Winds of change hit in 2010

2010-12-26T00:30:00Z 2014-12-17T15:04:12Z Winds of change hit in 2010

Gazette Staff

The Billings Gazette
December 26, 2010 12:30 am  • 

Yellowstone County survived a wild year in 2010, with a Father's Day tornado leaving an extensive trail of damage, political shakeups and more. Here are some of the top stories of the year in the county:

Wild winds

A June tornado rips the roof off MetraPark's Rimrock Auto Arena, damages several Heights businesses, floods homes and causes wrestling and basketball tournaments to cancel.

Singers Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley also cancel MetraPark appearances.

Construction crews work around the clock to replace the roof. Work continues to finish the interior to reopen the facility by April 2011. Insurance will pay for $23 million — plus $1 million for cleanup — of the $30 million arena project. Yellowstone County's share will be $5.3 million.

Meanwhile, some homeowners continue to work to replace roofs, siding and interiors damaged by the storm.

Recession ripples

While Yellowstone County suffers along with the rest of the country during the recession, the county has a higher percentage of people working than the state or nation as a whole.

In November, the county had an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, compared with the seasonally adjusted 7.3 percent rate for Montana and the 9.8 percent rate for the United States.

Housing starts in Billings were up slightly to 215 over last year's 199 for the year through October. Still, a full recovery could take years.

Medical marijuana

In September, the Billings City Council extends a moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses, hoping the Montana Legislature will clear the air on the issue with which the council — and communities throughout the state — struggled most of the year.

Between spring and fall, 80 medical marijuana businesses open in Billings after the federal government last year said it would not enforce federal laws on people using medical marijuana in accordance with their state's laws.

Montana voters previously had approved of use of small amounts of pot for medical reasons, but concerns arise after many physicians refuse to prescribe pot for their patients while large-scale “clinics” are held to authorize potential medical-marijuana clients.

Counting and counting

Despite the strong showing of many Republican candidates in November's election, longtime GOP legislator Roy Brown is ousted by Democrat Kendall Van Dyk by four votes after a recount in the state Senate District 25 contest.

The race was the most expensive in the state, totaling more than $215,000.

Van Dyk has been a state representative from House District 49. Brown has served in the Montana House and Senate and unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2008, losing to incumbent Democrat Brian Schweitzer.

Serving America

Montanans continue to fight and die in overseas wars.

U.S. Army Sgt. Jeremiah Wittman, who attended Bench and Lockwood schools before moving to Western Montana, is killed in action in Afghanistan on Feb. 13 during his third military deployment. He was among several Montanans to die in uniform this year.

Many other Montanans continue to serve in war zones.

'Round the roundabouts

Reconstruction of Shiloh Road is completed in November with eight roundabouts.

The $21-million cost of the project includes $9 million in federal stimulus funds. After years of wrangling to secure rights of way and line up funding, the project started in 2009. Business and government leaders backed the reconstruction because it is expected to bring new development to the West End.

Health-care expansions

The local health sector continues to grow with new buildings, programs and leadership.

RiverStone Health opens a new facility that will bring many programs and services to its main South 27th Street campus; breaks ground on a hospice facility; and receives nearly $1 million to expand its family residency program.

St. Vincent Healthcare announces that Jason L. Barker will be its new CEO, taking over from a retiring James Paquette.

Some other new health facilities being built or completed are Frontier Cancer Center & Blood Institute; Children's Clinic; Northern Rockies Neuro-Spine clinic and surgical center; Morledge Family Eye Clinic & Surgery Center; Billings Plastic Surgery; GI Diagnostic Center; and St. Vincent's renovation of its labor and delivery unit and expansion of its emergency department and walk-in clinic.

In Red Lodge, Beartooth Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare Mountain View Clinic open.

Paxinos loses

Republican Scott Twito, 38, is elected Yellowstone County attorney, beating Democrat Art Lusse by a wide margin in November.

In the primary, Twito defeated longtime County Attorney Dennis Paxinos, who was ensnared in scandal after a female employee accused him of sexual harassment. Twito, the deputy county attorney, had worked for Paxinos for 12 years.

Law and order

Yellowstone County willl have new leaders in law enforcement and justice.

Voters block Sheriff Jay Bell from a full term and elect Mike Linder. Bell had been appointed to serve out the term of the late Sheriff Chuck Maxwell.

Billings City Court Judge Mary Jane Knisley wins the race for Yellowstone County's sixth district court judgeship, a post created by the Montana Legislature in 2008.

Money for schools

Billings School District 2 voters pass a general-fund levy and a high-school technology levy, reversing a trend of voters turning down seven of the last 11 mill levies.

But an elementary-district technology measure was defeated.

The May election also brought two new members and three incumbents to the school board. In September, voters approve two federal bonds totaling $12 million for maintenance and construction projects.

New leadership

Keith Beeman becomes School District 2's new superintendent as popular leader Jack Copps retires.

At Montana State University Billings, Rolf Gorseth takes over as interim chancellor after the retirement of Ron Sexton in August. Groseth is later confirmed as the new chancellor for the Billings campus, which also sees a total renovation of McMullen Hall wrap up.

Meanwhile, John Cech, who led the MSU Billings College of Technology to record enrollment and added a number of programs, is named deputy commissioner for two-year and community colleges in Montana.

COT's Tech Hall also is remodeled.

Tribal royalties

In November, Congress approves a multibillion-dollar settlement of a lawsuit against the government over Indian trust accounts.

The bill is a $3.4 billion settlement of a lawsuit brought by Elouise Cobell of Browning, claiming mismanagement of royalty payments to American Indians.

The legislation also settled water rights claims by tribes in Arizona, Montana and New Mexico totaling more than $1 billion in legislation. The Crow Tribe will receive the largest amount of $460 million.

Life sentences

Richard Covington is convicted of three 2006 homicides plus other felonies and is sentenced to four consecutive life terms plus 55 years.

Covington was accused of killing and robbing his South Side neighbors Norman Leighton and Patti Hubert, whose bodies were found in their smoldering apartment. Two weeks later, the body of another neighbor, Gerald Morris, was found off Blue Creek Road.

New library ahead?

A new main library for the city moves nearer to reality, and a community library starts as a collaboration of Parmly Billings Library and the MSU Billings College of Technology.

The City Council almost goes with a plan to move the library to the Gainan's downtown building, but pulls back on that idea early in the year.

In October, library backers announce an anonymous $2 million donation for designing a new library, and the City Council gives the green light to start planning it.

Contact Mary Pickett at or 657-1262.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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