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10 stories that made 2010 history

War in the Middle East hit home again in 2010 with the death of Army Private First Class Ryane Clark, 22, of New London. Clark was killed in action Oct. 4 in Afghanistan and was laid to rest in his hometown cemetery at Green Lake Lutheran Church. (Tribune file photo)

While a number of stories played a part in shaping the region during 2010, the No. 1 news story of the year is the number of local elected officials who were voted out of office by their constituents.

The four men -- holding state, city and county offices -- had a combined 60 years of service between them.

On the military front, the welcome home of our troops from Iraq and an area soldier's death ranked No. 2 on the list.

Following is a look at the stories the Tribune news staff voted into the Top 10 for 2010:

1. Political incumbents ousted

Political incumbents were an endangered species in some parts of west central Minnesota in 2010.

The Nov. 2 general election saw the defeat of several long-time officeholders: Willmar Mayor Les Heitke (16 years), state Rep. Al Juhnke of Willmar (14 years), Kandiyohi County Commissioner Richard Falk (10 years) and Kandiyohi County Attorney Boyd Beccue (20 years).

After his surprise defeat, Juhnke said he didn't think he or the others could have done anything to stop the political wave that washed over them.

It was a year in which many incumbents were defeated, as voters voiced their discontent with the status quo. There was enough of a groundswell in Minnesota to place Republicans in charge of both chambers of the Legislature, something that hadn't happened in more than a generation.

-- Linda Vanderwerf

2. Military efforts in Middle East claim another local soldier's life

War in the Middle East hit home again in 2010 with the death of Army Private First Class Ryane Clark, 22, of New London.

Clark was killed in action Oct. 4 in Afghanistan and was laid to rest in his hometown cemetery at Green Lake Lutheran Church. Mourners joined Clark's family -- his parents, Rick and Tracy Clark of New London, and sister, Aleah Auge of Willmar -- as they said their goodbyes at the funeral service Oct. 17 in the New London-Spicer High School gymnasium. Volunteers rallied to bake dozens of chocolate chip cookies, Clark's favorite, to serve afterward.

Six months earlier, the mood was one of joy when 111 troops with the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery, were welcomed home to Olivia and Madison. The soldiers, who returned April 2, had been deployed for a year in Iraq. They completed 591 combat missions and traveled more than 1.9 million miles without accident or injury.

-- Anne Polta

3. Shots fired at Willmar Police

Three Willmar men face first-degree attempted murder of a police officer charges in Kandiyohi County District Court for their roles in allegedly firing multiple gunshots at a Willmar Police officer in September.

Leroy Diaz Evans, 26, Jesus Trevino, 33, and Arcadio Salinas Jr., 23, all face the possibility of life in prison if convicted. Diaz Evans and Trevino also each face five first-degree burglary charges for two alleged home invasions that preceded the Sept. 15 shooting incident in the Subway parking lot along First Street South. One of the shots struck the squad car and three other bullets struck a nearby residence. No one was injured in the incident.

A fourth man, Adrian Salinas, 20, of Willmar, was originally arrested and charged in the case, but the first-degree charge was dismissed on Dec. 20 for lack of probable cause.

Diaz Evans has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his jury trial is scheduled for Jan. 24 to 28. Trevino's next court date is Jan. 13 and Arcadio Salinas' next appearance is Jan. 24.

Witnesses to the home invasions identified Diaz Evans and Trevino as the men who entered a nearby home, asked a man for money and repeatedly struck him in the head. The shooting incident was also recorded on video surveillance.

-- Gretchen Schlosser

4. Willmar's new wastewater treatment plant opens in August

Construction was completed and operation began this summer of Willmar's new $86.2 million wastewater conveyance system and treatment facilities. City officials described the plant and conveyance system as the largest municipal project in city history.

The new plant complies with stricter effluent requirements for removal of phosphorus and ammonia and will provide sufficient capacity for commercial, industrial and residential growth for the next 20 years.

The old plant, located just east of the Kandi Mall, is being decommissioned. It smelled and its failed technology did not comply with effluent quality standards. Moving the old plant was a topic of discussion for more than 20 years. Planning by city officials and consultants at Donohue and Associates began in 2005. Construction started in September 2008, and work was completed and flow to the new plant began in August.

-- David Little

5. Correctional facility closes its doors in tough economy

Troubling economic news continued in 2010 as the Prairie Correctional Facility closed the doors of its 1,600-bed prison in Appleton shortly after the start of the year.

Yet the year also ended on a hopeful note. Corrections Corporation of America announced in November that the facility would re-open in 2012.

Housing foreclosures in Kandiyohi and neighboring counties continued to grow during the past year, and a number of businesses closed or reduced work forces. Municipal Casting Inc., a foundry in Madison, ended a 50-year run with its closing. Its business was tied directly to new housing starts.

There was encouraging news too. Thanks to good prices and bumper crops, this region's agricultural economy hummed on all cylinders. In Benson, Case IH continued a two-year growth spurt that has brought its work force to 430 positions. The Upper Sioux Community broke ground on a major renovation to Prairie's Edge Casino Resort that will add an 80-bed wing to its hotel and enlarge its gaming area.

-- Tom Cherveny

6. City challenges old airport terminal's historic eligibility

The Willmar City Council voted in December to challenge a determination by the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office that the former airport terminal hangar, built in 1941, and surrounding 4.5 acres are eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

The city's challenge will be forwarded by the Federal Aviation Administrator to the keeper of the National Register for a final determination. The keeper will make a decision 45 days after reading Willmar's letters and supporting documentation and after reading documentation from the State Historic Preservation Office. A determination could be expected by mid-February.

The disagreement between the city and the state over the terminal's historic eligibility has delayed the FAA's release of the old terminal site along with other former airport land to the city for industrial park development after the new airport located west of the city opened in September 2006.

-- David Little

7. Spring flooding, late summer rain less than significant in area

The spring flooding that caused millions of dollars in damages to other areas of the state and region largely bypassed west central Minnesota.

Officials in Montevideo, Dawson and Granite Falls began planning for the possibility of flooding in February and the National Weather Service advised as early as Jan. 27 that minor to moderate flooding was likely.

While temperatures warmed early in March and the large, wet snowpack melted quickly, widespread flooding was largely averted because no snow fell in March.

The wet summer of 2010 rivaled the summer of 1993, but the September rains that flooded areas of southern Minnesota didn't have a significant impact on the fall harvest. The first half of October included sunshine, warm winds and drier fields, allowing farmers to harvest bountiful corn, soybean and sugar beet crops.

Yields in Kandiyohi Country ranged from 45 to 55 bushels per acre for soybeans and 175 to more than 200 bushels per acre of corn.

-- Gretchen Schlosser

8. (tie) ACGC begins 4-day week in financial fight to succeed

The Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board took a bold step this year by implementing a four-day school week to stave off the threat of returning to statutory operating debt.

During the last several years the district cut more than $1 million to get the district's finances in line with state funding requirements.

The board took additional action this year to reduce expenses, including the four-day school week, to keep the district from sinking back into debt.

The move to hold classes Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., which is projected to save the district about $64,000, has been popular with many students, parents and faculty.

Another board proposal to close the K-4 grade program at ACGC South Elementary in Cosmos next year was not so popular. Because of its low class sizes, school officials say that it costs about twice as much to educate students there than at the elementary school in Atwater.

Sending the Cosmos students to the Atwater school was estimated to save $74,000 in staff expenses alone.

Cosmos residents came out in force at community meetings to oppose the move. Some threatened to leave the district if the school closed. It was feared an exodus of students and their state aid would've negated any savings by closing the school.

In December the board agreed to keep the students in Cosmos next year but would look for $100,000 in savings at the site by doing things like combining two grades into one class with one teacher.

-- Carolyn Lange

8. Training on immigration laws hits a major snag on local level

In April, Willmar City Councilman Steve Ahmann started a discussion about sending Willmar Police officers to South Carolina for training in the 287(g) program for enforcing federal immigration laws on the local level.

Opposition on the City Council and in the community doomed the proposal in 2010, but it could come up again in the future.

The area's state senator, Republican Joe Gimse, authored a bill to use a surcharge on traffic fines to pay the cost of sending Minnesota officers for the training. However, the bill hit a speed bump early on when Gimse overstated the support of a Latina lawmaker from Minneapolis and had to apologize. It did not pass in the 2010 Legislature.

-- Linda Vanderwerf

10. New intersection creates confusion, but improves safety

A major intersection on the north edge of Willmar where numerous injury accidents and fatalities have occurred in recent years was redesigned and rebuilt this fall.

The process involved considerable discussion between elected officials and engineers from the three entities that own segments of the intersection -- the city of Willmar, Kandiyohi County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

After reviewing multiple options, a compromise was reached on a new design that traffic specialists said would reduce the chances of serious injury accidents.

The result was a unique configuration that has proven to be a bit confusing to motorists, especially the first drive through.

But so far, there have been no collisions related to the intersection design.

"Something could happen tomorrow, but so far the results have been very good," said Jon Henslin, District 8 Engineer from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

This is the only intersection of its kind in Minnesota. The design is used in other states, however.

The intersection involves North Business 71, County Road 24 and 23 St. N.E. near the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building and Law Enforcement Center.

-- Carolyn Lange