UTICA – In order to expedite Utica’s long-term economic recovery plans, Governor Rod Blagojevich announced more than $1 million in funding today that will help rebuild and enhance this and other communities devastated by April’s deadly tornadoes. The storms killed eight people in Utica and damaged or destroyed more than 650 homes and businesses. Governor Blagojevich has directed the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) to continue leading the state’s recovery efforts as part of his Opportunity Returns economic development plan for the Northwest region, his unique approach to attracting businesses and creating jobs.
“Even though this deadly act of nature took the lives of eight people from this small community, their memories will always be with those who loved and cherished them. As the healing process continues, we are pleased to be able to provide Utica with the financial support that will help it, and other communities in LaSalle and Putnam County, continue the rebuilding process. Our hope is to make this community whole once again by laying the foundation for continued economic growth and prosperity. By working together on these important projects, we are honoring those we lost here in Utica,” Governor Blagojevich said.
“Governor Blagojevich and I are determined to continue helping Utica and the surrounding communities that were profoundly impacted by this natural disaster. These critical investments being unveiled today from multiple state agencies are important steps in ensuring that the economic recovery will move forward,” State Senator Patrick Welch (D-Peru) said.
“When natural disasters strike, we must do all that we can to help those communities to not only recover but to rebuild. The support that Governor Blagojevich is announcing today will go a long way towards ensuring that Utica and the other affected areas will successfully move beyond this tragedy,” State Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) said.
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) will help local government agencies in LaSalle and Putnam County with a number of critical rebuilding projects after the storm destroyed a vast amount of public infrastructure – everything from schools to town halls. Governor Blagojevich worked with the Illinois General Assembly this spring to add an additional $436,600 to IEMA’s FY 05 budget to assist these areas with recovery expenses. An estimated $1.7 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will also help rebuild government agencies damaged by the storms. With the state’s contribution, federal and state assistance will total 94 percent of these projects.
There are nearly 80 projects in the two counties, including repairs or restoration of schools in the Putnam County Unit School District #535 and Waltham Elementary School District #185, and the village hall, township building and ambulance building in Utica.
“The tornado devastated many of the buildings that are critical to these communities – schools, village and township halls, and fire and police departments,” said IEMA Director William C. Burke. “With so many government facilities damaged or destroyed, trying to find the money for the non-federal share of these projects would be difficult, if not impossible. We’re pleased Governor Blagojevich is able lighten the burden on these communities with these funds.”
DCEO is providing more than $213,000 in emergency funding to Utica to aid the community’s rebuilding efforts. More than $50,000 will be used for critical planning efforts, including a downtown improvement plan and facade design, a tourism and economic development marketing strategy, ordinance codification, and development of subdivision regulations and signage. Additionally, more than $163,000 is being provided to help make key infrastructure improvements such as lighting, landscaping, signage, street furniture, banners, kiosks, sidewalk improvements, downtown parking facilities, and other physical improvements.
“Governor Blagojevich understood that after this natural disaster struck, the state had to provide a coordinated response that will not only help Utica and the other communities get back up on their feet but to thrive. Through Opportunity Returns, the Governor is making this happen,” DCEO Director Jack Lavin said.
The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is doing a preliminary study to re-route Illinois 178 that currently travels through downtown Utica. Presently, Illinois 178 has a number of sharp curves through the town and is located in an area that was severely damaged by the tornado. IDOT has chosen a new route that would straighten the alignment and take it west of downtown. The preliminary engineering is being done at a cost of $360,000 and should be completed sometime next year.
“Re-routing Illinois 178 away from downtown Utica will help alleviate congestion and make the road safer. Having a first class infrastructure is a key component of Governor Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns program because this is a powerful tool in attracting business and creating more jobs,” IDOT Secretary Timothy Martin said.
The Opportunity Returns regional economic development plan is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history. Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development just doesn’t work, the Governor has divided the state into 10 regions – finding areas with common economic strengths and needs, and developing a plan with specific actions for each region. This grassroots effort for the Northwest region is the product of significant outreach over several months with business, civic and labor leaders, and elected officials. This plan is tailored to deliver real results that local businesses will see, feel, and, hopefully, profit from.