KANE COUNTY CHRONICLE 4-5-03
Reprinted by permission
The elections are over, but numbers only tell part of the story.
Here is a bit more insight on issues touching each end of the spectrum
— broadband and the north Batavia dam.
That the broadband referendum failed should surprise no one. As
was said in this very space in February: "Take an unfamiliar
concept, put six zeros behind it, and watch voters punch 'No.'"
However, what is surprising is that 40 percent of Tri-Cities voters
support the municipally owned concept. It does not matter whether
their support is rooted in the belief the cities can provide better
service or based on a simple dislike for Comcast and SBC. Forty
percent is big enough to reach service thresholds needed for profitability.
Given that half of the voters did not participate in the election,
the broadband support only will grow.
Comcast and SBC waged an expensive campaign because they could
not afford to lose. A defeat would have signaled to other communities
the concept has merit. It also would have undermined legislative
efforts at the state and federal levels designed to make their companies
more profitable. Together, both affect the companies' bottom lines
and, therefore, their stock prices.
Broadband is not dead. It is vital for economic interests and
an attractive tool in recruiting proactive companies. Look for the
Tri-Cities to do nothing in the near future. To do so could encourage
catcalls that they are ignoring the will of the people.
St. Charles and Batavia eventually will move forward slowly, possibly
starting with businesses. St. Charles can move now because they
are a home-rule community. Batavia is expected to become a home
rule community. Together, their shared success, combined with continued
efforts to grow more grass-roots support, will lay the foundation
for broadband and give Geneva enough cover to come on board.
Meanwhile, there will be further research into funding, including
if state law allows non-home rule communities to fund such an effort
through tax-backed bonds or revenue bonds. Currently, state law
allows for revenue bonds for municipal utility ventures such as
water, electric sewer and gas. The lawyers will argue if broadband
is included. Or, a slight change in the law specifying broadband
could be considered, a move to be vehemently opposed by SBC, Comcast
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the north Batavia dam.
An advisory referendum recommended the dam not be removed by 62
Two critical points lost in the debate: Batavia does not own the
dam and the dam must be removed. The real question is should the
Illinois Department of Natural Resources allow the dam to crumble
or remove it safely. As is custom, they sought local advice.
Batavia politicians gave mixed reviews, largely because sentimental
issues such as a dam bring out voters. Look for nothing to happen
with the dam because the IDNR is not going to make waves over an
$8.5 million project without local support.
Here is what will happen: The dam will continue to be neglected
and will crumble away. IDNR again will ask for advice, conflicting
answers will be given, and nothing will happen — no new dam
and no state funding.
More immediate: There are few hydro-electric dams in Illinois,
and none are located on a river that you can walk across most months
of the year.
* Greg Rivara is the Kane County Chronicle Managing Editor.