Top local stories of 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson announced in December she will leave Congress.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This compilation of the top 10 stories of the year is based on voting by the Southeast Missourian newsroom staff. Reporters and editors suggested 20 stories; 10 with the highest number of votes were selected.

1. Emerson resigns from Congress

After being re-elected to a 10th term in Congress in November, Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, announced Dec. 3 her intention to leave office. She will do so soon to begin a job as president and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a not-for-profit organization based in Arlington, Va., that represents the interests of rural electric cooperatives and public power districts.

Emerson, 62, the state's longest-serving member of Congress, was first elected in 1996 after the death of her husband, Bill Emerson, who had represented the 8th District since 1981.

When Emerson announced her plans to leave Congress, she said she would resign Feb. 8, but has since suggested she might move the date up so a special election could be held as soon as possible.

2. Isle Casino Cape Girardeau opens

Isle Casino Cape Girardeau opened Oct. 30. (Laura Simon)

Isle Casino Cape Girardeau opened Oct. 30 with almost 11,000 people visiting the casino in the first two days of operation.

Voters approved riverboat gambling in November 2010, and construction of the casino complex began four months later. The completed $135 million facility that sits just north of downtown Cape Girardeau features nearly 1,000 slot machines, 28 table games, four restaurants and a 750-seat events center.

Isle Casino Cape Girardeau had gross receipts of $5.37 million in November, its first full month of operation. Cape Girardeau city officials estimate annual city revenue from casino admissions will be between $3 million and $4 million.

3. Clay Waller charged with missing wife's murder

Clay Waller attended his preliminary hearing in July. (Laura Simon)

After a preliminary hearing that determined there was sufficient evidence to proceed to trial, Clay Waller was charged in July with first-degree murder and two counts of evidence tampering for his alleged role in the disappearance of his estranged wife Jacque.

Waller pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and to the counts of evidence tampering at his August arraignment.

Waller also filed a motion for change of venue, arguing that he couldn't receive a fair trial in Cape Girardeau County because of the publicity the case had received. The Cape Girardeau County prosecutor's office and Waller's attorney stipulated before Judge Benjamin Lewis in October that the trial could be held in Cape Girardeau County but with a jury brought in from Cole County. Lewis accepted the stipulation and set Waller's trial for September.

4. Extreme drought hurts agriculture, leads to low river

A drought map.

The worst U.S. drought in decades led to an early conclusion of the Southeast Missouri corn harvet, about 14 days ahead of 2011 and 45 days earlier than normal because of the hot, dry weather farmers had to contend with.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, corn yields in 2012 were down in Southeast Missouri, with drought conditions such that farmers cut their corn crops for silage or destroyed them. Soybean yields also suffered because of the hot and dry conditions.

The drought also led to diminishing water levels on the Mississippi River throughout most of the year, and in December barge operators expressed concern that low river levels could bring barge traffic to a halt. Lt. Colin Fogarty of the Coast Guard said he was confident "we can still maintain a safe, navigable waterway despite the low-water conditions," but he acknowledged physical limitations at certain parts of the river that may inhibit barge operators because their vessels draft too much or push too much water.

The removal of rock pinnacles to reduce impediments to barge traffic near Thebes, Ill., began in December, and the project is scheduled for completion in mid-January.

5. Broadway Corridor Project

Construction on Broadway in September before reopening a month later. (Adam Vogler)

The Broadway Corridor Project, a road resurfacing and streetscape plan for the revitalization of Broadway, came in ahead of schedule and was ready for traffic in October.

Stretching from Pacific to Water streets, the project began in April and caused traffic interruptions for motorists and business owners during construction. In addition to road resurfacing, the project also saw the replacement of sidewalks, curbs and gutters and the relocation of utility lines. Improvements to the landscape, lighting, intersections and parking areas also were undertaken successfully.

A ribbon-cutting was held Oct. 31 to celebrate the end of the project. Money for the improvements came from the city's voter-approved Transportation Trust Fund, a half-cent sales tax for transportation projects, and funding for amenities outside the scope of streetwork came from an agreement with the Isle Casino Cape Girardeau.

6. Former Southeast student arrested in terror plot

Associated Press Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis

Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, who attended Southeast Missouri State University from January to May, was arrested by federal agents for allegedly plotting to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City.

Nafis, 21, a native of Bangladesh and described as a below-average student, enrolled at Southeast as a cybersecurity major but left the university when the semester ended. He asked that Southeast transfer his records to a university in Brooklyn, N.Y., and it was when Nafis was in New York that he made contact with a person who was a confidential FBI informant, saying he had come to the U.S. to "wage jihad."

In October, Nafis was arrested by the FBI and the New York Police Department in a joint undercover sting operation for allegedly trying to detonate a 1,000-pound bomb from a nearby hotel room with a cellphone. Nafis was charged with attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

He faces life in prison if convicted.

7. Urban deer hunting debate

Does stand in a field near the intersection of Sprigg and Bertling streets in January. (Laura Simon)

After nearly a year of often heated public discourse, the Cape Girardeau City Council authorized a special election to decide the matter of urban deer hunting.

In July, the council voted to allow bowhunting-for-deer within the city limits, but at their October meeting, council members were presented with a petition that sought either the repeal of the deer-hunting ordinance or to have the matter put to a citywide vote. The council voted against repealing the ordinance and then approved a motion to let voters decide the issue in a special election, which was charter-mandated in light of the petition with signatures of more than 4,000 registered city voters asking for the repeal or a vote.

The special election, with a tab of about $25,000, will be in April.

8. Morley Swingle resigns to take federal prosecutor job

Prosecuting attorney Morley Swingle presents photo evidence during a preliminary hearing in July. (Laura Simon)

In November, longtime Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney Morley Swingle announced he would resign to become a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office.

"I do feel ready for some new challenges," Swingle said at the time of his resignation. "When I got here, I thought I'd be here a year and then I'd try to get a judgeship with the appellate courts. Then I blink and it's 25 years later."

Elected the county's 30th prosecutor in 1986, Swingle served longer than any other prosecutor in the county's history. During his tenure, he prosecuted thousands of cases, from misdemeanors to capital murder cases. He prosecuted more than 128 jury trials and more than 70 homicide cases. He also handled 29 cases at the appellate level.

9. Saint Francis starts $127 million expansion

A November groundbreaking at Saint Francis Medical Center marked the beginning of the $127 million "Building on Excellence" project.

The project, which has a completion date of June 2016, calls for a new, updated main entrance, five-story patient tower, a Women and Children's Pavilion and an Orthopedic and Neurosciences Center. More than 217,000 square feet will be added to the medical center, bringing it to 1.6 million square feet. All of the hospital's 320 patient rooms will be private.

About $75 million to fund the project was raised through bond financing and another $52 million will come from the medical center's operations funds.

10. Dress code for Cape schools

The Cape Girardeau School Board passed a stricter dress code for students in February.

The new standard was implemented because of concerns about inconsistencies in dress between school buildings and issues of vagueness. The dress code took effect at the start of the 2012-2013 school year. Students were given the option of wearing collared shirts or turtlenecks in any solid color; a school-oriented T-shirts, sweatshirts or hoodies; or solid-colored vests, sweaters, sweatshirts or pullovers with an approved shirt underneath. It also allowed for pants, shorts, capris, skirts and jumpers in any solid color; blue jeans; or a solid-color dress with sleeves and a collar; or a high crew neck.

Possible changes to the dress code -- and recommendations -- for the 2013-2014 school year were discussed at the school board's December meeting. Examples were provided of how the dress code has been violated in its first year.

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