THE YEAR THAT WAS…

Top news stories of 2011 in Blount County

Just two week after a white Christmas, Blount County received another jolt of winter.

Just two week after a white Christmas, Blount County received another jolt of winter.

How do we determine what the top stories are? It might be the number of articles we devoted to the subject – an indication of how long and how much it was on people’s minds.

It might be based on how important to the public an event was, regardless of the number of articles devoted to it. Most people wouldn’t argue that the tornado outbreak of late April 2011 was one of the most momentous events of the year. The importance to the community of some events might be a little more subjective, and there are several examples of that in this year’s top stories – getting Blount County drug court up and running, for example. In those cases, you’ll just have to accept – or question – our judgement.

U.S. 278 near Brooksville; Tommy Murphy property was for sale and not occupied at time of storm.

U.S. 278 near Brooksville; Tommy Murphy property was for sale and not occupied at time of storm.

Explaining the order – what’s No. 1 versus what’s No. 3, for example – is a little more complicated. There’s a chronological factor involved. What happened and when it happened during the year counts, with early year developments tending to appear earlier in the order, as well as a judgment on how important it was. Everyone might order them a little differently.

Work continues on the new Southeastern High School.

Work continues on the new Southeastern High School.

The summaries of each story aren’t comprehensive. Space and readers’ interest wouldn’t allow that. They’re intended to serve mainly as reminders of what tran- spired, with perhaps an indication of the status, at last report. l. County Line Landfill. The landfill story first entered public awareness in early March with the Blount County Solid Waste Authority’s strong recommendation to the Blount County Commission that it oppose the construction of the 219-acre, 2,000-ton-per-day landfill proposed by the town of County Line. Almost concurrently, Gov. Bentley issued a moratorium on new landfills in the state exceeding 500 acres or 1500 tonsper day intake. The commission subsequently opposed the landfill in a letter sent to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) with copies to Blount County’s state legislative delegation.

Sen. Scott Beason (left) listens as citizens at County Line express their opposition to a proposed landfill.

Sen. Scott Beason (left) listens as citizens at County Line express their opposition to a proposed landfill.

Meanwhile, the County Line town council voted to move ahead with the landfill and to send the town’s solid waste management plan to ADEM for approval. This was done in the face of opposition of citizens who attended council meetings to voice their disapproval of the measure. The town defended the action as a way of raising revenue to provide town services which they said had been chronically lacking. Citizens of the area ramped up their opposition to the landfill in locally-staged protest meetings. Surrounding towns joined the opposition with resolutions opposing the landfill.

Bids for repair work on Blount County’s three remaining covered bridges were opened in September.

Bids for repair work on Blount County’s three remaining covered bridges were opened in September.

On May 31, Gov. Bentley signed a bill into law authorizing a two-year moratorium on new landfills not yet approved by ADEM. At its Aug. 9 meeting, the County Line town council voted approval for a reduced tonnage landfill that would exempt it from the moratorium. The proposed tonnage per day was reduced from 2000 to 1499, one ton below the limit specified by the moratorium.

During a stop in Hayden as part of his tour of storm damage in Blount County, Gov. Robert Bentley chats with (from left) Jerry and Jane Ferguson, Judge David Standridge and his wife Danna Standridge, and Sen. Scott Beason. Photo courtesy Max Armstrong, Blount County EMA Director

During a stop in Hayden as part of his tour of storm damage in Blount County, Gov. Robert Bentley chats with (from left) Jerry and Jane Ferguson, Judge David Standridge and his wife Danna Standridge, and Sen. Scott Beason. Photo courtesy Max Armstrong, Blount County EMA Director

The next step in the process was for County Line to file a formal permit application with ADEM. ADEM is required to notify citizens of such application via a legal notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the area. The Blount Countian has not received such a notice since that time.

 

 

2. Drug Court settles in. After several years of local delays, drug court got off to an auspicious start in mid-2010 when retiring District Judge John Dobson accepted the position as head of the drug court with community corrections head Darryl Wheeler as overall coordinator. By October, the court and its extensive complement of support personnel was organized and began operation. By last March, after about six months of shakedown operation, it was ready for public attention.

 

 

The drug court program is built on a rehabilitation model that requires a full year or more of interaction with a multifaceted support team. It requires an intensive regime of classroom attendance, group therapy, personal counseling, regular drug tests, community service work, and court monitoring. Not everyone succeeds, but indications so far are that many, maybe even most, will. Those that fail return to the traditional justice system to serve the sentence they originally faced – but deferred with the hope of erasing – when they were accepted into the drug court program.

The objective of the extended, intensive effort is to rehabilitate drug offenders and return them to society in a condition – perhaps better then they’ve ever been before – to assume their roles as productive workers, solid citizens, and responsible family members.

The Oneonta Redskins reached the 4A title game.

The Oneonta Redskins reached the 4A title game.

Initial evidence of success came late this year as the first two graduates of the drug court program were honored at a celebration in November. Several additional participants are on pace to graduate in the next few months.

3. Casey demands a refund. In the first commission meeting of the new year, District Attorney Pamela Casey requested that $30,000 from the District Attorney’s budget which had been donated to the Blount County Sheriff’s Department by former DA Tommy Roundtree in 2010 before she took office, be restored to the DA’s 2011 budget. Insisting the 2010 donation made by Rountree was improper, she told the commission that if the money was not returned, she would turn the matter over to the attorney general and the state auditor for investigation. Over Casey’s objections, the commission voted to transfer the money from the commission’ account to the sheriff’s department’s account. The tense episode and its aftermath set the tone for subsequent interactions in the courthouse for much of the remainder of year.

For example, in the Aug. 3 commission work session, commissioners criticized Casey for buying a new vehicle for her use with money she had requested the commission transfer to the DA’s operating fund to cover staff salaries. They also questioned whether she had bought the vehicle in accordance with state bid law. Casey said the money by law was hers to spend at her own discretion on needs of the district attorney’s office, and suggested state bid law does not apply to that office.

A truce appears to have fallen over the courthouse since those events came to an uneasy close in late September.

4. The killer storms of April. On April 27, a statewide series of tornadoes carved a path of destruction across north Alabama, killing 241 and injuring more than 2000. The storms staged a twopronged attack in Blount County, but spared the county any fatalities. No serious injuries were reported. Blount County was subsequently declared a part of the 36-county disaster area.

The first storm in the early morning hours damaged homes at Mountain Woods Lake and in the Nectar area before exiting the county in a welter of downed trees around Summit. The second and more damaging storm entered the county at the Walker County line in the late afternoon and churned a halfmile wide, 15-mile long trail of destruction paralleling Mulberry Fork all the way to Blountsville where it reached its climax along Maple Drive before moving on northward toward the Marshall County line.

Much of the story of the storm in Blount County had to do with the dedication and effort of volunteers and others – road crews, volunteer fire departments, the power company, and ordinary citizens –who mustered out to help victims and clean up the welter of limbs, downed trees, building materials, and destroyed homes the storm left behind.

5. 2011 Graduating Class. A total of 560 students graduated last May from the seven Blount County high schools. If percentages from recent years hold, about 400 of those kids have now entered their first semester of college, as many as