airport.

MidAmerica’s website reveals a large, front-page call for applications for its director position, but does not give a clue about the future of the current director, Tim Cantwell.

Cantwell, who has served as the airport’s director for 17 years, declined to comment on the job listing Tuesday, forwarding all questions to St. Clair County Board Chairmen Mark Kern.

The Ebbets Field neighborhood in Edwardsville is named after the original home of Major League Baseball's Dodgers.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Imagine living in the heart of Cardinals country and not only being a fan of another legendary Major League Baseball team, but also an owner.

Meet Robert L. Plummer. 

Abortion Opponents Want Fairview Heights To Stop Planned Parenthood From Opening Clinic

Oct 9, 2019
Anti-abortion groups rallied Wednesday outside of the new Planned Parenthood clinic in Fairview Heights. The clinic will offer medicinal and surgical abortions when it opens. This comes as St. Louis' clinic may lose its license. 10/9/19
Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat

Between an iron fence and temporary barricades while holding signs that said “Planned Parenthood hurts women,” “Stop Abortion Now” and “Shut them down,” demonstrators called on Fairview Heights to keep the future Planned Parenthood clinic from opening.

The narrow stretch of public right of away next to a drainage ditch did not deter the crowd of hundreds of people who rallied Wednesday outside the new Planned Parenthood clinic in Fairview Heights that will open later this month.

Workers for the Environmental Protection Agency collect a water sample. SIUE will investigate contaminants in regional water with a grant from the agency.
Environmental Protection Agency

BELLEVILLE — Southern Illinois University Edwardsville will research water quality in the region with a $100,000 educational grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The grant provides funds to train undergraduate students in environmental sampling and analysis over the next two years. The funds will also support teaching the students to communicate the results of their work to the public. Students will be guided by faculty, but they’ll be conducting the day-to-day work, said Kevin Tucker, an assistant professor of chemistry.

Jessica Kopecky primes one portion of a wall before adding color to it on Sept. 28, 2019. This is the fourth outdoor mural the Wisconsin native will complete.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Paint-splashed walls of four downtown buildings are bringing the first elements of a mural project in the city closer to fruition.

Over the next few weeks, artists from around the country will arrive in Belleville and complete large and colorful paintings around the community.

“It’s taking Belleville from a bedroom community, sleepy suburb and making it its own destination,” said Emily Smith, a Belleville Mural Project committee member. 

Members of the Scott Air Force Base Key Spouse Group at a luncheon on the military base on June 10, 2019. A new law in Illinois will make transfering professional licenses to Illinois easier for military spouses.
Solomon Cook | Scott Air Force Base

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE — A new law in Illinois aims to help members of the military and their spouses find solid employment faster.

The bill, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in early August, offers service members and their partners reciprocity for professional licenses obtained in other states or jurisdictions, essentially letting them transfer an existing license to the state.

Fairmount Park Will Have More Racing Days In 2020, But Has Not Yet Hit Its Minimum

Sep 27, 2019
In March 2019, a trainer works out a horse at Fairmount Park racetrack in Collinsville. The Illinois Racing Board recently approved the track's plan for 60 live racing days in 2020.
Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat

Fairmount Park in Collinsville has scheduled 60 racing days in 2020 — up from 40 this year.

But that schedule will require Fairmount to spend more money upfront to help pay race purses for the extra days. To do that, the track will allow its purse account to run a deficit next year, said Brian Zander, president of Fairmount Park.

“We’re going to pay it forward,” Zander said. “The purse is going to go into a deficit situation. On the basis, the management knows at some point that money will be coming in. There will be at some point, we don’t know when, there will be some casino and sports betting revenue coming into the track.”

East St. Louis Asked For $2.5 Million To Fix Flood Damages. It May Get Far Less.

Sep 27, 2019
The Illinois River as it crested in the flooded town of Grafton, just north of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in June 2019..
Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat

East St. Louis has asked the federal government for $2.5 million to repair damage from this spring’s floods, but could wind up getting only a fraction of what it wants.

The city is among two dozen local governments that have applied for $33 million in assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Five months after this spring’s historic flooding, they’re beginning to get an idea of how much they will receive as FEMA teams investigate their requests.

Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Staff Attorney Nicole Massey (right) assists a volunteer at an Expungement Day event in Champaign County in 2018. Land of Lincoln will run a similar even in Woodriver on Sept. 27.
Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation

WOOD RIVER — More than 7 million people in Illinois have a criminal record, according to the 2016 Survey of State Criminal History Information Systems. And 100 of them in Madison County will take the first step to sealing or expunging their criminal histories on Friday. 

It’s part of the Ready to Work: Madison County Expungement Day event hosted by Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation that provides free civil legal services to seniors and low-income residents in central and southern Illinois.

Owners Of Revoked Illinois FOID Cards Must Give Up Their Guns. Fewer Than Half Do.

Sep 21, 2019
When a prospective gun buyer comes to Ron and Jo's Firearms and Sporting Supplies in O'Fallon, he or she has to show a FOID card to handle the weapon.
Joseph Bustos | Belleville News-Democrat

BELLEVILLE — In Illinois, when people have their firearms owners identification (FOID) cards revoked, they’re supposed to turn them in to law enforcement and surrender their guns. But that only happened less than half of the time in the Metro East and statewide during the last four years.

In St. Clair County, FOID cards were returned just under 36% of the time after they were revoked from 2015-18, according to Illinois State Police data obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat.

Illinois REAL IDs have a gold star in the top right corner.
Illinois Secretary of State Office

Like the rest of the country, Illinois residents will need to get REAL IDs if they want to continue to use their licenses or other state identification cards to board domestic flights and enter federal buildings starting late next year.

In March, the state started issuing REAL IDs in compliance with the security standards set by the 2005 REAL ID act. Compliant licenses are marked by a gold star in the top right corner of the card. 

Edwardsville High School students observe labor apprentices pour concrete on Sept. 10. The high schoolers are part of a two year program where they learn aspects of the construction trade.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

EDWARDSVILLE — A new program that gives high school students hands-on experience with the construction trades kicked off this year. 

Over two years, juniors and seniors from local high schools will learn to pour concrete, install pipes, construct scaffolding and other aspects of the trades from certified labor instructors through the Illinois Laborers' and Contractors Joint Apprenticeship and Training Program.

Tanker In Dupo Train Derailment Fire Apparently Was Carrying A Solvent, Railroad Says

Sep 10, 2019
Onlookers stop in a parking lot across the from the fire in the Dupo train yard. Sept. 10, 2019
Derik Holtzmann | Belleville News-Democrat

Fire erupted in a train derailment Tuesday afternoon in Dupo, where schools and some residents were evacuated but no injuries were reported.

Initial information indicates that a tank car containing a flammable liquid called “methyl isobutyl ketone” was involved in the fire, according to Union Pacific spokeswoman Kristen South.

“It is typically used as a solvent,” South said in an email.

Cambridge House of Swansea on Sept. 4. This is one of three Metro East facilites to receive 50 new apartments for dementia patients.
Eric Schmid | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — Metro East residents will have more options for affordable dementia care. The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services announced it is expanding the number of its dementia care sites across the state. 

The department said it will add 1,600 apartments for dementia patients at 40 care sites over the next three years. Three of those sites are in the Metro East. The Cambridge House communities in Swansea, O’Fallon and Maryville will each get 50 new apartments. 

Cannabis plants grow inside an indoor facility. These facilities use high amounts of energy and water. Illinois aims to cut that use by requiring its growers meet strict energy efficiency standards.
Micripper / Pixabay

BELLEVILLE — Both recreational and medical cannabis growers in Illinois will have to meet high standards for their energy and water use. 

A state law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in June places limits on the amount of water and electricity growers can use, as well as setting requirements for water runoff and wastewater.

Assistant Secretary for the Army Civil Works Rickey Dale James (left) and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (center) tour the top of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam facility on Aug 28.
USDA / Flickr

EAST ALTON — Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited the Melvin Price Locks and Dam facility while in Illinois on Tuesday.

He toured the newer facility and promoted infrastructure investment in the Mississippi River system. 

Hunter Richardson, right, explains a tire nut to (from left to right) Juan Peal, Javahn Watkins, Nichelle Davis and Charles Singleton at World Wide Technology Raceway on Aug 22.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

MADISON — A program that pairs science and technology education with car racing hit the track at World Wide Technology Raceway on Thursday.

For the first time, the track invited youth teams from school districts and after-school programs throughout the St. Louis region to build and race their own go-karts ahead of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 IndyCar race on Saturday.

Solar panels are one upgrade business can make with PACE financing. The Fairview Heights City Council will consider tonight whether to allow the financing program in its city.
File photo| Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 10:20 p.m. Aug. 20 to include the City Council's decision to delay its vote

Businesses in Fairview Heights may soon find private investors to help them make their buildings more energy efficient.

The Fairview Heights City Council is considering a proposal to establish a Property Assessed Clean Energy financing program in the city. The council had scheduled a vote for Tuesday, but delayed it until its Sept. 3 meeting to give the public an opportunity to see recent changes state legislators made to the law.

The PACE program gives commercial property owners access to long-term loans for efficiency upgrades. It would help new and existing businesses invest in their properties, said Paul Ellis, the city’s director of economic development.

Horses cross the finish line at Fairmount Park Racetrack on July 23. The number of live races at the track will likely increase to 100 because of the gambling expansion bill passed earlier this year.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

Fairmount Park Racetrack is filled with spectators on most Tuesdays and Saturdays, eager to watch horses fly down the dirt track.

But with just 41 live racing days this year, the stands at the Collinsville track remain empty far more days than they’re filled.

A recent gambling-expansion law in Illinois could change the track’s fortunes. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill in June, which was long-sought by the horse racing industry. Racetracks can now apply for licenses to host table games like blackjack and roulette, slots, video gaming and sports betting. 

A worker at Kruta's Bakery selects a bear claw for a customer's order on Aug. 13. The bakery celebrates a century of serving the Metro East and St. Louis region.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

Jennifer Hammond knows exactly what to do when there’s a birthday at her office. She immediately picks up a cake from Kruta’s Bakery in Collinsville.

For the last century, the family-owned business has lured customers with kolaches, danishes and a wide variety of other baked goods.

“They’re just so tasty — the doughnuts, the cakes, the cupcakes, everything. It’s really good,” said Hammond, who lives near the bakery. 

On Sunday, Kruta’s Bakery will celebrate its 100th year as a family-owned business.

After a hearing at the Southern District of Illinois' U.S. District Court, a judge will determine whether the state of Illinois must begin changing its procedures for medically treating transgender prisoners. July 31, 2019.
Nick Telep | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 6:30 p.m., Aug. 1 with testimony from Illinois Department of Corrections officials — The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois wants a federal judge to order the state of Illinois to change its practices for providing medical treatment to transgender prisoners. 

Current policies fail to provide adequate health care to prisoners diagnosed with gender dysphoria, according to opening arguments made Wednesday by the ACLU in a federal court in East St. Louis. Illinois Department of Correction practices deny and delay medically necessary treatment for years, leading to “profound suffering” and increasing the risks of self-harm and suicide for transgender prisoners, the ACLU’s motion argues. 

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker addresses the crowd at Fairmount Park on July 30. He signed into law a gaming expansion that helps increase the tracks racing days to 100.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a massive gambling expansion into law in June. On Tuesday he stopped by Fairmount Park Racetrack in Collinsville to talk about the impact.

The legislation offers six new casinos, a harness racetrack and casino licenses for the three existing racetracks in Illinois. Pritzker said adding other types of gaming will reverse the current decline at the horse racing track.

Visitors look over produce at one stand at the Old Town Farmers Market on July 20. The Belleville market started accepting SNAP benefits this year.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

The Old Town Farmers Market draws people seeking fresh, local produce to Belleville’s downtown every Saturday morning. 

Food stands line a block of South Charles Street offering fresh meats, eggs, vegetables and fruits, and a steady stream of patrons checks out the options six months of the year.

Now the popular farmers market hopes to attract a new set of customers: SNAP users. 

Mural locations (clockwise from top left) include Complete Supplements, Grimm and Gorly, Turned Treasure Galleries and 128 East Main. The Belleville City Council approved these locations by a vote of 12-1 on July 15.
Eric Schmid | St Louis Public Radio

Murals will transform five downtown Belleville buildings as part of an effort to showcase art in the Metro East community.

The Belleville City Council approved the Community Mural Project’s locations last week.  

Trees killed by sudden oak death on a hillside in Big Sur, California, in 2006. The pathogen that causes sudden oak death was found on some ornamental plants in Illinois.
Wikimedia Commons

Updated at 12:45 p.m. Friday to add that the pathogen has been found in Missouri, as well.

A pathogen that’s deadly to some native trees has been found in 10 Illinois counties, including St. Clair and Monroe.

Agricultural officials found Phytophthora ramorum, which causes sudden oak death, on some ornamental plants from big-box garden centers around the state. The pathogen causes dark brown spots on the leaves and branch tips of rhododendron, azalia and lilac, but it is deadly for oaks and certain other tree species. 

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