As 2018 grows more distant in our rearview mirrors, we finish taking a look at some of the top stories of the year in this week’s installment of our Year in Review, which covers from September to December.
Election coverage dominated a large part of that time period. Dawes County moved to an all-mail election for the first time after the Secretary of State approved the request in August.
“One of the issues we were facing as a county was traditional low voter turnouts,” Clerk Cheryl Feist said. “I want to get more people involved in the process.”
Dawes County has traditionally lagged behind the state average in voter turnout. This year’s primary election turnout was 30 percent. The November 2016 election – which included a presidential race - saw a 63 percent turnout, but the general election two years before that came in at only 46 percent turnout. Only one-quarter of the voters cast a ballot in the 2014 primary election. Voter turnout was 61 percent in November 2012, which also included a presidential race.
Though there were few contested local races on the ballot, The Chadron Record and KCSR-KBPY once again worked together to host an election forum to educate voters and plenty of copy in the Record was dedicated to Q&As from the candidates and coverage of the forum.
After the ballots were counted in November, the county’s first mail-in election resulted in a 62 percent voter turnout, a figure Feist was pleased to see.
Ten dedicated Dawes County citizens were recognized for their contributions, immortalized on a new Wall of Fame.
The Dawes County Historical Museum hosted its annual History in Action Day event and dedicated the new Wall of Fame this year. The museum inducted ten individuals in its inaugural year, and will add to the wall each year at History in Action Day, said Sharon Rickenbach.
Producers in one region of the Upper Niobrara White NRD were asked for input on possible changes to irrigation rules.
Sub-area three of the Natural Resources District, located in southern Sheridan County, has seen an increase in groundwater levels in recent years. That increase and conversations with producers in that region prompted the UNWNRD board to consider suspending the irrigation well moratorium in sub-area three. After four public information sessions and a public hearing, the NRD did approve the changes and established rules for producers to apply for additional irrigated acres.
The Chadron Municipal Airport lost its fixed-based operator but gained additional rental income from the Transportation Security Administration.
City Manager Greg Yanker informed the council in September that fixed-base operator Mark Hutton notified the city he wishes to terminate his contract. A&M Aviation has served as the FBO at Chadron since 2008, providing general aviation services including maintenance, fueling, hangaring and apron tie-down operations for private aircraft based at the facility.
The city met with Hutton in July to address $35,000 in delinquent payments due to the city from A&M. At the time, Hutton promised to bring his account current by the end of August. Yanker said Monday the company still owes its fuel flow payments, and the city has begun the legal process to collect the arrearage. Staff also contacted airport tenants and Boutique Air to open a dialogue about how to best manage the absence of an FBO.
Chadron students learned the importance of heart health through the annual Jump Rope for Heart event, improving their health through exercise and raising money for research into and awareness of heart disease and stroke.
To mark the fourth decade of the program, the American Heart Association has re-branded the event as the Kids Heart Challenge. The new direction focuses more on the whole child, said regional coordinator Helena Beyer. Social and emotional health, along with nutrition and exercise are emphasized.
In Chadron, students can choose to take part in a challenge throughout the year, said teacher Linda Rischling. They can do a good deed, focus on drinking more water each day or start an exercise routine. They are learning to take care of their hearts for a lifetime, well beyond when they leave the school gym, she said, and hopefully sharing the information with friends and family along the way.
With the winter season quickly approaching, the Chadron City Council finalized its snow emergency declaration plan, designating Code Red as the primary announcement method.
Code Red is an emergency notification plan that residents can sign up for to be alerted to all types of emergencies by telephone. Users can elect to have the notifications delivered to land or cell lines, and can choose either text or voice notifications.
The city has offered Code Red for several years, but chose do designate it as its primary snow emergency notification after several residents in the snow emergency routes claimed to now know of a second snow emergency earlier this year. The city refunded towing fees for several vehicles after the incident.
The city may also make snow emergency announcements through the local news media or on its own website, but those will all be considered secondary measures.
Citizens can sign up for Code Red by visiting the city’s website, clicking on Code Red and following the appropriate steps.
Only two candidates interviewed for the vacant Dawes County Public Defender position after Jerrod Jaeger resigned earlier in the year.
Becca Chasek and Edwina Heise applied for the position. Chasek, who filled in on an interim basis while the hiring process was taking place, was eventually appointed to the position.
A cast of colorful characters livened up a “remote broadcast” of the Doug and Dave Show in Chadron.
Doug Brummel and David Wilson presented “Mass Confusion” as a special live remote on the fictional radio station KGOD during an appearance at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
Chadron knows Brummel from his visit to the church last year with his “Lighten Up” show, which featured Brummel portraying several different characters, from a young boy named Timmy to an elderly widower Joe. He recently teamed up with Wilson to create an entirely new show, in which the pair host a daily radio show on KGOD called the Doug and Dave Show. Wilson, a member of a touring country band, and Brummel met at their church in Colorado. The two started writing songs together for church and decided to build on their productivity.
When they take the show on the road for their fictional remote broadcast, “Mass Confusion,” they aim to teach about the Catholic Mass but all sorts of interruptions occur as Brummel is called away and visitors pop in to talk to Wilson.
A new round of grant funding will allow the Panhandle Area Development District to continue its efforts in addressing brownfield sites across the region.
Brownfield sites are those where there is a suspicion that hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants are present. The Panhandle Area Development District recently received a $450,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out assessments in the Panhandle. The grant is a follow-up to one PADD received earlier that was used to identify possible sites.
That earlier process identified roughly 230 properties across the Panhandle that are suspected as brownfield sites, said Megan Koppenhafer, PADD’s community planner. About a dozen of those were in Chadron, mostly along First Street, and several were also identified in Crawford, said Deb Cottier, executive director of Northwest Nebraska Development Corporation.
The more recent grant will allow for PADD to work with property owners and conduct 20 Phase I environmental assessments and 15 Phase II assessments, Koppenhafer explained. There is also funding available for redevelopment planning for city-owned brownfield sites.
A $1.8 million grant will provide on-site mental health services for Chadron Public School students make mental health strategies and trainings available across the entire Panhandle.
The school district is one of three selected to share in a $9 million grant to the Nebraska Department of Education from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The goal of the grant is to increase awareness of mental health issues in the school population, train staff on how to detect and respond to mental health issues and connect students and their families with professionals.
The district will receive $360,000 a year for the next five years to implement the objectives of the grant.
Cowboy Trail West, based out of Sheridan County, and the Northwest Nebraska Trails Association, based in Dawes County, could complete the Cowboy Trail from Gordon to just west of Chadron, where the official Cowboy Trail ends, if they are able to secure matching funds for grant dollars before March.
The Cowboy Trail, a rail-to-trail conversion effort through the Game and Parks, was always meant to extend from Norfolk to Chadron, but a lack of funding stalled much of its completion beyond Valentine for years. Local volunteers in Sheridan County raised funds and volunteered their time and labor to work with the Game and Parks to complete nearly 10 miles of the trail in Sheridan County in recent years.
Another 6.8 miles is scheduled to be completed in Sheridan County before June, and the additional grant funds that the two organizations are working toward would add even more miles in both Sheridan and Dawes counties.
Nebraska Game and Parks has offered each group $350,000 toward work on the trail. Each county’s group must raise $88,000 as matching funds by March 1 to receive that total.
Boutique Air received unanimous support from council members in its bid to remain the city’s Essential Air Service provider in the Federal Aviation Administration’s bid process.
The FAA solicited proposals from commercial airlines to service both Chadron and Alliance, either in combination or as standalone operations, in late October and received two bids – one from Boutique Air and one from Key Lime Air. Part of the FAA’s consideration when awarding the bid is each community’s preference.
Boutique Air’s success in reviving commercial flights from the Chadron Municipal Airport, as well as the company’s existing lease agreements for the terminal building and the barrel hangar, were cited as key reasons for Chadron to recommend the company. Those leases generate additional revenue for the city, and the company’s regional maintenance hub, operated out of the barrel hangar, creates jobs within the community.
In what seemed like no time, the Chadron High School auditorium was transformed in December, as seats were ripped out to make way for new ones. The demolition took about 90 minutes.
The quick work cleared the way for carpet removal and concrete work to repair cracks in the upper level and to smooth out the concrete where the old chairs were attached on the lower level.
The removal of the original 1968 seating was the first step in replacing the seats with new theater-style chairs, which are scheduled to be this month.
Much of the project was made possible through funding from the Chadron Public Schools Foundation, which donated $50,000 toward the seating upgrades. Other fundraising has generated an additional $12,000-13,000.
Chadron Public Schools is starting the process to hire a new superintendent following the planned retirement of Dr. Caroline Winchester in 2020.
The school board agreed in December to solicit proposals from consultant firms to lead the search for Dr. Winchester’s replacement.
She has led the school district as superintendent for nine years, and has served as a superintendent for a total of 22 years. She was named the state’s Superintendent of the Year in 2016, and selected as The Chadron Record’s Co-Citizen of the Year with then-board member Terri Haynes.
During her career in education, she has worked as a science teacher, principal, adjunct professor and superintendent. She received her doctorate from University of Nebraska - Lincoln, educational administration specialists and master’s degrees were achieved at the University of Nebraska - Kearney.