For the past several days, we've been reviewing the top news stories from the region in 2013.
Tonight, Jim Olson concludes his look at the year just ended with the major headlines from the final two months of the year.
November began with a warning from the Highway Patrol - highways in western North Dakota are dangerous places if you're not extra careful. The HP reported that 73 of the state's 137 highway crash deaths so far in 2013 had happened in northwestern North Dakota.
Residents of several area school districts were being asked to approve bond issues for improvements to their schools. The first vote was in Bottineau where an 18.9-million dollar plan was rejected by voters. Next was Kenmare where a 14 million dollar bond plan was narrowly defeated. In early December, voters of the South Prairie district said yes to a plan to turn their school into a full kindergarten through 12th grade school. And on December 9th, Westhope voters passed a 4.3 million dollar bond plan. The next day, Minot voters split down the middle on the question of allowing up to 125 million dollars in bond sales for a new high school and elementary school and other upgrades. But the 50-50 vote was not enough to meet the 60% approval needed to pass the issue.
A Saturday evening service at this Catholic church in Ray turned into quite an adventure for the worshippers when a man with a shotgun burst in and told the father to start collecting valuables from the people now hunkering down in the pews. 54-year-old Billy Varner took the loot and ran away but two men disobeyed warnings to stay put and followed, seeing Varner's van turn onto nearby Highway Two headed west. They followed and contacted authorities who pulled Varner over at the 13 mile corner north of Williston. It turns out Varner was wanted to two murders in Illinois and was returned there to face the charges the following week.
The icy morning of December 5th was lit up by a spectacular fire at the Chateau Apartments near Minot's Arrowhead Shopping Center. The blaze broke out before sunrise at the block-long buildings that were still under construction and leveled them. Firefighters were able to save adjacent businesses and a nearby apartment building. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. The Chateau's owners, IRET, has promised to rebuild the complex.
The following week, a similar situation in Williston where a large apartment complex under construction was destroyed in an early morning fire. There were no injuries in either major blaze.
Late November brought a milestone for Minot's schools - the last group of students displaced by the 2011 flood finally got into a permanent school. Ramstad Middle School students began classes at their brand new building on North Hill just after Thanksgiving after attending classes for 2-and-a-half years at the Minot Auditorium while the new school was under construction.
Meanwhile, river managers were deciding to keep water flowing at a higher rate than ever for winter time in the Mouse River channel in an effort to create space behind dams in Canada and the US to handle any springtime flood problems. While winter flows had been at 75 CFS the previous year, they were set four times higher this winter at 300 CFS to deal with the wet year.
The state industrial commission ordered dumping stopped at an oil cuttings pit - a site where materials removed during well drilling are dumped - because it sat within the wellhead protection area of the town of Ross's water supply. Mountrail County officials expressed dismay over how the location of the pit was chosen even thought it sat less than a half-mile from Ross's water well.
As the year ended, an accident with the potential to impact oil handling in western North Dakota rocked Casselton as a train loaded with Bakken sweet crude derailed when it hit pieces of a grain train that had derailed from an adjacent track. The resulting explosions and fire chased hundreds of people from their homes and brought a safety warning from federal officials regarding the transportation of Bakken oil. The concern is that the oil may be more volatile than other forms of crude oil and require different safety measures.
And finally, some fun to end the year. It was just after Thanksgiving that this happened at KX News in Bismarck.
TV actor Will Farrell came to Bismarck in character as Ron Burgandy from the movie Anchorman. The surprise appearance created quite a stir on social media forums and even some criticism that we would allow such a promotional stunt on our newscast. Let's just say we thought it would be a fun diversion for a half hour and in the end it seems Ron Burgandy stayed classy throughout the whole show.
With 2013 in review, Jim Olson, KX News.