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Ketchikan packed plenty into 2018.
The year turned out to be one of protests, personal accomplishments, disappointments, hopes, reasons to celebrate, and, of course, politics.
The protests and rallies began with the Women’s March in January, which was an attempt to call attention to a variety of issues — the #MeToo movement, voters registration and the Trump administration, among them.
In March came the Choose Respect rally’s march against sexual violence and the March for Our Lives event promoting awareness of gun violence following the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Both marches attracted about 50 marchers.
Dozens entered the Families Belong Together March against the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy in July, and yet another 100 marched in the Stomp the Stigma Recovery March and Resource Rally in September.
When it came to individual accomplishments and advancements, Ketchikan delivered in 2018.
The Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce honored Tore Lynn as Citizen of the Year. The Federal Aviation Administration presented its most prestigious award for aircraft mechanics to Stephen Sustarich of Temsco Helicopters for his 50-year career, and newly elected Gov. Mike Dunleavy appointed Ketchikan High School graduate Stacey Stone-Semmler to his transition team in the capacity of legal counsel.
Tim Walker, the supply chain manager for PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center, sailed with a crew on a 70-foot racing yacht in the Mighty Pacific Leg — Qingdao, China to Seattle — in the Clipper Round of the World Race in the spring. Don Mitchel, a retired teacher and former member of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, took up paddle boarding and, over time, successfully circumnavigated Revillagigedo Island.
Lt. Eric Mattson of the Ketchikan Police Department, became deputy police chief after Josh Dossett completed a 25-year career with the force. Longtime City Clerk Katy Suiter retired, making way for Kim Stanker’s promotion. City Mayor Lew Williams III completed his 30-year career in local politics.
Adam Thompson left the Ketchikan School District’s business manager position to become the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assessment director, while School Board Member Glenn Brown resigned to replace Scott Brandt-Erichsen as the borough’s attorney. Brandt-Erichsen entered private practice after 23 years with the borough.
Brown’s resignation was one among many changes within the Ketchikan School District. Superintendent Robert Boyle resigned, as did School Board President Trevor Shaw who found himself the subject of a recall election while attempting to simultaneously rebuff that and seek to unseat Rep. Dan Ortiz for state House. Board Member Kim Hodne also resigned before year’s end. In the midst of these resignations and a municipal election, the face and tenor of the board changed dramatically, which led to a new contract two years in the making with the Ketchikan Education Association.
KEA negotiations competed for the School Board’s attention with an indictment for child abuse against former Kayhi culinary arts teacher and First Baptist Church pastor Douglas Edwards. Edwards pleaded innocent; his trial is scheduled for March. The board ordered an investigation into the district’s handling of allegations made against Edwards, receiving a report yet to be released to the public.
In the midst of it all, Ketchikan students excelled. The Kayhi Academic Decathlon team won a Division III national title in Frisco, Texas, in the spring that brought Borough Mayor David Landis out in the rain to greet them upon their return to Ketchikan. Gov. Bill Walker also made a special effort to congratulate the winners at a school assembly.
Not to be outdone, Schoenbar Middle School sent Grace Parrott to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. And, also contributing to a notable year, the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences students grew a 3-pound zucchini in their greenhouse under the guidance of retired counselor Don Mitchel.
Between the School District and the University of Alaska, more than 200 students graduated in the spring.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough made its presence known at the White House in 2018, with Assembly Member Rodney Dial joining Borough Mayor Landis and Borough Manager Ruben Duran on a trip to Washington, D.C. in the spring, and then Dial accompanied Assembly Member A.J. Pierce on another D.C. adventure in the fall.
One of the topics discussed with D.C. officials was the new flood plain maps produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The maps designated an additional 1,052 parcels of land within the borough for flood zones, causing consternation among residents who anticipated increased property insurance premiums as a result. The borough appealed to FEMA.
The borough also started a Ketchikan International Airport terminal building remodel and roof renovation project, and designated South Point Higgins Beach as a park.
Meanwhile, the City of Ketchikan’s notable accomplishments included utility rate increases by ordinance and a decline in the mill rate on property within the city in the spring. But it turned around to propose a mill rate increase and additional utility rate increases during its budget season for 2019.
The City Council also banned the practice of feeding some birds, including eagles, through adoption of an ordinance. It also adopted an ordinance banning some fireworks and limiting others within the city limits, except for on the Fourth of July and New Year’s.
The Ketchikan Police Department continued to make multiple arrests involving illegal drugs, attempting to reduce the methamphetamine and opioid epidemic in the community. Dr. Jay Butler, chief medical officer with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, presented a local conference about the opioid epidemic.
When it came to high-profile court cases, Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens delayed from May to November and then again to May 2019 the trial of Jordan Joplin, 32, in connection with the 2016 death of Dr. Eric Garcia at Garcia’s Summit Terrace home. Joplin, a pornography actor and friend of the local surgeon, is accused of killing the doctor, who died from a morphine overdose, and then shipping valuable belongings owned by the doctor to Joplin’s home state of Washington. Judge Stephens, late in the year, announced the trial would be held in Juneau, in part because of pre-trial publicity.
Fatal crime didn’t elude Ketchikan in 2018. In January Aaron Dixon, 31, was stabbed at his residence on Tongass Avenue and Darrell Taylor Ryan, 38, was arrested. The trial is scheduled to start Jan. 28. Meanwhile, in June Joshua K. Bliss, 42, was found guilty of first-degree murder and felony tampering with evidence in connection with the October 2017 death of 22-year-old Richard Branda.
Throughout the year, Ketchikan weaved in, out, around and through construction projects. The city redesigned and rebuilt sidewalks and curbs in several hazardous spots in the spring, while the State of Alaska’s Department of Transportation started its Stedman/Mill/Front Street project at Deermount Street, finishing for a winter break near the federal building.
A seawall partially collapsed at Bar Harbor in July, which resulted in the city rebuilding and reinforcing the seawall and adjacent parking lot. The Water Street Trestle project came to a useable completion, with final paving scheduled for spring.
The DOT imposed a weight restriction on the Waterfall Creek Bridge, requiring the North Tongass Fire Department to contrive a way to avoid sending too-heavy water trucks across it in case of a fire. The bridge is penciled in for replacement in 2019. And the Shelter Cove Road project, which will connect Ketchikan’s road system to a network of logging roads on U.S. Forest Service land, plodded along.
When it came to travel, Ketchikan welcomed its largest-ever visitor. The Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship, the Norwegian Bliss, made its inaugural visit in June. It is one of the high-capacity post-Panamax ships beginning to ply the waters of Southeast Alaska.
The city continued its planning for expanding Berth 1 to accommodate the mega ships, and Berth 2 to accommodate the general expansion of the industry. Ketchikan Visitors Bureau’s Patti Mackey told the chamber in the fall that nearly 1.12 million tourists rode the Alaska waterways this past summer on cruise ships and ferries.
And the Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad retrieved one of those visitors from Deer Mountain in July. A 16-year-old hiker had lost his way.
Also along the waterfront, the Alaska Marine Highway System, which is headquartered in Ward Cove, sold the ferry Taku, which left the cove March 13 for a scrapyard in Singapore.
But AMHS had other ferries coming online. The only challenge is that the Alaska Class ferries Hubbard and Tazlina, which Ketchikan Shipyard launched in 2018, aren’t equipped for their new assignments. Another $30 million would need to be spent to add crew quarters before they can be put into service. First lady Donna Walker christened the Tazlina in August. With its two AMHS shipbuilding projects essentially complete, the shipyard announced it anticipated layoffs numbering 80 by year’s end.
Meanwhile, the salmon industry had its own challenges. A decline in king salmon meant the cancellation of the 71st Ketchikan CHARR Educational Fund Salmon Derby, which is featured around Memorial Day weekend. It wasn’t the only one in the region that met that fate. But, instead, CHARR put on a coho derby around Labor Day weekend, and Jerry Hughes, 71, won with a 16.4-pound silver salmon.
The timber industry made some strides. The U.S. Forest Service presented a new, interactive online portal to share information with the public about young-growth timber stands in the Tongass National Forest. It provided an array of data. And the Vallenar young-growth timber project moved forward with a draft decision notice.
Other industry highlights involved UCore announcing a purchase agreement for property along North Tongas Highway to build a rare earth elements separation plant. It anticipates starting production in 2020. And Walmart began stocking and selling firelogs made with trimmings and sawdust from the Viking Lumber sawmill on Prince of Wales Island. The firelogs are marketed by Tongass Wholesale Distribution.
At the U.S. Coast Guard station in Ketchikan, a change of command occurred in July for the Cutter Bailey Barco. Lt. Anna Ruth took the place of Lt. Cmdr. Frank Reed III. In other federal action, the Forest Service renewed a permit for the Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility at Back Island.
Besides a new governor, Ketchikan participated in re-electing Rep. Ortiz, City Council Member Janalee Gage, Assembly Member Felix Wong and the School Board’s new president, Matt Eisenhower. The city re-elected former councilman Sam Bergeron and promoted Council Member Bob Sivertsen to mayor. Sven Westergard joined the Borough Assembly, while Sonya Skan joined the School Board in the October municipal election. Rachel Breithaupt won her own seat on the board, and the board appointed Bridget Mattson to fill a vacancy as a result of a resignation. Plus, Ketchikan’s Christopher Cumings, 33, attempted to unseat long-time Congressman Don Young.
In the midst of all the politics, Ketchikan welcomed the Southeast Conference to the Ted Ferry Civic Center for its annual meeting and a gubernatorial debate. Following November’s general election, Sen. Bert Stedman became co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Ketchikan Medical Center opened the Ken C. Eichner Healing Garden in June with proper pomp and circumstance. Eichner’s family donated $500,000 toward the garden in the hospital’s new addition.
The opening of the Little League baseball season, with its 450-plus members in April, illustrated the continued commitment to youth sports in Ketchikan. With leagues for younger and older players, as well as a full array of opportunities in other sports, both community and school sports programs remained enthusiastic endeavors for Ketchikan.
First Federal’s Team Sail Like a Girl took first place in 2018’s Race to Alaska. The seven-woman crew set a record for the first all-female team to win and the first team to win in a monohull boat. The annual race is from Port Townsend, Wash., to Ketchikan.
Bears found Ketchikan not to be as hospitable as it might have been. With fewer fish in the steams, the bears turned to garbage left out in garbage cans and in garages. Some bears even entered homes. Four were reportedly dispatched before denning season.
Wildlife wasn’t the only natural challenge for residents during the year. Ketchikan experienced especially high temperatures and winds. March 13 set a record at 65 degrees, for example, which hadn’t been broken in 103 years (1915 when it was 55). Winds clocked in at 112 mph at one downtown Ketchikan location on April 10. And three Ketchikan fire departments issued fire-danger warnings in July because of the dry spring and summer. The rainy season returned at the end of October, beginning to refill Swan Lake, where a hydroelectric dam had been shut off in deference to diesel power.
The community lost citizens during the year — notably 39-year-old Marvin Scott who died as a result of being trapped in an avalanche on Dude Mountain in February.
There was a close call in July when a pilot and 10 passengers in a DHC-3T Turbine Otter survived a Taquan Air crash on a flight to Ketchikan from Prince of Wales, and Mike Donnelly and Jennifer Coats-Donnelly survived that same month when a rogue wave took out their 18-foot Lund skiff while they were fishing near Lucky Cove. After a harrowing experience in the water, they were rescued by a commercial fishing boat captain.
The year concluded on an appropriate note when Rusty Anderson, through his Pay It Forward campaign, surprised Amy Guinn, a single mother of three children, on Christmas Eve Day with a new car. The car’s previous owner, who opted to remain anonymous, wanted it to be given to someone who needed it. It was.