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Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016

Major events, controversy mark 2005

Sunday, January 1, 2006

SIKESTON - This past year has been an eventful year for the surrounding area, with several major events and controversies. Below, we have compiled the top five stories for 2005.

It was a busy year for the Missouri National Guard 1140th Engineer Battalion's Charlie Company. After a year in Iraq, it returned home. In September, the unit was deployed to New Orleans to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The relief effort was "somewhat of a last hurrah for Charlie Company," said Capt. Scot Ratcliff, the company's commander. "If you are going to go out, that's the way to go out: on a positive note."

Charlie Company was later disbanded in a transformation of the entire Missouri National Guard to reorganize the units and enable the Guard to meet the demands of modern battlefields and make battalions more deployable.

In early January, the Sikeston Armory will become the home of a detachment of the 1221st Transportation Company.

Although New Orleans and areas of Mississippi were the sites of Hurricane Katrina's devastation, its effects were felt throughout the country, including Southeast Missouri.

Following Katrina, gas prices skyrocketed to $3 a gallon because of damaged ports. Home heating costs were also expected to rise during the winter.

In addition to Charlie Company, area emergency workers went south to help with relief efforts, too. After being activated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, members of both the South Scott County Ambulance District and the Scott County Search and Rescue Canine Unit left for their assignments Sept. 6.

Community groups aided with relief efforts both locally and in the areas of devastation. Collections were taken, from canned foods and other supplies to donations; fund-raisers such as bake sales and fish fries were organized to help hurricane evacuees; and doctors at Ferguson Medical group offered medical services to hurricane victims.

The Sikeston location of Heritage American Homes, a division of Patriot Homes Inc., was awarded a large contract by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help produces homes for temporary living in early September.

The Sikeston location was slated to build 152 homes and had added about 35 jobs to handle the contract, said Al Glaes, plant manager for the Sikeston Heritage American Homes Facility.

Ed Dust, Sikeston Department of Economic Development director, provided an almost 40,000 square feet portion of the former Essex building for the company to store materials.

"We have to let them use that building free of charge for 90 days for this contract because our goal is to create jobs and that's what we're doing," Dust said.

An American Red Cross relief center opened at the Charleston Baptist Association campgrounds in Benton, three miles east of Interstate 55 on Highway 77.

"They had no place to go. Some stayed in a motel at Poplar Bluff. They couldn't go home, and there was no home there," said John Rhodes, Southeast Missouri regional coordinator of the Charleston Baptist Association. "This is where they'll be for 8-12 weeks, at least. We're not talking about just a week or day or two."

The relief center closed in October, after assisting over 700 people and serving approximately 60 meals a day. Twenty-five families relocated within a 100-mile radius of the shelter.

In April, nearly 74 percent of Sikeston R-6 voters approved the $4.53 million general obligation bond issue to construct, improve, furnish and equip new science, math and other classrooms and facilities at the senior high school campus.

This was a huge win, since the measure needed a four-sevenths, or 57 percent, super majority vote to pass.

"The Board of Education was extremely pleased with the citizens of Sikeston," said then-Sikeston R-6 Board of Education President Greg Colwick. "We've always felt the public school systems are very dear to them - and they showed that by going to the polls and voting."

Ground breaking for the math and science center, the first phase of the plan, was in early December.

Many angered patrons of the Garden of Memories cemetery in Sikeston expressed their disgust regarding some not very good memories this summer, like paying for headstones and date-of-death markers to be in place within 8-12 weeks, but watching years pass and still not seeing their purchases.

The cemetery is owned by Mike W. Graham and Associates, a holding company based in Houston, Texas. Locally, the company also owns Memorial Park in Sikeston and Forest Hills Memorial Gardens in Morley. When contacted by the Standard Democrat, representatives would not answer phone calls or return messages. When reached, company representatives declined comment.

Graham and Associates have dissatisfied customers in several other states, too, including Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas.

Several have contacted the Missouri Department of Economic Development's Office of Endowed Care to file complaints. In late June, it advised one local resident it is gathering names to start an investigation. By the end of July, over 20 complaints had been filed.

And in July, the Attorney General's office got involved and began investigating the cemetery under consumer fraud statues. A consent preliminary injunction against Mike Graham and Associates was obtained in the Scott County Circuit Court in mid-August as part of Operation Grave Concerns.

Under the injunction, Mike Graham and Associates agreed to cease the sale of cemetery headstones, plots, vaults and other goods and services where prepayment is required. Nixon also announced he was seeking a permanent injunction to require the defendant to provide restitution or services worth approximately $260,000 to more than 100 consumers.

In August, a class action lawsuit was filed against Mike Graham and Associates by the Sikeston law firm Blanton, Rice, Sidwell, Nickell, Cozean and Collins LLC.

"Our whole goal is to try to make sure these cemeteries are maintained in the future," said Joseph C. Blanton Jr. of the firm.

After an emotional presentation by Buck Smith on the poor condition of the cemeteries at the September City Council meeting, the city of Sikeston decided to mow the Garden of Memories Cemetery and send the bill to the owners. The cemeteries "look more like abandoned property" than a garden and park, Smith said.

Increased Train Traffic>/b>

Trains, trains and more trains.

Early this year, Union Pacific Railroad announced a possible increase in train traffic in Sikeston and throughout Scott County because Union Pacific is negotiating a track swap so it can implement directional running. This would help Union Pacific better manage their increased customer demands. The number of trains passing through the area would increase by at least a dozen trains a day, from 10 per day to 22 or more.

Additional trains could be a potential safety issue following the injury of a Sikeston Department of Public Safety officer this summer. The officer, who was responding to a disturbance call at Ruth and Branum was pelted by bottles and bricks from a large gathering of about 80 people. Back-up officers were called, but held up by a southbound train.

Whether there will be any benefits of the increase of train traffic for Sikeston is not clear, other than upgrades of the city's crossings for safety issues, promised by Union Pacific.

And Sikeston residents don't appear to be very happy about the plan. "People in the city aren't in favor of this," Councilman Bill Stokes said at a December City Council meeting, adding that he has received several calls about the issue.

Track improvements are also planned to accommodate the additional trains, including replacing manual switches with power switches, which will improve efficiency including train speed, which will reduce the amount of time crossings are blocked by passing trains. These improvements will allow the trains to travel at least 30 mph through Sikeston instead of 20 mph.