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2009 in review: Oh, what a year it was
A look back at a few of the year's top news stories
Lake Lanier returned to full pool in the fall, fully recovered from a devastating drought. But the future of the lake's water -- and who can use it -- remain murky. - photo by Tom Re
2009 was quite a year. Our lake returned to its full glory. One local politician dropped out of the governor's race, but another jumped in. The Gainesville High football team played for a state championship. New schools opened. And, oh, the vice president came to the region.

On this first weekend of the new year, join The Times for a look back at a few of the big stories of the previous year.

Lake Lanier full at last
A year of near-record rainfall, some 75 inches going into the last day of 2009, brought Lake Lanier back up to full pool of 1,071 feet above sea level in mid-October after reaching its all-time low in December 2007. That brought smiles to the faces of boaters, property owners and businesses that rely on tourism. But the good news was offset by a federal court ruling in July by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson limiting Georgia from using the reservoir as a water source in three years, barring further congressional approval. As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepared to rework its manuals to meet the deadline, Gov. Sonny Perdue met with the governors of Alabama and Florida to try and reach an end to the two-decades old tri-state water dispute. And in Hall County, officials planned a new reservoir on the Glades Farm property while working on ways to tap the already-full Cedar Creek reservoir in East Hall.

Local units deployed to Afghanistan
Two locally based military units deployed to Afghanistan in 2009. Charlie Company, part of the Army National Guard's 48th Brigade, has been in Afghanistan since March. Last month, the group's commander, Capt. Jeff Moran, said the unit's morale is high and everybody is "doing a good job." The 130-member outfit, split into three platoons, was separated according to particular jobs but was expected to reunite by mid-December at Combat Outpost Herrera in the Paktya Province of eastern Afghanistan. Generally, the company has two primary missions: serving as mentors to Afghan military and police and working as the security force for Forward Operating Base Lightning in eastern Afghanistan. Then in November, the Gainesville-based 802nd Ordnance Company, a U.S. Army Reserve unit, left for Fort Hood, Texas, where it trained for a mid-December deployment to Afghanistan. At a send-off event at Riverside Military Academy, Capt. Todd Bostick said the unit was prepared. "We're going to be gone 400 days, but this experience will stay in our hearts for the rest of our lives," he said.

The race for governor
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle surprised all when he pulled out of the governor's race on April 15, citing health issues due to a degenerative neck condition, and chose to instead seek re-election to the state's No. 2 post. That led U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal to enter the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination on May 1, ending his 18 years in the House. Yet Deal's early campaign was dogged by accusations that he used his influence with a state agency to help his Gainesville car salvage business. The field for governor at year's end included seven Republicans, one Libertarian and five Democrats, including former Gov. Roy Barnes. Meanwhile, several candidates moved to fill Deal's seat in Congress, including Gainesville state Sen. Lee Hawkins.

Frank Hooper retires as police chief
Frank Hooper looked up to his father, a Gainesville police officer for 25 years. As a teenagers, he rode along with his father on patrols, getting a first-hand look at the life of a policeman. So it wasn't surprising that he followed in his father's footsteps. Now, after a distinguished career of his own - including 12 years as police chief - Hooper retired on Dec. 31. "It's bittersweet," he acknowleged.

Gainesville, Hall County get new schools
The new Gainesville Middle School opened in August with some 1,300 students beginning its debut year. The $33 million building was funded by a special 1-cent sales tax, and features modern classrooms, state-of-the-art instructional technology and impressive athletic facilities. In addition, a spacious cafeteria offers four lunch lines. Also opening anew was Flowery Branch High School in its new campus off Spout Springs Road. In a three-school shift, Davis Middle School was moved to the old Flowery Branch High on Hog Mountain Road and South Hall Middle has taken over the old Davis school off Atlanta Highway.

Other top stories

  • Vice President Joe Biden visited Dawsonville on Dec. 17, the first sitting member of the executive branch to drop in on North Georgia in more than two decades. And he came bearing a welcome gift: $33.5 million in federal stimulus money to fund the construction of hundreds of miles of fiber optic lines to bring high-speed Internet access to eight North Georgia counties.
  • Wendell Ray Spell called himself a "master of deceit," and a federal judge sentenced him to 12 years in prison for bilking 79 investors out of at least $16 million over three years. At his sentencing in August, Spell apologized to his investors.
  • The Gainesville Red Elephants scored on the last play of the game, but missed the two-point attempt and lost to Peach County in the state championship game on Dec. 12. Still, Big Red finished one of its best seasons ever, finishing 14-1 and ranked No. 2 in the state.
  • A prison isn't exactly what Gainesville officials had hoped for Midtown. But when the Sheriff's Department moved out of the jail on Main Street, the county leased the facility to Corrections Corporation of America, which started housing prisoners in October.