M6 propellant removal, Minden mayoral race top stories of the year

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Today, the Press-Herald is publishing the top 10 stories from Webster Parish for 2014, as chosen by the staff.

1. Disposal of M6 propellant at Camp Minden
The saga continues of the Army’s efforts to rid Camp Minden of more than 15 million pounds of illegally stored propellant left behind by now-defunct Explo Systems Inc. following an explosion in October 2012.

While some Explo higher-ups were indicted in 2014, others who were ranked lower agreed to testify against them.

In March, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled the U.S. Army is responsible for paying for disposal of the explosive powder.

The Army tried to appeal the ruling, but the Department of Justice overruled it. Demonstration of one method of disposal proposed by Madden Contracting, Inc. and Expal, also Camp Minden tenants, took place in January but was denied by the EPA in favor of open tray burn.

Two public meetings were conducted at the Minden Civic Center where EPA and DEQ representatives tried to answer questions from local officials and parish residents. A private meeting was held Dec. 18 with officials and contractors who may choose to bid on the clean-up project.

Never before has the EPA disposed of this much M6 in one area.

2. Race for mayor
In a hotly-contested race, Minden Mayor Tommy Davis retained his seat by a slim margin, beating challenger Chad Odom by 225 votes. A special election in Fall 2013 put Davis in the mayor’s position for one year, following the death of Mayor Bill Robertson.

Davis and Odom went head-to-head after former councilman and interim mayor Joe Cornelius came in third in the primary election but garnered enough votes to force the run-off in early December.

3. St. Jude Auction
Minden’s annual St. Jude Auction still holds its prestigious title as the highest grossing city per capita in earning money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

The 2014 auction – the 38th event – yielded more than $1.2 million for cancer research, topping 2013 by more than $140,000 and even garnered a visit from Uncle Si Robertson who put his seal of approval on the duck blind/playhouse built by the Minden Fire Department. Sanders Machine, winner of the $50,000 grand prize, purchased 100 grand prize tickets and then turned over the money to St. Jude.

4. Former police/fire chief dies
The man known simply as “The Chief” died in 2014.

T. C. (Thomas Cameron) Bloxom Jr., was born Sept. 3, 1929, in Mansfield and died Saturday, July 12 at his home in Minden at 84. At 14, he eagerly joined the Minden Fire Department where he served for 63 years; the last 37 years as chief.

When he was 27, T.C. began working at the Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office and retired 26 years later as chief deputy sheriff. Then in 1990, he was asked by some local citizens to run for police chief of Minden.

That year, T.C. won the office of police chief on the first ballot. Under his leadership, the police department regained its respect from the community by eliminating the large number of drug dealers operating in Minden. Five terms later, he retired.

5. Minden man murdered
Minden’s only murder of the year occurred in August when 18-year-old Omar Lott was found shot to death in a wooded area off Walter Lyons Road. Four individuals, including one juvenile, were facing murder and murder related charges.

In September, Murphy Robertson was cleared as a suspect in the August 24 shooting death and J’Son Turk, 18, told a sheriff’s investigator on the case that he was the shooter.

Turk was originally booked on a charge of principal to first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit robbery. He and his alleged accomplice, Dylan Turk, were charged with obstruction of justice.
J’Son Turk was indicted for Lott’s murder in October.

6. Rezoning for bed and breakfast in historical district
Minden businessman Jimmy Hall’s request for a zoning variance to allow him to turn a 5,300 sq. ft. mansion on Broadway into a bed & breakfast/entertainment venue lit a fire under many local residents living in the historical district.

There were public meetings beginning in August, with the variance receiving approval by the Minden Planning Commission August 21. Members of the Minden City Council refused to grant an appeal at their September meeting and Hall moved forward with his purchase of the Rathbun House, located at 1114 Broadway. Work is ongoing.

7. Unitary Status granted
May 13 was a historic day for the Webster Parish School Board when a U.S. District Court judge in Shreveport ruled they will no longer be operating under federal court oversight.

According to the ruling by S. Maurice Hicks Jr., Webster Parish fulfilled requirements in a 1968 Supreme Court case (Green versus County School Board of New Kent County, Virginia) that further enforced school desegregation as set forth in the landmark 1954 Brown versus Board of Education decree.

8. Webster Parish School Board puts new superintendent to work
Dr. Dan Rawls, of Point Coupee Parish, became the newest leader of the Webster Parish school system. Rawls was selected for the job in November 2013 and conducted his first meeting with the board on January 10. Rawls beat out 11 other candidates to fill the seat vacated by Steve Dozier.

9. Paige McCoy named Miss Minden
In January, Paige McCoy earned the right to wear a crown as Minden’s newest ambassador. The 20-year-old was granted the title Miss Minden 2014 before a large crowd at the Minden Civic Center. Her platform was raising awareness as a match for bone marrow transplants. She entertained the crowd by performing a jazz dance routine. McCoy went on to compete in the Miss Louisiana Pageant in June.

10. Muddy Bottoms opens
Muddy Bottoms, just outside of Sarepta, opened its gates in May. Opening weekend saw close to 15,000 people. The new park boasts 5,000 acres of trails, bogs and tracks for riders of all ages, and was designed to fit the needs of their guests – complete with a welcome center, bathhouse, pro shop, eating pavilion, amphitheater, cabins, RV hookups and a sprinkler park.

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