Top Ten stories of 2012
Published 2:52 pm, Thursday, January 3, 2013
1 The world changed Dec. 14 because of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in neighboring Newtown.
The horrific actions of one mentally ill man ended the lives of 28 people that day, and thrust survivors and the rest of our society into a post-Dec. 14, 2012 world for which the boundaries are very much in doubt.
It all happened just three weeks ago, but Sandy Hook has already overshadowed all else that transpired in 2012.
Gun regulations, treatment of the mentally ill, security measures in schools and pretty much everywhere else one goes... all of that and much more are very much at issue and must be balanced with common sense and our civil rights.
Residents of the Greater New Milford area, and everyone else in our society, will feel the repercussions, both negatively and hopefully positively, from Sandy Hook for many years to come.
2 Closure of the New Milford Hospital birthing center appears imminent, but the local hospital will soon experience a major ER expansion.
Emotions ran high as the clock ticked down on the existence of the family birthing center at New Milford Hospital.
As the year ended, hospital officials, medical professionals, countless mothers to be and concerned area residents alike awaited a decision from the state Department of Public Health's Office of Health Care Access in response to the Western Connecticut Health Network's August filing of a certificate of need for permission to stop delivering babies at New Milford Hospital.
The network, which includes New Milford and Danbury hospitals, plans are to relocate deliveries to Danbury Hospital.
"This was a hard decision," said Dr. John Murphy, president and CEO of Western Connecticut Health Network. "It was a decision based on the low number of births at New Milford Hospital and reinforced by the demographic trend over many years."
The hospital did its best to quell ongoing fears about the future viability of the local hospital by unveiling a plan for major expansion of its emergency services.
An 11,000-square-foot, two-story emergency room will be built into the hill to the left of the present structure. Cost is estimated to be $10.8 million, more than a third of which already has been raised through private donations.
The addition is the "first physical manifestation of our commitment to the community," said Deborah Weymouth, executive director of New Milford Hospital and senior vice president of WCHN.
"Our $10.8 million investment in this new ER speaks volumes to our commitment to the community," she said. "I believe this community deserves top quality medical care."
3 Superstorm Sandy ... and Faith Church
Strong winds and occasionally heavy rain buffeted the Greater New Milford area over three days in October, felling countless trees and, in the process, knocking out power for many days for some residents.
Still, in general, Sandy was kind to this area compared to the disastrous proportions of damage in New York, New Jersey and even along the Connecticut shoreline.
As the year ended, Faith Church was a leader in our community in its response to those in need, providing space on its property for dozens of mobile homes to temporarily house those displaced from their homes in Staten Island, N.Y.
4 The Wilkinson home explosion rocked the lives of two New Milford families, and prompted a spontaneous and heart-rending response from the community.
As the holidays came and went, the Wilkinson and Fratino families no doubt reflected on a 2012 they will never forget.
On Aug. 29, Anthony Fratino III was killed and both his son, Nicholas, and friend John Wilkinson were seriously injured as the result of a propane gas explosion at the Wilkinson home.
The New Milford community soon showered support and assistance on both the Wilkinson and Fratino families after the explosion. Fundraisers, furniture drives and gift certificates poured in to help the families get through the tough time and to rebuild.
The lives of the Wilkinson family were given a major boost in mid-November when Alice Wilkinson gave birth to baby daughter Sadie.
"It's all a matter of providence," Mr. Wilkinson said. "Our boys are bouncing back. Alice and Sadie came through the pregnancy just fine. Nicholas is doing well. It had to be this way."
As the New Year dawned, the Wilkinsons watched their rebuilt home along Sunny Valley Road take shape, hopefully portending happier times in 2013.
5 The highs were high and the lows, well, just that on the Greater New Milford area business scene in 2012.
The still-sluggish national and international economy weighed on everyone's mind in the Greater New Milford area throughout 2012, but there were reasons for a positive outlook.
The major shopping plaza along the Danbury Road (Route 7 South) in New Milford started to fill in with Kohl's leading the way.
In downtown New Milford, Sherman entrepreneur Gary Goldring, owner of Bank Street Theater, pursued an aggressive course with purchases of several sigificant properties, with promises to upgrade the buildings and fill the vacant storefronts.
Frozen yogurt is a local favorite now with first Peachwave along Route 7 South and then Tasty Waves in the village center opening their doors to enthusiastic response.
Longtime local merchant John NeJaime expanded beyond his cozy New Milford Spirit Shoppe on Grove Street to add NeJaime's Wine & Spirits in the Stop and Shop plaza on Route 7.
Successful businesses such as Bella Jewelers and Salsa restaurant found new homes, the former to Route 7 South and the latter making the move from Railroad Street to Bank Street.
Business anniversaries were rampant, among them the 30th anniversary of Joe's Salon on Bank Street in New Milford.
Among the business casualties in 2012 were the Friendly's restaurant along Route 7 South and Top Flight Sports Center on Pickett District Road (under the shadow of pending criminal charges against its owner, David Amory).
Doc's closed its doors in Kent but will soon be replaced at its Maple Street site by a new eatery, Gifford's, under the guidance of the owners of the popular Main Street market, J.P. Gifford.
The New Milford Village Center Organization, a staple in downtown business activity in recent years, folded its tent in 2012 but many of its activities and goals were quickly absorbed by the burgeoning Greater New Milford Chamber of Commerce.
As autumn 2012 turned into wintertime 2012/2013, New Milford's new economic development director, Luigi Fulinell0, has much on his plate, not the least of which is the future of the former Century Brass site at the intersection of Housatonic Avenue and Aspetuck Ridge Road.
Citizens of Bridgewater and its neighboring communities were stunned in July when the FBI showed up at the doorstep of the small town.
First Selectman Bill Stuart's state and federal tax returns were among the documents sought July 11 by federal investigators in a search-and-seizure warrant executed in Bridgewater by the FBI.
Mr. Stuart, who has been first selectman of the 1,800-person population town for about 30 years, said his tax records were not on file at Town Hall and had not been taken in the search.
The warrant, issued July 10 by U.S. District Judge William Garfinkle in Bridgeport, called for the seizure of documents from Jan. 1, 2007, to the present.
FBI agents shut down Town Hall and carted out boxes of documents. The bureau refused to comment on the warrant, as did the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Town attorney Fred Baker has speculated the FBI investigation into town records may have come from the years of accusations and court actions alleging misconduct by town officials.
In recent years, controversy about Mr. Stuart's management of the town's Burnham Fund and other town proceedings have led to Freedom of Information requests for documents, law suits and an investigation by the state's Attorney General's office.
The Burnham Fund was created in 1925 from the $10,000 bequest of a former resident who directed the money be used to aid the town's poor. The fund has grown in value to more than $250,000 in recent years.
The first public questioning of Mr. Stuart's disbursement of money from the Burnham Fund came in August 2009, when George Allingham, then finance board chairman, charged the first selectman with mismanagement of the fund.
Mr. Allingham has declined to comment since the FBI raid on town hall on advice of his attorney.
"All I will say is that I'm sad for the community," he told The Spectrum.
Plummeting enrollment cast a long shadow over the Region 12 school district in 2012.
The Shepaug Valley school district has enjoyed a rich history since its creation more than four decades ago.
Yet as 2013 arrived, doubts are rising about its viability as presently constituted because of a rapidly shrinkijng student enrollment.
A blue-ribbon, long-range planning committee has been hard at work formulating goals and how to go about achieving them for the district's four school facilites -- Shepaug Valley Middle/High School, Washington Primary School, Booth Free School in Roxbury and Burnham School in Bridgewater.
Region 12's new superintendent, Dr. Pat Cosentino, has taken the bull by the horns and is working with the Board of Education, fellow administrators, faculty and parents to reach an accord on a wide variety of issues at stake.
Nothing is certain about the district's future school alignment except that no one knows for sure.
The town of Washington needed to scramble fast in 2012 when first the town garage and then its town hall were, to varying degrees, disaster victims.
An early-morning fire May 2 at the town garage along Blackville Road (Route 109) in Washington turned the town's garage into a blazing inferno.
Firefighters responded quickly after neighbors had reported hearing explosions, but the garage was fully engulfed in flames when emergency officials arrived.
Destroyed in the fire were six town trucks, lawn-mowing equipment, including a new roadside mower that had arrived just the day before, and maintenance equipment and parts, including mechanics' tools.
The state fire marshal's office couldn't determine a cause but it was ruled not to be malicious and no evidence of foul play was found, according to First Selectman Mark Lyon.
Positives were to come of the disaster.
"The town has received too many offers of equipment and assistance from neighboring towns, contractors and vendors to accept," said Mr. Lyon.
The garage and contents were insured and the selectmen and town highway director Kevin Smith put together a plan to reequip the highway crew through the "generous" offers, Mr. Lyon said.
By year's end, the town's highway department personnel were fully engaged in battling winter's woes and pondering the prospect of a new, fully equipped garage on the same Blackville Road property.
People around town were likely still talking about the springtime town garage fire when a late-night August propane explosion caused considerable damage to the rear of revered Bryan Memorial Town Hall.
Once again, First Selectman Lyon and town officials did their best to make the best of a potentially bad situation. The venerable but badly damaged stage has been taken out and plans are afoot to make more efficient use of the back section of the iconic edifice.
Sherman is still waiting... yes, for full use of its emergency services facility, but spirits soared as library expansion kicked off in 2012.
Several years of missed deadlines, changes in contractors and countless other delays later, the town of Sherman is still waiting, less patiently than before, for its state of the art emergency services facility to become fully functional.
On the site of the firehouse, the building will be the jewel of the town once completed. Sadly, that time isn't quite at hand.
Countering the disappointment of the emergncy services facilities this fall was the groundbreaking for the renovation/expansion of Sherman's beloved library.
Library programs have been moved temporarily to other sites, but residents are excited about the prospect of a bigger and better library in town.
The November election proves memorable for its local, state and national outcomes.
The early November headlines read `Obama is re-elected' and `Murphy beats McMahon,' as well they should have, but there was plenty of news locally for voters in the Greater New Milford area.
Barack Obama easily dismissed Mitt Romney in the U.S. presidential race, while Chris Murphy, the 5th Distric's Democratic Congressman for the past six years, routed Republican Linda McMahon to earn a seat in the United States Senate.
On the local front, New Milford's Clark Chapin graduated from his 12-year run as GOP state representative from the 67th district by winning the 30th state Senate seat in Hartford.
He replaces fellow Republican Andrew Roraback, who ably served the 30th district for 12 years before unsuccessfully dueling Democrat Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire for the 5th Congressional district seat in Washington D.C.
In a spirited race to take now-State Sen. Chapin's General Assembly seat in Hartford, veteran Republican Cecilia Buck-Taylor outpolled Democrat Andrew Grossman, a relative newcomer to local politics.