WBSM Top Stories Of 2012
As we close on 2012, we take a look back at some of the stories and news that affected us here on the Southcoast. A hurricane roared through, education was debated and a tragic shooting are just a few of the things that we will remember from this year. Let us take a look back at some of our top stories from 2012.
Newly-elected Mayor Jon Mitchell started voicing his displeasure with the administration of the School Department shortly after taking office. The Mayor, with support from the School Committee, eventually replaced Superintendent Mary Louise Francis with Interim Superintendent Michael Shea. A search committee was formed to conduct a nationwide search for a new superintendent, headed by Bridgewater State University President Dana Mohler-Faria. After months of wrangling, the State Department of Secondary and Elementary Education approved an education plan for the City of New Bedford. Two "innovation schools" were proposed for the City of New Bedford, with final votes scheduled for early in 2013. School Committee member Thomas Clark resigned his seat in September, and Bruce Oliveira was picked to fill the seat, during a joint meeting of the School Committee and City Council.
Two wind turbines on Arsene St. in Fairhaven were activated in the spring, but even before the blades were turning, a citizens group called "Windwise" was raising questions about the health effects of the turbines, and whether noise from the machinery exceeded state levels. The issues were raised repeatedly before the town's Board of Health and Board of Selectmen, with some town residents saying the noise from the towers were giving them headaches and other problems. Town officials requested the state to conduct tests to measure the noise levels coming from the turbines, and the results were still pending at the end of the year.
In November, the Environmental Protection Agency approved permits for the proposed Maritime Commerce Terminal project in New Bedford's South End. The state began accepting construction bids for the $100 million project in December. The Maritime Terminal is expected to make New Bedford the hub for construction of offshore wind turbines to be located off the East Coast. The project will also upgrade shipping facilities in the Port of New Bedford.
The EPA announced in October it had reached an agreement with AVX Inc. to pay for the remaining cleanup of New Bedford Harbor. The company agreed to pay $366 million to dredge and remove PCB's from the harbor. Officials said that money would shorten the clean up time from more than 30 years to eight years. But almost immediately community groups like Hands Across The River and the Buzzards Bay Coalition questioned whether that was enough money to complete the job. The groups began a petition drive to convince the U.S. Justice Dept. to include a "re-opener" clause in the final agreement, that would allow the government to go back to AVX if the cleanup costs exceeded $366 million. There was also ongoing debate over the EPA's decision to use so-called CAD cells to bury PCB-contaminated sediment along the side of the harbor. Environmental groups complained that CAD cells could leak, and cause problems in the future. The EPA however stuck to its guns.
The New Bedford City Council, with no debate on the City Council floor, approved a 44% pay increase for themselves, raising the salary from just under $15,000 to $21,000 per year. The increase was included in a motion for an Ordinance change that made no mention of a pay hike. When the increase was discovered, it prompted torrent of criticism from area residents. Council President Steve Martins claimed Mayor Jon Mitchell said he would support the raise, if the Council supported new positions for his office. The Mayor denied there was any deal, and eventually vetoed the raise, but the Council in August voted to override the veto. A group of citizens however started a petition drive, seeking to have New Bedford voters decide whether the raises should go into effect, or not.
In July, The City of New Bedford celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the City Hall Building on William St. Attending were elected officials, past and present, current employees, and the general public. In November, city officials marked the 50th anniversary of the construction of the New Bedford-Fairhaven Hurricane Barrier. The New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park celebrated its 15th anniversary in September, honoring Congressman Barney Frank and the late Senator Edward Kennedy for their contributions to the Park. Also, the Town of Fairhaven celebrated its Bicentennial with a year-long series of activities, including the digging up of a time capsule, a mammoth July 4 parade, a visit by the "traveling" Vietnam Wall memorial, fireworks displays and a Bicentennial Ball.
New Bedford Police shot and killed a 15 year old boy outside the Temple Landing development, after he had stabbed a Police Officer. The death of Malcolm Gracia caused some community unrest, and a call for an independent investigation. The Police Officer survived. In December, at the request of Mayor Jon Mitchell, the U.S. Justice Department held a day-long meeting in New Bedford, inviting community groups, minority leaders, elected officials and members of the Police Department to discuss the shooting and its aftermath, and what it means for the city.
The fishing management plan enacted for New England, called "catch shares" continued to raise havoc with ground fishermen in the region. Many stopped fishing altogether, claiming they couldn't catch enough fish to make a living. There was some positive news however; New Bedford continued to be the #1 Fishing Port in the United States, dollar-wise, thanks to the healthy price for scallops. Also in July, former New Bedford Mayor John Bullard was named the Northeast Fisheries Administrator for NOAA, giving local fishermen hope that at least there was one person in NOAA that would listen to their concerns. And in December, the top NOAA Administrator, Jane Lubchenco announced she would be stepping down in February. Lubchenco had been the target of much criticism, from members of Congress, local officials and fishermen, because of her rigid stance on fisheries regulations.
Barney Frank will leave Congress in January, 2013 after 40 years of public service. Frank said he decided to retire after a redistricting plan approved by the legislature took New Bedford out of his 4th Congressional District. In the new 9th Congressional District, Rep. William Keating defeated Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter in the September Democratic Primary, then cruised to victory over two other candidates in November. Democrat Joseph Kennedy III won Frank's old seat in the redrawn 4th District. The major race statewide was for U.S. Senate, were democrat Elizabeth Warren defeated republican Senator Scott Brown in the most expensive Senate race ever.
Jean MacCormack announced her retirement after 13 years as Chancellor at UMass Dartmouth. A Search Committee spent months looking at candidates, and in May announced the hiring of Divina Grossman as the new Chancellor. She took over the post in July, and pledged to maintain the relationships Chancellor MacCormack had begun with public officials in surrounding communities. She also is overseeing several new projects, including the construction of a Bio-Manufacturing Center in Fall River, and the expansion of the UMass Dartmouth School of Marine Science and Technology in New Bedford.
Following the passage of a new casino law in Massachusetts, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe announced an agreement with the City of Taunton, to locate a resort casino complex off Route 24. That project still needs approval by the Federal Government. A commercial developer eying New Bedford as a site for a casino, KG Urban Enterprizes, went to court to challenge the provision in the state law that gives preference to a Native American tribe for the Southeastern Mass. casino. That case is still pending. Casino proposals also popped up for Greater Boston and Western Massachusetts. Final decisions will be made by the State Gambling Commission.