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2011 top 10 news stories

By Staff | Jan 1, 2012

USC School Building

No. 1 USC proposes to build new school

The United South Central School Board’s proposal to either build a new school or remodel the current building leads our list of the Top 10 news stories of 2011 in Faribault County.

This, despite the fact the USC board’s plan has not come to the public for a vote, no ground breaking ceremony has been held, and the board actually has changed their collective minds about which path to take.

The Register broke the story in the May 23 edition with the provocative headline “New $30 million school at USC?”

The board was actually looking at three different options, from a small remodeling project, to a larger remodeling overhaul to a completely new building.

The board studied all three plans in detail, according to a story in the July 25 Faribault County Register.

By August the board had held a public meeting to give citizens a chance to hear about all three options and look at detailed architectural plans for each one.

The Aug. 22 Register reported the board was opting for a $16 million remodeling plan.

That was not the final decision, however.

The Sept. 12 Register broke a new story – the USC board was now going to seek a facilities grant from the State of Minnesota for up to $20 million to assist them in building a completely new school and not just remodel the current facility.

As the year came to an end, the board was still waiting for the Legislature to meet in 2012 to see if the grant will come through.

No. 2 Blue Earth Police Chief Saga

If one story dominated our pages in 2012 it was the issue of hiring a new police chief in Blue Earth – and whether to even have a police force operated by Blue Earth, or contract out law enforcement services to either the County Sheriff office or the city of Winnebago.

Here is a recap of the saga using the dates of the editions of the Register in which the story appeared as a timeline:

• May 2 – Blue Earth police chief Dean Vereide announces his intention to retire as of June 30.

• May 9 – The City Council discusses options for police protection in the city, including contracting with the county.

• May 23 – Sheriff Mike Gormley meets with the council and outlines a plan for having his office furnish law enforcement coverage in the city.

• June 13 – The council hears a proposal from the city of Winnebago which includes having a Blue Earth police department, but operated by the Winnebago Police Department.

• June 20 – The council hears concerns from the public about not having a locally operated police department.

• June 27 – Blue Earth Police officer Todd Purvis and former chief of police Vereide express their concerns to the council.

• July 4 – The council agrees to have Sheriff Gormley act as the interim police chief for the city.

• July 11 – The council decides to postpone any decision on the police department until after the police union contract is settled.

• Sept. 12 – The Register reports that funding a city police department and hiring a new chief are included in the preliminary 2012 city budget.

• Sept. 26 – A story says the Blue Earth council is close to making a decision on the police force/chief issue.

• Oct. 10 – The City Council votes 5-2 to keep their own police department. Although the city had earlier in the year advertised for the chief’s position, the job opening is readvertised.

• Nov. 28 – The council agrees to accept a recommendation from a police chief hiring committee to not accept any of the candidates who were interviewed.

• Dec. 12 – Discussion on the city’s next step to hire a police chief is hotly debated by the council.

• Dec. 26 – Mayor Rob Hammond Jr. tells the council that he will choose a police chief and appoint that person according to the power given to him in the City Charter.

As the year came to a close, no new chief was hired, but the mayor plans on having someone appointed to the position in January. The appointment will need to be voted on by the council.

No. 3 WFS constructing grain facility in Delavan

The Register broke this big news in our Jan. 24 edition.

Watonwan Farm Service (Working for Farmers Success – WFS) was planning on building a large $15 million grain handling rail facility in Delavan.

The July 18 paper reported that construction had begun on the new project. With land acquisition and other costs, the price of the project had risen to $20 million.

Meanwhile, the size of the project had been reduced from 5.5 million bushels to a 2.8 million bushel capacity facility.

The July 25 paper had pictures and a story about the official groundbreaking ceremony held on July 15.

Work was still underway as 2011 came to an end, and will continue into the new year.

The grain handling facility was not the only large construction project reported about last year.

UHD moved into their new clinic building in 2011, Patriot Assisted Living opened in Winnebago, Hope United Methodist Church in Blue Earth was nearing completion of their new church as the year came to a close and Big Blue Wind was beginning their 18 turbine project west of Blue Earth – to name a few.

No. 4 FCDC and county economic development

Where do we begin? News about the Faribault County Development Corporation (FCDC) and other economic development issues were a story all year long – from January to December.

The year started with FCDC searching for a new executive director.

Linsey Warmka, who had been the administrative assistant, was selected as the new director according to a story in the Jan. 17 Register. Also hired was Ann Kluenenburg as the new administrative assistant.

Controversy about the way economic development was being funded in the county arose when Winnebago City Administrator Austin Bleess suggested the county split their funding among FCDC and the towns in the county.

The Wells EDA also urged that funding not be given to FCDC but instead go to individual city EDAs.

In August the County Board suggested an economic summit involving economic development authorities (EDAs) and others from around the county.

It was held in September and the groups had three proposals for the way economic development could be handled.

It wasn’t until November that the commissioners decided to give the county EDA board $50,000 and let them decide whether to fund FCDC with it or not.

They did vote to fund FCDC with the full $50,000.

In a related matter, Wells community development director Chris Elvebak resigned in May.

It wasn’t until December that the Wells City Council voted to not fill the position, despite the Wells EDA urging a new community development director be hired.

To see more of this list, see this weeks Register.