Petersburg Pilot -

2014 Year in review

 

Belinda Chase / Submitted Photo

The incubation building and the generator shed (extreme left) were fully engulfed in an early morning fire in early March, destroying more than a million incubating salmon.

January

More than 600 Petersburg residents signed up for the borough's recycling program.

The Petersburg Land Selection Committee requested the borough pursue legislative action regarding the State's calculation of land entitlement for the Petersburg Borough after the committee's determination that the State's selection of land was inadequate.

The Petersburg School Board approved a $2.3 million exterior wall renovation project for the Rae C. Stedman Elementary School.

Petersburg School District Superintendent Rob Thomason announced his retirement from the district where he began working in 2009.

Returning Petersburg resident Jasmine Jones opened a Chinese medicine and acupuncture clinic where she provides massage, herbal remedies and Devil's Club and seaweed wraps.

The Petersburg Borough Assembly continued discussions with the Petersburg Medical Center Board regarding increased autonomy, proposed changes to the PMC's charter and the relationship between the two bodies. The discussions centered around the PMC board's request for borough financial assistance, the first time a PMC board has done so.

Petersburg hosted the first ever roller derby scrimmage pitting Petersburg's Ragnarok Rollers against Wrangell's Garnet Grit Betties.

Erin Michael was hired as Petersburg's new public health nurse.

Petersburg Police and Southeast Alaska Communities Against Drugs busted a commercial marijuana distribution operation seizing 3.5 pounds of marijuana.

February

The Petersburg Sales Tax Committee began discussions with the community about additional taxes on alcohol, pull-tabs and tobacco. The committee met in order to simplify the borough's sales tax code.

Alaska Department of Transportation officials met with Petersburg residents to review the State's anticipated $9 million South Nordic Drive and Haugen Drive road construction plans.

The Petersburg Harbor Department set up a solar powered electric fence and human manikin at the float-plane dock to ward off aggressive sea lions that were getting a little too comfortable around humans.

The Petersburg Borough Assembly approved an estimated $9.7 million municipal and police building renovation. The new designs include features such as an enclosed garage for police vehicles, front entry and canopy, expanded north parking lot, metal siding, prefabricated detention cells with electronic surveillance and controls and better insulation.

The Petersburg Borough Assembly approved Southeast Alaska Power Agency's offer to take over operations and maintenance of the Tyee Hydro Electric project from Thomas Bay Power Authority.

Petersburg School District students and faculty swept the Alaska Society for Technology and Education conference awards. Student PK Bunyi, teacher Jon Kludt-Painter and now retired PSD Superintendent Rob Thomason all brought awards back to town.

March

A fire destroyed the incubation building, generator shed and more than 1 million incubating salmon at the Crystal Lake Hatchery.

The Petersburg Borough Assembly updated the borough's criminal code so police would have more discretion when officers must decide whether or not to charge or write violations to individuals when they commit minor crimes.

A Juneau Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Local Boundary Commission's decision to include the newly incorporated Petersburg Borough land along its northern boundary-a portion of which the City and Borough of Juneau sought to annex.

The Petersburg High School science bowl team "The Sea Masons" placed 4th out of 18 teams in the Alaska Tsunami Science Bowl. The Petersburg team studied increased fresh water entering the world's oceans and its effect on weather patterns, fisheries and other ecological processes.

The local soccer team took first place in the annual Shamrock Soccer Tournament in Juneau. The local hockey club, The Petersburg Whalers, also won the Rainforest Classic's B Division tournament.

The Petersburg Borough Assembly approved an electric rate increase by 4 percent over a two-year period in an effort to flatten rates after the previous declining rate structure, aimed to incentivize power conversion to electric from oil, became outdated for Petersburg's power needs.

April

The Petersburg School Board selected Dr. Lisa Stroh for the district's new superintendent. Stroh was the superintendent of Valdez City Schools before coming to Petersburg.

A stray iceberg damaged several vessels after it floated into the South Harbor in the early morning hours. A tender, The American Patriot, towed the iceberg from the harbor and let the tide take it out.

Eight Petersburg police officers and a state trooper apprehended an intoxicated man who fired multiple rounds from a rifle in the Middle Harbor in early morning hours.

The City and Borough of Juneau filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of a Superior Court Judge's decision ruling in favor of the Petersburg Borough's northern boundary line, which Juneau had earlier sought to annex.

Petersburg hosted 117 participants at the Southeast Region EMS symposium. It was the first year Petersburg hosted the event where medical workers such as emergency medical technicians and physicians attended.

Petersburg High School's Stephanie Pfundt and Ben Higgins performed a duet that earned them a "command performance" at the Southeast Alaska Music Festival in Ketchikan, the first time PHS students received one in the past 16 years.

The Petersburg Police Department discussed petitioning the federal government to become designated as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area because of high drug trafficking arrests per capita in the borough.

May

Petersburg High School girl track athletes won the conference track meet division wide-a feat the girl's team hadn't accomplished in more than three decades. In her very first meet, freshman Emma Chase took first in the triple jump and the 4x200 relay. Freshman Izabelle Ith won the open 100-meter dash and the long jump.

Local WW2 veterans toured war memorials and monuments in Washington D.C. as part of the Honor Flights program. Alaska Airlines donated seats to Art Hammer, Gerald Lind and Tom Lewis, Sr. for their trip to D.C. as they joined vets from across the country who also traveled to the nation's capital.

The Ragnarok Rollers hosted their first official bout during the Little Norway Festival.

The Petersburg Borough's total taxable assessed value decreased from estimates early this year forcing the borough to cut back on its contingency expense account, unexpected budgetary spending, by more than $40,000.

The Petersburg High School girls track team won first place at the Region V meet in Sitka and 15 runners, boys and girls, qualified for the state track competition.

The Petersburg Borough Assembly joined the City of Kupreanof in sending a letter to the University of Alaska requesting the suspension of contract finalization for timber sales on South Mitkof Island after some members of the public and assembly members were concerned about negative environmental effects such as landslides related to logging.

The North Harbor reopened after a year of dredging and new construction.

Karen Malcom won the King Salmon Derby after angling a 46.4-pound King.

Freshman Izabelle Ith took first place in two events at the state track meet in Anchorage. The girls track team also placed higher than any other group of girls in Petersburg High School's track program history, taking fifth out of 29 teams from across Alaska.

June

The Petersburg Borough voted to present five changes to the borough's sales tax code. The changes included requiring PFD filings for proof of residency for the senior sales tax exemption eligibility, limiting the exemption to food and fuel, establishment of a sunset date for eventual elimination of the exemption, increasing the sales tax cap and implementing a tobacco excise tax.

Petersburg residents petitioned the borough assembly to readopt an expired city ordinance that creates a Historic Preservation Commission in order to promote and enhance knowledge of Petersburg history.

The Petersburg Borough Assembly authorized Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht to find a contractor to assist in developing a new comprehensive plan. Comp plans involve an extensive process which aims to update zoning and land use, identify and select state land for economic and community development, evaluate housing availability and affordability and identify other quality of life issues.

Petersburg resident Justin Haley logged more than 1 million steps in Petersburg Mental Health's annual Pedometer Challenge, winning the competition and a kayak.

Wells Fargo celebrated its centennial in Petersburg. The original building began as The Bank of Petersburg in 1912 with a capital of $5,000, roughly $121,000 in today's dollars.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined a stalled engine caused the Pacific Wings plane crash in 2013, 14 miles east of Petersburg. The flight held seven cruise ship passengers, one of whom died and two more sustained significant injuries.

The Thomas Bay Power Commission approved the handover of the Tyee Hydro Electric Project to Southeast Alaska Power Agency.

After a handful of sometimes contentious meetings between the two bodies, the Petersburg Borough Assembly denied funding assistance to the Petersburg Medical Center Board after it requested money in 2013.

A tree fell and killed an Idaho man involved in logging operations on South Mitkof Island.

July

Petersburg police seized $75,000 worth of heroin during the arrest of a Washington man in the Scandia House who was planning on selling the drugs in town.

Two fishing lodge guests staying at Island Point Lodge died near Level Island after their skiff capsized in rough weather. The two men were able to call 911 before succumbing to the elements and rescuers located their bodies later that day.

Tye Petersen, 46, pled guilty to the distribution, receipt and possession of child pornography in a Juneau court.

The Southeast Alaska Power Agency board of directors voted to take over operations of the Tyee Lake hydroelectric facility after months of negotiations and discussions between officials and committee members in the Petersburg and Wrangell boroughs.

John and Mysti Birks replaced Caleb and Christin Fankhauser as Salvation Army officers in Petersburg. The Fankhausers left for Homer and the Birks arrived from Los Angeles.

Petersburg artists Joe Viechnicki, Susan Christensen, Pia Reilly and John McCabe travelled to Ketchikan to display their works at the Area Arts and Humanities Council's Main Street Gallery. Their work explored themes common to island living and the Pacific Northwest including community, isolation, solitude, beauty, strength and loneliness.

Two Petersburg businesses earned their way to the semi-finals in a contest among Southeast Alaska entrepreneurs competing for funds to grow and expand their business. Tonka Seafoods' goal was to reopen a shrimp fishery in Petersburg and Petersburg Indian Association's SeaLife Compost sold compostable teabags that can be soaked in water and then used to provide nutrients to plants.

Petersburg resident Mark Weaver injured himself in the borough rock quarry after detonating the commercial grade explosive Tovex.

Canadian fisheries staff moved salmon across a blockage in the Tahltan River, a tributary of the Stikine. A landslide presented a barrier to many Chinook and sockeye salmon on their way upstream to spawn.

The Petersburg Medical Center's sponsored Paddle Battle saw motivated water sport enthusiasts kayaking, rowing and paddle-boarding 25 miles up the Wrangell Narrows in a fundraising event for PMC's physical therapy department.

August

Borough Assembly members expressed their support for the North End Ferry Authority (NEFA) to use the Banana Point launch ramp as an interim terminal for a new ferry service between Coffman Cove, Wrangell and South Mitkof.

NEFA manager Kent Miller said he hoped the Rainforest Island Ferry would begin providing service for 28 passengers and seven vehicles by spring 2015.

Assembly member John Havrilek supported the new ferry service, saying "the long range State plan for our area...pretty much de-emphasizes ferries at all, which doesn't make sense for an island, so your service may be the only thing we ever have."

The U.S. Coast Guard celebrated their 224th birthday.

The Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) mine being proposed in British Columbia, Canada was nearing its final stages of development as the final comment period of the project's environmental assessment closed Aug. 20.

As the KSM moved further toward approval from the Canadian government, many Alaskans moved to express their concerns about the mine's effects on transboundary waters shared between Alaska and Canada. Native organizations, fishing and travel industry associations and environmental groups all chimed in with concerns about the possible impact of the proposed mine and asked for a more rigorous environmental review from the Canadian government. The concern was heighten by a tailings breach at the Mount Polley Mine near Likely, B.C., which released some 2.6 billion gallons of water and 5 million cubic yard of metals-contaminated slurry into surround water systems.

Less than half of the projected 19.9 million chum harvest had been harvested by mid-August, causing disappointment among fishermen in Southeast. The cause of the low harvest was a low return of four-year-old chums, which typically comprised about 65 percent of chum salmon returns.

Meanwhile, pink salmon harvests were on track in mid-August with fishermen netting 20.3 million pinks. The harvest forecast of 22 million pinks was below the recent 10-year average of 41 million, but came closer to the average harvest of the past five even years, which are typically lower than odd-year harvest numbers.

The Wrangell Ave. home owned by Fred Triem and Karen Ellingstad, which had been ordered demolished by Borough officials in December 2013 saw its day in court after the owners appealed the demolition order. The Superior Court of Juneau heard arguments from Triem and from Borough attorney Jim Brennan and took the case under advisement where it remained for most of the year.

One particularly wet August weekend set new rainfall records. Some 1.97 inches of rain fell on Petersburg Aug. 9 while 3.25 inches fell the next day. In addition to breaking precipitation records, the rain contributed to a nearly 8-foot rise of the Stikine River over the same weekend.

The Tongass Advisory Committee met for the first time. The 15 member panel will provide advice on U.S. Forest Service's transition to young growth timber management of the 17-million acre Tongass National Forest.

Representatives from the Alaska Department of Transportation (ADOT) gave a public presentation on their long-range transportation plan for the state and Southeast. Residents scrutinized the plan which emphasized roads on the mainland for growing populations in the railbelt region over ferry service in Southeast where population numbers are holding steady or declining.

Local voters said "Yes" on Measure No. 1 in the state's primary election, diverging with the statewide results. The majority "No" vote on the measure kept Senate Bill 21 in place instead of reverting to the previous ACES system. Each addresses oil tax credits and rates differently.

The Borough Assembly approved an increase and restructuring of local electric rates.

The Juneau Superior Court denied a motion for a stay pending appeal filed by the City and Borough of Juneau which is appealing the boundaries of the new Petersburg Borough.

Stedman Elementary School got a facelift over the summer, receiving new exterior walls, insulation and windows.

September

The 7th annual Rainforest Festival was held in early September. A portable planetarium was brought to town, and Petersburg's first half-marathon was held in conjunction with the event.

Construction of the new drive down dock continued as workers drove piling for the open-gate approach dock at the new facility near South Harbor.

Petersburg resident Mark Weaver, 59, was indicted by a Grand Jury on two counts of possession of an unregistered destructive device in conjunction with an explosion at the Petersburg rock quarry in July.

Lee's Clothing celebrated 45 years of business.

Petersburg Medical Center board members approved a resolution to establish the facility as a Level IV trauma center.

Southeast Alaska Power Agency announced they would pay out rebates to member communities after seeing record revenues last year.

The Hammer and Wikan grocery store underwent a remodel to make way for more organic produce and natural and Asian foods.

The Viking Swim and Dive team started their season strong at a home meet, with the boys team taking first place both nights of the meet.

October

Petersburg hosted the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood's 102nd Grand Camp for the first time in over 40 years.

Denmark native Clara Henriksen, this year's Rotary exchange student, settled into her host home with Kim Kilkenny to experience a year as a high school student in Alaska.

Community Development Director Leo Luczak retired after 28 years of service to the Borough.

The Petersburg Medical Center received the Quality Achievement Award – the highest possible – from the Mountain Pacific Quality Health foundation. The award recognizes hospitals that ensure patients receive high quality care in seven areas.

Both the boys and girls cross country runners made it to the state championship this year, the first time in many years both teams have gone.

Voters saw a huge ballot this fall with several board and commission members up for election as well as seven ballot propositions in the municipal election. Local public officials will have to file financial disclosure statements in accordance with state statute after voters decided not to allow them to opt out of the state requirement. Voters also okayed a tobacco tax that will add $2 to each pack of cigarettes and a tax equivalent to 45 percent of the wholesale price of other tobacco products.

Two of five proposed changes to the senior sales tax exemption passed, which will mean seniors who are non-borough residents or who are residents of less than one year will no longer be eligible for the exemption. Some 39 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast a ballot.

A $60,000 grant from the U.S Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service will go towards improvements on the City Creek trail in 2015. The Petersburg Indian Association and Parks and Rec. staff announced they will use the funds to make the first quarter mile of the rugged trail more accessible to residents and visitors.

The second best moose harvest on record wrapped up this month as some 97 bull moose were harvested from the Petersburg-Wrangell area.

Brittany Zenge joined the Clausen Memorial Museum as its new director.

Twelve high school students departed for the Southeast Alaska Honors Music Festival in Juneau and six students prepared for All-State performances in Anchorage in mid-October. "Over the last five years, there's been an increase in the number of kids from Petersburg in the honors groups," PHS music instructor Matt Lenhard said. "It's been a real strong program."

Almost 200 runners and walkers showed up for the 15th annual Beat the Odds Race for a Cure in mid-October, including Senate hopeful Dan Sullivan who was in town for a meet-and-greet with voters.

Though the case remains under advisement, the Wrangell Ave. home that was ordered demolished by the Borough last year was razed by its owners Fred Triem and Karen Ellingstad.

The hatchery rebuilding project was 70 percent complete by late October, with the major hurdle of plumbing and drains out of the way. Though some 1.2 million eggs were lost in a fire that destroyed the incubation room in March, strong Chinook returns this year means that the 2015 release at Crystal Lake will be at full production.

Mark Weaver pleaded not guilty to two felony charges of possession of unregistered destructive devices at his arraignment held in late October. A trial is expected in early 2015.

The Borough Assembly decided to draft a local ordinance regulating herbicide use. After trying to make headway with the State addressing concerns about a regulations change that allows herbicide use without a public input process, the Assembly determined a local ordinance was the next opportunity to take a stand against the use of certain chemicals on the boggy Petersburg landscape.

The 38th annual Oktoberfest Art Share was held in the community gym. Vendors sold handcrafted wares to early Christmas shoppers and many local organizations used the event as an opportunity to fundraise and increase awareness of their services.

November

PHS swimmer Abel Aulbach broke the state record for the 100 freestyle at the state swim championship in Anchorage. Aulbach swam a 44.90 for the event, topping 1998 PHS graduate Derek Gibb's record time of 46.27.

Icicle Seafoods wrapped up their first summer with new Southeast Fleet Manager Don Spigelmyre.

An unusual power outage briefly affected service in Wrangell, Ketchikan and Petersburg, after high, dry winds deposited sea salt onto lines near Ketchikan's Bailey Substation. The buildup acted as a conductor, allowing power to bypass the lines' insulation and triggering the failure. Though common enough in other parts of the country, Ketchikan Public Utilities personnel admitted it was the first time such a cause was seen in the area. The storm saw winds between 43 and 61 miles per hour with some gusts topping 90 miles per hour.

Several events around town including an all-schools assembly were organized to celebrate local veterans on Nov. 11.

The Public Library received a four-star rating from the Library Journal. Eight libraries in the state received a ranking. While some 7,500 facilities are evaluated nationwide, only 256 met criteria this year to receive a ranking.

A stranded crab boat and its crew were rescued by the Harbor security boat with the help of Good Samaritan vessels. The crabber ran aground near the Sukoi Islands on Nov. 5 and one individual on board sustained injuries.

Brandy Boggs was sworn in on Nov. 6 as a Deputy Magistrate at the Petersburg Court House. Boggs assumes the magistrate duties in addition to her work as the court clerk.

Petersburg was ranked as the 17th top U.S. port for commercial fishery landings in 2013. Some 123 million pounds of fish were pulled into port during the last year, a record-breaking pink salmon year.

The lady volleyball Vikings took third in regionals. Emma Chase was selected for the All-Conference team, a honor bestowed on six outstanding southeastern players. The team, along with all Viking's sports teams, will play in the 2A conference next year, instead of 3A, as enrollment numbers have dropped.

The Borough Assembly began taking public comment on whether or not to bid for three land parcels near the dock at Papke's Landing. In August, the Assembly had asked the Alaska Mental Health Trust, the organization that is selling the lots, to suspend their sale based on their public importance. The Assembly will decide in 2015 whether or not to make a bid for the parcels.

December

Petersburg Mayor Mark Jensen was selected to serve on new Governor Bill Walker's transition team. Jensen worked alongside 26 others from around the state to advise the new governor on fisheries-related issues.

The first shipment of float sections for the new Drive Down Approach Dock arrived in town. The $16.5 million project began construction last year and saw steady progress throughout 2014 with a projected wrap-up date in early 2015.

Gloria Ohmer and Don Koenigs were selected as this year's honorary tree lighters. The two long-time Petersburg residents were chosen for their service to the community.

The 9th annual chili cook off and brew fest was held at the Sons of Norway. The event was headed up this year by Petersburg Ski Club. It immediately followed the community tree lighting and saw a high attendance of cooks, brewers and tasters.

Borough Assembly members voted to allocate all of this year's General Fund surplus – some $950,730 – to the Property Development Fund. The monies were then assigned to the community's top capital project, the municipal building renovation.

The PHS wrestling team won the 3A region tournament and sent four wrestlers – John Brooks, Billy Ware, DJ Toyomaru and Buddy Stelmach – to the state meet in Anchorage.

Petersburg residents gave input on whether or not the Assembly should approve a bid on three land parcels near Papke's Landing. Most residents making public comment on the matter thus far have supportd a land purchase, while others caution that the multiple state agencies that own different parts of the facility might make maintenance or improvements in the future cumbersome. Yet others expressed concerns about the Borough's future funds and suggested tightening their belt in the face of dwindling State funds.

The small crane from the Crane Dock was sent south for repairs after failing an inspection by OSHA.

Submitted Photo

Gerald Lind (left) and Tom Lewis Sr. (right) pose with Sen. Lisa Murkowski on their May trip to Washington, D.C.

Debbie Thompson was appointed as the incoming Borough Clerk who will replace Kathy O'Rear upon her retirement in March. Thompson has worked for the Borough in various capacities since 2005, including her most recent role as deputy clerk.

Looking back on the sales tax figures from the summer revealed a bump in tourist-related tax revenues this year. Taxes from charter businesses almost doubled this year over last year. Bed tax revenue and sales tax revenue were also up over the summer months. An improving economy and increasing efforts at publicizing Little Norway lent to the increases.

The Petersburg Medical Center filled out the remaining vacant seats on their board after Kris Thynes and Marlene Cushing were appointed in mid-December. Tim Koeneman was named PMC board president and Darlene Whitethorn was elected as the vice-president.

 

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