Tag Archives: Illinois

Carrie Hightman Tied to Bobby Rush Scandal

29 Dec

by Ken Davidson

A new investigation by the Illinois Better Government Association, while not specifically mentioning Hightman, calls the relationship between SBC Illinois and the Office of Congressman Bobby Rush into question. Andy Shaw, President and CEO of the Better Government Association is quick to point out “We’re not suggesting that Rush broke the law, but we are saying the fog needs to be cleared and real answers provided.” SBC Illinois was the donor of the $1M grant to Rush’s non-profit organization. The grant was supposed to build a technology center in Chicago’s troubled Englewood neighborhood. According to reports from the BGA, the center was never built and the money was never accounted for. Shaw calls for an investigation into:

[Rush] maintains the money wasn’t stolen or squandered, but that claim, without verification, doesn’t suffice, so we’re suggesting some options for shining more light on the situation:

The House Ethics Committee can see if Rush crossed any legal or ethical lines in regards to the million-dollar grant, his charity accepting tons of money from regulated companies seeking his legislative help, and his campaign office apparently not paying rent.
The Federal Election Commission can look at whether Rush or his campaign operation violated federal law by apparently accepting free rent, not reporting it as an in-kind donation and possibly exceeding donation limits.
The Internal Revenue Service can investigate the tax implications of all this, including whether Rush’s nonprofit violated the law by wrongly claiming on one disclosure form the tech center had been built, which wasn’t true.
The IRS can also find out if Rush used campaign cash to enhance his personal lifestyle, which is what got former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in trouble.
http://www.bettergov.org/the_million-dollar_question/?CategoryId=1

Any such investigation would obviously focus on whether or not the grantor received anything of value in return for the no strings grant. Regardless of whether there was any impropriety in the transaction, the situation calls into question the professional judgment of Hightman.

Carrie Hightman, the Chair of the Gary P3 Committee, became Chief Legal Office for NiSource in 2007 after serving as CEO of AT&T Illinois, which was formerly SBC Illinois. In a statement released when Hightman joined NiSource, her experience in ” regulatory, legislative, governmental and external affairs activities, as well as community and industry relations, throughout Illinois” were cited. The statement went on to explain:

During her tenure at AT&T, Hightman led the company through a series of important public policy initiatives as AT&T evolved from a traditional telephone company into a provider of diversified communications and entertainment services, including wireline, wireless, data and video services. Under her leadership, AT&T secured unanimous regulatory approval of a landmark agreement to deregulate local telephone service and offer competitive pricing in the metropolitan Chicago market, as well as helped the company return to the long distance telephone market after a twenty-year absence.

The SBC Foundation states that they provide grants of $25,000 to $50,000. The Gazette could find no evidence of any other single grant in any amount near $1M. Additionally, the 990 tax forms submitted by the Rebirth of Englewood Community Development Corporation listed no such contribution, despite a specific question asking about “Unusual Grants.”

28 Unusual Grants: For an organization described in line 10, 11, or 12 that received any unusual grants during 20001hrough 2003, prepare a list for your records
to show, for each year, the name of the contributor, the date and amount of the grant, and a brief description of the nature of the grant. Do not file this list with
your return. Do not include these grants in line 15.
423121 12-03-04 NONE Schedule A (Form BBO or 990-EZ) 2004

Source: http://990s.foundationcenter.org/990_pdf_archive/364/364078159/364078159_200503_990.pdf
Hightman was instrumental in selecting the contractor that was recently approved by the airport board to run the airport for up to 40 years.  While this information was not disclosed to the airport board, the Gazette has previously reported on the connection between Hightman and one of the companies involved in the partnership that was ultimately selected.

The Better Government Association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is not affiliated with the Northwest Indiana Gazette.  You can read the entire BGA article at their website  The Million Dollar Question

Illinois Says to Indiana: Keep Your Petcoke and Take Ours Too

22 Dec

by Ken Davidson

Hammond corporation George J. Beemsterboer, Inc. is known to many Indiana residents as the operator of the J-Pit in Gary and a contractor at local steel mills and refineries.   As operator of the J-Pit, Beemsterboer has long been known for bringing  waste into the state of Indiana.  Now Beemsterboer is under fire for allegedly moving Petcoke out of Indiana and into Illinois.

Beemsterboer recently entered into an Agreed Interim Order with the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago.  According to a release issued by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the Order was designed to thwart a serious public health issue:

“The actions we are taking today mark a critical step forward in putting a stop to the
serious public health threat facing the residents that live near these facilities, but we will
continue to push for the strongest possible protections to ensure these conditions can
never happen again here in Chicago and across the state,”

Earlier in the month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel requested that citizens experiencing any problems with petcoke call the City’s 311 number.  Citizens reportedly complained of dust so thick they could not open their windows last summer.

The petcoke which was stored in Illinois by Beemsterboer came from a local refinery.  There are several refineries in the area which produce petcoke including BP in Whiting.  There are also refineries in Joliet and Lemont IL.  The most likely scenario now will be that petcoke from all of these refineries will be stored and shipped somewhere in Indiana or Wisconsin.

Petcoke is a byproduct of petroleum production.  The material is similar to coal in appearance.  The substance has been a byproduct of refining since the 1930’s.  It has become a national issue lately for several reasons.  The sheer quantity of petcoke has grown as local refineries have expanded.  The market for petcoke now lies outside the US, so it is primarily shipped overseas.  China is the main purchaser of petcoke products as many countries no longer allow the burning of petcoke as fuel.   Because shipping is the primary source of transporting the product, petcoke must be stored near water-in this case Lake Michigan or a local tributary.  Conveniently, Beemsterboer announced the purchase of the vacant State Line Energy plant after the Illinois Attorney General filed suit against them seeking to have the product removed from Illinois.  It has been reported that Beemsterboer will develop the State Line Energy site into condominiums.

One thing is clear, Beemsterboer is not storing petcoke in Chicago anymore.  So far officials have been mum as to future plans for storage of the material.

petcoke loaded onto barge in chicago

Petcoke is loaded onto a barge for shipment overseas

petcoke mountain in chicago

Petcoke Mountain on Chicago’s southeast side.

 

 

 

HazMat Tanker Rolls, Closing Toll Road for 2 Hours

19 Dec haz mat tanker rolls on indiana toll road

Gazette Staff

Lake County-A semi loaded with 30,650 pounds of Sodium Hydroxide Solution rolled
over on east bound Toll Road closing all lanes for almost two hours.

Preliminary investigation by Trooper Aron Weller revealed that at approximately
10:05 a.m., this Thursday, December 19, 2013, morning a 2013 Peterbilt semi pulling
a tanker trailer, driven by Eugene W. Hejhal, 55 of Twin Lakes, Wisconsin was on the
entrance ramp from I-80/94 (Borman Expressway) when he took the ramp too fast to
negotiate the curve portion of the ramp onto east bound I-90 (Toll Road). Hejhal
lost control of his semi as it began to slide off the roadway, jack-knifed and
rolled onto its driver’s side across all lanes blocking all lanes east bound on the
Toll Road.

The semi, owned by Heniff Transportation Systems out of Alsip, Illinois was loaded
with Sodium Hydroxide Solution which is used as an additive for cleaning detergent.
No load was loss.

Hejhal was not injured and was wearing a seat belt.

One lane was reopened at approximately 11:50 a.m. and all lanes were reopened at
1:53 p.m.

Hejhal was cited for Speed Too Fast for Conditions.

The semi/tanker was totaled.
http://s3.amazonaws.com/nixle/uploads/pub_media/user29390-1387484881-media1

Truck Loaded with Mail Rolls Over on I-65

18 Dec

Gazette Staff

Lake County-A semi loaded with mail rolled over this Wednesday, December 18, 2013, morning, closing the left lane on south bound I-65 at the 243 mile marker (this is three miles north of the Lowell exit).

Preliminary investigation by Master Trooper Martin Benner revealed that at approximately 10:51 a.m., this morning, a 2001 Volvo semi pulling a box trailer owned by Boss Trucking Incorporated out of Thornton, Illinois and driven by Robert Boutcher, 60 of Saint John, Indiana was south bound on I-65 when he changed lanes from the right lane to the left. There had been a previous crash in that location earlier which was off the roadway on the right and no lanes were closed because of it.

Boutcher stated he saw the crash activity up ahead and changed lanes to go into the left lane and began to slow down. He stated he looked to the right at the crash and when he looked forward another semi ahead of him was going slower than Boutcher’s semi. Boutcher steered to the left, went off the road, lost control and hit the barrier median cables. The Volvo semi then came back partially into the left lane before it went off the road again, losing control and hitting the barrier median cables for a second time causing the semi to roll over onto its passenger side in the median where it became entangled in the barrier cables.

Boutcher was taken to Saint Anthony’s Hospital in Crown Point with non-life threatening injuries. He was wearing a seat belt. Boutcher was cited for Speed too Fast for Conditions.

The semi trailer was filled with United States Mail going to Lafayette then Indianapolis. No mail was lost. The Volvo semi was a total loss the trailer had damage to its passenger side.

The left lane is still closed for off loading of the mail onto another trailer and the up-righting of the semi.
The lane is expected to be closed for approximately another 1 ½ hours.

Reader Outlines Concerns Over Illiana

17 Dec

Letter to the Gazette:

On December 12, 2013, the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission
(NIRPC) voted to accept the Illiana Toll Road into their 2040 Comprehensive
Regional Plan. By voting the Illiana public/private partnership project into
the regional plan, the NIRPC commissioners are allowing the project to clear
one of the many hurdles in its path. Public comment was not allowed at this
final meeting until after the NIRPC commission members had already voted.
NIRPC Chairman and Crown Point Mayor David Uran stated that three meetings
had been held where public comment was allowed and commission members had
reviewed comments submitted by the public. I have my doubts about how many
of the commission members truly read through the valid arguments against
adding this toll road to the commission’s 2040 plan.
> Besides the environmental impact on the region, which has three major
environmental groups filing lawsuits to stop the Illiana Toll Road, two major
business magazines have had eye-opening columns that explain in great detail
the extreme cost to taxpayers when dealing with privately run toll roads.
Openlands, Sierra Club, and Midewin Heritage Association have taken legal
action to stop the toll road based on the inevitable consequences in areas
such as Des Plaines Conservation Area and Midewin Tallgrass Prarie in
Illinois. Bloomberg News and Crain’s Chicago Business both recently printed
columns exposing the fact that overly-optimistic projections take place in
almost all of these road projects. This has led private road companies to
seek “set” payments from the states instead of accepting any risk that tolls
may not match projections. This is a lose/lose situation for the taxpayer.
You pay the toll and pay the state taxes that also pay the difference of
these exaggerated estimates. This is corporate welfare on steroids!
> Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider let the cat out of the bag in
October of this year when interviewed by Crain’s reporter Greg Hinz. When
people throw around the 28,000 jobs between now and 2043, they are quoting
“job-years”(whatever the heck that means), not total new jobs. The actual
estimate is a possible “940 full-time jobs” created. Forty-seven miles of
road cutting through the most pristine farmland and homesteads, which rely
completely on wells for water, so two governors can create 940 jobs over the
next 30 years. It would be funny if it wasn’t so damn stupid and serious.
> Schneider also completely contradicted Indiana Rep. Ed Soliday’s claim at the
NIRPC meeting that a future Peotone Airport is playing no role in pushing
this project. According to Schneider, traffic projections for Illiana done
by IDOT assumed the Peotone Airport will eventually be built. I would have
told Ed that, but public comment was not allowed.
> At the meeting on the 12th of December, which was conveniently held on a
Thursday at 9:00AM in Portage, Indiana, INDOT Northwest Indiana Chief Bob
Alderman gave an impassioned, nearly 15-minute, speech about how the Illiana
Toll Road will make the Borman and I-65 safer for travel. Really, Mr.
Alderman? You truly believe widening I-65 between U.S. 231 and Route 30 will
make things safe when the toll road will be well south of U.S. 231? You
believe diverting traffic from U.S. 30 and the Borman between 2-percent and
8-percent over the next 30 years is going to make the Borman safe?
> I drove from Hammond to the Portage NIRPC meeting on the Borman in light
traffic and still had to drive ultra-defensively because people were driving
25-miles over the speed limit. How will building a toll road make people on
the Borman drive in a safe manner? Why not widen I-65 up to and south of the
toll road? Unlike what some are reporting in the news, the “widening” of
I-65 is NOT part of the Illiana Toll Road project. It is only being approved
at the same time.
> There is so much misinformation being thrown around in support of this toll
road that it is very hard to decipher truth from fiction at this time. But
what is for certain is that we have the governor of one of the most fiscally
sound state governments in the United States making a deal with one of the
most mismanaged states in the Union. Two major business magazines have
labeled this road a bad investment for Hoosiers. Our water will be
threatened by construction, possible hazardous waste trucking spills, and
distance from Lake Michigan and access to fresh water.
> The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) transportation research group’s
(TRIP) most recent study says that 11% of Indiana bridges are structurally
deficient and 22.5% of our roads are in poor condition. Between Illinois and
Indiana, well more than 100-million dollars has been spent just studying the
feasibility of the Illiana Toll Road. That money could have been better
spent fixing our current roads and bridges instead of creating temporary jobs
to build a road 22-miles south of the Borman.
> If I weren’t 100-percent convinced that the Illiana Toll Road will fail to
provide the estimated tolls or meaningful, permanent jobs, I wouldn’t be so
determined to stop this project. If I were convinced that building this road
would make the Borman, Route 30, or any other road around here safer, I would
be in favor of it. I don’t believe any of that. But don’t listen to me.
Look up the information for yourself. Study the facts about our watershed,
private toll roads, look up comments from Illinois Transportation Secretary
Ann Schneider and others who are not so adamant supporters of this project.
Is the purpose of a toll road to create permanent jobs?
>
Dan Blankenship, Lowell

Submit your letter, comments or thoughts to the Gazette:

QUICK BURST OF SNOW LIKELY THIS AFTERNOON AND EARLY EVENING

16 Dec

Gazette Staff

The National Weather Service has issued a special advisory for areas including Lake and Porter County in Indiana.  The advisory warns that:

CONDITIONS CONTINUE TO BE VERY FAVORABLE FOR A SHORT PERIOD OF MODERATE TO BRIEFLY HEAVY SNOWFALL ALONG AND NORTH OF A LINE FROM
ROCKFORD TO AURORA TO VALPARAISO THIS AFTERNOON AND EARLY EVENING.

The burst is expected to hit Chicago by 3:00 pm and northwest Indiana by early evening. The evening commute may be difficult for many.  The Indiana Department of Transportation reports that all highways are clear at this point and there are no major delays.

Tanker with Hazardous Waste Crashes on I-65, Closes Road

14 Dec

Gazette Staff

Gary, Lake County-An early morning crash involving a semi placarded with Hazardous Material shut down a portion of I-65 north bound for almost twelve hours today, Saturday, December 14, 2013.

Preliminary investigation revealed at approximately 4:35 a.m., this morning, Trooper Brandon Henderson responded to a crash on I-65 north bound north of the I-80 west bound ramp. A 2013 Volvo semi pulling a tanker, owned by Transport Service Company out of Oak Brook, Illinois and driven by Dennis A. Rheiner, 61 of Jonesborough, Tennessee was north on I-65 in the right lane when a car cut him off so it could exit to the I-80 east bound ramp. This caused Rheiner to lose control of the semi on the snow covered road and it flipped onto its passenger side.

The semi was placarded for Hazardous Material Hexanes. Hexanes is a colorless, flammable liquid, derived from distillation of petroleum and used as a solvent. The semi was loaded with 6,935 gallons. A small leak was discovered after the crash.

Rheiner was not injured. Another semi/tanker was called from Transport Service Company out of Oak Brook, Illinois to come to the scene to off load the liquid.

All lanes were diverted off on I-65 north bound to the I-80 west bound exit ramp until 4:07 p.m. when the road was re-opened.

Assisting: Indiana State Police Commercial Vehicle Division Sergeant Wanda Clay, Indiana Department of Transportation Hoosier Helpers, Gary and Lake Station Fire and Haz Mat, Waffco Towing, and Service Environmental