The issue of legalizing marijuana – a major plank in the mayoral campaign of Nick "Tick" Severson – wasn't even brought up.
But the proposed Hyperion Oil Refinery – an issue that's beyond the direct influence of the Vermillion City Council – did, at Tuesday night's city council and mayoral forum, held at the Al Neuharth Media Center.
The two-hour event, sponsored by the Vermillion Area Chamber of Commerce and Development Company, drew a large audience who listened to the 10 candidates share their views on a variety of issues.
Participants included mayoral candidates John (Jack) Powell and Severson; Central Ward alderman candidates Mary Edelen, the incumbent, and John Grayson; Northeast Ward candidates James D. Hoefelmeyer; Northwest Ward candidates Jim Wilson and Tom Davies; and Southwest Ward candidates Dennis Zimmerman, John Erikson and Kenneth (Andy) Anderson.
Kent Osborne, the Northeast Ward incumbent alderman, was unable to participate in Tuesday's forum.
The candidates gave opening statements and answered questions prepared by the event's organizers in the first half of the event. The remainder of the forum focused on questions submitted in writing from the audience, read to the candidates by moderator Ted Muenster.
One of the audience members asked the candidates to name the single most important item they wish to accomplish in one year.
Severson said he would devote time, if elected, toward garnering community support to allow for the construction of an outdoor stadium, track and football field at Vermillion High School. "I think it's important to finding a permanent home for Vermillion Tanager football and other community events."
Powell said he would like to see work on Sanford Street completed, including the installation of sidewalks and lights, "and is safe for all of the children who are riding their bikes and all of the people who are jogging in that area."
"I think one of the most important things that we can try to accomplish in a given year is to start a significant program for revitalizing the neighborhoods," Wilson said.
Davies answered that query by focus on quality of life issues in the community. He would support, he said, expanding the bikes paths in the city. "We have some opportunities there for tourism, to increase the interest in Spirit Mound. I would also like to take a look at a review of our criminal code to make sure that all of the ordinances we have in place are really necessary."
Edelen said the city has already begun to take steps on finding ways to improve the city's library facilities. She added that this project would be a top priority for her.
"The task force is already in place, and an architect for pre-planning has been hired," she said. "The library is the center of the community. We need to have more computer access, we need to have more and better library materials for children and adults, and there just simply is no place for having meetings, for children and for adults. The library is very, very important place."
"I would love to see municipal yard waste collection implemented within my lifetime," Grayson said. "I believe making it easier for homeowners and residents to dispose of their yard waste from the home without having to haul it out the recycling center would make our neighborhoods much more attractive."
Anderson said he would devote his first year on the city council to learning as much as he could about city government. "I want to be able to make sound decisions for the citizens of the Southeast Ward and the city of Vermillion," he said.
Zimmerman agreed that the city needs to devote its efforts toward completing Sanford Street. He also suggested expanding the hours that the city's recycling center may be in order during the spring and summer to make it easier for townsfolk to discard yard waste.
Erikson agreed that improvements to the city's bike path system and it library are important projects. He also believes it is time to devote resources toward restoring the amphitheatre in Prentis Park. "Small scale public development is something to keep in mind," he said. "You can make a real difference in a community."
Hoefelmeyer said it is important that the city services continue to run smoothly. "Beyond that, the idea that I'm most excited about is renewable energy. I would really like to see Vermillion develop a renewable energy infrastructure … let's develop our own wind project. There's no reason we cannot own our own renewable energy generation and live without carbon emissions and pollution."
Nearly all of the candidates echoed the same sentiments about economic development. All would support efforts to attract industries with a proven record of following regulations regarding pollution.
"I think if it is a viable business that really wants to relocate, their track record I'm sure is going to prove that they'll will try to do everything they can for the community as far as being responsible," Zimmerman said.
"I think sustainability is a very important issue that we should all consider and contribute to," Hoefelmeyer said. "What the city can do I think lies in zoning … if there is a use that is incompatible or inappropriate for the city, then the land zoning would reflect that the land use could not be along that direction. An incompatible enterprise could not locate in that space and further its operation."
Severson said it is important to balance economic development interests along with the environmental impact that an industry may bring to the area. "I'll go on record as saying that I strongly oppose the Hyperion project because of its potential for creating an environmental disaster."
Powell said renewable energy development, particularly wind energy, has potential in the Vermillion energy, but the city must be ready to address issues that might arise, such as properly developing the city's power infrastructure to possibly allow excessive energy generated by such a business to be fed back into the city's electric network.
Wilson noted that economic development must be balanced with other needs and desires of Vermillion's citizenry, such as quality of life issues. Because of that, it is impossible to determine the feasibility of any particular industry proposal without knowing the particular qualities of the business.
"Economic development impacts quality of life," Davies said. "The job of the city is to protect its citizens, and if there are significant environmental risks, we would have to enforce our ordinances, our zoning laws, and state regulations to make sure those risks are minimized."
Edelen said the city must make sure that companies that locate in Vermillion provide needed employment without damaging the city's resources. "We want companies that are going to be responsible," she said. "The city council's responsibility is to make sure that they abide by all of the laws. They shouldn't even look at Vermillion to come here unless they can pass those standards that we've already set."
"I would hope that Vermillion's government would have ordinances, rules and regulations that would welcome enterprises that are good corporate citizens," Grayson said, "and demonstrate abilities to be good stewards of our pristine environment."
An audience member asked candidates if they supported the Hyperion Refinery Project located in Union County.
"Unfortunately, that has to come up," Zimmerman said. "It is a Union County issue. Vermillion will see an outfall from it. I think there is better industry out there to bring in, but unfortunately, it is a Union County issue."
Erikson, Hoefelmeyer and Severson all expressed opposition to the project. "I think the important issue is how do we prepare for any type of business that might come that will affect our infrastructure, our schools, our hospital, and I think we need to think about how to prepare Vermillion for any eventuality."
Wilson stated that he doesn't believe the Hyperion project will be constructed. "I would say that I am probably opposed to it, yes."
Davies said that if Hyperion does become a reality, it is hoped that all state and federal regulations will be followed. "It's not something that we have control over," he said. "But we do need to do, I believe, is start planning for the potential arrival of the oil refinery or something similar."
"It is how Vermillion is going to react to this issue that will really set us apart from other communities in the state," Edelen said. "The Vermillion City Council has already had several sessions on our infrastructure … that is the responsibility of the city council. It is not to say whether Hyperion should come to Union County; that is way beyond our control. It is how we react to it that will make us."
Grayson said he is against the Hyperion project, and Anderson noted that the Hyperion issue will be up to Union County citizens and state officials. "My opinion doesn't count," he said.