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Top local stories of 2014

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Top stories of 2014

Austin Holland, research seismologist for Oklahoma Geological Survey, discusses earthquake activity in Oklahoma as Amie Gibson, research scientist for the University of Oklahoma Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy in Leonard, installs wiring at the new seismology station northeast of Carrier in August. (Staff File Photo by BONNIE VCULEK)

The ongoing shaking beneath our feet was judged the top story of 2014 by News & Eagle staff members.

Other top stories were the retirement of City Manager Eric Benson and the hiring of Jerald Gilbert to replace him; the saga of Enid native Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City police officer facing 30-plus sex-related charges; the last client leaving Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid; and gay marriage being allowed in Oklahoma.

No. 5 ~ Gay marriage allowed in Oklahoma

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Oklahoma’s appeal of a lower court ruling striking down the state’s gay marriage ban.

That meant same-sex couples in Oklahoma could immediately get married.

Locally, Brett Wilenzick and Luke Sutton were the first same-sex couple to go to Garfield County Court House for a license. There was a bit of a delay as county officials went over the law to make sure everything was settled.

Others followed suit in the following days.

No. 4 ~ Last NORCE client leaves

The last three clients of Northern Oklahoma Resource Center of Enid left in November, ending the years-long saga about the fate of the facility.

Plans to close the facility for the developmentally disabled — and its sister facility, Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley — were announced in 2012. All clients would be moved out and into homes with their families or into group homes with other former clients.

What the future means for the NORCE grounds in unknown. There is a move by some for the state to cede parts of the campus to the city of Enid for business or agricultural uses.

No. 3 ~ Holtzclaw faces charges

Enid native Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City Police Department officer, was ordered to stand trial on more than 30 felony charges stemming from accusations he forced women to expose themselves, touched them inappropriately or used his authority to force them to have sex while he was on duty.

The list of charges includes rape, sexual battery, forcible oral sodomy, burglary and indecent exposure. He also faces a misdemeanor stalking charge.

Holtzclaw was arrested and charged in August, although OKCPD’s investigation started in June when the first accuser came forward. He originally faced 16 felony counts, but more were added later as the investigation continued.

No trial date has been set.

No. 2 ~ Change in city leadership

Eric Benson retired Wednesday as Enid city manager, a position he held since 2006.

Benson, who also is a retired Navy captain, actually announced his retirement in August 2013, effective at the end of 2014. After his Navy career and before being hired as Enid city manager, Benson served as deputy director of Selective Service System and as acting undersecretary for Memorial Affairs for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Jerald Gilbert was selected to replace Benson starting today.

Gilbert received a two-year contract that automatically renews for another two years unless it is modified or terminated. He will earn $143,000, and will receive a car and cell phone allowance.

Gilbert has been Enid’s chief financial officer since 2005. In 2012, he took command of an Oklahoma Army National Guard field artillery battalion based in Lawton. Now a lieutenant colonel, Gilbert has served in the military for almost three decades.

No. 1 ~ Earthquakes rattle the area

More than 500 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater were recorded in Oklahoma in 2014 — by far a record.

According to U.S. Geological Survey, the number of 3.0 quakes was more than five times the number (109) recorded in 2013. Just 35 quakes of at least 3.0 were recorded in 2012. In 2014, there also were 19 earthquake of at least magnitude 4.0 in the state.

Northwest Oklahoma had its share, with Grant County particularly jolted. Hardly a day went by without an earthquake of at least magnitude 2.5 or greater being recorded in the Enid area.

Most of the time, the quakes weren’t felt, but when they were they rattled the area. One of the strongest felt in 2014 in Enid didn’t even happen in Oklahoma. It was a 4.8 quake in November centered near Conway Springs, Kan., which is about 80 miles northeast of Enid. As they did when the bigger quakes hit, people took to social media describing what they felt.

Why Oklahoma has seen a dramatic increase in earthquakes remains a point of contention.

A USGS statement released in May, in collaboration with Oklahoma Geological Survey, indicated it likely was injection wells were contributing to the earthquakes. Injection wells are those wells where the water and chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing — fracking — for oil are disposed of. The water is injected deep underground at high pressure.

Geologists continue to study the situation to determine the exact cause.

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