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Champaign agrees to plug pipe near Boneyard Creek

By Illinois Public Media News - An environmental group says Champaign is doing the right thing by plugging a pipe suspected of having dangerous chemicals located near the Boneyard Creek.

Champaign County Health Care Consumers reported in March that findings from environmental experts show pollutants exist in an old pipe that extends from the site of a former manufactured gas plant at Champaign’s 5th and Hill Streets.

The group threatened to sue the city under the federal Clean Water Act, saying Champaign is responsible for preventing discharges from the pipe into the creek. The city had until Monday, April 11 to respond to the notice. To avoid a possible lawsuit, Champaign said it will plug the pipe with concrete, but it contends the century-old pipe is not discharging hazardous chemicals since it is no longer operating.

“The intent is to take the most conservative and safe action, and respond to the group and settle the dialogue rapidly,” Assistant City Engineer Eleanor Blackmon said.

But Claudia Lennhoff with Champaign County Health Care Consumers said it does not matter what the city’s intention is for sealing the pipe.

“If they come to do it grudgingly or if they come to do it with the intent of avoiding a lawsuit, it doesn’t really matter to us,” Lennhoff said. “What matters to us is the right thing is done in order to protect the environment and to protect the health of the people. This is a highly, highly toxic pipe.”

Ameren Illinois is cleaning up traces of the pollutant coal tar at the former manufactured gas plant where the pipe extends, but the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency said there is no evidence to suggest coal tar has made its way from the plant into the pipeline.

“If there are pollutants and we had concerns about them affecting the public, we would be notifying them and taking action immediately,” EPA spokeswoman Maggie Carson said. “But when we do scientific research and find no evidence, then we really have no reason to move forward.”

Lennhoff estimates the pipe runs for about five blocks. She said she would like to see the Illinois EPA and Ameren Illinois thoroughly inspect and possibly remove the entire pipeline.

The annual Boneyard Creek Cleanup is scheduled for Saturday, April 16, 2011 from 9 AM until 12 PM. Lennhoff urges anyone who participates to wear protective covering during the cleanup as a safety precaution

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