CCC votes to keep groundwater restriction ordinance

Champaign’s ordinance on groundwater restriction was not repealed after Champaign City Council voted 7-1 in favor of keeping the ordinance intact at Tuesday night’s study session meeting. The current groundwater ordinance restricts potable water wells.

Its approval calls for a more transparent ordinance, which will require public notification when a business uses the ordinance.

A large crowd of community organizers gathered to voice their opinions on the 2007 ordinance. Many Champaign residents urged the council to repeal it, fearing the ordinance has granted businesses a “get out of jail free card” to avoid cleaning up contaminated sites.

The largest proponent for the repeal was Champaign County Health Care Consumers and the Fifth and Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign. Members of both community groups urged the council to address the residents’ needs, instead of the businesses impacted by the ordinance.

Neighborhood residents and organizers claim the former Ameren manufactured gas plant site continues to pollute the surrounding area. Magnolia Cook, resident of the Fifth and Hill neighborhood, said she sees Champaign officials caring more about Ameren’s financial costs than what costs the residents may incur.

“Our bills, hospital bills, doctor bills outweigh anything Ameren has to pay,” Cook said.

Claudia Lennhoff, executive director of the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, said vapor intrusion from benzene, which is believed to be contaminating the groundwater, has spread from the reported two households. She said studies of off-site locations have indicated increasing levels of this chemical.

Karl Newman, who is a consultant for Geocon Professional Services, an engineering firm, said he looked into two of the sites in Champaign that were granted no further remediation letters from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. Despite the issuance of the letters, Newman said they looked extensively into the problem and attempted to fix as much as possible.

“This was not a free card for us,” Newman said. “It was a regulated cleanup, and they did have to comply with regulations.”

Stephen Hamburg, owner of Garber’s Cleaners on Wright Street, as well as his family, has owned the business for 78 years and been at that particular location for 73 years. He said the ordinance helped reduce cleanup costs. An amendment to the ordinance would negate their actions through the eyes of the EPA, and cause them to have to comply to even higher environmental standards. The cost of such a move would cost Hamburg millions of dollars.

“I can’t afford this,” Hamburg said. “The building site would not only need to be developed by me, which is extraordinarily unfair, the amendment would prevent any development potential of my property and others as no one would get detracted from the monumental costs.”

Will Kyles, District 1, said his decision was based on the work done by the city and not influenced by businesses.

Councilman at-large Tom Bruno was the sole vote for the repeal of the ordinance. He was particularly concerned with what could lie beneath the Fifth and Hill neighborhood and would have no problem attacking businesses polluting the Champaign groundwater but said evidence was not sufficient in proving that the contamination was gravely serious.