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By ALAN J. ORTBALS

p01 leveesWorkers install a relief well on the American Bottom levee system. Relief wells reduce pressure on the levee and diminish underseepage. (Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District photo)    One positive impact of the Great Recession —at least for those who were in the market to buy — was crazy low construction prices, which paid off for the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District over the last several years. Originally estimated at $160 million — and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ estimates were much higher — the Flood Prevention District is expecting to complete its work to bring the levees to the 100-year flood accreditation level with $22 million left over.
    With that $22 million in seed money and a strong revenue stream from the quarter-cent sales tax, the Flood Prevention District is planning to issue bonds and commence work on reaching the 500-year flood accreditation level — what’s referred to as “the authorized level” of protection.
    Work on the 100-year level projects is ongoing. Chuck Etwert, chief engineer for the Flood Prevention District, said that he expects all work on that phase to be completed by May 2016. The 100-year level is what’s necessary to receive accreditation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Etwert said he hoped to receive that accreditation by the end of 2016.
    But the Flood Prevention District board of directors doesn’t want to wait on that accreditation — or the completion of the 100-year level projects — to begin work necessary to reach the 500-year level, which is the level to which they were originally built. The board passed a bond sale resolution in its June meeting. The Madison, Monroe and St. Clair County boards as well as the various levee district boards passed resolutions of approval in August. A bond sale of between $65 million and $75 million is expected to be completed in November.
    Because the area was under the threat of losing FEMA accreditation and working against the clock, the Flood Prevention District board decided to pay the full cost of the 100-year level projects. By law, only a 35 percent local match was required but the Corps’ 65 percent share was iffy at best as it was subject to Congressional appropriation. The area couldn’t afford to wait. Not so with the 500-year level work.
    “We’re operating under a memorandum of understanding with the Corps,” Etwert said. “We’re going ahead because we have the money to do so. The Corps doesn’t have its money at this point but we want to get what they call ‘work-in-kind’ credit for what we do. Later on down the road when the Corps gets the money, we want our work now to meet our 35 percent match the Corps requires.”
    Etwert says this is a little risky as the district doesn’t have complete assurance from the Corps but to get that complete assurance would take a year and a half or more and the Flood Prevention District board doesn’t want to waste the time.

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH

p01 von nidaVon Nida    EDWARDSVILLE — By year’s end, Madison County will be among the first counties in the state to enact a digital citation program designed to save time and expense during traffic stops.
    As Circuit Clerk Mark Von Nida sees it, the electronic “eCitation” program won’t take the sting out of getting pulled over but it will make the occasion a little more convenient. And safer for officers involved.
    “You’re already late for work, you’ve got a traffic ticket, you’re steaming. At least you’re not sitting on the side of the road as long,” he said.
    The county recently purchased digiTICKET software that will allow patrol officers to send case information directly to the Circuit Clerk’s Office in Edwardsville rather than transcribe it by hand.
    The program — and two other, related initiatives — are being enacted in Madison County at the urging and with the approval of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, an arm of the Illinois Supreme Court.  
    The first county to be approved for eCitation was Bond County, which, with Madison, makes up the 3rd Judicial Circuit. Bond’s program has been under way for a few months, allowing Madison County to learn from its progress.
    Rex Catron, the circuit clerk in Bond County, gets a lot of credit, Von Nida said.
    “He had found the company (Saltus Technologies, owner of the digiTICKET system) and encouraged them to come to Illinois. He has an edge because he’s an ex-state cop and he has some insight. He really did push for this program. I followed his lead.”
    So far, six counties have been approved for the system, and Von Nida said Madison may be the second to put it in use.
    The digiTICKET process is the first, and currently the only, eCitation solution approved by the Chief Conference of Judges in the State of Illinois.
    Other counties — and some individual cities — attempted through pilot programs to get to the same ends, but could not get past the necessary, and complicated integration of computers.
    Von Nida signed a contract for the digiTICKET service in July.
    “We’re not spending money from the property tax payers. Each ticket written since 2009, we’ve been collecting a $5 fee, from cases where fees have been assessed by the court,” he said. “The state legislature enacted the fee in order to promote the program.”
    The $5 is split; $3 goes to a circuit clerk’s fund, $2 goes to the ticketing agency.
    The clerk’s fund had generated some quarter-million dollars before Von Nida contracted with the company in July, putting down a payment of around $49,000, which includes the rights to 30 “client licenses” for the police jurisdictions involved. It will cost about $500 for the software to link each police vehicle and another $200 per vehicle for the hardware (printers and scanners). That money all comes from the court-assessed fees, he said.
    The program will start with tickets from the Madison County Sheriff’s Department before expanding to other police jurisdictions.
    “My circuit clerk automation staff is situated in the county’s IT department, along with the IT support from the Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “My people will be working directly with them in the same location. We’ll be able to launch it with just the one (police) agency and work out some of the bugs.”
    Because of subtle differences in databases, there will have to be customization of the processes for the county and ultimately other departments (about 27 in all).
    “Once we get the Sheriff’s Department, we’ll quickly move to Granite City, which has a lot of the hardware in place (from a past pilot project). What we expect is we’ll move in groups after that, starting with north-end groups (around Alton), then Edwardsville-Collinsville-Troy after that, then others.”
    Most departments are fairly proficient these days in terms of technology, he pointed out. Squad cars typically have computers from which officers work.
    The plan would be to upgrade squad cars with printers and scanners that would scan the barcode on driver’s licenses and registration and keep officers from physically having to write the information by hand.
    Von Nida said the county’s 9-1-1 database will be used in the processing.

Ameren audits saving companies big money

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH

p01 energyAn Ameren Illinois ally partner installs LED lightning on a recent project. (Ameren Illinois photo)    Businesses throughout Southern Illinois are saving big money on their annual energy bills, some of them thousands of dollars, through a program that’s so simple to participate in, it’s a bit like the proverbial light bulb idea.
    Ameren Illinois’ Energy Efficiency program, ActOnEnergy.com, has been around since 2008, but it’s grown in popularity as word spreads and residents and business owners and operators learn of potential savings through energy audits.
    Ameren cites three area business — Far Oaks Golf Club in Caseyville, Fischer’s Restaurant in Belleville and Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville — that recently avoided a combined $20,000 per year in future energy costs.
    The biggest winner, though, appears to have been Olin Brass, a subsidiary of Global Brass and Copper, Inc., which was recognized by Ameren Illinois for its energy conservation efforts at its East Alton facility.
    With the help of Ameren Illinois’ energy efficiency programs, Olin Brass reduced its electricity consumption by more than 14 million kilowatt-hours, equivalent to taking 2,000 cars off the road — and yearly cost savings of nearly $1 million.
    The company is on track to achieve national certification through the Energy Star Challenge for Industry program.
    In 2011, Olin Brass began participating in the ActOnEnergy program, which allows businesses and residential customers to receive incentives to help them complete energy efficiency projects.
    Between 2011 and 2014, Olin Brass took on 33 projects targeting lighting, motors, compressed air and more. Those projects resulted in electricity savings of nearly 14 million kilowatt-hours. As a result of the improvements, 21.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide gas have been removed from the environment, Ameren said.
    “One of Olin Brass’ core values is to exhibit good corporate citizenship in all that we do,” Bill Toler, president of Olin Brass, said earlier this year. “By investing in these types of energy efficiency improvements, we are showing our customers and our community that we care about the environment and the future we share.”
    Two of the leaders of the Ameren Illinois program — Keith Martin, director of Energy Efficiency, and Ken Woolcutt, manager of Energy Efficiency — agree that more businesses will take advantage of the program as they learn of the success others are having.
    “We have a targeted marketing effort to make our business customers aware of the variety of programs available to help them manage their energy usage and save money,” said Martin. “Every day, our energy advisors are in local communities, building relationships with company leaders and working together to assess the opportunities. Energy saving projects can often be turned around in days.”
    Ameren Illinois has lined up hundreds of pre-qualified contractors – HVAC, energy and lighting experts – to implement the improvements at customer locations. Businesses specializing in providing heating, cooling, insulation and lighting services have become “very familiar” with Ameren’s efficiency programs.
    “Our allies and contractors are critical to the success of these programs,” Martin said. “These businesses assist in the process of applying for the rebates and incentives and are a great resource for customers,” Martin said. In addition, customers may be eligible for tax breaks.
    Since 2008, Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency programs have helped businesses and nonprofit organizations save 3,938 gigawatt hours of electricity and more than 41 million therms of natural gas usage, equivalent to removing more than 582,000 cars from the road in a year, and translating into more than $265 million in total energy savings.

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    ALTON – Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest mass torts firms, is pleased to announce that the firm has been named to the 2015 America’s Elite Trial Lawyers list published by the National Law Journal.
    The firm has made the list for the second consecutive year and is one of only 35 law firms selected.
    “We are honored that our firm has been recognized again by the National Law Journal as one of the top plaintiffs’ law firms in the country, said John Simmons, chairman of Simmons Hanly Conroy. “We commend all of our attorneys and staff who remain committed to fighting injustice and providing our clients with a powerful voice to ensure that corporate wrongdoers are held accountable.”
    Simmons Hanly Conroy was recognized for its overall track record of successes, and specifically for trial victories and settlements in product liability cases from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. These included multi-district litigation (MDL) settlements for people who developed bladder cancer and other serious health problems from use of the popular diabetes drug Actos; MDL settlements for women who suffered complications from surgery that used transvaginal mesh; and a multi-million-dollar trial verdict for the family of a child born with bilateral cleft palate and lip as a result of the child’s mother taking the drug Topamax to treat migraine headaches while pregnant. During the past year, Simmons Hanly Conroy also handled more cases involving mesothelioma and exposure to asbestos than another other U.S. law firm.
    "Elite Trial Lawyers recognizes the lawyers and law firms who have worked tirelessly for the betterment of their clients and acknowledge that these efforts reflect far more than the monetary awards won," said Kenneth Gary, publisher of the National Law Journal, which compiled its first-ever list of America’s Elite Trial Lawyers in 2014.
    The Elite Trial Lawyers were selected through extensive research, analysis and nomination vetting based on verdicts and settlements during the evaluation period. Firms included on the 2015 Elite Trial Lawyers list either secured more than $40 million in awards during this period or had four or more cases totaling over $15 million in awards during the same time span.
    All of the Elite Trial Lawyers firms devote at least 50 percent of their litigation resources to plaintiffs’ work. Simmons Hanly Conroy represents plaintiffs exclusively. The America’s Elite Trial Lawyers firms were announced Sept. 21 by the National Law Journal and will be featured in an upcoming issue of the publication.

About Simmons Hanly Conroy, LLC

    Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC is one of the nation’s largest mass tort law firms and has recovered more than $5 billion in verdicts and settlements for plaintiffs. Primary areas of litigation include asbestos and mesothelioma, pharmaceutical, consumer protection, environmental and personal injury. The firm’s attorneys have been appointed to leadership in numerous national multidistrict litigations, including Vioxx, Yaz and Toyota Unintended Acceleration. The firm also represents small and mid-size corporations, inventors and entrepreneurs in matters involving business litigation. Offices are located in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Alton, Ill. Read more at www.simmonsfirm.com.