By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher
Water is like business: when it’s clean it’s good for everybody, when it’s dirty everybody suffers for the good of a few who are making money.
The national attack on the Clean Water Act will affect you and me.
Winnebago County is the only county in the state with four major rivers, including the Kishwaukee River–one of three “Class A” rivers in the state. The Rock River National Water Trail flows as our major river, home of South Beloit’s Nature at the Confluence Center; Top of the Rock Boat Club and Trading Post; Forest Preserves of Winnebago County; Rockford Park District facilities; Tad’s on the Rock; Ski Broncs; Verdi Club; Lombardi Club; Prairie Street Brewery’s Dinner on the Docks; the Head of the Rock Regatta; our 4th of July Celebration; and all the families living on our four rivers.
With all the oily street, mega-agriculture, and industrial runoff and pollution, the strength of the Clean Water Act is more important than ever. Do not let special interests looking only for profit, and unconcerned with our health and the health of our children and aging, tear down the standards that protect us from pollution.
Unregulated pollution ruins our quality of life and the quality of our recreational waters. Pollution’s economic impact on health costs and tourist/recreational enterprises is really anti-business.
Urge Attorney General Madigan to stand up for the environment and our general well-being. Go to environmentillinois.org to sign the petition to encourage Madigan. Remind her that the Clean Water Act was used in the lawsuits to stop the CAFO pollution on the Apple River and its canyon, and to assess the paltry fine for the ethanol spill on the Kishwaukee River. Also tell her we will need a strong Clean Water Act to fulfill the Rock River Trail Initiative’s goal of making the Rock River the cleanest tributary to the Mississippi by 2030. You can send this message to her directly at illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/about/email_ag.jsp.
Folding into more dirty business, many times irony comes out in the laundry of public contracts that suddenly become “pressing” –all poor puns laughingly intended.
I can’t help but get a big grin when I hear about efforts of my friend (although he told me after an election editorial about certain contribution methods, “Frank, I used to think you were my friend, but now I’m not sure.”) Sunil Puri. I have known Sunil since he was a Rockford College student who used to bum cigarettes and beers off of me when I was the bar manager at Mike Leifheit’s State and Madison bar mall, commonly known as the Rock River Cafe and Deli – home to the first Irish Rose – circa 1984.
More recently, the now tremendously successful Sunil was tremendously upset about the proposed South New Towne development by the Rockford Housing Authority (RHA) and Gorman & Company, Inc. to move part of the 200 units of the Fairgrounds RHA Project to some vacant land just of East State Street. I believe Sunil said something to the effect of, “East State Street is our Michigan Avenue.”
I have always been an advocate of public housing and all social services being an “equal opportunity opportunity” for all neighborhoods. In my usual politically incorrect manner, I have said and written on more than one occasion that the west side is always the garbage dump for all the city’s unwanted, poor, homeless and mentally ill.
I was publicly berated by Judy Emerson, former Rockford Register Star columnist, at a Rockford Park District function for the “garbage” phrasing (at the time, I didn’t know she was the new public relations person for Rosecrance). She said it was very unkind and insensitive, retorting, “Don’t you have anyone in your family is mentally ill?” I said, “Besides myself, no.” I think 26 years of creating this newspaper in this town is proof of that malady. The exchange went on for a while, and she offered to apologize and I was whisked away by a smart Rockford Park District public relations woman.
The point of this digression being–yes, the west side suffers from an over-density of public housing and social service agencies, and that is to the economic disadvantage of west side business people. Politically incorrect or not, that is an economic fact. And in the interests of full disclosure, I have several real estate holdings, all on the west side. I’d like to protect and improve my investments, too. This gets back to Sunil asserting my “equal opportunity opportunity” was damaging to our “Michigan Avenue.” Although the New Towne proposal is less than 70 units the neighborhood is still in an uproar against it. Now they know how many westsiders feel.
Here’s the irony of a new pressing concern of Sunil: he won the State of Illinois lease for the Department of Human Services (DHS) for his empty K’s Merchanise building at the corner of Mulford and “Michigan Avenue.”
Now remember, the Rockford Register Star printed: “Puri said that a cluster of apartments for low-income people on South New Towne Drive would have a negative effect on Rockford University and the East State Street shopping strip he’s helped develop.” Due to his largess, Sunil recently had the Rockford University Business School named after him.
I wonder how all the folks stopping by Mulford and “Michigan Avenue” for food stamps, Cash Assistance Programs, Link cards, Child Care, Developmental Disability Assistance, Mental Health, Violence & Abuse Prevention, Pregnacy & Parenting and Youth Services will affect “Rockford University and the East State Street shopping strip he’s helped develop.” Let’s not forget to wonder about all those other folks who are very concerned about the New Towne project as neighbors. Did you know South New Towne Drive is only a few blocks from Mulford Road and “Michigan Avenue”?
Oddly, the total take for Sunil’s new jewel at K’s would be around $6.6 million (probably more with relocation costs), and the existing DHS office at Auburn and Avon streets was bid at $3.8 million – $2.8 million less than Sunil’s bid – by landlord and lawyer Nerino Petro. Not so oddly, he’s unhappy; the alderwoman for the ward is unhappy, and all the business owners who have really been working on the Auburn Street corridor are unhappy. Just like they were unhappy at the last kick they got from the State of Illinois when the Driver’s License facility was closed at Auburn and Central. Think of the state’s lousy budget woes, the lost jobs and the local spending, and if you were them, you’d be unhappy, too.
So, we can’t move significant housing to the east side, but we can move one social service that actually is beneficial and wanted by a neighborhood to the east side.
The argument could be made that Sunil’s jewel will produce more jobs and revenue for the area, if you get the check from the state. Yes, it could be an “equal opportunity opportunity” for the east side or exploitation of the poor (including we the willing herd of taxpayers).
Yes, the ultimate and sad irony of this gray laundry steams as a starchy crease between the haves and have nots, clean water and dirty water, and the soil of the general well-being burned and special interests winning over all of us again.
With all apologies to lyricist Stephan Foster and a grin for my friend Sunil and our other friends, I have new lyrics for an old song, “Camptown Races,” as “South New Towne Races”:
South New Towne ladies sing this song,
South New Towne Drive’s only a few blocks long
Oh, de Moo-la day
Protests goin’ to run all night
Protests goin’ to run all day
Bet mo money on the DHS and K’s jewel way
Sunil’s gonna get his $6.6 million way