Below are the five stories we believe were the top news stories of 2012, based on how much we reported on them and the impact to the communities.
Honorable mentions include Phase II of the Monona Drive reconstruction project, the Highway N reconstruction, and the invitation to AT EASE of Cottage Grove to participate in the 57th Inaugural Parade (see our Dec. 27th issue for the story), and the approval of Treysta on the Water in Monona.
Now on to the top five:
5) Lake Monona Water Walk: Mayor Bob Miller declaring the year 2012 as the Year of Water in Monona, and from that stemmed not only The Natural Step Monona’s Water Conservation Challenge, but a three-day once in a lifetime event.
The Lake Monona Water Walk, held July 6-8, brought hundreds of people as well as internationally renowned water activists First Nations Ojibwe Grandmother Josephine Mandamin and William Waterway Marks to Monona.
Monona business owner Dianné Aldrich was at the helm for this event that combined music, education, fun, and a whole host of cultures together to celebrate water.
“The water issue is such a powerful, potent passion for me,” Aldrich said during the planning stages for the event. “Until there is that sacred relationship created with that element, people will continue to take it for granted or look at it as a resource or commodity, and not that which truly gives life.”
Inspired by Mandamin’s previous walks around the five great lakes, Aldrich planned a walk around the shores of Lake Monona as the focal point of the three days. The event brought together so many different cultures and beliefs – all for which water is a sacred element – and helped people find a renewed appreciation for the life-giving element.
This story, which we reported on quite a bit leading up to the Water Walk, makes the list because it truly was once in a lifetime. Who knows if such an event will ever happen again in Monona, in Dane County, or Wisconsin.
“2012 is the Year of Water in Monona,” said Dianné Aldrich, coordinator of the Lake Monona Water Walk. “There are no plans for next year. The question is there, but … it’s not about next year. [Grandmother Josephine and Marks] will be here this year. We don’t know if we can create that again.”
4) Belle Isle Dredging 2012: Another story coming out of Monona, the Belle Isle Dredging is completed. Mostly.
That project began toward the end of 2011, actually, with several meetings with the neighborhood association and City Council focusing on the question: To dredge or not to dredge?
Bids for the project had come in during 2011, but there was a lot of disagreement between neighbors. The council had to approve the project and the contractor to do the work, but the choice to do the project came down to the residents living on Lagoon du Sud, Lagoon du Nord and Sumac Lagoon.
The residents were assessed for 70 percent of the costs, while the city picked up the remaining 30 percent. During the discussions, the city drafted a new assessment process specific for the dredge project to make it fair for property owners.
At the end of 2011, it was decided to wait another year. The city would re-bid the project in hopes of getting more contractors interested, as well as lower costs.
In early 2012, though there were still some residents adamantly against dredging the lagoons, the council approved a bid from Veit & Company, and dredging began on Oct. 1.
At this point, the dredging has been completed; however the project is not over. If you drive past Winnequah Park, you’ll see huge dewatering bags at the “Blue Park,” and access to that part of the park is prohibited.
The bags will remain there until the spring, when they’ll be cut open and the sediment used to help level the ground at the park to eliminate storm water and drainage issues.
This story makes the cut because the dredge has been a long time coming. At one meeting, Alderman Jim Busse commented that the idea to dredge the lagoons had been talked about for the past seven years. A resident living on one of the lagoons said the lagoons had never been dredged while she’s lived here, and that was nearly 50 years.
The waterways are now open and more navigable for boaters. The water is clean for swimming, and flooding at the Blue Park may not be so much of a problem after this spring.
Though a tough decision to be made, it was definitely a good one.
3) Deer Grove EMS survives/10-year contract signed: We reported on this issue quite a bit this past year. With the current contract expiring and the Town of Deerfield choosing to leave the service, it was necessary for the Village and Town of Cottage Grove and Village of Deerfield to negotiate a new contract with the Deer Grove EMS, or find another EMS provider.
This went back and forth for sometime, and at one point, it appeared that Deer Grove EMS, which has served Deerfield and Cottage Grove for more than three decades, would be disbanded.
However, through a lot of long meetings and tough discussions, an agreement was reached and a 10-year contract was signed.
2) MG cuts $1.2 million from operating budget/Act 10: School districts across the state were faced with a lot of new challenges in 2012 because of Act 10. Monona Grove School District and Board of Education had quite a few challenges, the least of which was balancing the 2012-13 budget.
To do so, the school board had to approve $1.2 million in budget reductions.
This story comes in at the number two slot, not only because cutting $1.2 million is a tough task in itself, but also because Monona Grove managed to do so without eliminating any programs.
The process used to reduce the budget was far more creative and collaborative than simply making straight cuts. Individual departments proposed ways to reduce spending or increase revenue. Items were ranked by a committee that included Monona Grove administration, staff, board members, and community members.
Public hearings were held, and the board used the rankings and comments from the public to determine which reductions would be made.
The cuts definitely affected student learning, and there were some positions lost in the process. However, all things considered, it could have been much worse.
And during this process, the school board and district administration drafted an employee handbook as required by Act 10 that carefully and fairly considered employee rights. Base wage negotiations were conducted and a favorable agreement was reached.
This was all done with teacher and support staff needs taken to heart, and without too many complications.
1) Cottage Grove merger talks: The possible merger of the Town and Village of Cottage Grove ranks at number one for 2012, and we believe this is a story that will continue well into 2013 and beyond.
Progress was made during 2012, but there still are some lingering disagreements between the village and town boards.
Earlier in 2012, the financial impact study performed by Baker Tilly showed what the tax impact on residents would be if the two entities merged.
The non-binding referendum questions asked by both governing bodies in the fall election was a huge step forward. The community had its chance to offer some direction on the issue and the majority voted to continue merger talks.
We’re anxious to see how the next steps progress in the coming months, some of which may be decided by next week. The Joint Merger Committee meets Jan. 3 and will discuss and consider a new joint merger resolution and a memorandum of understanding.
We hope the town and the village can become equal partners in 2013 as the research into a possible merger continues.