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Stories we're following in 2017

By Staff Report
Posted on 1/2/2017, 11:33 AM

As 2016 drew to a close on Saturday, local media outlets turned toward 2017 and what to expect out of the new year.

Here are some of the stories the Herald Tribune is following in a year that"s been designated as the "International Year of Sustainable Tourism" by the United Nations.

1. Chester Bridge Replacement

The Herald Tribune is anticipating to get an update soon from the Missouri Department of Transportation on contract negotiations with CH2M to conduct an environmental study that is considered the first step toward replacing the Chester Bridge.

"In about a month, we should have this worked out," MoDOT Project Manager Jason Williams told the newspaper in late November. "It"s a formal agreement, which requires our highway commission to approve it to move forward.

"Once they have approval, (CH2M) are free to work on the study."

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission is scheduled to meet Wednesday for its January meeting.

An online agenda showed no specific mention of the Chester Bridge project, but the commission was listed to hear a presentation from Transportation Planning Director Machelle Watkins on the 2018-2022 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) development.

In the minutes from its May meeting, the commission reportedly heard a presentation from MoDOT Assistant Chief Engineer Kathy Harvey on planning studies.

"Studies can be prioritized only when it can be demonstrated the projects that would result at the end of the planning studies could be fully funded for construction within a five-to-ten year window," the minutes said. "MoDOT will not support planning studies for projects that will sit on a shelf awaiting the promise and hope of future funding."

Last August, MoDOT Southeast District Engineer Mark Shelton told the newspaper "absolutely, that bridge needs to be replaced."

• 2. State Budget Impasse

The state"s stopgap budget expired Sunday and the new General Assembly won"t be sworn in until Jan. 11.

Prior to the passage of the stopgap budget, the budget impasse caused area senior centers to be closed for two weeks in August, the closure of the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in October, the eventual loss of the Scholastic Clay Target Program Nationals (the WSRC"s second-largest event), the City of Chester to dish out more than $1.7 million in unfunded utility payments to state facilities and critical damage to both public and higher education, as well as social services programs.

The state is now back to where it was last summer, with a historic deadlock between Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan.

• 3. Chester Holiday Inn Express

When the Herald Tribune last reported on it two weeks ago, James Best, of the Chester Hotel Group, told the newspaper there was no change on the Holiday Inn Express project"s status.

The newspaper reached out to the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) for an update on its end of the situation, as the Chester Hotel Group is reportedly waiting on design corrections to the hotel"s HVAC systems to be approved before construction can recommence.

IHG Corporate Communications Manager Ada Hatzios told the Herald Tribune in a Dec. 20 email that she was checking into details on the project and waiting for some information, later stating in a separate email response that she would be in touch with an update.

Best and his partners broke ground on the $5 million, 65-room hotel on September 14, 2015 and workers completed a retaining wall and the installation of utilities before construction was halted.

• 4. Crime and Courts

The new year opens with the Herald Tribune following three court cases involving charges of first-degree murder. Trial dates have been set in two of them, while the third is expected to be set soon.

First up is London S. Williams, who is scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 23 for alleged connection to the June 22 stabbing of T.J. Michael at Bernasek"s Bar and Grill in Chester.

Second is Jason Michael Stoker, who faces two counts of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, reckless homicide and first-degree murder in alleged connection to the Oct. 28 police chase in which Chester police officer and volunteer firefighter James Brockmeyer was fatally injured.

Stoker"s trial is anticipated to start in March, but no date has been set. He is scheduled for a case management conference on Jan. 5.

Lastly is Beau A. Shawgo, who faces first-degree murder charges in alleged connection to the Oct. 24 fight at Hide-Away Tavern in Percy. Shawgo"s trial has been set for April 17 and to read more updates on that case, see the story on page 1.

Also later this month is the sentencing hearing for 24-year-old Austin Curtis, of Ellis Grove. Curtis was found guilty of the criminal sexual assault of a 20-year-old Carbondale college student on Nov. 30 after a three-day trial.

Curtis"s sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 5, but the victim will reportedly be out of town and the hearing was continued to Jan. 27 at 1 p.m.

Criminal sexual assault carries a penalty range of four to 15 years in prison.

• 5. Steeleville TIF projects

Steeleville"s Tax Increment Financing boom continues into 2017 with the ongoing construction of the new Steeleville firehouse and the anticipated development of Mevert Automotive"s new headquarters on the Bockhorn Motors site.

The firehouse is anticipated to be complete in May, while the Village of Steeleville turned over the Bockhorn site to Mevert Automotive owner Brad Mevert in early December.

Mevert will have 18 months after a building permit is issued to complete his new headquarters and move his business to the new site. Empire Earth and Concrete will reportedly move into Mevert's current facility.

The newspaper is also keeping an eye on any new updates on the former Tom"s Barber Shop site, located along Broadway Street a short distance from the Bockhorn property.

One of the two buildings at the Tom"s Barber Shop site was intentionally burned by the Steeleville Fire Department last month as a training fire.

Developer Kim Rasnick, who has 10 years to develop the site, told the newspaper in late November that he planned on tearing down the remaining building "whenever I get some equipment free."

"We"re so busy right now, I don"t have time to work on my own stuff," he said.

6. Solar Eclipse

This year"s total solar eclipse, first of its kind in North America since 1979 and referred to unofficially as the "Great American Eclipse," will take place on August 21, 2017 and Southern Illinois is right in the crosshairs of the prime viewing area for the event.

"There"s at least two years of planning going on from our standpoint," said Dr. Scott Ishman, professor and associate dean of the College of Science at SIU - Carbondale. "For two minutes and 40 seconds worth of "wow.""

Ishman was the featured speaker of last fall"s Regional Leaders Breakfast at the Chester American Legion.

He noted that SIU, which has an entire festival planned around the eclipse, is anticipating more than 100,000 people in attendance across the region.

A second total solar eclipse, also to cross Southern Illinois, is set to take place on April 8, 2024.

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