Ameren to hold meeting to discuss Fifth and Hill toxic site

By Megan Graham

Ameren Corp. will hold an open house Wednesday to release details about the cleanup of a potentially hazardous property located at Fifth and Hill streets.

The Ameren meeting will begin at 4 p.m. at the Champaign City Building, but will be preceded by a Champaign County Health Care Consumers news conference at 3:30.

The site, which is located in Champaign, is the previous location of a manufactured gas plant used by the Champaign Urbana Gas Light Company. Though contaminated materials have been removed from the site in the past, tests have shown that traces of chemicals still remain.

“It’s a traditional open house,” said Leigh Morris, Ameren Illinois Utilities spokesman. “We’ll have some exhibits set up, we’ll have a PowerPoint presentation, and people who come can ask questions of our experts and of people from the Illinois EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) as well.”

Though Ameren is doing the cleanup, Claudia Lenhoff, executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, said during a Champaign City Council meeting that Ameren had not kept the residents of the area updated, even when the proximity to the site could have been dangerous. Lenhoff said that residents could definitely detect the chemicals in their environment.

“When people report floods, they say there’s a funny smell, and they say it makes them feel dizzy or sick,” Lenhoff said.

Some residents say they believe Ameren should have been more informative of the status of the site.

“I feel like they aren’t as forthcoming as they need to be to keep us well-informed,” said Eileen Oldham, resident of the Fifth and Hill area and account technician for the Committee on Institutional Cooperation. “I feel like the situation is a lot worse than the picture they’re painting for us.”

Oldham said she believes the open house may be Ameren’s attempt to be a more thorough resource about the state of the Fifth and Hill site. Morris, however, believes Ameren has been informative about the site all along.

“We provide people in that neighborhood with constant information about it,” Morris said. “We’ve been in constant contact with them. We also recognize that people have questions and they might not have called or e-mailed us, so this open house affords them the opportunity to ask.”

Morris said this will be the last open house before they begin the cleanup project, which he believes will begin in April. He said when the air containment tent is assembled before the excavation, residents will have another opportunity to see how the project will operate.

Even though the cleanup is taking place, residents and supporters of the campaign for the cleanup have not lost interest in the situation.

“We’ve got to be their watchdog to make sure they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do,” Oldham said.