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Top Local News Stories of 2020

December 31st, 2020 by WCBC Radio

Twelve Top Stories


The challenges of operating Emergency Medical Services came to a head this year as volunteer rescue squads claimed a financial system set up by Department of Emergency Services head Jim Pyles would cause them to close their doors. It was ugly for a couple of weeks, but cooler heads prevailed and an agreement was reached.


DelFest is one of the region's top draws, but it didn't happen in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The McCoury Family announced in April that the festival would not take place, citing a concern for fans and performers. The namesake of DelFest, Del McCoury is 80, which put him in a very high risk category.


Talk about good timing. The Western Maryland Health System, which was formed with the merger of Memorial and Sacred Heart Hospitals, was an independent medical facility until earlier this year, when it expanded a collaboration with UPMC. The result meant the hospital was in a better position to respond to the pandemic.


A few years ago, Brandon Butler left the Maryland Department of Labor to become Allegany County Administrator. In that he was a young government executive, it was expected he would remain in that role for several years. Surprisingly, in the middle of the year, Butler resigned and was replaced by Finance Director Jason Bennett.


As 2020 ended, a shocking report compiled by Maryland State Police alleged a toxic culture at the Allegany County Department of Emergency Services. The Times News reported that allegations of sexual harrassment, drug distribution and prostitution plagued the department and led to the 2019 resignations of top leadership.


The most successful coach in the storied history of Fort Hill High School football resigned over the summer. Todd Appel had won 90 percent of the games he coached, and five Maryland 1 A championships. There were rumblings of conflict between Appel and the school administration. He took a job teaching on the Eastern Shore.



Following the lead of other newspapers in the nation facing declining circulation, The Cumberland Times News ended it's publication of a hard copy newspaper seven days a week in April. Citing a drop in advertising revenues during the beginning of the pandemic, a cutback was announced, meaning there are now no papers on Sundays and Tuesdays.


Allegany County joined the trend of protesting events in other parts of the country, as groups objected to the way that George Floyd and Breonna Taylor died. Another group organized a Back the Blue rally at Cumberland City Hall. And there was a large train of vehicles that drove through the county in support of President Trump.


Due to the Coronavirus, the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad did not operate trains this year. However, that doesn't mean there wasn't some controversy. The railroad had rented office space from Canal Place at the Train Station, but had fallen behind in payments. That led to a move of operations to the shops in Ridgeley.


While Maryland officials sent letters to Verso Corporation threatening legal action and wanting a clean up of a seepage into the Potomac River that appears to be toxic, the company kept moving forward to make sure the Luke Mill doesn't produce paper again, selling two of its main paper machines to Turkey.


After several years of planning, property acquisition, and a group that says it won't sell, the Cumberland Gateway project at Rolling Mill held a ground breaking ceremony at the conclusion of 2020. Developers say they will be able to move forward with the land that has been acquired, but will still talk with holdout property owners.


The early part of the pandemic was rather quiet in Mountain Maryland, but that all changed near the end of October when cases surged. It got so bad that Allegany and Garrett Counties were cited as having some of the highest infection rates in the nation. Local officials protested when initial vaccine shipments did not include our area.


Comings and Goings…Position Changes Hires and Obits


Every year brings notable obituaries in our area. Ed Mason was the State Senator in District 1 in the 70's into the early 80's. Longtime US Senator Paul Sarbanes died this year. Former Board of Education member Judy Thelen and Longtime Allegany County Attorney Bill Rudd passed as well. Jim Goldsworthy was a columnist and reporter for the Cumberland Times News for fifty years. Ted Troxell was a media jack of all trades, writing for the paper, announcing at this radio station, and doing anchor work at PVTV. Other notable passings: Legendary Allegany High School football coach Jim Refosco, Shaffer Ford owner Randy Shaffer, State Farm Agent Terry McLarney, and Flowerland owner Martha “Mike” Wotring and longtime U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes


There were many changes in local organizations this year. Allegany County Administrator Brandon Butler resigned and was replaced on an interim basis by Jason Bennett. Allegany County Chamber of Commerce Exective Director Stu Czapski moved to the Cumberland Economic Development Corporation, filling the role Matt Miller had before he was promoted to replace Paul Kelly, who did not seek a new contract. Juli McCoy moved from County United Way to replace Czapski at the Chamber. Michele Walker is McCoy's interim replacement. And Melinda Kelleher was named as Executive Director and Main Street Manager. That post had been vacant for several months.


Due to the pandemic, many things did not happen this year, including DelFest, the Allegany County Fair and Ag Expo, the Mineral County Fair, and many school graduations and extra curricular activities. One of the casualties of the pandemic was that 2020 is the first year since the early 30's that the Allegany-Fort Hill Football game was not played. High school sports barely got underway at the end of October before Coronavirus scuttled Maryland sports. In person meetings of government and commissions were moved online, and the annual PACE reception called off. The annual Halloween Parade, The Downtown Tree Lighting Ceremony, and the New Years Ball Drop were also canceled.