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Storms Top Greenwich's Events of the Year

GREENWICH, Conn. — There was no shortage of news in Greenwich during 2011, from damaging weather to mud-slinging elections, here are the top five stories of the year:

Storms and power outages

From the never-ending snowstorms and blizzards of January to Hurricane Irene and the freak Halloween snowstorm, Greenwich weathered its fair share of squalls in the past year.

Mounds of snow piled up at Holly Hill transfer station, the Department of Public Works' snow removal budget waned, and many residents were without power for days on end throughout January.

In August, Hurricane Irene whirled through Greenwich, knocking down trees and causing another wave of power outages.

In October , the earliest “winter” storm in decades hit Greenwich and the surrounding area with more than a foot of snow. More than 600,000 customers were without power statewide, and many residents in Greenwich went without power for nearly a week.

Connecticut Light & Power admitted it was not prepared to deal with the massive power outages that occurred after the October nor’easter, prompting Gov. Dannel Malloy to convene a Two-Storm Panel to review and make recommendations on preparedness, response and recovery to both the October snowstorm and Hurricane Irene.

Tainted soil at Greenwich High School

When workers began excavating parking lots for Greenwich High School’s auditorium project, known as MISA, they discovered soil that was darker than dirt found in July in the school’s West Lot.

Immediate environmental tests began on the soil. Testing found low levels of lead, arsenic, barium, volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls and petroleum hydrocarbons.

Athletic fields were closed, forcing high school athletic teams to practice on middle school and elementary school fields. All work was stopped on the project, and the area where the contaminated soil was found was covered and closed off.

Parking was suspended until October for seniors, and parents were in an uproar over why testing wasn’t done before digging commenced for the MISA project. Joe Ross of the MISA building committee told parents that the focus was on the structural stability of the project. “There was no indication to us of any environmental concerns … albeit we didn’t test for it,” he said. Despite concerns, health officials said children were safe.

By December, most of the fields had been reopened, except fields 3 and 4, and other portions of the fields were fenced off.

The district announced last week that environmental testing would resume on the fields during winter break. Construction procedures will be developed for the MISA project once environmental studies are completed.

Greenwich mountain lion

The big cat that roamed the woods and streets of Greenwich made national headlines, busy work for Greenwich police and other officials, as well as a few hundred "friends" on Facebook during the summer.

The cat was first seen in June on Brunswick School’s King Street campus. Testing of its scat confirmed it was indeed a mountain lion, even though the Eastern mountain lion is extinct.

When it finally met its demise by an SUV on the Merritt Parkway near Exit 55 in Milford, state officials and environmental researchers found it had traveled nearly 1,000 miles from South Dakota , setting a world record. Following this discovery, state Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel Esty said, “A mountain lion on the streets of Connecticut, traveling through out state, is certainly an unusual event. It is, however, a strong symbol of what we all hope for … that wilderness areas and biological diversity can be preserved and protected.”

Sidney Freund’s unexpected resignation

Sidney Freund, the second superintendent in Greenwich in six years, was so beloved by the community that he was selected as the 2010 Outstanding Superintendent of the Year by the State Parent Teacher Student Association. But in May, during the second year of a two-year contract with Greenwich Public Schools, Freund unexpectedly announced that he would be stepping down.

The week before he resigned, the board had voted positively to start negotiations to extend Freund’s contract by two years. Only two board members had dissenting votes, Marianna Ponns Cohen and Peter Sherr.

After Freund resigned in Greenwich, he released a letter on May 19, explaining his move after an “outpouring of support” from the community. Freund said that when he arrived in Greenwich, two Board of Education members questioned his work. Freund said discourse generated by “the two” became “accusatory, disrespectful and uncivil.”

Fellow board members and many parents accused board members Sherr and Ponns Cohen of driving Freund out of the district. Ponns Cohen ran for re-election but was ousted by voters in November.

Former interim superintendent Roger Lulow resumed his temporary duties in August when Freund officially left. Newly elected Board of Education chair Leslie Moriarty said Thursday that the district's main priority in 2012 would be to find a superintendent who wanted to stay in Greenwich for the long haul.

Read Freund's resignation letter here .

Election 2011

Months of debate, electioneering and mud-slinging led to Republican First Selectman Peter Tesei’s re-election over Democratic challenger, businessman John Blankley. Tesei received 8,657 votes to Blankley’s 3,101. The Board of Selectmen will look familiar for the next two years, with Republican incumbent David Theis and Democratic incumbent Drew Marzullo also winning re-election. Theis scored 6,873 votes, and Marzullo got 4,828.

On the Board of Education, controversial Republican incumbent Marianna Ponns Cohen lost her seat. The winners were Republicans Barbara O’Neill with 8,511 votes and Peter von Braun with 7,466. Ponns Cohen received 4,034 votes, and Republican Anna Saras Povinelli got 4,831.

Town Clerk Carmella Budkins, a Republican, easily beat out Democratic challenger Stephen Ng. Democrat Bill Grad conceded to incumbent Tax Collector Tod Laudonia before the final results were even released. It was the closest race in the election, with 5,855 votes for Laudonia and 5,185 votes for Grad.

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