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A look back at the Herald's top 10 stories of 2011

A series of new developments in UND's steps to transition away from its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo and an ongoing lockout of 1,300 union employees at American Crystal Sugar dominated the headlines of the Herald throughout 2011.


A series of new developments in UND's steps to transition away from its Fighting Sioux nickname and logo and an ongoing lockout of 1,300 union employees at American Crystal Sugar dominated the headlines of the Herald throughout 2011.

Some of the Herald's news of the year continued big topics from 2010, including the transition of Grand Forks Air Force Base to its new unmanned aircraft mission and the sentencing of a Manvel, N.D., man convicted of killing his brother.

But the public suicide of a Grand Forks military veteran and a 20-day government shutdown in Minnesota that closed state parks and halted road construction also grabbed readers' attention during the year.

Here are the top 10 most compelling and noteworthy local stories of 2011, as selected by the Herald newsroom.

• 1. UND nickname debate continues: As 2010 ended, it appeared the long debate over UND's Fighting Sioux nickname was coming to an end. The university was several months into a transition, and a committee of students, faculty, staff, alumni and others was working out plans for a respectful retirement of the name and ways to preserve and honor the tradition.


But in January 2011, Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the majority leader of the North Dakota House of Representatives, introduced a bill aimed at writing the nickname into state law. After long and impassioned hearings, and an unprecedented email campaign by nickname supporters, the House and Senate passed Carlson's bill by wide margins and Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed it into law.

Part of the supporters' plan was to show the new law to the NCAA, to prove how popular and respected the nickname is in North Dakota, including among the state's American Indian population. In August, Dalrymple led a delegation that included Carlson, the attorney general and other state leaders to NCAA headquarter in Indianapolis to plead the case. But the NCAA stood firm in its position: North Dakota had failed to meet the terms of a 2007 settlement agreement and would be placed on sanctions.

In November, concerned about potential negative consequences to UND and its athletics program if the controversy continued, including fears it could jeopardize the school's entry into the Big Sky Conference, legislators meeting in special session repealed the nickname law. Under direction of the State Board of Higher Education, UND resumed its transition away from the nickname and said that its retirement should be substantially completed by the end of 2011.

But nickname supporters at the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux reservations started petition drives to refer the repeal to a vote of the people of North Dakota in June 2012 and an initiated measure that would ask voters in the November 2012 general election to place the Fighting Sioux nickname in the state Constitution. Two federal lawsuits, one filed by nickname supporters against the NCAA and one filed against UND and the state board by several American Indian students at UND who oppose the nickname, also promise to keep the issue alive well into 2012.

• 2. American Crystal Sugar lockout: Despite ongoing attempts to negotiate a solution since the summer, a lockout of about 1,300 union employees of American Crystal Sugar Co. will continue into 2012.

The lockout began Aug. 1 when union members voted 95 percent not to accept a contract proposed by management of the Moorhead-based company. American Crystal Sugar, which accounts for 15 percent of the nation's overall sugar production, has sugar processing plants in East Grand Forks, Crookston and Moorhead in Minnesota and Drayton and Hillsboro in North Dakota.

Several efforts have been made to resolve the dispute and put the employees back to work, and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton offered earlier this month to start a new round of nonstop negotiations between the union and management.

But union workers rejected an amended five-year contract proposal by a 90 percent majority vote in November, and there was no end in sight for the lockout by the end of 2011.


• 3. Major flooding across North Dakota: Major spring flooding struck the Red River Valley for a third consecutive year in 2011. The Red reached its third-highest crest on record at Grand Forks of 49.87 feet in April and rose to 38.75 feet in Fargo, the city's fourth-highest crest.

But the flood fight shifted in the summer to central North Dakota, where Bismarck battled the rising Missouri River and Minot was inundated with water during a record-breaking Souris River crest of 1,561.72 feet above sea level in June.

That was about 3 feet higher than the previous Minot crest record set in 1881. The devastating flood damaged about 20 percent of Minot, including more than 4,100 homes.

• 4. Lakota, N.D., standoff comes to an end: A strange standoff at a farm near Lakota, N.D., had a peaceful outcome in November.

The Brossart family refused to answer to multiple felony charges stemming from a confrontational arrest in June after a neighbor accused them of taking six cattle that had strayed.

A judge issued bench warrants against the family in late August, but they kept to themselves on their farmstead and refused to talk to authorities. The Nelson County Sheriff's Department took a careful approach to resolving the issue because of the Brossart's volatile behavior, including brandishing weapons at law enforcement and resisting arrest.

But after a three-month standoff, Rodney Brossart and his son, Jacob, were arrested peacefully in early November. Three other adult children were arrested at the farm the same day after hours of negotiation.

• 5. Minnesota government shutdown: A budget impasse between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Minnesota Legislature prompted the nation's longest state government shutdown in 2011.


A $5 billion budget shortfall going into the session made it hard for the two sides to find middle ground in finalizing the budget for the next two years, and on July 1, most state government operations shut down.

That closed rest stops and state parks, halted road construction and affected people and programs across the state until Dayton and legislators agreed to a compromise after 20 days.

• 6. Grand Forks Air Force Base embraces new UAS mission: After years of a dwindling population, Grand Forks Air Force Base began to rebound in 2011 as it settled into its new remotely piloted aircraft mission.

The base's KC-135 Stratotanker mission for the past 50 years ended in December 2010. But the base gained a new major tenant, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which houses Predator B unmanned aircraft to patrol the northern border.

Grand Forks Air Force Base also welcomed its first five Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft this year, and will eventually house 13 of the cutting-edge vehicles.

The Global Hawk mission is expected to boost the Grand Forks region's efforts to become a regional center of unmanned aircraft expertise. UND is already training future UAS instructors and pilots, and Northland Community and Technical College offers training for unmanned aircraft repair and maintenance.

• 7. UND to leave WCHA for new league: UND will leave the men's Western Collegiate Hockey Association in 2013, but the university will still take on several old WCHA rivals in its new startup conference.

Long-awaited plans for the Big Ten Hockey Conference were announced in March, which will pluck Minnesota and Wisconsin from the WCHA and Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in the 2013-14 season.


The news prompted UND officials to consider their league options, and in July, the university announced it would pull out of the WCHA and join several other schools in creating a new men's hockey league.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference will have eight members when it starts in 2013: UND, Denver, Colorado College, Miami-Ohio, Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth, Western Michigan and St. Cloud State.

• 8. New restaurants flock to Grand Forks: A few eateries left town in 2011, but Grand Forks residents had a lot more restaurants to choose from by the end of the year.

Local landmark Whitey's closed in February and was sold at an auction, but reopened with a fresh look, a revamped menu and a new owner along the East Grand Forks boardwalk.

Several new restaurants opened for business or were preparing to open along 32nd Avenue, including Five Guys Burgers and Fries, CherryBerry, Pizza Ranch, Olive Garden and Ruby Tuesday. A Noodles & Company and Erbert & Gerbert's Sandwich Shop will soon take over the recently closed Grizzly's Grill N' Saloon near the Columbia Mall.

Marco's Pizza and Fuji's Japanese Steakhouse and Seafood will soon be in business along Washington Street, Drunken Noodle is taking over the former East Grand Forks Applebee's and JL Beers is now open along Columbia Road.

• 9. Chisholm sentenced for murdering his brother: A Manvel, N.D., man was sentenced to 30 years in prison this summer for murdering his brother in the summer of 2010.

Rodney Chisholm, 45, admitted he hit his brother with a length of scrap iron, wrestled with him for several minutes, bound his wrists to his belt loops and tightened a metal hose clamp around his neck. He then buried Donald, who was 59, on the same plot of land they were feuding over.


But Chisholm claimed he acted in self-defense because Donald had attacked him first and threatened to kill him.

Chisholm faced a possible maximum sentence of life without parole on the murder charge, but instead got a 30-year stint in prison. He also was sentenced to five additional years on separate theft cases.

• 10. Military vet leaves final instructions before suicide: A veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan made a final request before fatally shooting himself outside the emergency room at Altru Health System.

Grand Forks resident Sean Alexander Dacus, 31, borrowed a marker at the Altru Clinic coffee shop just before 11:30 a.m. Nov. 29. He wrote on his arm "Do not resuscitate," "Donate organs please" and "A-" to indicate his blood type, then sat on a park bench outside and shot himself in the chest.

Emergency workers attempted to resuscitate Dacus, but were unsuccessful.

Herald staff writer Chuck Haga contributed to this report. Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send email to rjohnson@gfherald.com .<?i>

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