Monthly Archives: January 2015

Two Men Cleared After Third Pleads Guilty to Trump Tower Flooding

trump tower

Buildings can flood for a number of reasons; hurricanes, winter snow storms and snowmelt are all common culprits.

However, when Chicago’s Trump International Hotel and Tower flooded last February, it wasn’t a result of the weather — the cause was a little more intentional.

According to the Chicago Tribune, a group of three friends, angry that they’d been cut off from drinking at the hotel’s Sixteen bar and restaurant, opened up a fifth-floor water valve, creating a flood — and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

At the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on January 21, a Cook County judge threw out charges against two of the men involved in the flooding after the third co-defendant pled guilty to a felony count of criminal damage to property in exchange for a probation sentence.

The Tribune reported that Benjamin Nitch, 26, who allegedly opened the water valve, accepted his sentence of two years’ probation and 480 hours of community service. Nitch was also banned from Trump Tower. Judge Thaddeus Wilson then acquitted Carl Koenemann, 26, and Daniel Maradei, 25, of any charges. In their testimony, the three men revealed they’d been drinking for much of the day.

After Nitch allegedly opened the valve, water burst from a pressurized pipe at a rate of 250 gallons per minute. Two elevators were destroyed in the incident, and the front lobby’s Italian marble floors sustained damage as well.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the incident resulted in a total of $700,000 in water damage to the luxury hotel.

Despite the fact that the hotel has 186 security cameras, there was no footage that showed who opened the water valve. Koenemann and Maradei told police they thought Nitch opened the valve, but didn’t actually see him do it.

“I think it’s clear that there is no direct evidence that these two defendants did anything illegal in that stairwell,” Judge Wilson said after two hours of testimony in court.

Chicago’s AHR Expo Unveils Latest in HVAC Technology

Air Conditioner Unit

From January 26 through 28, the latest in heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems was put on display at Chicago’s AHR Expo at McCormick Place.

According to the AHR Expo’s website, this year’s Chicago event was the most highly attended in its history, with 62,000 attendees coming from over 130 countries to browse more than 10 acres’ worth of exhibits.

The event’s unprecedented scale reflects the healthy growth currently taking place in the HVAC industry as a whole. Between 2009 and 2014, the industry grew at an annual rate of about 4.1%.

Air Innovations, one of the event’s thousands of exhibitors, dedicated its display to its new environmentally friendly HVAC system, the Split and Pack Series. According to an ACHR News article, the Split and Pack Series is engineered for specialty applications of heating and cooling, such as regulating temperature and humidity in wine cellars, computer server rooms and more.

Other exhibits featured the latest in air conditioning and refrigeration, heating, ventilation, building automation and control, energy-efficient products, plumbing and much more, the AHR Expo’s site details.

But why travel across the country — or even across the world — just to look at HVAC equipment that can often be purchased online?

The AHR Expo’s organizers say it has to do with the unparalleled experience of seeing HVAC equipment in person.

“Even with all our modern communication tools, nothing can take the place of seeing and comparing equipment and services in person,” the AHR Expo website explains. “At the show, you can get the information you need directly from the experts, and build relationships with suppliers.”

In addition, the event hosted a number of educational sessions that allowed attendees to get a first-hand look at how to better their own HVAC repair techniques and to learn all about the most cutting-edge HVAC technologies.

In all, the event was a must-see for any of the 301,123 or so HVAC specialists currently working across the U.S.

Falling Oil Prices Great for Everyone — Except Oil Companies Themselves

AP GAS STATIONS LOVE LOW PRICES A F USA AZ

For the world’s once-prosperous oil companies, the recent dramatic drop in crude oil prices is resulting in billions of dollars of lost profit. And while it’s giving Americans a welcome respite at the gas pump, it could have more dire consequences for the people who depend on oil for a living.

According to a recent USA Today Money article, oil companies will be met with maturing debt throughout 2015 in addition to falling oil prices, which will only add onto their financial woes. And with these prices not expected to pick up anytime soon, oil companies are facing a bigger threat — the near-inevitability of bankruptcy.

Oil conglomerates like the nations of OPEC have refused to let up on production in order to intimidate U.S. oil companies into lowering their production — and U.S. companies haven’t backed down. This constant excess in production has also caused prices to fall, as demand fails to meet the amount of oil entering the market. In addition, growing government initiatives to push renewable, clean energy sources are making fossil fuels increasingly obsolete.

Bankruptcy filings in the U.S. typically manifest in either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcies, which both help individuals manage excess debts. However, for larger oil conglomerates, Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which reorganizes debts for companies and businesses, is likely the best option. In these bankruptcies, companies create a creditor-approved repayment plan that allows them to recover financially.

And because business-filed bankruptcies are generally very uncommon right now — these bankruptcies fell 23% in 2014 to their lowest frequency since 1980 — the rise in filings throughout the oil industry would be an interesting anomaly.

Already, the oil and gas industry stood out as the second-largest source of Chapter 11 bankruptcies last year, perhaps due to oil prices falling more than 40% in a six-month span, USA Today Money says. With reports of price drops continuing into January, the financial pressure is likely only going to get worse.

Winter Weather Threatens Chicago Drivers This Week

Motion Blur of Car
It’s looking like a tough week for drivers in Chicago, IL. According to ABC7 meteorologist Tracy Butler, lake effect snow will be persistent enough over the next few days to make driving difficult.

Most of the snow isn’t accumulating, but it is reducing visibility and making travel more dangerous than usual. According to Butler, visibility is being reduced to only one to three miles in some areas.

The lake effect snow is expected to last at least through Tuesday, and temperatures will drop following the storm. The wind chill may drop, as well, making the temperature feel considerably lower than zero.

At least one driver has already fallen victim to the dangerous road conditions. A woman was injured and taken to Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village after her car skidded under crossing gates and onto the tracks of Metra’s Milwaukee District West Line.

The car was struck by an express train and thrown 20 feet until it hit a metal shed. Firefighters were able to remove the woman from the car and she was taken away for care. Her condition is currently unknown, though Itasca Fire Chief James Burke says she was conscious when she was taken away in the ambulance.

The woman was the only person in the car. According to witnesses, she tried to reverse the car to get out of the path of the train, but it was too late.

The accident, which occurred on Walnut Street at about 7 a.m., caused all trains to halt until later in the morning, when they began operating again with substantial delays.

Drivers are advised to use extreme caution in the coming week to avoid similar accidents, especially as roads become more icy. Adult seat belt use remains the most effective way to reduce injuries and save lives in a car crash, and drivers should take turns and stops with care.

Drivers should also dress warmly and carry emergency supplies in their vehicles in case of breakdowns, traffic backups or road closures.

Chicago Could Face a Class-Action Lawsuit and Be Forced to Pay Millions

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Chicago might soon be required to pay millions of dollars back to its drivers due to a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit stems from the issuance of tens (perhaps even hundreds) of thousands of traffic tickets to Chicago motorists on non-school days.

The lawsuit argues that City Hall is ignoring a state statute, which was put into place by the Illinois General Assembly before speed cameras were placed around parks and schools in the city. According to the Chicago Sun Times, the statute reads, “Violations shall be recorded, only on school days.”

The city’s first camera was installed at a school in November 2013. Now, there are more than 130 speed cameras and 51 safety zones near schools. These speed zones are intended to make the roadways more safe for children on foot.

In 2006, more than 60,000 pedestrians sustained injuries as a result of a traffic accident, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The problem is that the city has still been ticketing drivers when school is not in session.

The city issued more than 34,000 tickets during July and August 2014 alone, and continued to issue tickets through Thanksgiving break. Though the violations have not yet been posted on the city’s website, it is expected that drivers were also wrongfully ticketed during Christmas break.

“The city had no power under the state constitution to be enforcing those speed cameras during the times they were,” attorney Jacie Zolna told the Chicago Sun Times. “We’re asking the city to void all of those illegal tickets and warnings and refund the money.”

The lawsuit has not yet been granted class-action status, and the mayor’s administration is looking to get the case thrown out; however, this isn’t the first case in which millions of dollars in tickets have been forgiven to drivers — for exactly the same reason.

Faulty cameras in Nassau County ticketed drivers on days that school was not in session and subsequently forgave more than $2.4 million in August 2014. According to NBC 4 New York, the camera system has since been dismantled.

2nd Lawsuit Argues Chicago Pension Reform Law Is Unconstitutional

some of the money
A second legal challenge to the 2014 law that would cut pension benefits for some Chicago public workers was filed Dec. 26 in Cook County Circuit Court, Meaghan Kilroy reported for Pensions and Investments Dec. 30.

The lawsuit, brought by the Municipal Employees Society of Chicago, argues that reducing pension benefits is unconstitutional. It states that “[The Illinois Constitution] explicitly protects the benefits of participation in a government retirement system from being diminished or impaired.”

The law, signed by Gov. Pat Quinn June 9 of last year, affects participants in the Chicago Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund and Chicago Laborers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund, worth $5.3 billion and $1.4 billion respectively. It reduces cost-of living adjustments for retirees as well as increasing both employee and employer contributions to the plans.

Proponents of the measure have called it a pension reform law, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says that without these mandated steps, both funds may go completely broke. He has also maintained that the reforms are legal. City documents show that the municipal fund is approximately 38% funded, while the laborers’ fund is 58% funded. Together, they have about $9.4 billion in unfunded liabilities.

In general, lawsuits against employers have gone up by 400% over the last two decades in the United States, though most of those concern private companies.

Certain union members had filed a previous lawsuit Dec. 16. Clint Krislov, who is representing the plaintiffs of the additional lawsuit, say hearings are scheduled for Jan. 28 and 30 and Feb. 6 and 11.

Multiple bills and court cases regarding pension reform in the state have come under the spotlight during the past year.

Meanwhile, just before the new year, Gov. Quinn also signed a bill into law that prevents taxpayer-funded pension payments for public employees who have been convicted of felonies concerning their positions. The law is scheduled to go into effect June 1.

Spurred by New Policies and Opportunities, Illinois’ Energy Landscape May Change in 2015

oil well
Illinois may see “dramatic” changes in its energy outlook in 2015, Julie Wernau of the Chicago Tribune wrote Dec. 23, with policy changes opening and closing various doors regarding fracking, nuclear power production and wind energy.

“By year-end, the state could see an oil boom downstate, nuclear plants on the chopping block and forward momentum for a wind-power superhighway to carry wind-generated electricity from Iowa into Illinois,” Wernau reported.

Oil and Gas Drilling
There have been nearly two years of debates and legal battles over horizontal hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking — in the state, but Illinois lawmakers have succeeded in codifying regulations for the industry in the hopes that tax revenues will mitigate budgetary woes statewide.

The fracking process, which involves violently fracturing shale in order to extract oil and natural gas, is controversial among environmental activists. But each well could result in $725,508 in taxes over 10 years, assuming an oil price of $85 per barrel. Currently, oil prices are sitting at a much lower rate of $55 per barrel.

It’s unclear exactly how many rigs will pop up in the next year, but it’s likely that Southern Illinois will see at least some new permits issued.

Nuclear Power
The fate of nuclear power in Illinois is unclear, and Wenau predicts that “All eyes will be on Chicago-based Exelon as it decides what to do about its financially troubled fleet of nuclear power plants.”

The energy giant has struggled to compete at the prices set by wind- and natural gas-generated power.

Exelon is putting pressure on policymakers to reward its ability to produce electricity without carbon emissions, especially as the Environmental Protection Agency has set the ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gases 30% (measured from 2005 levels) by 2030.

Closing even one Exelon plant would put Illinois behind its goals. The company has said that three — half — of its plants may be closed for financial reasons.

That hasn’t stopped Exelon from planning for the future, however; starting early this year, the company will begin to roll out an app to help employees manage their careers. It was developed, a company spokesperson said, in response to employee uncertainty about advancement and promotion pathways.

Wind Power Distribution
2015 will likely see progress on a 500-mile “wind-power superhighway” that would transmit wind-generated electricity from Iowa into Grundy County, IL. The $2 billion line, called the Rock Island Clean Line, was approved last year.

It could lead to a drop in electricity prices across the state, as well as helping Illinois to meet its goal to derive 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

Because Illinois has had a deregulated energy market since the late 1990s, consumers can already choose their electricity suppliers and use only sustainably created power if they so desire. Energy deregulation breaks up the monopolies held by utility companies by dividing energy production from energy distribution; Illinois residents can choose from a wide range of energy suppliers, though electricity is delivered through the public utility company regardless of where it comes from.

According to data from Power 2 Switch, only 0.8% of Illinois homeowners currently choose a “completely green” electricity supplier. About 16.4% choose a “partially green” supplier, while 82.8% use traditional suppliers.