Top 10 of 2012: Flood of a lifetime tops year’s news in NorthlandWe had intriguing political twists, shocking racial incidents and exciting business developments. But there was no question that the biggest story of 2012 was the June flood.
By: Jaime Delage, Duluth News Tribune
We had intriguing political twists, shocking racial incidents and exciting business developments.
But there was no question which was the biggest story of 2012 for the Duluth News Tribune. When reporters and editors looked back through 12 months of headlines, it was clear that the Flood of 2012 was the story of the year.
No other event this year caused so much havoc, spawned so many personal stories or was so simply amazing. From the nonstop rain to the river running down your avenue and the seal in the street, those few days in June presented more firsts to Duluth residents than anything we’ve seen in ages.
Here’s our Top 10 in a nutshell.
The flood of our lifetimes
Seven to 10 inches of rain fell on the Duluth area in about 24 hours on June 19 and 20, the biggest two-day rainfall total on record, which spurred the most damaging and expensive flood in the region’s history.
The deluge overwhelmed gutters, ditches, creeks and rivers and then washed out roads, bridges and more. People kayaked down city streets and ran motorboats in parking lots near Miller Hill Mall. Duluth’s Fond du Lac neighborhood and the hamlet of Thomson, both along the St. Louis River, were among the hardest hit, with many homes destroyed. But nearly all parts of the city reported considerable damage to homes, streets, sidewalks, parks and buildings.
The Lake Superior Zoo was swamped. Barnyard animals drowned, and the polar bear and a seal were washed out of their exhibits.
In some areas, the torrent of water subsided in a matter of hours. In others, floodwater rose for days, cutting off access to cabins and homes and inundating basements.
Amazingly, no humans lost their lives directly due to the flood, although some people had close calls, including a boy who was washed down a culvert and motorists in a car that plunged into a sinkhole.
The final cost to private property may never be known. Local officials put the tab to fix public infrastructure at more than $100 million. Federal and state agencies came to the rescue with low-interest loans and grants to help rebuild.
Meteorologists say the flood-inducing rainfall was a 500-year event. Ironically, Duluth has had below-normal precipitation ever since the flood and now is in an official drought.
Last stand for Last Place
Last Place on Earth head shop owner Jim Carlson was a newsmaker throughout the year as police and city officials criticized the designer drugs he sold as customers continued to line up and hang out at the door of his Superior Street shop each day.
But now Carlson’s business, almost $3 million in the bank and his very freedom are at stake after he, his girlfriend, his son and a former employee are under the indictment of a federal grand jury for allegedly violating federal drug and product-labeling laws. All four have pleaded not guilty, and a jury trial has been scheduled to start March 11 at a still-to-be-determined location.
In addition to charging Carlson and employees with distribution of controlled substances and analogues, the government is using consumer laws on product labeling to prosecute the case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges that they intended to mislead government authorities with false labels that, besides suggesting the products weren’t drugs, failed to describe contents accurately and failed to include health warnings about their use.
The city of Duluth has also served a “Notice of Public Nuisance” on the Last Place on Earth and Carlson. The matter has not been resolved.
Focus on racism
Search for the word “racism” in the News Tribune archives and you’ll find it used more times in the past year than in the previous five years combined.
The word was embedded in the catch phrase of a community awareness effort called the Un-Fair Campaign — “It’s hard to see racism when you’re white” — and it was a recurring topic of public conversation nearly every month of the year.
The Un-Fair Campaign certainly generated discussion, but it also prompted a backlash of local criticism and inspired a visit by a white supremacist group that demonstrated at the Civic Center in March. The University of Minnesota Duluth decided to pull out of the effort, which had been a collaboration of 19 local organizations, after a video promoting the campaign went viral and drew alumni attention.
Incidents of racial insensitivity and hostility popped up repeatedly during the year. An Un-Fair Campaign billboard was defaced with the n-word. There was strong reaction to two incidents of white people donning blackface, one at a public Halloween party and the other in a video showing two UMD students using racial epithets while wearing facial masks that looked like blackface makeup.
On Election Day, a figure bearing a Halloween mask of President Obama was found hanging on the digital billboard on Central Entrance in Duluth. Activists called for it to be investigated as a hate crime.
Duluth Mayor Don Ness wrote in a News Tribune commentary that the incidents were “disgusting examples of hateful racism that clearly do not represent the Duluth I know and love.” He called on the community to respond in a way that demonstrates the city’s true values.
Election year drama
A campaign to hold onto a normally safe state House seat got interesting when the public learned that Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, engaged in consensual oral sex at a Duluth rest area with a 17-year-old boy in July.
A police investigation cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing, but Gauthier eventually dropped out of the race and requested to have his name removed from the ballot. Erik Simonson was endorsed to replace Gauthier, but it took a Supreme Court order to get Simonson’s name on the ballot, while independent candidate Jay Fosle remained a write-in. Simonson faced his own personal hurdle early on in his campaign when his estranged, 20-year-old daughter said he abandoned her at the age of 2 after divorcing her mother.
Simonson won election and kept the seat in the DFL column.
Another Northland race drew national attention: Republican Chip Cravaack had stunned the 8th District by turning U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar out of office in 2010’s Tea Party wave. Democrats turned to Rick Nolan, who had previously served in Congress in the 1970s, to challenge Cravaack.
Former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden made campaign stops in Duluth and Superior, and Nolan took the seat back for the Democrats on the coattails of a successful re-election bid for President Obama.
Back in business
AAR Aircraft Services brought heavy aircraft maintenance back to the long-vacated Northwest Airlines maintenance base in Duluth this year. Its startup crew of 100, servicing Air Canada Airbus jets, is just for starters. Up to 225 skilled workers will be needed by the time they bring the base up to full capacity within a year.
Atwater Group officials announced an $80 million, 15-story office tower will be built on West Superior Street. At 300,000 square feet, it will be the largest office building downtown. Maurices will be the anchor tenant, occupying 60 percent of the building. Construction is expected to begin this spring.
Kestrel Aircraft CEO Alan Klapmeier chose Superior to build his new plane that’s under development. The startup company hopes to fill a niche with its single-engine, turboprop eight-seat plane.
Meanwhile, Cirrus Aircraft in Duluth was starting to revive after the recession that hit the industry hard. And its Vision personal jet was back on track and heading for a 2015 production date with the investment of nearly $100 million by new owners, China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co.
A costly fix
The Minnesota Department of Human Services announced in September it was revoking the license of Duluth’s Lake Superior Treatment Center, a state-sanctioned methadone clinic.
The revocation came just days after the News Tribune began publishing an investigative series about the clinic, as well as details on the overall risks of the controversial ’60s-era drug used to treat opiate addicts. Nearly 400 deaths statewide since 2001 have been related to methadone-involved overdoses, the articles said, including 38 in the Northland.
In Duluth, the clinic’s license had already been on conditional status since March after inspectors found numerous violations, the DHS report said. Those infractions included failing to check that patients were properly using take-home doses of the drug that are popular on the street, providing false information to investigators and overworking counselors by giving them caseloads in excess of that allowed by federal law.
Dr. Tom Payte, a corporate medical director for Colonial Management Group, which owns the Lake Superior Treatment Center along with more than 50 other clinics across the country, said revocation of the clinic’s license could have disastrous consequences for patients and the community.
The patients “will die, overdose or go to jail,” Payte said. “Some will just resume their illicit habits.”
In St. Paul in early December, two health care committees of the Minnesota House of Representatives discussed the drug, citing the News Tribune series, and said their 2013 session would likely include proposals to tighten supervision of its use. While some doctors say methadone is the best treatment for weaning addicts off drugs like heroin, others point out problems the drug causes when it leaves patients’ hands and ends up for sale on the street.
“It is a controversial therapy,” DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson told committee members. “You are using a legal drug to battle an illegal one.”
After nearly 40 years of protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, wolves became fair game for hunters and trappers in Minnesota and Wisconsin in 2012.
State and federal wildlife officials agreed wolf numbers had increased enough to remove protections, and state lawmakers moved quickly to begin wolf seasons.
Thousands of hunters and trappers applied for a few hundred permits available in each state as wolf protection groups held protests and filed lawsuits to stop the hunts.
In the end, the seasons went on as proposed. Minnesota hunters and trappers have killed nearly 350 wolves so far, with the trapping season open another month in northwestern Minnesota. In Wisconsin, 117 wolves were shot and trapped during the season that ended earlier this month.
Wolf supporters say it was too soon after wolf recovery to begin a large-scale hunting and trapping season for the big canines and noted Minnesota had little hard data on actual wolf population. Backers of wolf hunting and trapping said the seasons would help reduce conflicts with livestock and that the wolf population can easily withstand the current level of wolf killing.
UMD’s Connolly wins Hobey Baker
Senior center Jack Connolly of Duluth had a dream season in 2011-12 by earning nearly every individual Division I men’s hockey award while leading the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs into the NCAA tournament.
The top prize was the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the top player in Division I, the fifth given to a UMD player. Connolly also was an All-American for a third straight year and was named player of the year in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, was named winner of the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award and Premier Player of College Hockey Award, and was UMD’s Outstanding Male Senior Athlete. He was also named USA Hockey’s College Player of the Year.
Connolly was the second-leading scorer in Division I with 20 goals and 40 assists for 60 points in 41 games. UMD finished second in the WCHA regular-season standings and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals before being eliminated by eventual-champion Boston College 4-0 in the Northeast Regional final in Worcester, Mass.
It appears 2012 will be the warmest year in recorded U.S. history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Northland has been riding along on that heat wave.
Preliminary numbers crunched by the News Tribune show 2012 as the third warmest year ever in Duluth, trailing 1931 and 1878 by about a half-degree.
After a mostly no-show winter, March was an incredible 13.3 degrees warmer than normal. Duluth then saw its warmest meteorological summer (June, July and August) in the 162 years that records have been kept. Duluth also saw a remarkable string of 15 straight months with above-normal temperatures, just shy of a record. The string ended when October finished 0.7 degrees below normal.
The average temperature for Duluth for June, July and August was 67.4 degrees, four degrees above normal and nearly a half-degree above the previous summer record set in 2006. July 2012 saw 25 days with high temperatures of 80 degrees or greater, the most for any month on record in Duluth.
Using forecast highs and lows for the final few days of December, it looks like 2012 will end with an average annual temperature of about 44 degrees in Duluth, behind only the 44.5 degrees set in 1931 and 44.4 in 1878. That’s nearly five degrees warmer than average.
St. Louis County authorities believe they solved a cold-case murder when Joseph John Couture Jr. was arrested and charged in June with the slaying and sexual assault of Trina Langenbrunner in 2000.
Langenbrunner, a 33-year-old mother of three, was last seen alive hitchhiking in the area of Brookston Road between 1:30 and 2 a.m. on Sept. 3, 2000. At the time of her death, Couture, 41, was a neighbor of Langenbrunner.
A witness whose identity and gender are being protected by authorities recently came forward to report that Couture returned to a residence early Sept. 3, 2000, covered in blood. The witness reported that Couture said he had killed Langenbrunner and he threatened to kill the witness in the same fashion.
Couture and his girlfriend, Sandra Kay Couture, 39, also known as Sandra Kay Zanol, are also charged with tampering with witnesses in the case. Joseph Couture is being held in the Douglas County Jail on $1.2 million bail and Sandra Couture is being held in the St. Louis County Jail on $150,000 bail.