Cracker of a year for Cen­tral Otago

Central Otago Mirror - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE - JO MCKENZIE-MCLEAN

2016 has been a cracker year for Cen­tral Otago, and it is not look­ing to slow down in 2017.

Pop­u­la­tion growth, devel­op­ment and in­vest­ment is ev­i­dent across the re­gion. New sub­di­vi­sions are ap­pear­ing at rapid rates; re­tire­ment homes are be­ing built, ex­tended and in­ves­ti­gated in Cromwell and Alexan­dra, while Man­iototo plans to in­vest $5 mil­lion in re­de­vel­op­ing its hos­pi­tal in the near fu­ture. There are new busi­nesses ap­pear­ing in town­ships, ad­ding vi­brancy, in­no­va­tion, and qual­ity ex­pe­ri­ences for visi­tors and lo­cals. Mean­while, ex­ist­ing busi­nesses are de­vel­op­ing for­ward-think­ing, in­no­va­tive plans - the Woo­ing Tree’s vine­yard vil­lage for in­stance, and the multi-mil­lion dol­lar re­de­vel­op­ment of The Gate.

In­no­va­tion has fea­tured in news ar­ti­cles a lot. Specif­i­cally, the suc­cess of the Cen­tre of Space Sci­ence Tech­nol­ogy. The Government an­nounced this year it will pro­vide fund­ing of up to $14.7 mil­lion over four years for the new in­sti­tute, with ad­di­tional fund­ing from in­dus­try. The spinoff for the re­gion - and coun­try - is ex­pected to be mam­moth.

An­other big news story was of course the elec­tion, with Tony Lep­per - who had been in lo­cal government for 27 years - los­ing the may­oralty to lawyer Tim Cado­gan. Dur­ing the cam­paign, Lep­per took a lot of crit­i­cism from an­gry vot­ers about the coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to in­tro­duce dis­trictwide rates fund­ing in 2016. Also in pol­i­tics, Cromwell-based politi­cian Michael Laws dom­i­nated head­lines dur­ing the Otago Re­gional Coun­cil elec­tion when he took a Dun­stan Ward seat off in­cum­bent coun­cil­lor Gary Kel­li­her by five votes. He con- tin­ues to make his voice heard, lam­bast­ing the coun­cil for their ‘‘in­ac­tion’’ over is­sues such as lake snow in the re­gion’s lakes.

On a lighter side, there was a big mile­stone cel­e­brated this year that made na­tional head­lines - the 60th an­niver­sary of the Alexan­dra Blos­som Fes­ti­val. Or­gan­iser Martin McPher­son, and the com­mit­tee, did a bril­liant job, par­tic­u­larly bring­ing to­gether all the for­mer blos­som fes­ti­val queens. An­other spe­cial mile­stone - on a more pri­vate, but no less im­por­tant scale - was the 100th birth­day of Ran­furly’s Bessie Pear­son. What a char­ac­ter.

I have lost count of sto­ries I have writ­ten over 2016, but one story that will stay with me was the pass­ing of Ri­ley Brown. The Alexan­dra one-year-old was born with the rare con­gen­i­tal dis­or­der Zell­weger syn­drome. In my 12-year ca­reer as a jour­nal­ist, I don’t think I have ever been touched by some­one’s story so deeply. To be al­lowed to write about this fam­ily’s love, strug­gle and grief was a sin­cere priv­i­lege. Peo­ple don’t have to tell their sto­ries to the world. This fam­ily did. And in do­ing so, I think they taught ev­ery­one what a par­ent’s un­con­di­tional love looks like. What strength, courage and fight looks like. What life should be about.

JO MCKENZIEMCLEAN

Kobe, 5, and Cruz Ni­col­son, 7, of Cromwell, at the 2016 Alexan­dra Blos­som Fes­ti­val.

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