Tom Kacich | Local projects win favor in Congress, except in Miller’s … – News-Gazette

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Retiring U.S. Reps. Rodney Davis and Adam Kinzinger left some nice going-away projects — funded by federal taxpayers — for the people in their congressional districts. Also, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth got about $182 million in projects for Illinoisans statewide, including millions for a long-awaited Curtis Road underpass project in Savoy.

But those living in the district represented by U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland, got nothing. That includes Danville, Tuscola, Charleston-Mattoon and hundreds of communities in central and southern Illinois that would welcome a shot of federal money. For the second year in a row, Miller, who has called the congressional “earmarks” program wasteful and corrupt, declined to request any projects for her sprawling district.

There’s nothing wrong with taking the moral high ground and rejecting micro-targeted federal spending. In this case, though, federal subsidies are OK for the Miller family’s Coles County farm but not for her 15th District constituents. The Miller farm has received more than $1 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidies since 1995, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Locally, several area institutions and communities will benefit from the federal largesse, ranging from $2 million to Savoy for the proposed Curtis Road underpass to more than $600,000 for an upgraded emergency radio system for Piatt County first responders to $90,400 to the village of Roberts to buttress its troubled water system. Here are some local recipients:

  • $500,000 to the Agricultural Research Service for repairs and updates to its facilities in Urbana. Improvements include repairs to the soybean field laboratory that houses the USDA Soybean Germplasm Collection, as well upgrades to heating and cooling, electrical, and water systems in a second building.
  • $650,000 to the University of Illinois to conduct a statewide assessment of Illinois’ 72 coal-ash impoundment ponds, which contain toxic byproducts from burning coal.
  • $1 million to the UI to map the underground geology of Mahomet Aquifer, the source of water to nearly a million people in East Central Illinois.
  • $250,000 to the village of Ivesdale to replace outdated, failing cement asbestos water mains
  • $2 million to Savoy to construct several multi-modal transportation routes, most notably the construction of an overpass for the Canadian National Railroad tracks with the associated 2-miles of required track realignment.
  • $320,000 to Parkland College for its health professions education programs. A story in Thursday’s News-Gazette detailed that project.
  • $607,000 to the Piatt County Sheriff’s Office to help pay for improved radio transmitters, receivers and radios for first responders.
  • $90,400 to the village of Roberts for several water system improvements in the Ford County community.

The $2 million to Savoy will “help close the funding gap” on the estimated $30 million project to build an underpass on Curtis Road beneath the Canadian National Railroad tracks, said Village Administrator Christopher Walton. The federal grant will go toward relocating utilities and acquiring right of way.

“On behalf of the village, I would like to thank our federal legislators for their tireless work on this project,” said village board President John Brown. “The Curtis Road Project has long been in our region’s transportation plan. This funding is critical to the future success of this project and hopefully is just the beginning of additional federal funding since the village is also applying for two federal grants to complete the project.”

Piatt County Sheriff Mark Vogelzang is grateful for a $607,000 grant that will upgrade the emergency radio system for law enforcement, fire departments and emergency medical services in the county.

“It’s not unique to us, but it seems that a lot of counties have issues with radio coverage and I wanted to try to find a solution. I started working with Rodney (Davis) last summer and put in for this grant,” said Vogelzang. “I knew it would be an expensive project and like most counties funding is tight and so we tried to find different ways to make it happen.”

A major part of the grant will pay for more “repeaters” in Piatt County that receive electronic signals and retransmit them to remote areas, said the sheriff.

“It’s not just the deputy out in the middle of nowhere at night calling for help but it might be a deputy going to an accident who is now calling for lifeflight and his radio may not work. And then’s got to get a cellphone or something,” Vogelzang said.

“You feel bad asking for $607,000. To me that’s a lot of money. But in the federal budget scheme of things it’s a drop in the bucket and it will mean a world of difference to the people in Piatt County,” he said. “It’s huge.”

In Roberts, Matt Vaughan, president of the village board in the Ford County community of 350, was surprised and ecstatic about the grant award.

For more than five years, the village’s backup well had not been functioning, Vaughan said. A former water superintendent had been falsifying documents, he said.

“We’ve not had a backup well for quite some time, so I’ve been searching for funding for the last two years to get this fixed,” Vaughan said. “I’ve checked with every acronym within the state, and it was just dead end after dead end after dead end. No one at the state’s been willing to help us.”

The village contacted Kinzinger’s office and found help.

“We submitted the application under the assumption we wouldn’t get it,” he said. “We were originally told that it would not go in front of Congress until after Congressman Kinzinger retired and that he would not be there to fight on our behalf.

“So we filled out the paperwork, just like I do with many other things, and just expecting another dead end,” Vaughan said. “And then I got the surprise phone call that somehow it got included in the federal omnibus. How it got included I don’t know.”

The $90,400 grant should be enough to repair Roberts’ backup well and make some other improvements, “unless we run into surprises,” Vaughan said. The village’s water system has 175 customers.

The village’s main well went out a year ago, he said, and customers were without water for almost two full days.

“I’m just a small-town guy and I don’t understand the federal government but it just makes you wonder if they were able to sneak this in for us what else is in there? We’re blessed to be able to get the money and frankly I don’t care where it comes from. We needed it very, very badly.”

Roberts already is deep in debt after making water-system improvements and can’t afford any more costs, he said.

“The amount of debt we have versus our assets would never allow us to just write a check for this,” he said. “We desperately needed assistance to get it done.”

Davis got $20.3 million in earmarks for his district and Kinzinger brought in about $5.2 million. Both sums pale in comparison to the $666 million brought to Alabama by retiring U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican.

Even members of Congress who voted against the omnibus spending bill managed to ask for and get money out of it. In Illinois, that included Republican Reps. Mike Bost, who filed $43.5 million in requests, and Darin LaHood, who made $70.5 million worth of requests for projects.

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January 2, 2023 at 11:32AM

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