Dave Olson, Published January 01 2014
Significant stories: 2013 was a year of memorable moments
Or do they?
After making their initial splash, some stories create lasting ripples, either because of their sheer impact or because they touched – or jangled – heartstrings.
A resolution to a bitter labor dispute.
Train wrecks, hellfire and a small town that dodged a bullet.
This past year saw them all.
So here, in roughly chronological order, were some of the biggest news items to rock, shock and otherwise grip the public’s attention in 2013:
Bison thunder rolls
In January, for the second year in a row, the North Dakota State University Bison trampled Sam Houston State to win a Division I football championship subdivision title.
In December, the Bison trounced New Hampshire 52-14 to win a third straight berth to the championship game in Frisco, Texas.
When NDSU takes the field Saturday against Towson University in another FCS title game, it will do so with 23 consecutive victories under its belt.
American Crystal Sugar Co. union workers, locked out of their jobs since Aug. 1, 2011, went back to work in April after 55 percent of union members voted to ratify essentially the same contract they had rejected several times since 2011.
Of the 1,300 union workers who were locked out, about 650 officially resigned or retired by the time the new contract was ratified.
In June, the North Dakota Board of Higher Education voted to buy out the remaining two years of Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s contract at a cost of more than $925,000.
Critics said Shirvani’s leadership style was stubborn and ill-tempered, and that it caused some within the University System office to fear him.
Shirvani, a native of Iran, said that in the months leading up to his ouster he received emails and notes full of profanity and racial slurs, and he said he felt racism was a factor in the conflicts marking his tenure.
One hubbub erupted when it was learned more than 40,000 emails were deleted from North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani’s email account.
The email saga began in April after The Forum published a story with excerpts of behind-the-scenes conversations between Bresciani and other university presidents about Shirvani and his policies.
The story was based on emails The Forum obtained through an open records request.
After the Legislative Council made a similar request on behalf of a legislator, it was revealed that a University System employee discovered on May 1 that more than 43,000 emails had been deleted from Bresciani’s account.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in an opinion that the University System office violated state open records laws by not coming forward with its cache of deleted emails earlier, but Stenehjem said he could not determine how and when the emails were deleted in the first place.
Property tax relief
The North Dakota Legislature passed about $850 million worth of property tax relief prior to wrapping up its session in May, with about $656 million coming through a new K-12 school funding formula and about $200 million through a state-paid tax credit.
The tax credit was said to work like this: When local political subdivisions calculate their property tax assessments, a 12 percent across-the-board cut will be applied to each final tax statement.
The county will be reimbursed that 12 percent from the state Tax Department and distribute the money back to each political subdivision.
In June, 10-year-old Jordan Peterson received a double-lung transplant at a hospital in Houston.
He was back home in Fargo with his family three months later.
After the boy returned home, his father, Dan Peterson, said doctors found scar tissue in one of the boy’s bronchial tubes, but overall his son was doing “remarkably well.”
Every three months for the next two years, Jordan Peterson will need to travel back to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston for checkups.
When Cass County deputies visited a dog-breeding operation near Wheatland in July, they seized about 170 animals after finding them stacked in cages three deep, with some dogs five to a cage and living in piles of their own feces and urine-soaked paper.
That’s the bad news.
The good news: Many animals found homes after a massive rescue effort by local animal welfare advocates and veterinarians.
Darcy Darrell Smith entered an Alford plea in Cass County District Court to one count of Class A misdemeanor animal abuse.
With Alford pleas, defendants typically do not admit guilt, but acknowledge a jury could reasonably convict them based on the evidence.
Five other charges related to animal neglect were dropped.
Prosecutors said they will seek a sentence that prohibits Smith from owning any more dogs.
A sentencing hearing for Smith is set for Monday.
The North Dakota Legislature passed a number of abortion restricting measures in 2013, including one banning abortions at the first detection of a fetal heartbeat, about six weeks into pregnancy.
Another new law requires doctors who perform abortions to get admitting privileges at a local hospital.
Both laws are on hold as legal challenges make their way through the courts.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of The Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the only abortion clinic in North Dakota, has said the clinic would have to close if either law is allowed to take effect.
Alexis Bolstad, a standout senior athlete at Fargo’s Davies High School, suffered a skull fracture and severe brain injury in an incident in August.
She was riding on the back of an electric GEM car when she lost her balance and fell off and struck her head.
Bolstad spent more than 2½ months at Craig Hospital in Denver receiving physical, occupational and speech therapy.
She returned home in November.
Racism in spotlight
Craig Cobb arrived in Leith, N.D., in quiet fashion.
But that didn’t last.
His profile grew quickly after word got out in August that Cobb had plans to turn the small town into a whites-only community.
Accounts surfaced of Cobb having fled to the United States after being charged in 2010 in Vancouver, British Columbia, for the willful promotion of hatred.
Leith became a site of confrontation, with like-minded groups arriving in town to lend support to Cobb and anti-racism groups demonstrating against him.
In November, Cobb and another man were charged with felony counts for allegedly approaching Leith residents with loaded firearms.
The city of Leith has plans to demolish Cobb’s house, along with other structures identified by health officials as public nuisances.
Leith is a town of about 20 people located about 75 miles southwest of Bismarck.
Bison mania reached a fevered pitch in September, when ESPN broadcast its “College GameDay” from downtown Fargo.
The event touched off a minor firestorm when it was announced the show would be shot in the downtown setting and not the Fargodome, where the Bison play their games.
But all’s well that ends well, as the Broadway locale made a splendid backdrop for thousands of cheering Bison fans.
“GameDay” producer Lee Fitting put it this way: “You see the scene out here and how this looked on TV. There couldn’t be a better postcard.”
Her honor, the mayor
When Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to the post he held for a dozen years, the question of who would replace him was the talk of the town leading up to the November election.
The answer to that question made history because for the first time in the city’s 132-year existence a woman was elected mayor.
Del Rae Williams could not say on election night whether gender played a role in her victory, but she said she did receive a small number of emails that attempted to discourage her from running because she was a woman.
In a year of big news for Bison fans, perhaps the biggest came in December when it was revealed head coach Craig Bohl had accepted the job of head football coach at the University of Wyoming.
Bohl’s move after 11 years of leading the Bison may prove lucrative.
His new base salary at Wyoming is expected to be $300,000, with additional guaranteed compensation of $450,000 that increases by $50,000 each additional year.
With other benefits, his annual pay could total $1.2 million.
Bohl’s pay at NDSU last year was about $350,000, including salary, benefits and incentive pay.
Boom, boom, boom
North Dakota’s Oil Patch was the source for many stories in 2013, from ongoing issues of housing and employment to spot stories such as the pipeline spill that flooded a field near Tioga with 20,600 barrels of oil.
The latter prompted the North Dakota Department of Health to launch a website dedicated to reporting spills.
In addition, Gov. Jack Dalrymple appointed a task force to study technologies to enhance pipeline safety.
Public outcry over proposals to drill for oil in the Killdeer Mountains and near Elkhorn Ranch prompted the North Dakota Industrial Commission to begin a process to identify “extraordinary places” in the state to protect them from oil drilling.
On Monday, one of the coldest days of the year, a westbound grain train derailed near Casselton and slammed into an eastbound 106-car train carrying crude oil, sending a fireball a hundred feet into the air.
There was no loss of life, but many in town temporarily evacuated for fear a change in the wind would send thick smoke into their homes.
The crash will raise many questions about the best way to ship the black gold helping fuel North Dakota’s strong economic engine.
But for now, many are thankful one of the biggest and last news stories of 2013 wasn’t bigger than it was.
Readers can reach Forum reporter
Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555. Reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this report.