Eastern Jackson County saw growth and gain as well as setbacks, tragedies and triumphs in 2018.
Independence got more environmentally friendly in 2017 and is set to get even greener. Independence Power & Light and MC Power opened a three-megawatt solar farm in March in the Little Blue River valley. Late the in the year, the city announced plans to buy the old Rockwood Golf Course on the west side of the city and use much of that land for added capacity.
Parks and roads
Blue Springs voters in April gave a strong endorsement to a new half-cent sales tax for parks. The city was among the few larger cities in the state without a dedicated source of revenue for parks. The tax is expected to generate about $15 million over five years, enough to address about 40 percent of what the city says is a major backlog of needed work.
Voters in Independence retained the city’s half-cent tax for streets and made it permanent.
A 15-year veteran of the Independence Police Department, Officer Thomas Wagstaff, was shot when officers tried to stop a residential burglary and assault of a homeowner in southwest Independence. Two men sped off but were captured later that day in Independence.
The community responded with prayers, fundraisers and other support for Wagstaff, who suffered a serious head wound. After surgery, he spent much of the year at a rehabilitation facility out of state, but in December the community turned out for warm welcome home.
“Your will and determination is unmatched by anyone I know,” Chief of Police Brad Halsey told him.
Saint Luke’s Multispecialty Clinic-Blue Springs on Adams Dairy Parkway opened in July. Specialties include cardiology, orthopedics, urology, pulmonology and gastroenterology, plus general surgery.
In Independence, Centerpoint Medical Center continued its major expansion. In November, it opened an expanded emergency department with an emphasis on more individualized care. Overall, the hospital is adding one floor on its south tower, with 12 intensive-care beds and in-patient rehab. That opens in the spring.
Two floors are being added on the north tower, one to add 36 beds and one for future growth.
A tornado on the night of March 6 struck south of Grain Valley and then moved into the south side of Oak Grove, leaving widespread damage and about a dozen injuries – but no deaths. Officials said that was fairly lucky given the intensity of the storm.
The National Weather Service said the tornado – rated as an EF-3 with top winds of 152 mph – was on the ground for 15 minutes and nearly 12 miles. At its peak, it was 400 yards across.
Heavy rain fell repeatedly in late July and August, causing several rounds of flash floods. Water rescues were needed in Eastern Jackson County and across the metro area, and some residents had to leave their homes. Flooding closed roads for hours at a time, and bike trails repeatedly had to be closed and repaired.
Much of Eastern Jackson County lay in the path of the total eclipse of the sun on Aug. 21. Local schools used it as a teaching moment, and businesses did the best they could to cash in.
“Absolutely incredible, just amazing,” said Nathan Vandermeer of Independence.
“The ancients, with an eclipse,” he said, “it’s no wonder they worshipped the sun.”
Four employees were hurt and one – Lawrence Bass, 55, of Blue Springs – was killed in an explosion April 11 at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence. Lake City makes small-caliber ammunition for the military. The explosion was in a primer mixing building, and federal authorities ruled the explosion an accident.
It took awhile, but the Pioneer Woman came back home. The bronze statue honoring not just women on the trails west in the 19th century but female pioneers of all types had stood at the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence for years. She was stolen and destroyed in the summer of 2013, and the miscreants who tried to sell her pieces for scrap were caught and punished. Money was raised privately for a new statue. She was put up at the museum in January – with better security – and formally dedicated in the spring.
Orbital ATK, which runs the largest private employer in the area – the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence – was sold for $9.2 billion in cash and assumed debt to defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. Executives said at the time that the deal would likely close in early 2018.
Lake City has about 2,000 employees and over summer, with new production contracts in hand, had said it was adding about 200 people.