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Southwest Illinois News is a weekly news publication spotlighting attractions, events, entertainment, tourism, jobs and business developments in Southwestern Illinois
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IN THE NEWS
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Casino Queen Reopens in 2007
Guests, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the re-opening of the $92 million expanded Casino Queen, August 2, 2007, enjoyed checking out the football field-sized gaming floor, which featured more than 1,100 slot machines and 27 table games, new restaurants and bars. See archived story: Casino Queen Re-opens
Casino Queen Sold to Newly Formed Employee Stock Ownership Plan
EAST ST. LOUIS, IL, (SWI-News.com), December 28, 2012 - Shareholders of Casino Queen, Inc., owner and operator of Casino Queen Hotel & Casino located in East St. Louis, Illinois, have agreed to sell 100% of their equity interests in the Company to a newly formed Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) for approximately $170 million, which includes the assumption and refinancing of approximately $31 million in existing indebtedness.

The privately held ESOP will provide the Company's approximate 700 employees with an opportunity to participate in the continued success and growth of the Property via collective ownership in Casino Queen's stock.

The ESOP will effectively create an enhanced retirement benefits plan tied to the performance of the Property and provide liquidity for employees when they retire or leave the Company. The private nature of the ESOP permits management to focus on strategies for the long-term benefit of the Company and creation of wealth for its employees.

Management of the ESOP will be led by co-trustees Jeff Watson, current General Manager of the Company, and Bob Barrows, current Chief Financial Officer. Mr. Watson and Mr. Barrows along with the Company's newly formed Board of Directors will provide daily governance and operations oversight. GreatBanc Trust Company acted as independent ESOP trustee during the Acquisition process.

The Acquisition, plus related transaction fees and expenses, was funded by the ESOP primarily through a combination of new debt financing instruments totaling $170 million.

The casino, situated along the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, offers a 40,000 square foot gaming floor with over 1,100 slot machines and 27 table games. Amenities include a 157 room hotel, three restaurants, 6,250 square feet of meeting space and 132-space recreational vehicle park.


$180 Billion Mississippi River Commerce Threatened by Low Water Levels
Barge traffic from St. Louis, Missouri to Cairo, Ill. could be shut down if Mississippi River levels continue to drop, as seen on the mooring north of the Eads Bridge.

Lewis and Clark Statue on Mississippi Riverfront
The Captains' Return statue of Lewis and Clark near the Eads Bridge stands on high ground as the Mississippi River level falls to historic lows, threatening navigation of the river and a $180 billion commerce industry.
Mississippi River Level Falls to Near Historic Levels Threatening a $180 Billion River Commerce
EAST ALTON, IL, (SWI-News.com), December 19, 2012 - Water levels are already approaching 1989's record drought levels, and barges are currently required to carry lighter loads. Mississippi River commerce is estimated to be a $180 billion a year industry.

If water levels drop below nine feet, barge traffic from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill. could be shut down. Trucks utilize more fuel than barges, and barges are able to carry a larger volume of goods than trains or trucks. According to the federal Government Accounting Office, the cost of trucking goods is nine times higher than the cost of transporting products by water.

In addition to blasting, the Corps is also planning to increase dredging along the river. Besides the dredging machine already in use, the Corps mobilized a second dredging machine last week and has identified other dredging ships which can be used, if necessary, to keep the river open to traffic.

The Mississippi River is a critical transportation artery for essential commodities like corn, grain and oilseeds, coal, petroleum and other products. The financial impact of a river shutdown could be far reaching. This summer's historic drought has caused the Mississippi's water level to fall to historic lows, threatening navigation of the river. Recent rainfall and weather forecasts have improved the Mississippi's outlook, though the water level could still fall to a record low as soon as Dec. 26.

As work begins to blast away rock pinnacles posing a hazard to barge traffic on the Mississippi River, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon participated in a meeting Monday convened by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, members of Illinois' Congressional Delegation and industry stakeholders to discuss the Corps' response to the Mississippi's near-record low water level. During the meeting, the Corps provided a briefing on their efforts - including removing the rock pinnacles between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., and increasing dredging - to maintain water flow on the Mississippi.

"The Mississippi River is a vital economic tool that enables our farmers and companies to efficiently ship goods around the world. Transporting those goods on our roads or by rail will cost many times more than shipping them along the river, and many of our Illinois companies - who employ thousands of hard-working men and women - cannot afford those costs. I would like to thank Sen. Durbin for convening this panel of experts, and I look forward to working together to preserve this important economic engine," Simon said.

In addition to Simon, Durbin and the Army Corps of Engineers, the meeting was attended by U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL-12) and representatives from stakeholder industries such as agriculture, shipping, coal and petroleum.

Army Corps contractors have begin demolishing rock pinnacles posing a hazard to barges along a fifteen-mile stretch of river near Thebes. Both contractors will use specialized "drill rig barges" to drill large holes into bedrock, insert blast material and remove the rock. Assistant Secretary Darcy agreed to expedite the blasting process, which is expected to last 30-45 days, following a meeting with Sen. Durbin and several other senators.


MEPRD Awards Over $800,000 in Grant Funding
COLLINSVILLE, IL, (SWI-News.com), November 25, 2012 - The Metro East Park and Recreation District (MEPRD) has announced it recently awarded $821,346 in grant funding throughout Madison and St. Clair Counties in Illinois. The collective cost of the nine projects will translate into a $9,102,386 investment in the local community. Funds were made available through MERPD's FY13 Park and Trail Grant Matching Program created to help develop parks, greenways and trails throughout the bi-county area.

St. Clair County Transit District was among the grantees, receiving $100,000 to extend the MetroBikeLink Trail to Wingate Subdivision by adding a new pedestrian bridge crossing over IL Route 161. The bridge will provide safe accessibility to the 400 pedestrians who currently cross over the five lane roadway on a daily basis near Southwestern Illinois College to access the educational facility, YMCA and shopping district.

Madison County Transit District was awarded $300,000 for the MCT Heritage - Ronald J. Foster Bikeway project that will provide asphalt surfacing, new signage and rehabilitation of 12 bridges and tunnels along an 8-mile stretch of trail. The Village of Godfrey received $105,000 for an open air shelter, ADA compliant restroom facility and a 10-foot wide asphalt trail at Glazebrook Park.

The following fund totals were also awarded as part of MERPD's FY13 Park and Trail Grant Matching Program:

$68,900 for the Glidden Park Tennis Courts project in Collinsville
$10,251 for the Jones Park Walking Trail project in East St. Louis
$35,756 for the Hough Park Improvements project in Belleville
$101,600 for the College Road Bike and Pedestrian Trail project in Lebanon
$83,339 for the Three Springs Park Lake Trail project in Shiloh
$16,500 for the Hesse Park Pickle Ball Courts project in O'Fallon

"We are excited to be part of the projects underway to make the bi-county area an even better place to live, work and raise healthy, active citizens," commented Mike Buehlhorn, executive director of the Metro East Park and Recreation District. "Guided by our mission, MEPRD is thankful to be able to help play a fundamental role in the development of local parks, greenways and trails."


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Archived Southwest Illinois News:
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Metro East Levee Project Gets Green Light for First Phase of Construction
Groundbreaking Ceremonies Held for Illinois Electrical and Computer Engineering Building
Moment of Remembrance Ceremony in Belleville Marks 9/11 Anniversary
Extra Help Among Nation's Fastest Growing Companies