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Area's message to Metra: We won't be ignored

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett led off his president’s report at the recent Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting on an issue that continues to bother him: a lack of Metra train service in the southwest suburbs.

“We have not had an area representative from Metra at our meetings in a long time,” Bennett said at the mayor’s conference on March 28 at the Evergreen Park Village Hall. “We are tired of being a poor stepchild for ridership. We have upgraded and improved seven stations in the southwest suburbs and we have less service than ever.”

Vicky Smith, the executive director for the Southwest Conference of Mayors, assured Bennett that Metra officials will be notified and will be encouraged to attend a future meeting.

Other local mayors were in agreement and believe service should be improved. But Bennett was the most vocal on the subject. He provided an example of his ongoing frustration with Metra.

“We wanted and requested more train service for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade that was being held downtown,” Bennett said. “But we received no extra train service – no more trains. All these train stations have been built in the southwest suburbs and we have no additional train service. Yet, you see plenty of service provided up north and in the western suburbs,”

Bennet dismisses the argument that some Metra representatives provide, stating that southwest suburban residents are not using the train service.

“If we build it, they will come,” Bennett responded. “Residents will take the train if more service is offered. But when it is inconvenient and when it is not offered on weekends, then residents have no choice but to look elsewhere. It just isn’t fair.”

Bennett would like to see Metra representatives attend a meeting sooner than later to address the situation.

Jim Garrett, president of the Chicago Southland Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the mayors he had concerns about recent changes to the Cook County Incentive Program. But he is specifically points to a proposal about the Prevailing Wage Tax Incentive Amendment, which requires prevailing wages be paid to contractors that work on a project whose business receives a tax incentive and requires installation of apprenticeship programs.

“It also places an unfunded mandate on municipalities to collect and hold certified payrolls for all workers associated with any new construction or repair projects,” Garrett said. “As you are aware, communities are already being asked to do more with less and this requirement is another unfunded mandate that adds to that burden.”

Garrett is concerned about the rise in rates for building hotels in the south suburbs.

“It will have a major effect on the poorer communities,” Garrett said. “It could be devastating.”

In other news, Smith reminded mayors and audience members of the important work that the PLOWS Council on Aging provides residents over the age of 60 who have physical ailments or might be psychologically impaired. PLOWS stands for the four townships the program covers – Palos, Lemont, Orland and Worth.

“PLOWS can help seniors with medical issues but quite a few other things,” Smith said. “Some reps help make lunch for some of these people or help do laundry.”

Justice Mayor Kris Wasowicz asked if PLOWS could look into situations in which seniors are charged exorbitant rates for home construction projects. Wasowicz said in many cases these seniors are taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors. He mentioned one instance in which an elderly couple was charged $43,000 for minor repairs.

Smith said she would pass that information along to PLOWS, which can be reached at their Palos Heights office at (708) 361-0219.

Bennett said that in terms of legislative activity in Springfield, a lot of bills are being considered.

“They (legislators) are nit-picking about local issues,” Bennett said. “They are looking into mandates and have packed the agenda with a lot of bills there. That usually helps them but hurts local government.”

Flood relief on the way

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

burbank mayor photo 4-5

Submitted photo

Burbank Mayor Dan Foy speaks at the podium during a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday for the expansion of the Melvina Ditch Reservoir at the site at 6500 W. 87th St. in Burbank. Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Stickney Township Supervisor Lou Viverito are standing directly behind him.

 

The Melvina Ditch Reservoir expansion aimed at alleviating flooding in Burbank and Oak Lawn officially began Monday, with a groundbreaking at the site at 6500 W. 87th St.

Burbank Mayor Dan Foy, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Stickney Supervisor Lou Viverito joined Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Mariyana Spyropoulos and other dignitaries to put the first shovels in the dirt at the 10 a.m. event.

Spyropoulos said the $20 million project, expected to be completed in early 2020, will more than double the storage capacity of the stormwater reservoir on the Oak Lawn border, expanding it from 54 million to 117.3 million gallons. The pumping station will also be modified to enable it to handle the increased volume, and a new emergency overflow weir is being installed to reduce the chance of the reservoir overtopping.

She noted that the reservoir was created in 1965, five years before Burbank was incorporated as a city. It was part of unincorporated Stickney Township, and the reservoir served an area of 21,000. It now handles runoff coming from throughout Burbank, with 28,000 people, as well as part of Bedford Park and much of Oak Lawn, on the south side of 87th Street.

The water from the reservoir is conveyed to an underground culvert that stretches from 87th Street to 95th Street, where it empties into the Melvina Ditch.

 Spyropoulos said the MWRD came up with the expansion plan after public meetings in local communities following heavy rains and flooding in the surrounding neighborhoods in April 2013, and again in June 2014.

“We heard the pleas for help and as the area’s stormwater authority, we had to do something,” she said.

“After getting input from Burbank and Oak Lawn neighbors and various stakeholders to address flooding concerns, the MWRD agreed to design an improved and expanded reservoir.”

The MWRD purchased 15 homes on the north and east sides of the reservoir and demolished them to make room for the expansion, which will include the removal of 80,000 tons of dirt. The project will also include the installation of a stormwater chamber and culverts at the outlet of the pumping station. Construction will extend to 87th Street to install the culverts and replace any disturbed utilities. Storm pumps will also be removed and serviced and impellers will be lengthened.

Engineers with general contractor F.H. Paschen said Monday that landscaping around the reservoir will complete the project.

“This is a great day for the city of Burbank, the village of Oak Lawn and the Southwest Side,” said Burbank Mayor Dan Foy. “I would like to commend MWRD for doubling the size of the reservoir and adding the emergency overflow. There are 430 residential properties that will have a reduced risk of flooding during storms. This is a great day.”

“During my lifetime in Burbank, we have had four ‘hundred-year rains.’ The rain is an act of God, but it is up to us to handle the water,” added Foy.

“This is indeed a very happy day for us, especially for the residents of the area. I can tell you when you speak to a resident whose home is underwater or taking on water, it is very sad. It means so much that we have a highly responsive group of people in the MWRD. This is pretty quick movement by government standards,” said Bury. “This will be a joy to watch. The difference this is going to make to the quality of life for people is enormous. Let’s get this done now.”

“I am very excited about it,” said Viverito, a longtime Burbank resident and former MWRD commissioner himself. “I am excited for Burbank, and Oak Lawn, and Bedford Park has been part of this. This is going to be great for the residents and businesses.”

He said the development of Burbank as a city would not have been possible without the creation of the reservoir, which he recalled was known as “Mud Lake.”

““What you’ve done with this expansion has touched the hearts and minds of Stickney Township and this whole area,” Viverito said.

Downstream communities, such as Bridgeview, Chicago Ridge and Worth will also benefit indirectly from the reservoir.

While the project is funded primarily by the MWRD, the agency did receive a grant from the state of Illinois through its Build Illinois Bond Fund.

“This is a great day for my constituents in Oak Lawn, Burbank, Chicago Ridge, and Alsip who have suffered from flooded basements, businesses, yards and streets,” said Cong. Dan Lipinski (3rd) in a statement. “I was happy to work with local officials and the MWRD to make this expansion of the Melvina Ditch Reservoir possible. This type of cooperation on local projects is what helps make our communities better places to live and work.”

 

Chicago Ridge shelves plan for gas station cafe with gaming

  • Written by Dermot Connolly
A proposed café with video gaming in the Thorntons gas station at 10559 S. Harlem Ave. in Chicago Ridge has been shelved, perhaps for good, after company representatives failed to attend the Village Board meeting on March 20 where it was to be discussed for a second time. Rather than being postponed, discussion of the proposal was stricken from the agenda on March 20, meaning that the backers will have to ask to come back before the board. The idea received a cool reception from most of the six trustees when Joseph Reed, a Thorntons representative, came to the village board meeting on March 6 seeking the liquor license needed for video gaming. He wanted to exchange the gas station’s current B-1 license, allowing packaged liquor sales for the B-2 license needed for video gaming, which allows liquor to be poured on the premises. Reed said a contained 10-foot by 10-foot area called Thornton’s Tap would hold five video gaming terminals adjacent to a cashier for easy monitoring. Plans called for offering cans of beer for $6, which would be kept in a refrigerator behind the cashier. Mayor Chuck Tokar and Trustee Jack Lind expressed support for the idea at the original meeting. But the four other trustees raised objections such as oversaturation of video gaming, and well as even serving alcohol at a gas station because of the possibility of drinking and driving. Trustee Ed Kowalski, at the March 6 meeting, pointed to existing problems related to loitering and alcohol at the gas station, and in preparation for the March 20 meeting, he looked at crime statistics between 2015 and 2017. “It was a big concern, and I did follow up,” said Kowalski this week. “We found there were over 1,500 calls for service to that location, for accidents, theft, and alcohol-related issues,” said the trustee. “There were about 15 calls a month over the past two years, involving some type of alcohol-related issue,” he said. Kowalski said he also didn’t buy Reed’s contention that very little alcohol would be sold there due to the price. “If people want the alcohol, they will find a way to get it. I don’t want them to be committing crimes in the area to get the money,” he said Monday. Trustee Bill McFarland had similar concerns, as well as reservations about video gaming in general. “Video gaming is such a divided issue. To help existing businesses stay in town and compete with neighboring businesses, I am 100 percent for it. But it really has to be taken on a case-by-case basis,” said McFarland, explaining why the board voted unanimously to give a gaming license to La Playita restaurant on March 6, but not others. He and Kowalski said the Thorntons proposal was especially unusual, and do not give it much chance of ever getting approved. “I highly doubt they will be bringing it back,” said Kowalski of Thorntons. “We have some real huge issues with it. I don’t think the board was very receptive. So, if they do come back, they will have a lot of questions to answer.”

Chicago precincts were key in lifting Lipinski to victory

  • Written by Steve Metsch

Several lessons were learned in the narrow victory Cong. Dan Lipinski posted over political newcomer Marie Newman in their hotly contested race for the Democratic primary in the 3rd Congressional District.

One was that a challenger with plenty of financial backing, and who represented a distinct difference from him, can give Lipinski a run for his money.

Another is that politics can be a rough-and-tumble sport.

The other lesson? It’s hard, really hard, to win precincts in Chicago when running against the Lipinski name on the city’s Southwest Side.

On Monday, nearly a week after her defeat, Newman said she was enjoying a fifth straight day rediscovering her family. She said she had been going 100 mph since filing her candidacy on April 1, 2017.

Fighting a nasty cough, she reflected on what could have been, and said she had no regrets.

The numbers are what they are. They’ll still be there when I get to them. When I get ready, I will analyze them. And I’ll have some better learnings from that,” Newman said.

Final totals showed Lipinski with 48,432 votes to Newman’s 46,230.

The difference was his convincing win in Chicago, getting 22,274 votes to Newman’s 17,233.

But she was the clear-cut winner in suburban Cook County, 24,705 to 23,131, and in Will County, outpolling him 4,212 to 2,975.

She even managed to beat Lipinski in the district’s lone precinct in DuPage County, 80-52.

She enjoyed the campaign, despite the outcome.

I learned a lot and grew a lot. It was a fantastic experience. I met absolutely wonderful people. That’s the joy. I met with (an estimated) 8,000 people individually,” Newman said.

Asked if the close outcome convinced her to run again in 2020, Newman did not commit.

Oh, gosh, I am not ready to make any decisions at all. I would say there are lots of options and I have no idea what the future holds right now.”

Newman did not like that, in her opinion, Lipinski “did nothing but smear and make up stories about me.” She called him “a Machine politician who is unscrupulous.”

She was surprised, “that, with the exception of the Lipinski camp, everyone was open-armed and helpful across the board.”

Asked if she got votes from residents who disliked the negative tone seen in campaign literature, she said, “I don’t know. That’s a good question.”

For Lipinski, the victory was helped in large part by his strong political base in the city.

Built by his father, William, a former Chicago alderman and longtime congressman, the base has been maintained by the younger Lipinski since he took his father’s seat in Congress.

I want to thank the people who knocked on doors, made phone calls, put up signs. I want to thank all of you who helped this campaign,” Lipinski said late March 20 at what turned out to be a victory party.

Lipinski’s chief of staff, Jerry Hurckes, said the large margin in city was the result “of Dan working hard and having a great name (with Chicago voters).”

So many people love this guy, love his father,” Hurckes added.

Lyons Mayor Christopher Getty, a Lipinski supporter, shrugged and said “no comment” when asked about a race that he called “too close for comfort.” He added that Lipinski has been good for Lyons and other towns.

it’s a changing electorate. The Millennials need to get out and vote, they need to be more involved,” said Sam Krneta, a Lipinski booster.

Lipinski thinks the large amount of funding, a reported more than $2.5 million on behalf of Newman, made the race closer. But he also spent around $2 million. Both are large amounts of money when it comes to a primary, sources said.

I was hoping it wouldn’t be so close,” Lipinski said, “but it’s good to be in this position.”

More than $2 million poured in here to attack me. It’s not just about fighting President Trump, but we need to bring people together to get things done, “said Lipinski, who thought Newman appealed to “the Tea Party of the Left.”

A campaign insider said “$2.5 million does a good job of keeping it close.”

The source said, “I didn’t see this coming. You talk to seniors, walk the precincts, train stations in the morning, senior centers in the afternoon … everybody loves him. They said, ‘Dan, you’re the best’ and ‘I’ve never voted Democrat. I’m taking a Democratic ballot this time’.”

Painted by Newman as being closer to Trump than the Democrats, Lipinski said he has opposed the president on several issues.

Newman also often hammered Lipinski on his pro-life stance, which may have won her some votes with pro-choice voters.

One source said, “I’ve never seen (political) ads use the word ‘abortion’ so often. Usually it’s code words like ‘Planned Parenthood’ or ‘a woman’s right to choose’.”

The source added that Lipinski “would rather lose an election that have to change his pro-life stance. That says a lot.”

In the end, Lipinski said: “We’ve got to bring people together in this country. We’re all Americans. I’m fighting to restore the American Dream.”

Worth mobile home residents say they are getting no hep with rat problem

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Photo by Dermot Connolly

Jim Lowell, a resident of Waters Edge Estates in Worth, points out evidence of a rat burrow outside a neighbor’s house in the mobile home park at 7240 W. 107th St.

Several residents of a mobile home park in Worth said they are facing a rat problem with little or no help from management of the property or the village.

Jim Lowell, a 28-year resident of Waters Edge Estates, a mobile home park at 7240 W. 107th St., said the rat problem surfaced over the past year.

“I caught one in my house. I pay rent, and now we have to worry about rats? No one is doing anything about it,” said Lowell.

He said he brought his concerns to management but received no help from Zeman Homes, which owns Waters Edge and several other mobile home parks in the area, including nearby Southwest Estates, at 10401 Southwest Highway in Worth, and Rosebud, at 8800 S. Harlem Ave. in Bridgeview.

“They could at least put bait boxes out,” said Lowell.

A message left with the management office by a reporter his week was not returned.

Another Waters Edge resident, who would only give her name as Ruth, said rats have gotten into her unit by digging under it and chewing through floorboards in her trailer on the site. She showed two photos taken recently of two dead rats found on roads within the property.

Tammy Chasse, a neighbor of Lowell’s, said she is thankful that rats have not gotten inside her unit.

“That is probably because it is on a concrete slab,” she pointed out. “But when it it is warm at night, starts getting warm at night, I no longer sit outside to smoke. I stand on the steps, because rats have run right past me.”

She and Lowell pointed out several neighboring mobile homes where either residents moved out because of the rats, or are dealing with them now. During a walk through the park on Monday, numerous burrows, evidently made by rats, could be seen beside several mobile homes. A couple of spring-loaded rat traps were also seen outside one house, but Lowell said they mustn’t have been set right because the rats “just ate the peanut butter and left.”

Lowell said rats seemed to have become more prevalent in the mobile home park after an addition was built on a restaurant beside the park on Harlem Avenue about a year ago.

“Maybe they disturbed something. There also used to see a lot of stray cats around here. But they are gone. Maybe the rats chased them,” said Lowell.

“Rats have been a huge problem in the entire area for the past 2.5 years,” agreed Worth Mayor Mary Werner.

She said when the issue came to a head in neighboring Chicago Ridge about two years ago, both communities took similar steps to curtail the rats. This included hiring Guardian Pest Control to bait traps on public property

She said a couple of Waters Edge resident have come to Village Hall seeking help with the rats.

“I feel bad for them. All we can do is suggest ways to deal with it. We can’t do much there because it is private property,” said the mayor.

She said Waters Edge residents who sought help from the village were provided with pamphlets with information from the Illinois Department of Public Health about how to keep the rat population down. The same pamphlets were included in all 2,800 water bills mailed to village residents with their water bills.

“We got involved. We’ve tried to be proactive. But everyone has to help with this,” said the mayor, citing the importance of eliminating food sources, and the feeding of wildlife. This includes removing bird feeders, because rats eat the scattered food. Dog feces also should be picked up daily she said, because rats eat that too.

“Fruit dropping from trees shouldn’t be left on the ground, and vegetable gardens are like a smorgasbord for rats,” said the mayor.

She said residents with piles of brush or other debris on their property have been given warning citations because rats use them as shelter.

“Rats seem to be able to chew through almost anything except steel wool,” said the mayor, suggesting that residents place steel wool in rat burrows to prevent them from being used.