December 31, 2020
By News Director Jared Atha
As 2020 comes to an end, lets take a look back at the top three stories that came out of western Oklahoma.
It was a crazy year for everyone, and the region – much like the rest of the world – was not spared from its insanity. There were a number of top stories that gripped western Oklahoma, to many to list, but some honorable mentions include a popular Elk City restaurant catching fire, a controversial sign ordinance, and election results that were expected, and some that were not.
The number three story on our list comes out of Elk City, where the state’s first divergent diamond interchange bridge project – a 15 month project – was finally completed.
According to Oklahoma Department of Transportation Division 5 Engineer Brent Almquist, the $28 million project was paid for by federal, state, and city governments with the City of Elk City contributing $250,000 towards the project that was used towards the aesthetics of the project that include bronze elk statues and other decorative elements on and around the bridges.
Number two on our list of the top stories from 2020 involves, no shocker here, western Oklahoma weather.
First, a major hail storm swept through the area on the evening of April 21 that triggered several severe thunderstorm warnings, and even a tornado warning in Beckham and Washita Counties.
The storms also produced large hail throughout the area. There were several reports of vehicle damage as well as property damage in the area. The Elk City Walmart saw damage to their skylights, seeing several panels broken due to the hail.
Multiple roofs in the area had to be repaired or replaced. To this day, some roofing projects are still underway.
Back in late October, a historic ice storm swept through the area, causing massive power disruptions. Some were without power for as long as a week, some just a couple of days. As many as 500,000 Oklahoma homes and businesses lost power when the storm iced over trees that crashed through power lines and blocked roadways.
As a result, President Donald Trump last week officially declared a federal disaster for 13 Oklahoma counties, including Roger Mills, that were battered by the storm.
The declaration means federal funding will now be available to state, tribal and local governments and some private nonprofits for storm-related costs, the White House said in a press release.
Gov. Kevin Stitt says the state is also working to have an additional 16 counties added to the declaration.
The top story from 2020 in western Oklahoma comes out of Elk City, where questions over a broken sewer line led to the dismissal of a city manager.
Ward 1 Commissioner Cory Speiker making the motion after hearing comments from concerned citizens regarding multiple issues, including the concern of a 12” sewer line break located near 20th street and Pioneer. An issue the city has and is still addressing.
Ultimately, during an emergency meeting three days later, then-City Manager Lee Litterell was terminated by the commission.
A week later the commission named Elk City lawyer and former state senator Tom Ivester as interim City Manager. A tag they’ll remove later in the summer.
Turnover wasn’t just limited to the City of Elk City. In fact it was a trend throughout the year in western Oklahoma.
After former Clinton City Manager Mark Skiles announced his resignation in May, the city hired Robert Johnston to the same position in August.
Three of the regions largest school districts saw their superintendents announce their resignations or retirements. In Clinton former Superintendent Kevin Hime accepted the superintendent position in Lawton. New superintendent Tyler Bridges has been on the job since July. In Weatherford, Superintendent Chad Wilson announced his resignation in October and in Elk City, Superintendent Rick Garrison announced his retirement earlier this month and Southwestern Oklahoma State University President Randy Beutler announced his retirement last August.
Both Garrison and Beutler’s retirement goes into affect at the end of June.
Looking back at 2020 wasn’t easy. There was a lot of “doom and gloom” mainly because of Covid-19 coupled with the fact that it was an election year.
But during my look back at the news stories of 2020, it was easy to find good stories from the past 12 months. Stories like the first African-American to serve on the Elk City School board, or the story of a local food bank that was burglarized – but the generosity of others quickly refilled its shelves.
From everyone here at Paragon Communications: here’s to a better, healthier, and prosperous 2021.
Happy New Year!