It’s been a busy year in Waseca County. While it was an election year, a roadway that now connects Mankato to Owatonna and a planned renovation of an old grocery store garnered a lot of attention in 2012.

Here we detail what we believe are the 10 biggest stories of 2012.

1. Highway 14

After years of construction, the $51.8 million four-lane expansion of Hwy. 14 opened in late August.

From Owatonna to north Mankato, the new highway stretches more than 40 miles and has Waseca city leaders excited about the possibility of incoming visitors and economic development.

One issue pertaining to Old Hwy. 14 that still hasn’t been resolved is the turnback fund — how much money the state will pay Waseca County to return the road to an acceptable condition, and what parties will assume which responsibilities to complete the work.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has been setting and extending deadlines since September, hoping the county will accept an offer and have threated to turn over the road with no funding if an agreement is not reached.

As negotiations went on and no offer was accepted, the disagreement became a legal dispute.

Both Waseca and Steele County filed a petition with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings in December stating the deadline MnDOT imposed on the counties is without legal authority.

Negotiations over the turnback fund are expected to roll over into 2013.

2. Public Safety Building

The Waseca City Council approved a location, funding agreements and an architect for a new public safety building that will house several city departments.

After a study conducted in November 2010 revealed a space need for the city’s street, utilities, fire, police and park departments, the city purchased the former grocery store for cold storage intending that the building would eventually be used as a public safety building.

The property was purchased for $290,000 and included the 25,979-square-foot building on 4.05 acres of property.

Under the terms of the loan, the total project must not exceed $2.37 million. The loan is to be repaid over 40 years with the first payment due one year after closing, which is expected to be 2014.

In October, the City Council voted unanimously to hire Paulsen Architects to take the lead on the architectural portion of the project.

Council member John Clemons said a public safety building “is a natural progression” toward a first class fire and police department. “It’s the best thing this council has done all year.”

3. Tragic Deaths

In 2012 17-year-old Brady Hruska and 25-year-old Fred Statz died unexpectedly as the result of accidents.

Hruska died after the boat he and four friends were using to duck hunt on Lake Elysian began to sink.

Hundreds of people, wore lime green as a tribute to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown senior Hruska, as they waited in line to pay their respects to Hruska’s family.

“He was such a special kid,” said Eric Hruska, Brady’s father. “I never knew he touched so many hearts. The community support we have received is overwhelming.”

Hruska played football, baseball and basketball for WEM and was the football team’s leading receiver.

Also in 2012, Waseca High School’s football team lost its assistant coach Fred Statz, when he was killed in a car accident on Old Hwy. 14 in November.

Statz, originally from Cross Plains, Wis., graduated from Minnesota State University in Mankato. He joined the Bluejays program in 2010.

According to a report from the Minnesota State Patrol, Statz was traveling southbound on County Road 27 when his vehicle was struck by a westbound traveling semi-truck on Old Hwy. 14.

“If you’re looking for anyone with a love and passion for the game, he’s the guy I know who has the most love and passion for the game,” said WHS football player Jacob Claybaugh. “He was an outstanding character and an outstanding coach.”

The crash that killed Statz came three days after Minnesota Department of Transportation officials modified the intersection, removing two stop signs from what had been a four-way stop.

What wasn’t installed until the day after the fatal crash, were signs indicating “cross traffic does not stop,” a procedure that MnDOT says isn’t mandatory.

The signs were installed after Statz’s death.

4. Waseca schools consolidation brings the district together

In early 2012, the Waseca School Board made the decision to sell the Southside Education Center building and consolidate the district.

The Waseca School District went from five buildings to four, and as a result packed more grades into existing buildings as a way to save money and improve curriculum.

School leaders estimate that the consolidation will save approximately $300,000 per year.

The fourth, fifth and sixth grade students left the Central Intermediate School building and moved into the old junior high building which has been renamed Waseca Intermediate School.

The seventh and eighth graders will move over to the high school building that has been renamed the Waseca Jr. and Sr. High School. It will now offer a seven through 12 curriculum.

5. Drought

A popular topic of conversation this year has been the weather. Last winter it was all about the lack of snow, this summer it was the high temperatures and lack of rain and throughout the fall and winter – still little precipitation.

A summer with little rain and high temperatures has taken its toll on many of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.

When water levels drop, it allows lake bottom sediments to consolidate and chemical changes to take place – aquatic plants sprout and grow which helps enhance shoreline protection.

The lower lake levels also made difficult for boaters to back up their automobiles into deep enough water to launch their boat off the trailer.

Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, said one negative impact from the drought was that it reduced farmers’ yield, lessening the supply and causing prices to go up considerably.

“Farmers who sell corn, for example, were affected more positively as the prices were up, but for someone using corn (livestock farmers or ethanol plants) were negatively affected because they had to pay more,” Paap.

According to a weather update from the Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, soil moisture measurements taken on Oct. 15 indicate there is 2.36 inches of available soil moisture in the top five feet — about seven inches less than normal for this time of year.

Residentially, one Waseca home sank as a result of the drought.

Pat and Howard Edwards, who had planned to retire in the next few years, paid “tens of thousands” of dollars out of their own pocket to lift and remodel their house – their house sank nearly two inches.

As moisture in the soil begins to evaporate, it shrinks away from the house and the weight of the house settles downwards into the void.

Inside the Edwardses’ 1977 home, cracks in the ceiling, walls and foundation can be found in several rooms of their two-story home on 14th Avenue NW.

In early December, their once newly renovated bathroom showed nothing but a few floor tiles and a light fixture. Outside, their yard was dug up almost five feet around three sides of their home and 17 pylons were placed to raise their house back to the level it was.

6. DeAnna and Jeffrey Musolf plead guilty to malicious punishment

DeAnna and Jeffrey Musolf pleaded guilty to criminal charges of gross misdemeanor and misdemeanor malicious punishment of a child on March 30. Jeffrey was sentenced to 28 hours of community service, one year probation and fines in the amount of $130.

DeAnna Musolf was sentenced on June 19 to six months in jail on charges of neglect and malicious punishment of two of her children. DeAnna pleaded guilty to two counts of gross misdemeanor malicious punishment and as part of the plea agreement the two felony counts of neglect were dismissed. DeAnna agreed to the plea agreement under the Alford plea, which allows her to maintain her innocence, while admitting the state has enough evidence to convict her.

The Musolfs lost their parental rights to all six of their adopted special needs children in 2011.

According to the criminal complaint, two of the Musolfs’ adopted daughters were locked in their second-floor bedrooms with the windows nailed shut, with no beds, bedding, toys or any personal items. The children were often deprived of food and clothing for extended periods of time as a form of discipline, according to the complaint.

DeAnna was also sentenced to two years of probation and fined. DeAnna agreed to pay restitution in the amount of $2,234.59.

7. Bumps Brown dies

Going against the odds and practical advice, Wayne “Bumps” Brown took financial risks and built what would become Waseca’s largest employer and one of the most prominent offset printing operations in the United States.

Brown, founder of Brown Printing Company in Waseca, died in his home in Indian Wells, Calif., from stroke-related complications. Although he had not lived permanently in Waseca for many years, he never forgot the community that started it all. In fact, when he sold the company, he required that the new owners keep the printing plant in Waseca.

Brown meant a lot to a lot of people. He has been called a giver, a risk taker, a visionary, an honest business man and a compassionate employer.

8. Waseca Schools honored

Waseca High School was the only Minnesota school designated a 2012 Minnesota School of Character during a May awards ceremony at the state capitol.

This was the first time that WHS had received this honor. Last year the school received honorable mention.

The program recognizes schools and/or districts that excel in exemplifying the 11 principles and demonstrate outstanding character education initiatives, yielding positive results in student behavior, school climate and academic performance.

TEAM Academy Charter School in Waseca designated as a Blue Ribbon School

TEAM Academy was one of only seven schools in Minnesota to be named a 2012 Blue Ribbon School and it was the only charter school in Minnesota to receive the honor.

Waseca Mayor Roy Srp spoke to the students and congratulated them on their success during the official ceremony at the school and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar sent a video message to the students and staff at TEAM, letting them know how proud she was of them. Marcus Schmidt, presented a flag that had flown over the capitol in Washington D.C. on behalf of Rep. Tim Walz who was able to attend.

9. New Richland woman convicted of texting during motorcycle fatality

Erica Ann Nelson, 23, of New Richland was sentenced to 480 hours of Sentence to Serve for criminal vehicular homicide.

Nelson was also sentenced to 10 years probation and ordered to pay restitution of approximately $200,000.

According to the criminal complaint, on Aug. 29, 2010, Nelson drove 73 mph in a 55 mph zone while texting on her cell phone and struck a motorcycle driven by Ronald Berschman, who died from the injuries suffered during the crash.

According to the complaint, when a Minnesota State Trooper asked Nelson what happened, she told him that she had become light headed and passed out, according to the complaint.

Originally Nelson entered a plea of not guilty, but later changed her plea to guilty. She was convicted felony vehicular homicide on April 17.

10. Council member Coy sentenced

In January 2012, Waseca City Council member Cynthia Coy was sentenced to 30 days in jail after falsifying official records for compensation between June 2008 and September 2009 that allowed her to be paid for work she did not perform.

She has retained her seat on the City Council – one she’s had since 2006.

During a council meeting in January, Mayor Roy Srp said, “The entire community knows that Coy is a good person who made a bad decision; any one of us could make a bad decision and wish we could take it back.”

Reach reporter Marianne Carlson at 837-5451, or follow her on @mariannewcn.

Reach reporter Marianne Carlson at 837-5451, or follow her on @mariannewcn.