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The Year That Was in Greenwich - A Look at 2011

The stories that made headlines in 2011.

The end of the year always is a mix of emotions: lamentation, reflection and expectation of a new year.

And in Greenwich, Patch was there with you to share the events that helped shape the town's history what was 2011.

Some of the highlights — weather and its associated hassles: read power outages, floods and a weakening hurricane; crime and tragedy punctuated by robbers targeting jewelry and drug stores, eateries and banks, and the accidental drowning of a grandmother and her grandson; the usual government and political maneuvering during the annual budget cycle and local elections, and a fractured Board of Education which lead to the resignation of Greenwich Schools Superintendent Sidney Freund.

The fury of Mother Nature

Mother Nature heralded the start of the second decade of the second millenium  with a wintry bang as the . Record snowfalls totaling more than 70 inches, busted the town's snow budget by nearly $750,000.

Snow-laden tree branches snapped, pulling down power lines, leaving residents in the dark, and in the cold. This scenario was to be repeated many times during the year, culminating with a faceoff between the town — lead by First Selectman Peter Tesei — and Connecticut Light & Power. Residents were not only hot under the collar because of a heat waves, they were sweating it out because CL&P's power grid continued to fail.

By mid-summer, the utility unveiled a multi-year upgrade of the power grid, in hopes of minimizing power outages that in some days lasted for days.

But that hope was diminished when the downgraded lashed  Connecticut with tropical winds and rain at the end of August. The damage was such that many were left powerless for up to a week. Low-lying neighborhoods along the coast, from Old Greenwich to Byram and Pemberwick, were drenched not only from the rain but also the resulting flooding. The beginning of the school year was delayed by more than a week as cleanup and power restoration efforts continued.

As that dust was finally settling, a dumped several inches of snow in Greenwich — again snapping tree limbs and decimating the town's power grid. Thousands of residents were without power for days, including some neighborhoods such as Belle Haven — where power lines are buried — endured up to 9 days in the dark.

Greenwich mountain lion

Was Mother Nature playing with Greenwich or was it real?

The sightings of a mountain lion in the backcountry northwest corner of town caught the attention of not only environmental officials but the national media as well in June. Residents heeded warnings to keep a wary eye on pets and children while state environmental officials essentially denied the existence of the feline ... until a on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford — some 50 miles away. Only then did officials concede that the lion was an ex-pat of South Dakota that meandered more than 1,100 miles to the gold coast of Connecticut. But in the interim placards warning of a mountain lion were posted on utility poles.

On a brighter note, a rather witty human(s) created a Facebook page which continues to weigh in on all things Greenwich. GML lives on heartily on Facebook with more than 4,800 followers of its cheeky observations. The identity of GML remains a mystery!

Crime doesn't bypass Greenwich

There were several robberies of drugstores, jewelry shops, eateries and banks this year. Greenwich Police made arrests in several of those cases, however, the Yankees baseball cap and hoodie sweatshirt wearing thief who held up two remains at large.

There also was the brazen June heist by 5 suspects who on Greenwich Avenue. As of this week, police have arrested three young people in connection with the theft.

Police also arrested suspects accused of in downtown and Riverside in search of powerful narcotics. And suspects in a November weekend armed rjewelry store on Greenwich Avenue were caught as they tried to make their getaway.

And once again, the international media focused its collective lenses on Greenwich when a on charges she stole an $11,000 fur-lined scarf and other items from the Richards of Greenwich store.

Tragedy struck a Greenwich family in June when 67-year-old Anna Furano and her 2-year-old grandson Massimo Furano were found drowned in her backyard koi pond. .

Changing of the guard

The leaders of several key town departments tendered their retirement notices this year — most notably, Police Chief David Ridberg. After leading the department for five years, leaving the department much more stable andn organized than when he assumed the reins.

November began with the , a 30-year department veteran. With Heavey as chief, a series of promotions are expected within the department. Earlier this month, Detectivie Division Commander . The department is now aligning itself for promotions of officers to sergeant, lieutenant and captain by the end of January.

Other department heads who tendered their retirements were Human Resources Director Maureen Kast and Tax Assessor Ted Gwartney. Three human resources director finalists have been selected for a second round of interviews to be held in early January. And the application deadline for tax assessor was Dec. 30.

Municipal projects

Major municipal projects topped the budget bill this year with First Selectman Tesei brokering an 11th-hour deal to push through approval of the controversial project. Ground was broken for the $28 million project over the summer but was halted in mid-July upon the discovery that soil was contaminated with PCBs. Tests revealed that the athletic fields on the campus also were contaminated, prompting closure of all fields. As remediation of the grounds continue under the supervision of state and federal environmental agencies, most of the fields have been reopened.

Project Renew — the $20.5 million renovation of town-owned The Nathaniel Witherell nursing home finally was approved after years of yeoman's work by the home's volunteer board. , U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Greenwich), U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4), the entire state legislative delegation, the Board of Selectmen and the BET, the of the project.

Controversy continued to swirl around whether to renovate the dilapidated . Town officials were convinced and proceeded to receive approval to raze the building on Havemeyer Place and build new station. Firefighters and some equipment would be housed in a in the Horseneck Lane commuter parking lot. Meanwhile, preservationists have appealed to the state Attorney General on whether the town can tear down the 1930s era structure.

Education of the school board

One thing members of the Greenwich Board of Education learned is that they can't have their way all of the time.

School Superintendent in May following — Marianna Ponns Cohen and Peter Sherr.

The board held a forum allowing the public to vent over Freund's departure. for its lack of decorum, civility and the ability to overcome its dissension. Months later, the effects of the situation still reverberated on the board. Ponns Cohen lost her re-election bid; Republican Steve Anderson lost his bid to be re-elected board chairman. For the first time in 30 years, after Sherr crossed party lines and supported long-time vice chair Leslie Moriarty.

In the meantime, the board as interim leader for one year.

Runaway elections

It was a 'Three-Pete' for to a third term as the town's CEO. Tesei was challenged by Democratic RTM member by a nearly 3 to 1 margin. Even his running mate, selectman Drew Marzullo received more votes than Blankley.

The one nail-biter of a race was between incumbent Tax Collector Tod Laudonia and Democrat Bill Grad. It was an election redux but in the end Laudonia eked out a win with about 600 votes to spare. For the first time since she was first elected town clerk 20 years ago, Carmella Budkins had an opponent. She handily beat her opponent, Stephen Ng, by a 2-to-1 margin.

The Board of Education had a 50 percent turnover with the election of Democrats Adriana Ospina and Jennifer Dayton and Republicans Barbara O'Neill and Peter von Braun — all of whom have never held elected office. Turnovers continued with the BET as longtime members Republicans Steve Walko and Jim Campbell, both Republicans, and Democrats Laurence Simon and William Kelly.

Those who left us

The Greenwich Police Department was not immune to loss in 2011.

In March, one of the easily recognizable traffic officers — James Genovese unexpectedly passed away after suffering a massive heart attack. Two months later, former Police Chief William Andersen died following heart surgery in late May. And, retired Detective James J. Lunney Jr., who was one of the two original members of the Greenwich Police narcotics unit founded in the 1970s, died Nov. 20 in a motorcycle accident in St. Lucie County, FL.

The Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) experienced what some described as an unfillable void with the departure of longtime Democratic member Nancy Barton. The soft-spoken Barton resigned her post in September and a few weeks later passed away from an undisclosed illness.

Former BET chair Sam Stowell also passed away, in late November.

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