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McLean County OKs $5M for infrastructure repairs in rural communities; adds Coates as new board member

McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael administers the oath of office to new County Board member Matt Coates.
Eric Stock
McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael administers the oath of office to new County Board member Matt Coates at the board's meeting Thursday evening.

Rural McLean County communities will get federal funds to repair and replace aging infrastructure.

The McLean County Board voted 17-0 on Thursday to use up to $5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to pay for road, bridge, sewer and other infrastructure projects in 11 rural communities.

They are: Arrowsmith, Carlock, Colfax, Cooksville, Danvers, Downs, Ellsworth, Heyworth, Hudson, Lexington and Saybrook.

The board also selected Matt Coates to fill the vacant seat in District 4; he will serve the remaining eight months of a two-year term. The district includes much of west Normal.

Lexington Mayor Spencer Johansen addressed the board as chair of the McLean County Mayor’s Association. He said each of the communities is struggling to maintain its infrastructure. “The problem we are having is the infrastructure in these smaller communities are aging fast and we don’t have the finances to help pay for that,” Johansen said.

Spencer Johansen speaks to County Board
Eric Stock
Lexington mayor Spencer Johansen addressed the County Board on Thursday to request infrastructure funding for 11 rural communities in McLean County.

He noted Saybrook’s water tower has been leaking after it ruptured during a recent cold spell. He said a federal loan would be tough to secure and difficult to repay in the community of about 650 residents.

Johansen noted the communities represent six school districts serving 3,676 students, 19 fire protection districts and nine library districts spanning 1,140 square miles and 620,000 acres of farmland.

County board member Catherine Metsker, whose district covers much of rural northern McLean County, agreed the funding is “desperately needed,” and said she would support additional funding going to those communities if needed.

Board member Elizabeth Johnston said helping the communities maintain their infrastructure will save money over time. “We are actually being able to defer multiple rebuildings by doing the work right now,” she said.

McLean County received $33 million in federal COVID relief.

According to documents from county administration, most of the communities received substantially less than they had requested from ARPA.

Coates tabbed

Coates is the communications director for District 87 schools. He was the only candidate who applied for the seat following Benjamin Webb’s resignation.

“I’ve always considered myself a bridge builder. I have always striven to be someone who connects the community with public safety,” said Coates, referring to his new role on the board's Justice Committee. “I’m really passionate about that.”

Coates said the county’s mental health plans also are of interest for him. He previously worked as a restorative school specialist for Project Oz and as a crisis counselor and clinical coordinator of youth services at the Children’s Home Association.

Coates added he hopes to bring a fresh perspective to the board as an African American (one of two on the 20-member board). “I ultimately think government operates as its best when it’s most diverse,” he said.

Coates has filed to run for the seat in the June primary. Webb plans to run in a new district.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved new requirements for wind farm companies to pay residents for damages that wind farm construction causes to their property or to public and private roads.
  • Approved submitting a grant proposal to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to increase air pollution monitoring in Bloomington-Normal over a three-year period. Michael Brown, executive director of the Ecology Action Center, wrote to county administration that west Bloomington residents face “disproportionate amounts of air pollution,” but added the county needs more data to address the issue.
  • Presented a proclamation to Tony Cannon, who is retiring as director of MetCom, the county’s emergency telecommunications system. Cannon worked for MetCom for 22 years, the last 20 years as director.
  • Saw a presentation from the University of Illinois Extension for McLean, Livingston and Woodford counties outlining its various programs, including 4-H, food access, horticulture, gardening and consumer economics.
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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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