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Normal Council Hears Update On Weekend Catastrophes

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The Normal Town Council meets remotely, Monday, Feb. 15, 2021.

The Normal Town Council on Monday night heard updates about this weekend’s train derailment and fires, including that specialized equipment should arrive Tuesday to transport debris.

Also at the remote meeting, the council awarded Stark Excavating an $863,000 contract to complete a culvert project on Gregory Street; OK'd spending $365,000 on a Maxwell Park update; and renewed a  contract for City Manager Pam Reece. 

Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner and Fire Chief Mick Humer attended the meeting to share updates on the weekend events: Early Saturday morning when 16 cars of a 100-plus car freight train derailed in Uptown; that afternoon, a fire destroyed 12 units at Sugar Creek Apartments on Linden Street. But the weekend wasn’t over: Two overturned trailers from the derailment caught fire Sunday, when a saddle tank for diesel fuel ruptured. It flared again Monday morning.

No injuries were reported at any of the events.

Humer said specialized equipment could arrive as early as Tuesday morning to remove the derailment fire’s debris. However, he said that depends if crews can make it from Missouri, through the snowstorm. 

He said a red coloring that was flowing into the sewer as crews hosed down the Sunday train fire proved to be a nontoxic water soluble paint. And he noted the substance was retested Monday to be sure. The red dye should disappear once the snow melts, he said.

Reece praised Humer and Normal’s emergency responders, as well as town staff and the multiple agencies and local organizations and businesses that assisted at both scenes.

“Not only did we just have one incredible crisis--a major catastrophe in terms of a freight train derailment in Uptown. But then we were faced with a second crisis on the very same day,” she said.

Mayor Chris Koos said he was at the two sites Saturday, and only was outdoors briefly. He reflected on the enormity of the events, combined with the dangerously low temperatures. “Everybody really gelled as a team to get this situation under control,” he said. 

Humer said once first responders determined no one had died or been injured, the next issue was concerns about possible hazardous materials, but there were none. Dangers of electric lines, as well as crews being exposed to frigid temperatures, were his main focus during the nearly three hours needed to clear some of the blocked railroad crossings in town, he said.

He said the cold temperatures required teams of firefighters to be rotated in 15-minute shifts. At the Linden Street fire, Humer’s crews dealt with wet gloves needing frequent replacement, and hoses needed to be heated. Crews were at the scene for 12 hours, he said. At one point, a Normal ladder truck even froze in place. A mechanic had to be called to manually lower an aerial ladder.

“The ladder truck was so frozen that we couldn’t retract it,” said Humer, recounting how after partially solving the problem manually, they drove to the station and had to thaw it under tarps before being able to park it inside.

Humer noted mutual aid came from six different nearby fire departments. At one point, four aerial ladder trucks fought the apartment fire, he said. 

Koos said besides Normal fire and police response, representatives from Normal public works, McLean County Emergency Management Agency, Illinois State University, Ameren and Union Pacific Railroad were on site. Several local businesses donated drinks and food to those responders.

“It was just, really, really a testament to your professionalism and training, that everybody was cooperating, and working together," he said. "And it was very, very obvious watching all these different agencies and departments on the scene, how well they worked together.”

Council member Scott Preston said this weekend showed the vital importance of local government on full display. 

Gregory Street culvert

The council's voted unanimously to award Bloomington-based Stark the contract for the Gregory Street culvert rehabilitation. It should be completed this summer.  At its Dec. 22 meeting, the council OK’d using $926,000 from its state-funded Motor Fuel Tax Fund to upgrade the area, where the road crosses Sugar Creek near University High School. 

The money comes from nearly $1.2 million the state allotted Normal for capital projects. 

Upgrades include replacing the top slab of the culvert; related road improvements; creek and storm and sanitary sewer improvements; and new pedestrian bridges.

City manager contract

Also at the meeting, the council voted 6-1 to renew Reece’s contract through March 2024, at her current base annual salary of $190,550.  Council member Stan Nord voted against the agreement.

Reece’s current three-year agreement expires March 30. The council will amend the agreement later to “address compensation and identify goals and objectives,” according to council materials. The compensation terms, such as any possible pay raise, would be addressed during the city manager’s annual review, Koos said.

Reece, who has worked with the town since 1991, became Normal's chief administrator in 2018. She previously served as deputy city manager and assistant city manager. Koos praised her work, especially during 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’m not sure you would have signed up for it, given what you’ve been handed the last year. But you did, and you rose to the occasion and have done great work,” said Koos.

Nord said he voted "no" because he felt like the action amounted to signing a contract prior to terms being negotiated. 

Council member Kevin McCarthy noted when the contract and review cycles don’t line up, this is how Normal has handled this over the decade he’s been on council.

“I disagree with aligning city manager contract renewal to politics and election cycles,” he said, adding the city manager is a professional position. The council hires a person to manage the city, and does annual performance and compensation reviews, he said.

Children’s museum earns top awards

On Monday, Koos took time to recognize the Children’s Discovery Museum for garnering the top three awards in its field.

The Illinois Association of Museums recognized the Uptown institution for Superior Achievement in COVID-19 response; Superior Achievement for Best Practices in Educational Programming; and named its director Shelly Hanover, Museum Professional of the Year.  

In other business, the council:

  • Approved in a 6-1 vote, a two-year, $538,000 contract for solid waste disposal with Republic Services’ Bloomington Transfer Station. Nord voted "no." The contract represents a 3% increase over the current contract. Normal has the option to renew in five, single-year extensions. Normal and Bloomington jointly work with Republic. Bloomington is set to vote on its upcoming agreement Feb. 22.
    Council member Kathleen Lorenz said Monday’s decision is not tied to raising individual homeowners’ garbage collection rates.
  • Unanimously approved spending about $375,000 toward an $800,000 Maxwell Park renovation. The state is providing a $400,000 grant. Normal expects to spend an additional $25,000 on fencing and other items for the project.
  • Unanimously amended Heartland Community College’s site plan, allowing for an LED, 12-feet-tall sign, to stand northeast of Raab Road and Millennium Drive.  
  • Heard the town of Normal has received a AAA bond rating

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