Top 10 - a look back at top 10 stories of 20122012 was a year of new beginnings and tragic endings in Douglas County. The year marked the start of construction on a new Alexandria high school. Students at Alexandria Technical and Community College also moved into a new home, Foundation Hall, the college’s first on-campus housing facility. There were also new beginnings on the health care scene. Broadway Medical Center merged with Sanford Health, and Alexandria Clinic merged with Douglas County Hospital.
By: Al Edenloff and Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
TOP 10 NEWS STORIES
Here are the top 10 news stories of 2012 as determined by the Echo Press editorial staff:
1. Six lives lost in three hours (three crashes in the snow)
2. Zebra mussel battle
3. Political shakeups
4. New school, college housing
5. Health mergers
6. KSAX unplugged
7. Bad fires
8. Rash of robberies/burglaries
9. Leaders move on
10. Weird critters
2012 was a year of new beginnings and tragic endings in Douglas County.
The year marked the start of construction on a new Alexandria high school. Students at Alexandria Technical and Community College also moved into a new home, Foundation Hall, the college’s first on-campus housing facility.
There were also new beginnings on the health care scene. Broadway Medical Center merged with Sanford Health, and Alexandria Clinic merged with Douglas County Hospital.
New political boundaries took shape and next week, new leaders will be sworn in for county board, city council and school board.
But many lives were cut tragically short in 2012. In the space of about three hours on a snowy February day, six lives were lost in three separate crashes.
The Echo Press editorial staff looked back on the past year and came up with the following list of the top 10 stories of 2012:
On February 20, roads turned snowy, slushy and deadly.
The first crash happened at about 3 p.m. on Interstate 94 about three miles west of Alexandria. Four female students from North Dakota State University died at the scene – the driver, Lauren Peterson, 18, of Prior Lake and passengers, Jordan Playle, 19, of Elk River, Megan Sample, 18, of Rogers and Danielle Renninger, 18, of Excelsior.
The students were westbound in a Chevrolet Malibu that crossed over the median and was broadsided by a Ford Expedition that was traveling east.
The crash was one of the worst local law enforcement authorities have seen in decades.
Less than a half hour later, a three-vehicle crash on State Highway 28 in Glenwood also claimed a life. Steffanie Dahlseng, 26, of Starbuck was killed after her Buick LeSabre spun out on the ice and careened into a Mack truck.
Tragedy struck again at about 6:15 p.m. on County Road 82, west of Alexandria.
Kristy Carlson, 40, of Alexandria was driving east with her 13-year-old daughter, Megan Victoria Carlson in an Oldsmobile that collided with a westbound Chevrolet Trailblazer. Megan Carlson died.
The battle against troublesome lake invaders like zebra mussels intensified in 2012.
Stories about zebra mussels and aquatic invasive species (AIS) made front-page news 11 times this year. A search of “zebra mussels” since the start of the year turned up 75 stories and opinion pieces.
There was plenty to report: Zebra mussels spread to more lakes, including Irene, Miltona and Minnewaska. New, stiffer laws for those transporting AIS took effect. Those who install boats and lifts must now have a state permit and pass an AIS exam.
New strategies for containing them were tried, including pressure-washing boats at public accesses, Department of Natural Resources’ check points, and using a biopesticide, Zequanox, which showed promising results, and treating isolated areas with copper sulfate, which failed.
Another threat to lake quality, Eurasian water milfoil, also made news. The noxious weed was found in Lake L’Homme Dieu in June.
It was a year of upheaval in politics, starting with new legislative districts that were revealed in February.
The boundaries had been simple before. All of Douglas County was located in Senate District 11, which was split into House Districts 11A and 11B. The new lines carved the county into two Senate districts – 8 and 12 – and three House districts – 8B, 12A and 12B. The state adjusts the lines every 10 years to reflect population changes.
The new districts added twists for the election, which was already spiking more interest than usual because of a hotly contested presidential race and two proposed amendments to the Minnesota Constitution, one to define marriage as between one man and one woman, and another that would have required voters to show photo identification. Both measures gained support locally but failed statewide.
Douglas County voters turned out in full force for the November 6 election with a 91 percent turnout, well above the statewide number of 76 percent.
The results were extremely close in a few races.
In Minnesota House District 8B, incumbent Republican Mary Franson of Alexandria defeated DFLer Bob Cunniff of Alexandria by one vote. A recount a few weeks later gave her a 12-vote victory.
Another recount took place for Douglas County Board District 5 commissioner after incumbent Dan Olson edged Carol Wenner by just 18 votes. Olson still ended up on top by 21 after the votes were counted again.
Two newcomers were elected to the Douglas County Board, Jim Stratton and Charlie Meyer. They prevailed over Norm Salto and Paul C. Anderson.
Todd Jensen won the Ward 5 Alexandria City Council race over incumbent Elroy Frank. Owen Miller, the incumbent in Ward 3, was re-elected. Sara Carlson, who has been serving as Ward 2 council member, made a successful run for mayor, defeating Mark Pederson.
In an extremely close Alexandria School Board election, Angie Krebs edged Laura Knudsen by 55 votes, 6,725 to 6,670.
Local winners for state Legislature included Republican Bill Ingebrigtsen in Senate District 8, Republican Torrey Westrom in Senate District 12, DFLer Jay McNamar in House District 12A (overcoming Scott Dutcher’s strong showing in Douglas County), and Republican Paul Anderson in House District 12B.
Alexandria made solid investments in the area’s educational future in 2012 beginning and completing new facilities for students. Ground was broken, paving the way for the replacement of Jefferson High School. Down the road, college students took up residency in the new student suites across from Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC).
In February, Kraus-Anderson Construction Company presented the Alexandria school board with schematic drawings of the new high school. The building had an estimated $70.5 million total project cost at that time, a number higher than the $65 million building bond referendum that was approved by 57 percent of voters in 2011. Board members also learned that the new high school would include Leadership in Energy and Efficiency Design (LEED) certification, which is the national standard for “green” buildings.
More details were revealed in April. The school would be constructed on a 167-acre property located at the corner of 50th Avenue East and Pioneer Road in Alexandria. Plans for several athletic fields, green space and storm-water ponds were revealed. Interiors will be earthy and reflect the landscape of the lakes area. A private capital campaign raised $4 million to be put toward the cost of the new high school and $2 million from the sale of Jefferson High School property would also offset the $70.5 million price tag.
Half-way through the year, Kraus-Anderson Construction Company was officially hired to build the new high school. Now projected at $65.15 million, the 280,000-square-foot facility would include two three-story academic wings with 36 classrooms, 12 learning spaces, labs, a media center and special education classrooms. A performing arts wing and 1,000 seat auditorium are also planned. The building can house up to 1,400 students.
A name for the school was approved this month: Alexandria Area High School.
Bid packages have been coming in consistently under budget and the project is currently ahead of schedule. The school will open in 2014.
Once students graduate from Alexandria Area High School they can continue their education at ATCC and live in the new student apartments at Foundation Hall, located at Jefferson Street and 17th Avenue East. The site was once home to a student center in the 1960s. The hall is named for the ATCC Foundation, which is the first foundation in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to build student housing.
The health care landscape in Douglas County changed significantly in 2012.
On January 3, Broadway Medical Center and Sanford Health officially merged to become Sanford Health Broadway Clinic.
Sanford Health, based in the Dakotas, has grown to become the largest, rural not-for-profit health care system in the nation with locations in 112 communities in seven states.
Broadway Medical Center operated independently in Alexandria for 15 years before the acquisition and was growing rapidly. Its leaders said the merger was the next natural transition.
The merger struck a chord of concern with Douglas County Hospital, one of few county-run hospitals in the state. DCH Administrator Carl Vaagenes expressed concerns that as a result of the merger, Sanford and Broadway would look out for what’s best for Sanford, not necessarily the patient. There were also fears that Sanford Health Broadway Clinic would duplicate services already offered in Alexandria and that the new alignment wouldn’t be as supportive of the local community.
Sanford leaders said that their goal was to build trust in the community, provide the best health care possible, and add to the area’s growth and well-being.
Two months after the Sanford merger took effect, DCH, the Alexandria Clinic and Heartland Orthopedic Specialists announced plans to merge by July 1.
The DCH board of directors and Alexandria Clinic leadership said the entities “shared a common vision to create a community-based integrated health care system that is supported by local decision making and community involvement.”
The DCH merger included 780 full-time equivalent staff, and more than 50 affiliated or employed full-time providers.
In June, the county agreed to purchase the Alexandria Clinic property, issuing gross revenue health care bonds purchased through State Bank and Trust in two series. The first $2.5 million will be tax-exempt Series 2012A bonds. The second series, 2012B, in the amount of $12.5 million, will be taxable.
The resolution, unanimously passed by the commissioners, requires quarterly principle and interest payments on the 30-year bonds. During the first 10 years, interest will be fixed, after that time the bonds can be reset for the next 10 years. An overall interest rate cap of 9 percent has been imposed.
The Alexandria Clinic was established in 1946 and grew to 39 full-time providers. DCH is a 127-bed acute care hospital, serving approximately 150,000 people in west central Minnesota.
Rarely has a news story struck so many local residents with the same kind of shocked and saddened reaction than KSAX’s sudden announcement that it would be ceasing news operations in Alexandria immediately.
KSAX-TV provided news programming in the Alexandria area for 25 years.
As reported in the newspaper’s June 29 story, for many viewers, it was like losing a long-time friend.
The cutback, determined by the station’s owners, Hubbard Broadcasting, left 17 people without a job.
The explosion of TV options in the area, including cable and satellite, fragmented the local television market and led to the station’s demise.
The closing stirred concern about what would happen with the popular Jingle Bells telethon that provides food and toy baskets for less fortunate families in the region during the holidays. KSAX had been producing and broadcasting it for years.
Jingle Bells organizers, led by the Alexandria Jaycees, were able to develop a partnership with Selective TV, Gardonville Telephone Cooperative and Excellent Multimedia, Inc. to continue the live telethon. The event was once again a hit, raising more than $115,000.
Several homes and businesses in the area went up in smoke in 2012.
Fire destroyed a duplex on Kenwood Street in February; a warehouse fire caused between $2 and $3 million damage at Recycled Plastics in Garfield in March; a fire burned a home at County Road 11 NE in Alexandria later that month; lightning sparked a fire that took down two businesses, NAPA Auto Parts and Unique Auto Body, in Parkers Prairie in May; fire destroyed two cabins and a garage in Osakis in June; and two fires in three days damaged two homes and killed two pets in houses three blocks apart near 5th Avenue East and Lake Street in Alexandria in August.
RASH OF ROBBERIES
Crime news made front-page news many times in 2012 and robberies were on the upswing.
A February 3 story reported about a resident on Latoka Drive who was robbed at gunpoint at his home.
A March 7 story reported about a rash of residential burglaries in Alexandria that included four incidents in the Darling Drive neighborhood. A suspect, Cody Pedersen, was later charged and convicted of the crimes.
An April 13 story reported about a burglary suspect who was arrested at a home on County Road 22 with a .22 handgun in his possession.
An April 20 story reported about a “smash and grab” burglary at Karrow’s Jewelry in Alexandria. The culprit stole $10,000 worth of items.
A September 26 story reported about an Alexandria man who fired shots at two burglary suspects. They were later apprehended and charged with felonies.
An October 19 story reported about a burglar who broke windows and stole items from vehicles parked at Target and Fat Daddy’s Bar and Grill.
And on today’s front page, a story tells about an unarmed robber who assaulted a Mike’s Car Wash worker to steal a bank bag containing cash and checks.
LEADERS MOVE ON
2012 saw the departure of several key leaders in the community.
School District 206 Superintendent Terry Quist, who has been with the district for more than 25 years, including the last six as superintendent, is stepping down at the end of the year.
Alexandria Mayor Dan Ness, who has led the city since 2001, decided to retire instead of seeking a fourth term. Three other long-time incumbents are also moving on – Ward 5 council member Elroy Frank and county commissioners Paul C. Anderson and Norm Salto.
Rachel Barduson wrapped up 10 years of service as executive director of the Douglas County Historical Society.
Bryan Bjorgaard, the city of Alexandria’s public works coordinator for the past five years, resigned in June. He moved on to Idaho Falls where his wife landed a job.
This past year was an odd one when it came to spotting unusual animals, at least around these parts.
In March, a resident on South Union Lake came across a dead squid lying on the ground of the public access near the lake. It was only about a foot long but it had tentacles and suckers. As it turned out, the owner of Bio Corporation, who buys squid by the ton, owned a golden retriever who must have dragged one of them down to the access.
In April, the newspaper reported about an Alexandria man who found tracks in the freshly fallen snow in his yard that he was convinced were left by cougars.
A June story focused on eye-witness accounts of a black bear that was spotted near Brandon, Garfield and Miltona.
In August, another story reported the sighting of a fisher chasing a squirrel in Kensington. Fishers, a member of the weasel family, aren’t common around here and usually found much further north.
A December story included concrete evidence of an unusual animal roaming around these parts. A cougar was caught on a video camera set up along the Central Lakes Trail near Osakis. The cougar sighting prompted keen interest on the Internet, drawing more than 5,500 page views on the Echo Press website, making it the ninth most popular online story of the year.
Based on the number of page views on the Echo Press website, here were the most read stories on the Internet in 2012:
1. Six lives lost in three hours (three crashes in the snow)
2. Relationship ends in murder suicide (David Everett kills Sharon Love and then himself)
3. Head-on crash on County Road 45 (three injured)
4. Woman stabbed in Alexandria
5. Two semis crash in Alexandria
6. Woman flees police, crashes
7. Missing Alexandria man found dead
8. Alexandria man dies after car crashes off Highway 29
9. Cougar caught on video camera
10. Election results