A look back at 2012: Bulletin's top local news stories of the yearAs 2013 begins, the Bulletin took a look at the top local news stories of the past year. Here they are, in no particular order.
By: Staff, South Washington County Bulletin
‘The End’ for the Cottage View
For 46 summers, the Cottage View Drive-In theater entertained movie-goers underneath a night sky, beckoning motorists passing on U.S. Highway 61 with its iconic, glowing, Jetson’s-esque sign.
Long on its last legs, 2012 marked the Cottage View’s end; a proposed Walmart Supercenter and a looming conversion to expensive digital film projectors the final straw. The discount retail giant announced it had a purchase agreement for a portion of the Cottage View site, with plans to build a large retail and grocery store that the city says will anchor a future bustling commercial hub.
Thousands of drive-in fans poured through the theater’s gates along East Point Douglas Road in the Cottage View’s final weekends, taking in — one last time — what has been a staple of south Washington County summers since August 1966.
“It sounds like a Joni Mitchell song,” said Sara Blood, who brought her family from Golden Valley on one of the Cottage View’s final weekends. “They paved over a drive-in and put up a Walmart.”
Cottage Grove opens new City Hall
Cottage Grove capped more than two decades of discussion, 10 years of planning and more than 30 months of at-times contentious votes with the opening of its new City Hall/public safety facility in October.
The $15.1 million, 67,000-square-foot, two-level building at 12800 Ravine Parkway includes integrated office space for the city’s administration, finance and community development departments that officials say will be more efficient than the cramped, more-than 40-year-old building on 80th Street.
Most importantly, city officials say, it provides a modern base for the city’s Public Safety Department, pulling police, fire and EMS administration under one roof and gives the department expanded interview and investigation space, a detention area that meets current codes, improved evidence storage and a lower-level garage with enough space to keep all of the department’s vehicles out of the elements.
City Council members who pushed the building — namely Mayor Myron Bailey, who led the charge to complete the project — came under intense scrutiny from a group of residents opposed to the project. But, city officials have stressed, the project was financed without raising city property taxes.
Jacobus joins South Washington County Schools
The South Washington County School Board looked to Keith Jacobus to give District 833 a new administrative direction.
After a turbulent forced departure of former schools chief Mark Porter, Jacobus was hired as the new superintendent beginning in July. He immediately kicked off a months-long campaign to make more than 100 site and education group visits to get to know the school system and to introduce himself to students, staff, parents and area residents.
One of his first big tasks as superintendent has been to pitch District 833’s proposed takeover of the Crosswinds school building in Woodbury. That decision is expected in 2013.
Administrative changes continued later in the year when Kerry Timmerman was hired as the new Park High School principal.
Incumbents six-for-six in ‘12
It was the year of the incumbent in south Washington County.
In Cottage Grove and Newport, voters returned both mayors and all four city council members up for re-election to office.
More than 50 percent of Cottage Grove voters were unswayed by more than two years of complaints over the city’s decision to build a new city hall/public safety facility, easily re-electing first-term Mayor Myron Bailey over a trio of challengers.
Council members Jen Peterson and Justin Olsen also won re-election, besting a field of four challengers who had argued the City Council was ignoring the will of its constituents.
In Newport, Mayor Tim Geraghty won following a hard-fought re-election campaign against fellow council member Steven Gallagher, who remains on the council. Council members Tom Ingemann and Bill Sumner also won re-election in a closely contested four-way race with a message largely centered on the council’s fiscal stewardship.
While Cottage Grove residents returned incumbents to the council, they soundly rejected two park referendum questions that would have raised property taxes to pay for new and enhanced park amenities.
A big anniversary for Holiday Train
Even after a decade, the Cottage Grove stop of the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, already among the largest on the event’s cross-continent route through Canada and the northern United States, keeps getting bigger.
The event marked its 10-year anniversary Dec. 11 by raising more than $112,000 for St. Paul Park’s Friends in Need Food Shelf and drawing an estimated 5,000 revelers to greet the brightly-lit train near Belden Crossing on West Point Douglas Road.
Over 10 years, Cottage Grove Holiday Train Committee organizers say the event has raised $514,000. The event has also collected 96,000 pounds of food and toiletry items since it began in 2003.
Funds brought in by the Holiday Train now make up roughly one-third of Friends in Need’s annual budget, its director says.
State ends 3M incinerator saga
A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency quashed a citizen group’s efforts to halt 3M from burning waste it does not produce at its Cottage Grove hazardous waste incinerator, ending a more-than three-year battle over the plan the multi-billion dollar company says will save it $1 million per year.
The MPCA Citizens’ board ruled unanimously in favor of 3M at a June hearing in St. Paul, rejecting a group of Cottage Grove residents’ request to deny the proposed permits and ordering the Agency’s staff to reissue new permits for the facility nearly 40 months after the company first publicly proposed its plan in 2009 to supplement its own shrinking supply of solvent hazardous waste with wastes from other companies.
The Coalition of Concerned Cottage Grove Citizens took up the fight after the city said there was nothing it could do to stop 3M’s plan, fiercely opposing the changes they said would lead to higher levels of pollution in a city already dealing with groundwater contaminated with 3M-manufactured chemicals.
3M can now accept the outside waste the company says is needed to cut the use of natural gas that is used to keep the incinerator burning at peak efficiency because its own waste supply has dwindled.
Newport searches for new administrator
Just one month after Newport voters chose to leave the current City Council in place, Faribault’s decision to hire Newport City Administrator Brian Anderson ensured there will be some change at City Hall in 2013.
Anderson was named the south-central Minnesota city’s next administrator Dec. 11, leaving Newport to hunt for its third chief city official in four years when he exits the position next month.
City Council members began the search process last week to replace Anderson, who joined Newport in 2009 following former administrator Larry Bodahl’s retirement and former St. Paul Park administrator Barry Sittlow’s five months as interim administrator.
“We’re sorry to see him go,” Newport Mayor Tim Geraghty said. “He’s been a good administrator.”
Shooting deaths stun community
A shooting on a mid-week afternoon in October left a Cottage Grove woman dead and her estranged husband dead by his own weapon, stunning residents and marking the city’s first homicide by gun in recent memory.
Tensia Martinez Richard, a 21-year-old mother of two young boys, was gunned down by 21-year-old Chevel Richard, with whom she had split up about two weeks before the Oct. 25 incident. The shooting started in a Gateway North strip mall parking lot and ended in a sandwich shop. Nobody else was injured.
Kriesel out after high-profile term; Schoen, DFL retake seat
A well-known GOP lawmaker’s decision to step aside gave Democrats the ability to reclaim a local House seat this year.
State Rep. John Kriesel said he did not set out to become a celebrity politician, but the Cottage Grove Republican garnered lots of attention in a two-year House stint due to his background as an injured Iraq war veteran and support for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, a strengthened drug law and other high-profile issues.
Kriesel also was a vocal opponent of the effort to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. Opponents like Kriesel rejoiced when the measure failed in the November election.
About halfway through his two-year term, Kriesel announced he would not seek a second term, preferring to spend more time with his wife and two school-aged sons.
The race to fill the vacant south Washington County House seat was won by Rep.-elect Dan Schoen, a St. Paul Park Democrat and Cottage Grove police officer.
Cottage Grove native goes missing
The holiday season was marked by sadness in south Washington County when Cottage Grove native Danielle Jelinek, 27, went missing earlier this month in Chisago County.
Jelinek, a 2003 Park High School graduate, was reportedly last seen at a male acquaintance’s home in Chisago Lake Township, north of Washington County, early in the morning of Dec. 9.
Authorities and more than 100 volunteers trudged through deep snow along rural roadways and in fields for any sign of Jelinek.
A prayer vigil for Jelinek, daughter of Ed and Janice Jelinek of Cottage Grove, drew more than 400 people to Five Oaks Community Church last week.
Chisago County authorities continued to investigate her disappearance.