Decade in review: Economic stability top story in 2009

Editor's note: The Herald is looking back as the first decade of the millennium wraps up. We'll wrap up the 10-day series Saturday by recounting the top stories of 2010.

While financial turmoil battered the nation, the Tri-Cities remained an oasis of relative economic stability -- the top story of 2009.

Business Week ranked the Tri-Cities the third-best place in the U.S. to make a fresh start for people thrashed by the ongoing recession.

Credit for that went largely to a federal stimulus grant of $1.96 billion for Hanford cleanup that was credited with creating or saving about 2,500 full-time, family-wage jobs.

The Tri-Cities area also was consistently ranked as among the least expensive places to live compared with other Northwest metro areas by C2ER, the Council for Community and Economic Research.

Syngenta opened a new $42 million seed processing facility in Pasco, and Cascade Natural Gas Corp. decided to relocate its headquarters from Seattle to the Tri-Cities.

And Areva, which has been making nuclear fuel in Richland for decades, announced it would transfer its fuel production operations from Lynchburg, Va., to the Richland plant, adding 50 jobs.

Other top stories of 2009 were:

No. 2: The new $72 million Chiawana High School opened in the fall in west Pasco after two years of construction. For the first time, the city had two public high schools.

Also, the new Delta High School opened in Richland. The regional public school offers Tri-City students instruction in science, technology, engineering and math and is the first of its kind in the state.

No. 3: Benton County's animal control problem was highlighted by the discovery of one of the nation's largest and worst puppy mills. A total of 371 American Eskimo pups were found living in deplorable conditions in east Kennewick after a deputy responding to an unrelated call stumbled on them. The Humane Society of the United States and dozens of volunteers took the dogs to 11 shelters and rescue groups to be adopted.

Sheriff Larry Taylor proposed operating an animal control facility for Benton County, then resigned as sheriff to operate the new shelter that's expected to open soon.

No. 4: New deadlines for some of the Hanford nuclear reservation's most difficult environmental cleanup were proposed to settle the state's lawsuit against the Department of Energy. DOE will have until 2052 to clean up and close underground waste tanks holding 53 million gallons of radioactive waste. Also, new Energy Secretary Steven Chu made his first visit to Hanford.

No. 5: A Richland man was fatally shot by a Kennewick motorcycle officer during a traffic stop in downtown Kennewick on Sept. 14. Officer Lee Cooper said he shot Christopher Villarreal after he tried to ram him with his car.

The incident was investigated by the FBI, which later found the shooting justified.

No. 6: Frustrated conservatives reeled from a national shift to the left with President Obama's landslide election in 2008 and started the tea party movement. Hundreds of supporters rallied in Richland on April 15, and thousands later flocked to see Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate, when she visited family in the Tri-Cities for Thanksgiving.

No. 7: Kennewick's Columbia Drive/highways 240 and 395 interchange brought months of detours, lane closures and delays. The $16 million double roundabout that replaced the cloverleaf intersection on Highway 395 south of the blue bridge then drew ire from many drivers as they struggled to learn how to navigate it.

No. 8: The community mourned when two young Richland cousins were killed in a fiery crash on Interstate 182 in Pasco during the Oct. 5 evening commute. Alexandra Hatley-Flores, 12, and Taylor Tefft, 11, died after a car they were in collided with another and burst into flames.

A few weeks later, Joevani Olivera, 16, of Kennewick, died when a car he was in hit the back of a slower-moving Jeep on I-182 in Richland. The car plunged more than 30 feet off the Yakima River bridge to the riverbank.

The accidents prompted some community members to call for reducing the 70 mph speed limit on I-182.

No. 9: Crime stories produced headlines. A year after Tiairra Jo Garcia disappeared during a night out in Pasco, her body was found in Mount Rainier National Park. Marnicus Lockhard was given an eight-year sentence for fatally shooting his 19-year-old girlfriend in June 2008.

Donald Schalchlin, 17, was sentenced to 91/2 years behind bars for aiding in the December 2007 slayings of his younger sister Elizabeth and mother Ellen "Lori" Schalchlin in Benton City.

Nearly six years after raping a Franklin County cellmate, David Webster was given a 20-year prison term.

And former Kennewick pastor Randall Foos exhausted appeals in his vehicular homicide conviction for hitting bicyclist Sara Casey, 19, in 2003, and was sent to prison for 15 months.

Tie No. 10: The swine flu spread rapidly among school-age children, causing one Mid-Columbia school district to cancel classes and others to cancel extracurricular activities. Three Tri-Citians -- two adults and a 5-month-old boy -- died from the disease and numerous others were hospitalized.

Tie No. 10: After four years of gathering signatures, retired Superior Court Judge Fred Staples submitted petitions calling for a vote on moving the county seat to Kennewick. He said Kennewick should be the county seat because 80 percent of county employees already work there and it's inconvenient having county offices 30 miles from the population center.