City officials, business and cultural leaders got a chance to hear more about the importance of keeping downtown areas alive and well.

This morning, the Jasper Chamber of Commerce hosted a seminar titled “Creating Resilient Downtowns” at the Arnold Habig Community Center in Jasper. The event is part of the ongoing “Community Conversations” series being put on with the help of the Vincennes University Jasper Campus.

The speaker this morning was Dr. Michael Burayidi (BUR-A-YEH-DEE). Burayidi is the Irving Distinguished Professor and the Chair of the Department of Urban Planning at Ball State University. Burayidi’s presentation included data compiled from 14 communities nationwide with downtowns that are considered to be healthy. The city of Lafayette was the lone Hoosier State city in the study.

Burayidi then applied the data to present a process for the development of a resilient downtown. That process focuses heavily on residential development, attracting immigrants, developing heritage tourism, and good design practices among other areas.

Burayidi says a healthy downtown is vital to any community:

Burayidi also compiled data on the downtown health of Jasper, Huntingburg, and Ferdinand. In all, the data found that Ferdinand had the healthiest downtown, though all 3 communities were lagging behind other downtowns in some areas. The primary area of concern: available housing.

Additionally, Burayidi’s presentation emphasized keeping local merchants downtown as retail chains often leave towns and cities without warning. He says the best way of doing that is to embrace them:

Burayidi has done extensive consulting work in downtown development. He is also the author of 6 books on the subject, including Resilient Downtowns. That book explores ways that small community downtowns have thrived through economic booms and busts.

Further investigation into a fire that killed a Santa Claus man on Friday has found a different source than what was originally stated by authorities.

Spencer County coroner Robert Fuller says authorities have now ruled out a dropped cigarette as the cause of the fire. Instead, he says structural evidence suggests that the fire began in the attic of the home and moved downward. That evidence led authorities to believe that an electrical issue sparked the fatal blaze.

Fuller says as this fire was investigated further, the initial story seemed to be a rush to conclusions:

As for the current investigation, Fuller says things are starting to wind down:

Now fire crews with both the Santa Claus and Carter Township Volunteer Fire Departments were originally called just before 6:35 am central time Friday morning to the home of Bryan and Maureen Gregory inside of Christmas Lake Village. Police say 66-year-old Maureen Gregory was able to get out of the house safely. However, Bryan Gregory did not make it out. Fuller says Gregory was found sitting in a chair about 2 feet away from the door. He says Gregory was likely overcome by smoke inhalation shortly after the smoke came down.

Maureen was taken to University of Louisville hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation and first degree burns. The home was a total loss.

An attempted theft of more than 11 hundred dollars in merchandise from the Jasper WalMart landed a pair of Huntingburg women in jail.

At 1 o’clock yesterday afternoon, Jasper Police were called to the WalMart on the city’s north side on a Maria Ayalareport of two shoplifters being detained by store officials. According to police, 41-year-old Maria Ayala and 25-year-old Bessy Lopez were working as a team in this theft. Police further say the women attempted to steal just over 1 Bessy Lopezthousand 1 hundred 72 dollars worth of miscellaneous clothing and shoes.

Both Lopez and Ayala were taken into custody and lodged in the Dubois County Security Center. They are each facing a Class D felony for theft.

The city of Washington now has a new parks supervisor.

Yesterday, Kip Kelley took the oath of office from Washington mayor Joe Wellman. Kelley had previously been the city’s assistant parks supervisor, a role he assumed back in August.

Kelley also has previous experience as parks superintendent. He served in that role from 2004 to 2008. During his tenure, Kelley oversaw park events ranging from youth fishing tournaments to the gun and knife show held at Eastside Park each year. He also assisted with various building improvements at both Longfellow and Eastside Parks.

In his new role, Kelley will be supervising full-time and summer student workers in the city parks and will also report to the mayor and park board on issues surrounding any and all aspects of the parks. The Washington City Park system has 70 acres of land with 4 different parks. There are also 2 lakes, roughly a dozen buildings and concession stands.

The head of a Tell City economic development group has been honored.

Lincoln Hills Development Corporation executive director Tom Kleeman was recently honored with the Sagamore of the Wabash award. The award was presented by longtime state senator Richard Young during a ceremony held at the Depot in Tell City.

Kleeman has served as the executive director of the Lincoln Hills Development Corporation for 34 years. He has been a part of several big projects, including the Cannelton-based Indiana Cotton Mill. The project took the former mill building and turned it into an affordable housing complex with 70 units. The work cost 8.5 million dollars to complete.

Kleeman was in the National Guard from 1969 to 1975. In 1970, he began serving as a caseworker and became Perry County’s welfare department director just 18 months later. He began his time with Lincoln Hills in 1976 as the social services director. He assumed the executive director’s position in 1980.

The Sagamore of the Wabash has been awarded to presidents, astronauts, and politicians among others. The award is designed to honor those who have given outstanding service to the state in some way.

The award dates back to the late 1940s when it was created during the administration of then Indiana governor Ralph Gates. The term “sagamore” originated with Native American tribes in the northeastern US. It described a lesser chief or a great man in the tribe that the tribe’s true chief would look to for advice and wisdom.

The Jasper Clean Energy project is no more.

During last night’s Jasper Utility Service Board meeting, attorney Bill Kaiser informed the board that Twisted Oak Corporation CEO Jay Catasien intended to terminate the lease with the city for the project. The lease will formally end on June 20th.

In a letter to the board and the city, Catasien stated that the project is no longer economically viable for several reasons. These included continued drops in price for alternative energy sources, the closing of other coal fired plants across Southwestern Indiana, and a push by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for greater efficiency among other reasons.

Utility service board chairman Wayne Schuetter says the decision is a result of a review that the board asked for following the January dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Healthy Dubois County. In spite of the project ending, Schuetter has no regrets about the city’s handling of the project:

Schuetter says the electric committee will meet once the lease has expired to determine what the next course of action will be. He also did not rule out continuing to pursue biomass as a way to restart the power plant.

Several people representing HDC were also in attendance last night. Dr. Norma Kreilein, who headed up the opposition to the project, was among them. She says though this project is now over, health effects are still part of the equation:

HDC originally filed the lawsuit back in 2011. The lawsuit alleged that the city violated Indiana’s Open Door Law in six executive sessions. The sessions were held on August 24th, September 13th, September 23rd, and December 20th of 2010 and May 2nd and June 28th of 2011. The lawsuit’s filing occurred one day before the agreement to lease the power plant to Twisted Oak Corporation was finalized.

The body of a Shoals woman missing since earlier this month was found over the weekend.

Just before 10:30 Sunday morning the Martin County Sheriff’s Department recieved a report that a body had been located in the White River just south of the Houghton bridge.

Upon their arrival deputies along with Loogootee police met and spoke with an individual who had found the body who was later confirmed to be that of 41-year old Christine Wright of Shoals. Conservation officers with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources were called to assist in the recovery of Wright’s body.

The Sheriff’s Department says Wright had been listed as missing since last seen on April 2nd.

An autopsy concluded that Wright had died as the reult of a drowning. Authorities say the manner of death will be determined at a later date and do not suspect any foul play.