Monster snowstorm tops 2018 stories

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Broadband, election results, crime news also made headlines

Warren Bluhm,

Two volunteers help clear a path to Atrium Post Acute Care in Oconto Falls after an April snowstorm dropped more than two feet of snow on the area. (Photo by Greg Thomson)

When you get 2 1/2 feet of snow in 48 hours, you really don’t have to think hard when it’s time to pick the top story of the year.

The April 13-15 snowstorm that brought Northeast Wisconsin to a standstill was the Oconto County Times Herald’s pick for the No. 1 news story of 2018.

Here’s a look at the stories that made headlines during the year that rolls to an end this week:

1. Record snowfall

Southern and eastern Oconto County bore the brunt of the storm, which dropped more snow than Oconto County had seen since a two-day snowstorm in 1888. Oconto registered a final total of 25 inches, and a site in Stiles measured 32 inches.

County officials issued an emergency declaration even before the first snowflakes started falling. That speeded up the process of asking for state or federal assistance, and it also allowed for snowplow drivers to work for longer periods, within reason, Emergency Management Director Tim Magnin said.

Several farmers sustained losses when the weight of the snow collapsed barn roofs, killing some of the livestock inside.

2. High-tech revolution

Paul Ehrfurth wasn’t mincing words.

“This is huge,” said Ehrfurth, the executive director of the Oconto County Economic Development Corp., in April after the state Public Service Commission approved a $600,000 state grant to expand internet broadband access to nearly 4,000 households and 107 businesses in several northern towns in the county.

The state grant – the biggest in history – is being matched by Bertram Communications, of Random Lake, which is building five towers and leasing space on two existing towers to boost internet speeds by five to 10 times current rates within the next 12 months, according the grant application.

Nsight Telservices was awarded a $49,230 grant that will enable the company to construct a 2.2-mile fiber route through the Oconto Falls Business Park, serving up to 33 businesses and a retirement facility.

3. Changing of the guard, part 1

Even before the year began it was clear the Oconto County Board would be changing, as seven supervisors whose collective experience totaled more than a century had decided not to run for re-election. March 22 was the last board meeting for supervisors Lee Rymer, Bill Grady, Ron Korzeniewski, Robert Reinhart and Ryan Wendt.

Also, Supervisor Mary Lemmen, who served 24 years on the County Board, had died in October 2017, and Gerald Beekman, whose nearly 40 years of service made him the most senior board member, died Dec. 29.

Two more changes occurred during the year, as Chris Augustine resigned in May and Vernon Zoeller stepped down in September after 17 years on the board.

4. Changing of the guard, part 2

The Gillett spring election looked to be a sleepy affair, with no more than one person running for any city offices. Then local funeral director James Beaton launched a write-in campaign and shook up City Hall, earning 57.5 percent of the vote.

5. Changing of the guard, part 3

In a season where voters seemed anxious for a change, Oconto County Sheriff’s Deputy Todd Skarban waged a successful campaign for sheriff, defeating Chief Deputy Ed Janke — who had the support of retiring four-term Sheriff Mike Jansen — by a margin of 2 to 1.

6. Gillett passes referendum

After two unsuccessful ballot initiatives in 2016, Gillett School District officials spent nearly two years working on a successful referendum that will permit them to exceed state-imposed revenue limits by $600,000 annually from the 2019-20 through 2021-22 school years.

7. Dangerous standoff

Sheriff’s deputies and other police officers responding to a welfare check at a home in rural Lena on March 11 spent several hours in a standoff after the man inside fired several shots at them. Thomas Benser, 51, later pleaded no contest to first- and second-degree reckless endangerment and was sentenced Nov. 29 to spend 10-15 years in prison.

8. Veterans disagree

Local veterans went first to the Woodlawn Cemetery Board, and then the Oconto Falls School Board, seeking a place to build a monument to local veterans, using funds from a 2014 campaign as a base. But some veterans questioned the need for a site different from the Central Avenue location that had been chosen for the earlier campaign. The issue was still unresolved at year’s end.

9. Deadly mistakes

Two Wyoming residents were in custody after a freak accident in which they fought over the steering wheel during an argument and their truck crossed the U.S. Highway 41-141 median and collided head-on with a car Sept. 11, killing Cory R. Folts, 22, of Oconto Falls. Their court cases were winding their way through Oconto County Circuit Court.

A Feb. 5 plea hearing was scheduled for Guy N. Maras, 54, Naperville, Illinois, who is charged with homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle, homicde by driving with a prohibited alcohol content, and homicide by negligent use of a motor vehicle in connection with the July 29 crash that killed Joseph Gallagher, 54, of Fair Haven, New Jersey.

10. Betrayal of trust

A Suring history teacher and coach, Timothy David Grimes, 24, was arrested and charged with six counts of sexual assault of a student by school staff in connection with incidents that allegedly occurred in April and May. A plea hearing is scheduled for Jan. 3.