2021: A Year in Review, part one
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■ Grafton’s Lighthouse Park parking lot was packed with cars Thursday night, Dec. 31, for a fireworks celebration to end the year of 2020 on a good note. Much of the audience stayed in their vehicles for the duration of the fireworks because of the frigid temperatures that night.
■ In the past week, one died in relation to COVID-19. It was earlier this week that the Jersey County Health Department announced another COVID death bringing the total to 31. That number has not gone up in the updated numbers since. Across the county, there 97 active cases. Barring some very minor increases, the number of active cases in the county has dropped considerably. It was just a couple of weeks ago when the number of active cases hit 161. In total 2,046 have tested positive for COVID in the county, 1,918 of which have since recovered, according to health officials. It was reported last week that individuals in the community have started getting the vaccine.
■ Federal legislation was recently passed, with the help of local leaders, which will hopefully create new avenues for communities impacted by natural disasters, namely floods. It was at the start of the year when President Donald Trump signed S3418, the Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation (STORM) Act, that is geared to help state and local governments prepare for or rebuild from severe weather or catastrophic events. And among the players that helped bring this to fruition was Grafton Mayor Rick Eberlin and his involvement with Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI).
■ On Dec. 4, 2020, the Honorable Allison Lorton was sworn in as Jersey County’s resident judge, the first woman in the county’s nearly 182-year history to sit in the position.
■ Following a high speed chase across counties, local law enforcement have made more arrests in connection to a slew of burglaries and thefts reported in the region, including Jersey, Calhoun, Madison and Greene counties. The Carrollton Police Department, Jerseyville Police Department, Jersey County Sheriff’s Office and Illinois State Police were involved in the apprehension of the St. Louis-based individuals.
■ The Illinois Consolidated Election is just around the bend, with county and municipal clerks all throughout the state gearing up for the April 6 election, and in Jersey County many eyes will likely be on the small city on the river. In Grafton, Michael Morrow is vying against incumbent Mayor Rick Eberlin for his seat. Also, two Ward 1 alderman seats are being contested in Grafton, one being a four-year term and the other being a two-year term to fill a vacancy.
■ Ice floes on the river have forced the shutdown of a lot of the ferry traffic going in and out of Calhoun County. The Kampsville, Brussels and Golden Eagle ferries’ operation stopped Sunday and Monday because of these ice floes, according to officials with the Illinois Department of Transportation District 8.
■ This week’s snowfall was not one that residents have seen locally in a little while. “This will be the biggest snow we have had since 2019,” Gene Breden, Emergency Services and Disaster Agency (ESDA) coordinator of the Calhoun school district, said. “We had 11 inches in 2019 in one snow, so this will be the biggest since then.” According to the national weather service this area received 8-12 inches of snow over the course of 72 hours.
■ Last week, natural gas suppliers in the area informed several communities in the region that their supply was running low, and with that came steep increases in prices, effectively shutting down many communities. It was a reality that many across the country were facing following the single-digit temperatures that accompanied the large winter storm that swept across much of the United States last week. In its wake, communities struggled to recover, especially in Texas, which has garnered much of the focus of mainstream news outlets because of the storm’s effects on the supply and price of natural gas. Communities affected by the gas shortage include White Hall, Roodhouse, Winchester, Pittsfield, Pleasant Hill, Franklin, Rossville, Morton, Pawnee, New Boston, Bushnell, Edinburg, Divernon, Auburn and many others. However, it was not a major concern for those in Jersey County – for the most part. Many of the communities in the county were shielded from such spikes in price, according to Ameren Illinois, which provides natural gas along with electricity to many local communities including Jerseyville, Elsah, Grafton and Fidelity.
■ At the Feb. 23 Jerseyville City Council meeting, a building grant program was approved that will provide an incentive for building improvements to eligible businesses in Jerseyville’s TIF District 1. The program coordinator, Shari Albrecht, said she hopes this program will benefit businesses after dealing with a year of COVID restrictions.
■ The Jerseyville City Council met on March 9, where an application for the commercial building grant program was approved by the council for the Stadium Theatre. Owner Steve Dougherty plans to use the grant to aid in refurbishing the front marquee, a staple feature in downtown Jerseyville. The Stadium Theatre was awarded $12,949 for the project. Work on the marquee has already begun, as Dougherty hopes to stay ahead of the spring rains.
■ It will still be some time before the Johnson and Johnson vaccine makes its way to Jersey County, according to local health officials. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is a single-dose vaccine that has recently reached other area health departments. This vaccine was approved by the FDA and issued as a EUA (Emergency Use Authorization), but Jersey County has not received them yet.
■ Rules around who to give COVID-19 vaccinations to have loosened across the state, and Jersey is still trucking forward, inoculating residents. The Jersey County Health Department, along with departments in Calhoun and Greene counties offered weekend COVID vaccination clinics last weekend. Efforts to offer vaccination clinics on the weekends were made to better serve those who work a traditional five-day week.
■ Señor David Allsup, the beloved Spanish and Italian teacher at Jersey Community High School, passed away on March 23, prompting an outpouring of sorrow and memories from thousands of students, friends and colleagues who felt the passing of an era.
■ Canadian Pacific (CP) is in the process of purchasing Kansas City Southern (KCS) Railroad barring any governmental hangups, and it has been indicated that this might mean big things for the local railway. Stonemont Financial Group, an Atlanta, Ga.- based investment firm, has been working with Jerseyville Economic Development Council, Inc. and KCS in bringing Southern Rail in bringing the much-anticipated development known as Mid-American International Gateway Business Park to the area.
■ Following a traffic stop by Jerseyville police at about 11 p.m. Sunday night on Spruce Street, Emmanuel Ross, 22, of St. Louis ended his life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to local police. Ross was reportedly sought in St. Louis in connection to a Sunday afternoon homicide.
■ The Jaycees, a nonprofit organization that was once active in the area several years ago, has recently been making a comeback. Dellaray Hileman, a resident of Golden Eagle who has also lived in Jersey County, spearheaded the push to bring the organization back into the area. “We organize events in the community and give back to any causes that we decide,” Hileman explained. “It’s not restricted like some organizations where you can only give back to certain things. We can give back to anyone we want.”
■ At the same time local healthcare workers are continuing to chip away at the number of individuals that are not vaccinated, guidance is shifting on what people can do, especially if they are vaccinated. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 6,929 residents in the county have been fully vaccinated, representing 31.72 percent of the population in the county. This puts Jersey just ahead of the percentage of the state that is fully vaccinated – 30.10 percent.
■ Waterfowl hunters last year were looking forward to the triennial duck draw events that take place around the region, but because of COVID regulations, they were canceled. Instead, blind allocations were extended for another season. This year, however, while there will not be any in-person duck draws in the state, there will be a reallocation of blinds.
■ Among the items under discussion at Tuesday’s Jersey County Board meeting, Deputy Justin Decker of the Jersey County Sheriff’s Department was recognized for his efforts during a flood years ago. In 2018, Decker risked his life to save the life of an 83-year old Grafton resident, who got caught up in the floodwaters of the Mississippi River. Decker waded into the water to save the man. Sheriff Mike Ringhausen had recognized Decker’s action not long following the incident, but at the May 11 board meeting, Commandant Carl Bradshaw of the Robert Wendle Department 1031 of the Marine Corps League presented a medal and certificate of recognition to Decker in honor of this selfless act.
■ The school year certainly brought its many challenges for the Class of 2021, especially in the first semester, but the ceremony on the JCHS football field Sunday was not about those challenges. It was not about COVID or the looming rain clouds overhead. More so for Jersey Community High School graduates, it was about finishing out an important chapter in their lives, despite the big last-minute hurdles they faced and doing so on their terms and with their friends. And the soon-to-be graduates wanted their graduation, the once in a lifetime event, to be outside on the football field. Ahead of the event, it was touch and go whether that would be possible. Rain was predicted for Sunday, but school leaders and graduates rolled the dice Sunday and won.
■ There’s currently a new plan in the works for Jersey County, along with several neighboring counties, to form a new regional organization that will better facilitate grant writing and administration for economic development and infrastructural projects.The new 501(c)(3) organization is expected to be formally known as the Mid-Illinois Regional Planning Council, Inc., and will serve to provide technical support, program planning, grant writing and grant administration services to its member counties in accordance with the comprehensive economic development strategy (CEDS), adopted by those counties through an intergovernmental agreement.
■ Over the past year, Grafton Hills, a quickly developing part of the City of Grafton, has become another example of the disconnect in supply and demand in the country – namely when it comes to building homes, and city leaders have taken steps to react accordingly when it comes to their incentive program for home buyers. In their last meeting, city council leaders voted to extend the construction period from two years to three years for Grafton Hills homes on city lots in the tax increment financing-related incentive program. So, instead of requiring homes to be built within two years, it will be three years in order to qualify for the incentive program.
■ Wock Lake is overflowing with fish, at least metaphorically speaking, based on data gleaned from the lake’s first and only population survey, which was conducted a couple of weeks ago. Tad Locher and Blake Ruebush with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) took a boat on to Wock Lake to survey the types of fish in the lake and how big they are. From the information the two gathered on the water, the fish ecosystem at Wock Lake seems to be in good shape. “Overall, the fish population looks really good, especially for a public pond that is easily accessible all the way around,” Ruebush, IDNR district fisheries biologist, said. “Sometimes, when fishing access is challenging, then people don’t harvest as many fish. For a pond that you can walk around and easily get to, it has a really good fish population.
■ Greg Hoskins, publisher of Better Newspapers, Inc., is proud to announce the acquisition of five Illinois newspapers: Calhoun News-Herald, Greene Prairie Press, Pike Press, Scott County Times and Jersey County Journal, all headquartered in Jerseyville. Based in Mascoutah, Better Newspapers, Inc., is a family-owned company currently operating 31 publications in Illinois and Missouri.
■ The St. Francis Xavier Parish will soon be commemorating the 150th anniversary of the consecration of the church, complete with congratulations sent from the Vatican by Pope Francis himself. “On special occasions marking different moments in church life or individual peoples’ lives, you can request via letter to the Apostolic Nuncio— basically the pope’s office— a little document acknowledging a special occasion offering prayers, blessings and well wishes,” Rev. Martin Smith of St. Francis said.
■ Since the beginning of June, state and local authorities have reported several accidents within the county that have resulted in one fatality, one near-fatality and several serious injuries. The accidents have been largely centered in the rural regions of the county, including Route 67 near Delhi, where the fatality occurred, as well as at McClusky, Brighton and in the vicinity of the Eldred turnoff near Fieldon on the River Road. According to Jersey County Sheriff Mike Ringhausen, these types of accidents and their commonality are to be expected this time of year.