2006: The Year in Review

FLOOD OF THE CENTURY: Undeniably the biggest story of 2006 is the one that will be talked about in local lore for a generation to come – the Flood of 2006. The tail end of June brought with it what weather experts claimed was the “flood of the century” – causing untold damage to homes and lands all across the region. While Chenango County escaped the worst of the damage, the cleanup and rebuilding bills still totaled in the millions. And even as another round of flooding hit in November, every man, woman and child will remember where they were the night of June 27, 2006.

FIGHTING THE POWER: Last April, New York Regional Interconnect Inc. made public its plans to build a 200-mile power line from Marcy to Rock Haven, cutting a huge swath through mostly rural Chenango County. The project, designed to deliver “excess” electricity on the upstate grid to power-starved downstate, met with a tremendous outpouring of public opposition from the get-go. A public informational meeting in May at the Norwich High School saw hundreds turned away at the door, and hundreds more angered by www.evesun.com/topics/news/NYRI/">NYRI’s plans to use eminent domain to build their multi-story towers. Though battles have been won, the war is far from over and the NYRI plan still looms large over Chenango’s pristine landscape.

LOVE ON THE RUN: A teenage Sherburne area girl was reported missing in March; days later, it was revealed that she had run away with her parish’s former pastor, Lewis Lee, 54. Lee apparently developed an inappropriate relationship with the minor, and performed a mock wedding ceremony while they were on their multi-state run from the law. The case garnered national attention, and eventually Lee was apprehended and brought to justice. At his Chenango County court appearance answering to the charges of rape and kidnapping, Lee admitted, “I failed God.”

UPON THIS ROCK: In mid-March, a directive from the Catholic Diocese indicated that one of Norwich’s Catholic churches would have to close – and all signs pointed to St. Bartholomew’s shutting down in favor of St. Paul’s. Citing a lack of priests and financial problems, the Bishop called for a plan to be submitted by Thanksgiving for the future operation of Norwich’s parishes. After a groundswell of passionate opposition, the Committee to Save St. Bart’s was formed, and eventually a joint commission came up with a plan to keep both parishes operating under a single priest.

PRISONS R US: The minimum security facility at Camp Pharsalia had been on the state’s chopping block for years, but a surprise came early last January when it was announced that Gov. George Pataki planned to transform the facility into a 500-bed detention center for civilly confined pedophiles. While the proposed facility would have meant 1,000 jobs and an $80 million payroll for Chenango County, the nature of the “prisoners” and the concept of civil confinement were major stumbling blocks to the facility’s reuse. Gov. Pataki’s spending plan for the next fiscal year ultimately did not include the Camp Pharsalia project, and the facility continues to operate under an uncertain future.

MURDER TRIAL REDUX: One of the most notorious trials in Chenango County history occurred in 2002, when Peter M. Wlasiuk was found guilty of murdering his wife Patricia. The jury found Wlasiuk guilty of killing his wife and then staging a Guilford Lake truck accident to cover it up. But in August, an appeals court overturned that guilty verdict, giving Wlasiuk a second chance to prove his innocence. The decision cited a “litany of errors” on the procedural end of Wlasiuk’s first trial, and the defendant was brought from Attica to the Chenango jail to await another court appearance. Judge Howard Sullivan recused himself from presiding over the trial a second time, and now attorney Randel Scharf is preparing his defense for a spring do-over.

A CITY IN MOURNING: Multi-term Mayor Robert Raphael suffered health problems that took him away from the Common Council in the first quarter of last year, but he appeared to be on the mend before his untimely death at the end of May. It was the first time in memory that a sitting mayor had died in office in Norwich, and the funeral and tributes that followed reflected Raphael’s stature in, and contributions to, this community. Alderman Joseph Maiurano stepped in, and won election to the seat in November. In September, the city mourned the loss of another mayor, Marjorie Chomyszak, who had held the top spot in the early 1990s.

SUPERMARKET SHUFFLE: Shoppers began to worry when Tops Friendly Markets announced that it was selling its under-performing supermarkets last January. When no buyer had been secured months later, it was announced that the fixture of downtown Norwich’s shopping center would close for good in April. City officials and economic development interests – along with shoppers – held their collective breath until it was revealed that P&C Supermarkets would take over the store with only a brief gap in between owners.

MURDER TRIAL REDUX, PART II: Before the Wlasiuk trial, there was the murder of Edward Pastore Jr. Several people were arrested and tried in the case, including Tammie Van Deusen, whose alleged accessory role in the murder led to jail time. Mid-year, and nearly at the end of her incarceration, Van Deusen’s conviction was overturned and she, too, will get a shot at clearing her name before a jury of her peers in Chenango County Court in 2007.

THE SUPERCENTER COMETH: Bargain hunters rejoiced (even if smaller retailers didn’t) when Wal-Mart unveiled plans to transform its Norwich store into a Supercenter and enter the grocery market. While the bricks and mortar started going up fast, work on the Rt. 12 complex hit a snag when an informant told the state that some of the workers on the construction project were illegal Mexican immigrants. Work was halted for several weeks while the paperwork was checked, and eventually the construction crew was found to be on the up and up, and the supercenter cut the ribbon as planned in June.

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