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Illinois State Fair reopens after closing early due to rains

Veterans, military service members and their families participate in the Twilight Parade at the Illinois State Fair Thursday. | AP photo

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois State Fair reopened Saturday morning after record rainfall forced organizers to close early Friday and cancel the grandstand concert.

Fair organizers said the hardest-hit area was a campground, where access continues to be restricted. Officials say the Red Cross helped people from five campers and there were no injuries reported. The National Weather Service reported that Friday set a record for the most amount of rain in a calendar day in Springfield. The 5.59 inches that fell on Friday breaks the previous record of 5.44 inches on Sept. 8, 1926.

Organizers said crews will be available at the fairgrounds to help vendors who may have been impacted by the storm. Some racing events have been postponed, canceled or rescheduled due to conditions.

In the meantime, efforts in the state Legislature to create a private foundation that would support the fairgrounds in Springfield and Du Quoin remain stalled as the Illinois State Fair kicked off this year.

A bill that has the support of Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Raymond Poe failed to advance this spring despite unanimous support from the Senate Executive Committee.

State Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican, has sponsored a bill that would create a nonprofit organization that could solicit private funds and corporate sponsorships to help with upkeep of the facilities that host the fairs in Springfield and the Du Quoin State Fair. The bill wasn’t called for a vote before the General Assembly finished its extended spring session in late June.

“We can’t overly rely on state funds to maintain these facilities,” Rauner said during a March news conference at the Springfield fairgrounds while standing in front of a barn with a gaping hole in its roof. “We’ve got to come up with creative solutions that don’t pressure our taxpayers more.”

Rauner, Poe and others supporting the creation of a private foundation have said neighboring states, such as Iowa, Indiana and Missouri, have similar arrangements to help back their fairs.

Brady’s bill is similar to legislation from state Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat, that passed the Senate in 2014 but wasn’t approved into the house.

A major difference between the two bills was that Brady’s bill would’ve exempted projects paid for only with foundation funds from having to go through the normal state bidding process.

Poe sponsored similar legislation as a state representative before resigning last year to head the Department of Agriculture. While testifying before the Senate committee earlier this year, he said the ability to raise private funds would help the department catch up on a backlog of maintenance projects that stood at $180 million.

Illinois Capital Development Board officials said most of those projects are in Springfield, but that at least $12 million of work was needed in Du Quoin.

The prospects of Brady’s bill in the House are dim even if it eventually wins Senate approval. House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has expressed apprehension about the kinds of public-private partnerships the governor favors.

Associated Press