There were many stories of interest and importance featured in the pages of the Sun Advocate in 2012. The staff of the paper spent some time in the last week analyzing which stories had the most play, the most reader attention (in the paper and on-line) as well as some of the largest impacts on the area. Here are the top 10 of 2012.
1 The Seeley Fire
If there was something that dominated the summer's news across the state it was the fire season, and locally the Seeley Fire in particular dominated the news for a month. The ramifications of that disaster still continue to echo on the news line.
The fire began late in June in Seeley Canyon, an offshoot of Huntington Canyon in Emery County. It was a lightning-caused blaze and a hand crew was sent to battle it along with one helicopter. They came very close to having it under control when the biggest fire in the state at the time in Sanpete County flared up, and the helicopter was pulled away to fight that blaze which was threatening Fairview. The Seeley fire exploded within a few hours. Only two days after starting it was gobbling up hundreds of acres an hour.
The fire dominated the area for more than two weeks. Its presence caused the evacuation of Wattis, Clear Creek and Hiawatha. Pleasant Valley Days in Scofield, held around every July 4 was canceled and the area sealed off from outside traffic. Fire fighters from all over the west came to battle the blaze.
On the night of July 4, backfires were lit along the canyons and ridges west of Price and the fireworks from those fires became the beacon of the holiday. Fireworks of any kind were banned during this period, except those that were let off in Durrant Park near the USU Eastern Campus on Independence Day night. Almost everyone adhered to the ban because of the seriousness of the situation.
In the end, hundreds of fire fighters from around the west battled the blaze while local fire departments handled protecting structures in associated areas. Around 50,000 acres of forest and range land went up in smoke. But even as the fires smouldered in little pockets, late summer thunder showers poured water down onto the burn scar wiping out a lot of infrastructure in Huntington Canyon and taking the soil down to the rock on some mountain faces in that area. Miles of camping spaces and prime hiking area were destroyed between the fire and the floods and efforts to reclaim that area make it viable for public use will go on for years to come.
2 The Election
For the first time in over 80 years, the Democratic Party in Carbon County lost its dominance over the county commission when Republican Casey Hopes defeated Democrat Mikel Johnson on Nov. 6. This put Commissioner John Jones as the lone Democrat on the three member county board. Hopes will take office this week and along with present Republican Commissioner Jae Potter will take the reins of the county.
The county will also be entirely represented in the Utah State Legislature by a Republican member of the House when the body convenes on Jan. 28, 2013. Republican Jerry Anderson defeated three-time incumbent Democrat representative Christine Watkins by about 400 votes for the honor. While it was the first time in years that Carbon County would be represented by one representative rather than split in two, the district included a third of Duchesne County which went big for Anderson and numbers there outmatched the majority count from Carbon for Watkins. The county vote continued its support for Republican State Senator David Hinkins as it has in past elections.
Numbers in state and federal elections also were strongly Republican from the area, with no Democratic candidate getting a majority of the local vote.
3 The Masked Rapist
While there were a number of prominent crime stories in the area in 2012, with more murders committed than in many years past, the one crime story that dominated the news from almost beginning to end was that of the rapist who wore a clown mask while perpetrating his crime.
It began on Jan. 13 when a man broke into the apartment of a Wellington woman terrorized her, stole from her and then raped her before he left. The entire time he wore the mask. The report of the crime created a social media event in which rumors spread rapidly. By the end of the weekend rumors had the area in the grip of a crime spree by the same person. The upstate media even grabbed onto the situation and it was broadcast all over the state.
But despite the hype, the Wellington Police Department had gathered forensic evidence. On May 8, after that evidence was processed the department arrested Dwaine Shaw, 21, of that same town. He was charged with aggravated rape, aggravated forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated burglary and aggravated kidnapping.
In October, Shaw pleaded guilty to four felony charges in connection with the crime. And on Nov. 26 he was sentenced to not less than 15 years in prison for those crimes.
4 Helper's rebuild
Helper's ability to get CIB funding for worn out infrastructure dominated the news for the western Carbon County town for part of the year.
Helper officials were stunned by the news on May 5 that their city qualified for what was believed to be the largest single funding package in the history of the state's Permanent Community Impact Board. The CIB decided that Helper was eligible for up to $19.5 million in grant and loans to rebuild its water, sewer and storm drainage systems.
The city had done its homework and shown its commitment to the project. It had hired an engineering firm to assess the needs. Helper also raised its utility rates in advance of applying for the funds.
Parts of the city's underground infrastructure are 70 years old. Ceramic sewer lines and lead-jointed cast iron water lines are prone to repeated breakage. Flood waters after heavy rain routinely damage roads.
The CIB package offered $7 million in an outright grant, and $12.5 million as a combination of low interest and no-interest loans for water and sewer.
Helper has moved ahead on bond issues to finance the loans and is expected to begin the three-year project next spring. Roads will be torn up to install the new systems, and will be repaved as part of the rebuilding.
Top story 5. Local Guardsmen deploy.
For months local National Guardsmen knew they would be deploying to Afghanistan. In June 2012 it finally happened. The last time they had been deployed as a group was during the Iraq War in 2002.
All in all, 60 guardsmen from the area were given a hero's sendoff in June. There were ceremonies, a breakfast in their honor and other events surrounding their leaving the community first for Fort Bliss, Texas and then eventually onto the Asian country.
On June 12, a crowd of hundreds, many holding American flags, wished them well as they headed west on 100 North in Price atop fire trucks. The parade took on a carnival atmosphere as well wishers waved, bands played and people bade them farewell.
The members of the Guard unit were deployed to Afghanistan this fall and have been serving with distinction. In December a drive was organized to send packages of personal care items to the unit. They will return home sometime in 2013.
Top story 6. Price Police Chief retires.
Longtime Price Police Chief Alex Shilaos decided it was time to call it quits and retire in May.
Shilaos, who spent over four decades in police work and had been with the Price Police Department since 1987 said it was time for him to enjoy life even more, after serving in a number of law enforcement capacities in Utah and Colorado. He had been the chief for 25 years.
Within a few days the Price City Council named a Kevin Drolc the new police chief. Drolc had been the captain of the department and had spent 25 years with the department. Drolc moved from officer to Sergeant in 1990 and then Lieutenant in in 2003. Not long after he became the second in command of the department under Shilaos.
Top Story 7. Drought hits area, but not felt as much because of storage.
The winter of 2011-2012 had been one of the driest on record in the area, so consequently much of the talk in the area was about drought.
Over the years drought had been a common theme in Carbon County as the fight over water in even in good water years was hard. The winter of 2012 brought so little snow almost everyone was concerned. The central valley had only received snow twice in the winter, once a skiff and the other time about an inch. People were happy they didn't have to shovel, but plants and animals that count on that water began to get into trouble.
To top that off, the mountains that supply agricultural water for irrigation, as well as H2O for municipal and residential use, had snowpacks in some places 10 percent of normal. In some cases people were able to drive trucks up roads all winter long that had never been traversed that way in the winter by anyone's recollection.
Without good storage in reservoirs, it could have been a disaster. But Scofield and other bodies of water were flush from the year before, which was a banner year for snow pack. However as levels of water in storage facilities dropped through the long hot summer concerns began to crop up about the 2012-13 winter and how much snow would come.
The drought did contribute to very dry conditions and led to many naturally and man made wildfires ranging throughout the state and to some extent through the local area. After the Seeley fire in June, it was assumed that fire would be an even bigger problem late into the summer, but bans on open fires, fireworks and smoking, along with fewer dry thunderstorms, kept the flames at bay in the area.
As of the end of 2012, the snowpack in the Wasatch Plateau is looking up the last couple of weeks. What happens after the beginning of 2013 could signal a good or poor water year for the next summer.
Top story 8. County building controversy.
While plans and meetings about building a new county complex had been going on for a long time, in the fall of 2012 the issue came to mean a great deal more than it had in the past.
The current Carbon County Courthouse was built in 1957. The county commission determined some time ago that it needed to be replaced. However, in addition to those that opposed building a new facility at all, another group came out to oppose the construction because of where the commission had been planning to build it, at 100 North and 800 East.
On Nov. 13 a meeting was held for people to talk about the situation in the small meeting room at the present facility. The room was packed with people who cited a number of reasons either to not build it or to build a new one on the present site. Some said the economy was too week to afford a new $16 million building while others said that the courthouse should remain on Main Street in Price.
Commissioners countered with the fact that a lot of the money will come as low cost loans and even some grant money to the tune of $6 million. More importantly they pointed out that there was a time clock ticking on using the money, and that it would go away if they didn't get started under the deadlines they were under.
In October the city had voted to give the county two orphan parcels of land near the site where they plan to build the new facility.
Another call was also heard from young people as they rallied to see that a county recreation center be built before a new administration building.
As of the new year the plans are to go ahead and build the new complex.
Top story 9. School district sees increase in student numbers.
While many rural school districts in the state of Utah are finding the numbers of students in their elementary schools dropping, Carbon County School District realized an increase in numbers this year, particularly in the Kindergarten through Third Grade levels.
Initially in August, the district knew there would be an increase in numbers overall, with Castle Heights Elementary showing the biggest growth. The only school to decline in enrollment was Wellington Elementary.
While the district counted on growth, many were surprised by the numbers. Those new numbers indicated, if students stick around until graduation, a big bulge coming out in a decade to 13 years from now. Three of the largest classes which would be at Carbon High School at the same time would put the numbers in the school at nearly 900.
Top story 10. Carbon High Girls Basketball team advances to 3A quarterfinals
Making the playoffs has become a regular thing for the Carbon High Lady Dinos Basketball team and this past season was no different.
After a regular season record of 16-4 and a Region 12 championship, the Lady Dinos headed into the 3A Tournament on a hot streak having won 11 of their last 12 games in the season. Lead by a group of seven seniors, including 3A Most Valuable Player Miranda Averett, the Lady Dinos defeated Ogden 56-35 in their first round game held at Carbon High. Advancing to the 3A quarterfinals held at Dixie State in St. George, the Lady Dinos were unable to continue their streak of good games when matched up against other teams, including Judge Memorial and Morgan, who combined to go 20-2 in their respective regions.
The Lady Dinos fell to Judge Memorial 55-39 in the 3A quarterfinal game, which saw Judge Memorial star Kailie Quinn help her team pull away from the Lady Dinos in the second half with a career-high 31 points. In the consolation bracket, the Lady Dinos battled in a close contest with Morgan but again fell victim to an opposing player playing a career game, as McKenzie Schenk scored 26 points to help push Morgan past Carbon, 55-50.
Despite the tough finish to the season, the Lady Dinos completed the 2011-12 season with an overall record of 16-7 and were champions of Region 12.
(John Serfustini and Kevin Scannell contributed to this story.)