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Flooding ranked top 2011 N.D. headline

December 30, 2011

High school and college students sandbag on the banks of the Sheyenne River, spring 2012. Major flooding in North Dakota was the Associated Press's top story of 2011. Photo: Dave Luessen/Times-Record

BISMARCK, N.D. — Few cities were slammed as hard as Minot, N.D., by the spring and summer flooding that ravaged the Great Plains.

The devastation from the swollen Souris River forced thousands to flee their homes and drew the national spotlight when The Black Eyed Peas performed a benefit concert there.

The flooding, which ultimately damaged more than 4,000 properties in Minot, Bismarck and beyond, was rated North Dakota's biggest story of 2011, based on a survey of print and broadcast members of The Associated Press.

The state joins several others in the Great Plains — including South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska — whose AP members deemed the record-setting flooding on the Missouri River, as well as the waterways it feeds, as the year's top story.

The remaining stories that made the year's top 10 list were unique to North Dakota:

2. Oil Boom. North Dakota's oil production continued its relentless rise, pouring millions into the state's economy, drawing workers from around the country and causing its share of problems — from increased pollution and traffic to the banning of temporary "man camp" housing and rising rents.

3. Fighting Sioux. The North Dakota Legislature approved, then later repealed, a law that required the University of North Dakota to use its Fighting Sioux athletics nickname. And the issue isn't settled: A group of nickname supporters aim to gather support to enshrine the nickname in the state constitution.

4. American Crystal. About 1,300 American Crystal Sugar Co. workers in three states — including about 400 in North Dakota — were locked out of their jobs Aug. 1 after negotiations on a new contract broke down between the company and the union representing its workers. Workers were denied unemployment benefits by Job Service North Dakota.

5. Policeman Shot. The July shooting death of Bismarck Police Sgt. Steven Kenner marked the first line-of-duty law-enforcement death in the city's history. Kenner was shot while investigating a domestic dispute complaint.

6. Legislature. The 2011 state Legislature relied on a gusher of oil revenues to cut income taxes, boost spending for roads and water projects and continue a program of subsidizing local property tax rates.

7. Senate Deaths. The North Dakota Senate's Republican majority leader, Bob Stenehjem, died in a July traffic wreck in Alaska, where he had gone on a family fishing trip. A second senator, Tom Fischer, R-Fargo, died of a heart attack in November.

8. North Dakota's Board of Higher Education approved allowing North Dakota State University to raise tuition by 8.8 percent. Other four-year colleges opt to follow the Legislature's advice and hold the line at 2.5 percent increases. NDSU officials said the university was severely underfunded and needed the hike to hire more professors, while critics point to its large number of out-of-state students to argue that any financial problems are self-inflicted.

9. Murder for Hire. A jury convicted Gene Kirkpatrick, of Jones, Okla., of conspiracy to commit murder for hiring a handyman to kill his son-in-law, Fargo dentist Philip Gattuso. Kirkpatrick allegedly did not approve of the way Gattuso was raising his grandchild. Handyman Michael Nakvinda also was convicted in the scheme.

10. Apple Creek Deaths. Cory Berger, 23, and James Hellman, 24, both of Bismarck, disappeared when their canoe capsized on Apple Creek in early May. Rescue attempts were stymied by the fast-rushing water, which was so high it had submerged a nearby dam.

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