Monday, December 15, 2008

I don't buy George Ryan's apology

Isn't it interesting that George Ryan has now apologized for his crimes against the people of Illinois? I may be living in another state now, but I was an Illinois resident and taxpayer during Ryan's tenure as Illinois governor. Weren't we foolish not to elect Glenn Poshard?

Like most Illinoisans, I am also very much opposed to the release of George Ryan for any circumstances. I reiterate — from a commentary I wrote for the local paper — George Ryan's sentence should stand.

Despite what former Gov. Jim Thompson says, and who would ever question his judgement, I can't believe Ryan has had a change of heart, or a anything remotely related to such a human component. There is however, what Ryan is all about, the political component — the save your own ass component — of potentially winning a commutation of Ryan's sentence. Perhaps a public apology was a requirement for consideration by President Bush. But the timing becomes interesting in light of the recent arrest of the current governor. Perhaps 'the apology' was in the works already and the political train en route to Ryan's freedom, was already moving. I would say that any president who would let Ryan out of jail would be a fool, but there really is no point in speculating further on that thought.

I will never forget my own dealings with Ryan. Arrogant isn't enough to describe him. From my observance, seeing "the look" from George Ryan conjured up thoughts of snakes coming out of his head because "the look" could almost turn you to stone. I recall a press conference where I asked him a question. Instead of an intelligent answer, I got "the look." And this was not an isolated event. I disagreed with George Ryan. Simply, he didn't like people who disagreed with him.

Monday, December 1, 2008

George Ryan sentence should stand

What are U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Rod Blagojevich thinking? Are they really considering asking President George W. Bush to commute the sentence of former Illinois Governor George Ryan?

Ryan was indicted in federal court on Dec. 17, 2003. The charges alleged that he accepted free vacations and other perks while doling out state contracts to lobbyist friends. Ryan was convicted on all counts against him April 17, 2006. On Sept. 6, he was sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison for racketeering, conspir-acy and fraud. Ryan reported to a Wisconsin prison Nov. 7, 2007. In February of this year, he was transferred to his present location -- the penitentiary in Terre Heute, Indiana.

George Ryan is not just an eld-erly man who spends idle time contemplating how he ended up behind bars, or how he could have done things differently. He is not just a loving grandpa and devoted husband, father, and brother, although he may very well be all those things.

It is what else there is about George Ryan that has put him in prison and should keep him there. He grabbed power from his position of authority and held the fate of people’s lives in his hands. He treated the responsi-bility that accompanies that power with little or no respect. I can attest that if you disagreed with George Ryan, you were treated with the utmost disdain. While he was good to his own circle of friends and those who could provide perks to him, he did not offer the same courtesy to everyone else.

George Ryan is a convicted felon, whose jail time is the re-sult of the justice system finally doing its job, despite climbing deliberately through every loop-hole available to circumvent it.

It mustn’t be forgotten that Ryan and his pro-bono legal team, led by one of the former governor boys’ club members, tried every angle to work the system in Ryan’s favor to keep him out of jail. This was despite George Ryan being the cause of pain, suffering, and even death in his routine dealings as Secre-tary of State and later as Gover-nor of the State of Illinois.

George Ryan treated Illinois as his own personal fiefdom and he has no regrets or remorse for his actions.

It seemed to take forever for Ryan to actually be sent to prison – many months after he was convicted and sentenced. To let him out of jail after serving such a short portion of his 6 ½ year sentence would, in my opin-ion, be a slap in the face of every Illinois resident. Similar senti-ments have been echoed by nu-merous newspaper editorials, surveys, commentaries and blogs. My voice is just one more in the mix.

Bush has granted 171 pardons and commuted the sentence of eight people during his eight years as president. The latest round came last month when Bush issued 14 pardons. Ryan’s name was not among them, nor should it be.
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Friday, August 8, 2008

Some claim health risks associated with sludge application

Biosolids applied to the land for the purpose of enriching the soil is being touted as free fertilizer for farmers.

But some question the real cost – the long range implications of land application of sewage sludge – or biosolids.

The practice of trucking sewage sludge from municipal and city sewage treatment plants to apply onto farm fields has been going on for years. Land applications are generally made in the spring, fall, and after the wheat crop is harvested.

But, at least one eastern Will County resident, Dale Waldvogel, whose family raises animals on their Will Township farm, is concerned about the practice fearing that it is a hazard to the soil, environment, and ultimately, human health.

Waldvogel watches each year, first noticing what he describes as a “horrible smell.” Then there is the seemingly never-ending convoy of heavy trucks filled with the stuff that traverse the country roads that aren’t designed to accommodate them. But he has greater fears than those mere annoyances. He fears the safety of the practice of land application.

Waldvogel is not alone.

There are questions about the land application practice, not only in Will County, but in small rural towns across the country, as well as in Canada, Australia, Europe, and other parts of the world.

Biosolids are the solid waste by-product from municipal sewage treatment – the result of everything flushed down toilets and poured down drains. Solid waste managers claim the dried, treated sludge is safe enough to put on the strawberry patch. But is it really?

The Sierra Club and others don’t think so. While the Sierra Club is not opposed to the use of pathogen-free, pollutant-free treated waste used as fertilizer, they stipulate that to be safe, there must be a separation of human waste from industrial waste.

They classify urban sludges as “highly complex, unpredictable biologically active mixture of organic material and human pathogens, some of which are resistant to antibiotics or cannot be destroyed through composting sludge.

“It can contain thousands of industrial chemicals, including dozens of carcinogens, hormone disrupting chemicals, toxic metals, dioxins, radionuclides and other persistent bioaccumulative poisons.”

According to the Sierra Club, the Federal Clean Water Act defines sewage sludge as a pollutant and banned the practice of dumping it into the ocean in 1989.

Land application was the answer to the question of what to do with an estimated 10 to 15 million dry metric tons of sewage sludge produced each year.

In 1993, the U.S. EPA issued its land application rule for the Use and Disposal of Sewage Sludges, (40 CFR, Part 503). The new law gave sludge a bit of a makeover.

To enhance its acceptability for land application, the agency began to call it “recycling.” And if it met the newly-created EPA standards, the new term for the sludge became “biosolids”.

With the new terminology came a new classification. As recycled biosolids rather than simple sewage sludge, it was no longer considered a pollutant, which exempted it from the most stringent laws governing waste disposal.

One of the reports upon which Sierra Club based its opinion and written policy, was the 2002 National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. The report warned that sewage sludge standards needed a new scientific basis.

“The agency (EPA) should update its standards using improved methods for assessing health risks,” the council stated, adding that the agency should also further study whether treated sewage sludge causes health problems for workers who apply it to land and for residents who live nearby.”

The Sierra Club charges that the regulatory standards for biosolids includes only nine metals, making the U.S. land application regulations the least protective of any in the industrialized world.

In Canada for instance, land application of biosolids is permitted, according to one Ontario chapter of the Sierra Club. It added that in the U.S., the application of biosolids is actually endorsed by the EPA.

According to the Cornell Waste Management Institute 2007 study for applying sludge to farm fields, developed by nine scientists from five universities, “No sewage biosolids management method is risk free.” They advocate working to establish guidelines for the most stringent requirements, but acknowledge that the practice carries with it “a certain degree of risk that is not fully knowable or quantified.”

The study states, “The benefits of amending soils with sewage biosolids are well documented primarily linked to the fact that sewage biosolids return nutrients and organic matter to the soil. However, management practices for sewage biosolids must include an awareness of potential adverse impact on soil, animal and human health. The presence of trace elements, synthetic organic chemicals and disease-causing organisms (pathogens) places constraints on the management of sewage biosolids by land application.”

According to the Toronto Star which did a series of stories about the risks to human health and the environment by using sludge biosolids, there are other ways to treat the mounds of waste being flushed into toilets and poured into drains.

It pointed out that Europe is discontinuing land application practices in an effort to preserve its agricultural soil. Instead they are utilizing non-polluting technology to convert sewage sludge from contaminated waste to a renewable resource to create biogas, heat, power, and energy.

Alternate disposal of waste is also being eyed in New Zealand where the sludge is being used in anaerobic ponds to harvest algae which is then converted into biofuel.

The treated liquid, after clarification could then be used for truck and car washing, as an ingredient in ready-mix concrete and as non-potable water for use in washing machines, toilets, and garden hoses.

New concerns about sludge application resulted from a ruling in March of this year, by a federal judge in Augusta, Georgia who ruled in favor of a farmer – Andy McElmurray – who sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture over poisoned land. McElmurray claimed the sewage-based fertilizer poisoned his land and killed his cows by the hundreds.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Alaimo awarded the farmer compensation for the 1,730 acres of poisoned ground on which McElmurray had planned to grow corn and cotton.

The sludge that was used on McElmurray’s land was reported to “contain levels of arsenic, toxic heavy metals and PCBs two to 2,5000 times the federal health standard.”

In a 45-page ruling Alaimo said, “The EPA not only used questionable data to examine the health risk on McElmurray’s farm, but that EPA officials took extraordinary steps to quash scientific dissent questioning of EPA’s biosolids program.”

Judge Alaimo wrote that data endorsed by Agriculture and EPA officials about toxic heavy metals found in the free sludge provided by Augusta’s sewage treatment plant was ‘unreliable and incomplete, and in some cases fudged.’”

The City of Augusta, where the sludge originated recently settled a lawsuit with McElmurray for $1.5 million for the dead cows. A nearby dairy farmer, Bill Boyce also won a $550,000 court judgment against the city on a similar claim that sludge was responsible for the deaths of more than 300 of his cows.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Will County State's Attorney sued for doing his job

Attorneys for Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow will return to federal court Monday, June 30 to defend him against charges of malicious prosecution.

A suit was filed this spring by former airport contractor Rocquin VanGuilder following an acquittal of him and his son Lee on charges of misdemeanor criminal trespassing and criminal damage to property. VanGuilder, the ex-vice president of Hanson Professional Services, which is contracted by the State of Illinois to manage the state-owned property purchased for the proposed Peotone airport, is asking for $200,000 in compensatory damages and $1,000 in punitive damages.

Glasgow’s attorney Martin W. McMannaman of Lowis & Gellen LLP, Chicago, filed a motion last Friday to dismiss the case because as a public official and a prosecutor, Glasgow is immune from prosecution.

It is Glasgow’s duty as the Will County State’s Attorney to meet with witnesses and to prosecute violators of the law.

Glasgow charged the VanGuilders after the Dec. 1, 2006 incident when, in defiance of landowner Mark Baugh, a subcontractor for the State of Illinois hired by Hanson, drove heavy equipment across Baugh’s farm field.

VanGuilder claims that Glasgow publicly stated there was insufficient evidence against him, until after meeting with representatives of the Will County Board, Will Township, and the organization STAND (Shut This Airport Nightmare Down), which caused Glasgow to have a “change of heart.”

VanGuilder claims that Glasgow initiated the charges against him and his son for political motives and for public relations purposes so as to bolster his standing with his constituents.

But this isn’t the first time that VanGuilder has been taken to task on behalf of local landowners in the proposed airport site.

In June 2003, members of STAND met with Timothy Martin, the former transportation secretary. Also in attendance were VanGuilder and Christine Cochrane, ex-airport project manager. Residents confronted the two about what they considered unfair treatment. And they complained to Martin about the treatment they had received at the hands of Hanson employees. Particularly at issue were letters threatening condemnation of their property through eminent domain.

Judy Ogalla, whose family owns a 160-acre farm in the airport site, told Martin that she was appalled that Hansen would call her the day before Christmas Eve. Ogalla said a message was left on her answering machine, so that her three young children could hear it, stating that this is her last chance to sell before the state takes their home.

Martin told the landowners that condemnation would be a last resort. He was visibly angry as he looked directly at Cochrane and VanGuilder. He scolded them as he ordered them to refrain from contact with landowners for 60 days. Further, he said that all issues related to the project must cross his desk.

A July 27, 2005 headline in the Joliet Herald News told a similar story. It read, State to address Peotone airport complaints – Footprint residents: Agents use deception, threats, intimidation to get owners to sell land.

VanGuilder was also at the center of the controversy that erupted in Aug. 7, 2006 when 14 structures were demolished in Will Township. Even State Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson suggested there was a conflict of interest when one company was expected to negotiate and buy properties, rent them, maintain them, and want to destroy them to make way for an airport.

VanGuilder was roundly criticized to the point that his firing was discussed, as he attempted to defend the decision to demolish houses he claimed were not cost effective to rent.

The case in point was the demolition of the Krygsheld house at Eagle Lake and Kedzie roads which was purchased by IDOT for $416,000, just two years after it was built. Two years later, the four-year old house was deemed uninhabitable and torn down. Such demolition flies in the face of statutes governing IDOT’s land acquisition for future rights of way, which states land acquired should be rented.

State Rep. Lisa Dugan was also incensed when VanGuilder attempted to discuss deficient electrical problems with the house. As a former licensed electrician she bristled at his comments. She said the Will County Building Department, with its tough building inspection codes, would not have approved the house for occupancy, had it not been up to code.

Prior to VanGuilder’s employment with Hanson, he was the Project Manager for TAMS, the consultant almost solely responsible for 20 years of airport study. Controversial reports produced by TAMS have been under scrutiny since the project began in 1985.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Does Chicagoland really need another airport?

In the May 25 Tribune transportation section special, "O'Hare: Built in a year," David Young draws a contrast between the rapid construction of O'Hare Airport a half century ago and today's protracted efforts to build public works projects. He cites the current O'Hare expansion and planning for "the region's proposed third airport near south suburban Peotone."

A little noticed advantage of long lead times is that policymakers have the opportunity to reconsider the initial premise before final decisions are literally cast in concrete. Two decades since Illinois taxpayers began footing the bill for Peotone "studies," the question remains whether there's any public benefit to paving over the farm fields of eastern Will County.

Clearly, it's wrong to describe Peotone as the "region's proposed third airport." In a 1988 report, IDOT acknowledged the state of Wisconsin's contention that Milwaukee's Mitchell Field, which serves many people from northern Illinois, is the third regional airport. In a 2008 report, IDOT acknowledged the state of Indiana's contention that Gary-Chicago Airport - a Midway-like facility that has yet to attract regularly scheduled commercial passenger service - is the region's third airport.

Does Chicagoland really need a fifth regional airport?

The Illinois General Assembly should commission an independent study that considers all local infrastructure costs, as well as actual and projected revenue losses that would result from IDOT's plans to remove up to 35 square miles of eastern Will County real estate from the tax rolls. The study should evaluate airport-related costs and benefits based on various scenarios, including an assumption that a Peotone airport would attract no daily commercial passenger service for many years, if ever.

—Patti Schoenbeck, Monee Township Supervisor, Monee

—Brian Cann, Will Township Supervisor, Peotone

—Bob Howard, Washington Township Supervisor, Beecher

Township officials ask for independent airport needs study

Three Eastern Will County Township Supervisors are calling for the Illinois General Assembly to finally answer the question of need for another area airport. And, they are asking that the study be done by an independent organization.

A letter appeared this morning, June 12 in the Chicago Tribune. It was penned by three township supervisors: Patti Schoenbeck, Monee; Brian Cann, Will; and Bob Howard, Washington.

The three would like to see an independent study that considers all local infrastructure costs, as well as actual and projected revenue losses that would result from IDOT’s plans to remove up to 35 square miles of eastern Will County real estate from the tax rolls. They write that the study should evaluate airport-related costs and benefits based on various scenarios, including an assumption that a Peotone airport would attract no daily commercial passenger service for many years, if ever.

The letter also debunks the state’s “third airport,” title.

“In a 1988 report, IDOT acknowledged the state of Wisconsin’s contention that Milwaukee's Mitchell Field, which serves many people from northern Illinois, is the third regional airport. In a 2008 report, IDOT acknowledged the state of Indiana's contention that Gary-Chicago Airport - a Midway-like facility that has yet to attract regularly scheduled commercial passenger service - is the region's third airport,” the trio writes. They ask if Chicagoland really needs a fifth regional airport.

The letter was prompted by a story in the Tribune last month that claims long lead times are nothing new in the airport game. It cites the contrast of the rapid construction of O’Hare Airport a half century ago with today’s protracted efforts to build public works projects. As example, the writer drew the example of the current O’Hare expansion plan and the proposed Peotone airport.

The three township supervisors point out, “A little-noticed advantage of long lead time is that policymakers can reconsider the initial premise before final decisions are cast in concrete.”

They also state that two decades have passed since Illinois taxpayers began footing the bill for Peotone “studies,” yet the question remains whether there is any public benefit to paving over the farm fields of Eastern Will County.

Historically, the question of need for a new airport has had little study. In countless airport meetings over the past twenty years, sponsored by various organizations, citizens have attempted to ask the question of need. Invariably that turned into the meeting sponsor scolding, “This is not the time to debate who is for or against an airport.” Perhaps now is time for that debate.

An independent study would be a welcome change. Most of the studies have been performed by IDOT-chosen consultants were paid by IDOT. It is no secret that such consultants are generally paid to produce a desired conclusion. Since Illinois became the sole sponsor for the project, the same consultants – TAMS, which has been taken over by Earth-Tech and the sub consultants, the al Chalabi Group, Ltd. — have been used, despite questions about the assumptions used, and the conclusions they have reached.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

High court rejects Ryan appeal, Bush pardon seen as last option

The curtain is about to fall on chances for freedom for ex-Governor George Ryan.

Short of a Presidential pardon, Ryan will remain in prison to serve his 6 1/2 year sentence for corruption. And that is just what is being considered by Ryan’s high-powered legal team led by ex-Gov. James Thompson.

Thompson is planning to ask President George W. Bush to commute Ryan’s sentence. This comes after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Ryan’s appeal and that of Ryan’s co-convicted ex-business partner Lawrence Warner.

The pair was convicted April 17, 2006, of multiple counts of racketeering, conspiracy, mail fraud, obstruction of justice, money laundering, and tax violation while Ryan served as Secretary of State.

Ryan is expected to be released from prison in 2013, but with a Bush pardon, his release could be right around the corner.

Speculation is high about whether or not Bush would consider granting a pardon to the disgraced ex-governor. Some claim that Republican ties are strong enough to encourage such an act, yet others believe there is little parity between Bush and Ryan politics. The most stark example of that is Ryan’s moratorium on the death penalty, something that Bush clearly favors.

Ryan himself might be overlooked for a Bush pardon, but it could come as a favor to longtime Republican fundraiser Thompson.

Once requested, Bush will have until his last day in office, January 19, to make a decision as many other former presidents have done.

Thompson has taken the legal proceedings as far as he could, maintaining that because of some irregularities with the jury in the six-month trial for Ryan and his pal two years ago, the two did not receive a fair trial. Thompson’s opinion was bolstered by the sole dissent in the Court of Appeals and a minority opinion by Circuit Judges who ultimately refused to rehear Ryan’s case. But that argument failed to convince a federal appeals court to grant a new trial. And, it failed to sway the nation’s high court.

Last November U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens refused to allow Ryan to stay out of jail while his case was being appealed to the high court.

In April, U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement filed a brief stating that the U.S. Supreme Court should refuse to hear the appeal of convicted ex-Governor George Ryan.

The U.S. Solicitor General argues for the Government of the United States in front of the U.S. Supreme Court when the government is involved in a case.

Clement said complaints about jurors were misguided and a hearing was not warranted.

Ryan reported to prison in November 2007 to serve a six and one-half year sentence. He was initially sent to Oxford Institution, in Wisconsin, but was recently moved to Terre Haute Federal Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana. Under new regulations, of which Ryan was unaware at the time of his sentencing, Oxford could no longer care for inmates over 70 years of age. Ryan is 74.
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