Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

2017 sees shifting leadership, new beginnings


December 21, 2017

A shakeup in leadership across government and business, a group of unsatisfied citizens who challenged the assembly and how to approach policing outside the townsite dominated the news this year.

The first ripples of discontent occurred after the assembly rejected Diana Lapham's application to sit on the Ports and Harbor Advisory committee. Don Turner and Terry Pardee put together a complaint that alleged the assembly broke their oath of office and violated the former assembly member's constitutional rights by rejecting her application. Police chief Heath Scott forwarded the complaint to the district attorney for consideration of criminal charges in February, but no charges were filed.

Two months later, Turner sponsored a recall petition against assembly members Heather Lende, Tresham Gregg and Tom Morphet. Turner and co-sponsor Ryan Cook alleged the assembly members violated borough code and the state's Open Meetings Act and misused their official positions for personal gain.

Borough clerk Julie Cozzi later certified the petitions and the recall organizers garnered the necessary 264 signatures to initiate the election. The recall ultimately failed. Fifty-eight percent of voters chose not to recall Gregg and Morphet and 61 percent of voters chose not to recall Lende.

In a congenial end to a bitter several months, Turner and Margaret Friedenauer, treasurer of the political action committee "Haines Voters Against the Recall," issued a joint statement after the election. "We were on different sides of this issue. We may not agree but we still respect each other and our opinions. We hope all of us can do the same as we move on."

Events heated up in April when controversial decisions hovered over the assembly members who were targeted for recall.

One of those decisions was the assembly's hiring of Debra Schnabel over Brad Ryan as borough manager. The assembly sought staff feedback on the hire, with most backing interim manager Ryan for the job. Mike Case resigned from the assembly after the vote, later citing frustrations with assembly members who he said didn't listen to staff. He also called the hire a "set-up job."

The assembly approved a $55,000 legal settlement for former borough manager Bill Seward, who was fired at the end of 2016. Seward threatened a wrongful termination lawsuit against the borough and accused assembly members of character defamation, racial discrimination and violating his constitutional rights. The borough attorney recommended the assembly settle with Seward, although the borough denied that any of Seward's claims were valid.

Also in April, assembly member Morphet drew heat from the Local 71 public employee union after he released four complaints directed at police officers during an assembly meeting that month. Morphet said the borough wasn't taking the complaints seriously and he mentioned the names of officers during that public meeting.

The union responded by filing a grievance against the borough, saying Morphet breached the officers' collective bargaining agreement. The union requested later that the borough censure Morphet and asked him to publicly apologize.

When Morphet made a motion in July to censure himself, the union said he didn't take the issue seriously. They later launched an attack ad on Facebook that read "Recall Tom Morphet."

Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer resigned at the end of May, citing "vitriol" and "bullying" in the local political climate which resulted in her loss of desire to lead.

The assembly appointed former Mayor Stephanie Scott to fill Case's empty seat and later appointed political newcomer Sean Maidy to fill Friedenauer's seat. Voters eventually elected Scott, Maidy, and previous borough planning commissioner Brenda Josephson to the borough assembly in the October election. Voters re-elected Jan Hill Mayor over challenger Joanie Wagner.

The Haines Borough school board terminated superintendent Tony Habra's contract in July. Habra resigned and took home $65,916 as part of a settlement agreement. The school board initially kept quiet about the circumstances of his resignation but later released a statement that said his "work performance did not sufficiently meet the depth or breadth of the district's needs for strong leadership." The board hired Rich Carlson as interim superintendent.

Leslie Ross resigned as tourism director in June. The borough hired Carolann Wooton to fill the position.

In business it was also a year of transition.

The Chamber of Commerce board hired Tracey Harmon as its new director.

Several businesses changed hands. Chris Thorgensen, who said he doesn't like "'For Sale' signs going up unchecked," purchased the Haisler Building and The Parts Place. Thorgensen's brothers-in- law Lee Robinson and Kent Larson bought the Rusty Compass and the hot tub manufacturer Zen Bathworks, respectively. Kyle Clayton purchased the Chilkat Valley News from previous owner Tom Morphet. Darcee Messano bought The Babbling Book from Tom and Liz Heywood.

Emily Stephens opened Blossom, a new floral shop on Main Street. Scott and Valina Hansen started Sunnyside Farms, offering potatoes and strawberries. After difficulty using Uber in a rural area, Suzanne Ashe started a one-woman taxi company called Red Cab. Leslie Ross opened The Inn, a bed and breakfast on Second Avenue, formerly The Summer Inn.

Five Haines residents applied for marijuana cultivation and retail business licenses with the state. The applications are still pending.

Path to Prosperity, a regional business competition, selected Haines business owners, Sarah Jaymont of Sarah J's Espresso Shoppe and Andrew Cardella and Marnie Hartman of Perma Food-Scaping, as finalists.

The popular winter sports competition Free Ride World Tour, which brought international athletes to compete in Haines, was cancelled for 2018 due to a lack of sponsorship. Haines is the most expensive stop on its worldwide tour, organizers said.

The assembly unanimously approved a $17.8 million budget, including funding $95,000 for a local economic development corporation, hiring a fifth police officer and covering increased costs of staff health insurance. The budget included an additional $17,000 to open the pool for a swim each Sunday afternoon, November through April.

The assembly also approved amendments including $32,000 to fund non-profits, a $10,000 increase to the library budget and $5,000 for the scrap metal recycling program.

The assembly cut $22,500 in lobbying services. It also slashed the Mayor's salary in half (by $7,799) to align more closely with other Southeast towns with a manager form of government.

This year saw individuals and sports teams win accolades.

Haines School staffer Leigh Horner won Alaska's 2017 School Library Staff of the Year award.

The Haines Packing men's basketball team won the Dick Hotch Basketball Tournament and went on to take first place in the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament in Juneau. The Haines women's team, along with a Klukwan team, also won in their divisions.

Chris Brooks and Jack Smith placed first and second, respectively, in the Alcan 200. Long stretches of dry asphalt took a toll on snowmachines and racers.

Haines Dolphins swimmers Pacific Ricke and Rio Ross- Hirsh set new team records in the 500-meter freestyle and 50-meter butterfly, respectively.

Freshman cross-country runners Mark Davis and classmate Carson Crager improved their best times by a few seconds each at the state meet in October.

Heather Lende and Lani Hotch received two statewide awards from Governor's Awards for the Arts and Humanities.

Former American Bald Eagle Foundation raptor curator Leia Minch was the first in Alaska and one of 68 people in the world to become a certified professional bird trainer.

The Small Boat Harbor continued to make news. Contractors broke ground on the parking area in March. Pacific Pile & Marine also began dredging operations but the work stalled. The contractor later sent a notice of differing site conditions to the borough. The company said the harbor basin was harder than contract documents described and asked for $1.1 million to compensate for increased labor time and equipment wear. The claim initiated a back and forth with engineering company PND Engineers and the borough, which hasn't been resolved.

"Is it going to cost money? Yes," borough manager Debra Schnabel said during an assembly discussion on the issue. "It's going to cost money but I think we are still going to see the harbor completed as designed."

Another project that's going to cost money is the reconstruction of Lutak Dock, an issue that dominated political conversations during the municipal election. After an initial decision to approve a $37 million design, the borough was denied federal grant funding for the project.

Schnabel recommended the assembly scale back the project but local boards and committees disagreed. After a joint meeting with the planning commission, the port and harbor advisory committee, and the assembly, Schnabel decided not to apply for grant funding this year.

It was a busy year for police as well. In March, former Alaska State Trooper director James Cockrell moved Haines' trooper position to Bethel.

That move sparked a continuing debate on who is responsible for policing where in the Haines Borough.

The borough organized town hall style meetings at the Mosquito Lake Community Center and the public library. Most residents wanted minimal police service out the highway, but didn't want to pay for it with higher taxes.

Schnabel and staff created an ordinance that would have expanded police service borough-wide. The ordinance would have folded the emergency medical service area into the police budget, a merger ambulance volunteers opposed. The ordinance also called for a borough-wide vote, as opposed to allowing residents in geographical regions to create a new, police service area. The borough assembly let the ordinance die.

These events culminated in a sparring match between the assembly and new state trooper director Hans Brinke, who maintained policing outside the borough townsite was now the borough's job.

"All areas within the Haines Borough have been and remain the responsibility of the Haines Borough Police Department," Brinke said. "The Haines Borough has the Haines Borough Police Department."

"No it doesn't," assembly member Stephanie Scott responded. "It has the townsite police department. You have to stop making that claim because it's inaccurate. Your decision was made on misinformation."

Police arrested a young couple during a sting operation in October after the pair picked up a package from the post office containing what they thought was 14 grams of heroin. Police also seized 19 grams of methamphetamine from a resident in November. Charges have not been filed. A break-in at the Haines medical SEARHC clinic where fentanyl and other opioids were stolen went unsolved. The state dismissed multiple drug charges against Dean Lari because of what a magistrate judge described as a "technicality" and Lari's public defender characterized as "recklessness" on the part of police.

The public safety commission established itself as a "Drug Awareness Task Force" in June after holding a town hall meeting where drug abusers, addicts, public health officials, police and other stakeholders spoke. At the recommendation of police chief Heath Scott, the commission wanted representatives from the school, SEARHC and mental health services to be added as ex-officio members to the commission, but the assembly rejected the proposed change.

Scott resumed providing the police blotter to the CVN after the assembly approved a $63,000 increase to the police budget after standby and overtime hours caused the department to go over budget. He stopped providing the blotter in 2016, citing insufficient resources. He also said it made the department look bad.

"The budget's not right. When we get that budget right, I want to give this community their blotter," Scott said in March at a public safety commission meeting when asked why he stopped providing it.

The blotter also made waves because it was used as evidence against assembly members Lende and Morphet during the recall campaign. Scott emailed interim manager Ryan to say he felt the assembly members "coerced" him after they asked the police department to provide the blotter to the newspaper. Recall supporters used that email as evidence the assembly members misused their official positions for financial gain because Morphet owned the newspaper at the time and Lende writes obituaries.

The borough manager sparked a community outcry in October after she authorized a drone to photograph property without owners' knowledge or consent. She later drafted a "drone policy" and presented it to the assembly. The assembly did not adopt the policy.

The University of Alaska triggered a timber sale on its land on the Chilkat Peninsula after the planning commission discussed limiting resource extraction in the Mud Bay rural residential zone. The timber sale sparked several public meetings that resulted in the assembly adopting a resolution that stated they'd look at the borough's legal options should the University approve a sale. The University didn't receive any bids, however, but said they were moving forward with a negotiated sale with interested parties. When asked about the sale's progress this week, a University representative said, "Discussions continue."

In fishing news, Chilkat River king salmon escapement was the lowest on record, despite the unprecedented king salmon restrictions for subsistence, sport and commercial fishermen.

Lynn Canal was managed for the protection of all kings. Subsistence fishing was delayed until the end of July, more than a month later than normal. Commercial gillnet openings were limited by area and time. The spring troll fishery was also restricted.

Commercial gillnetters landed a record low sockeye harvest, but a near record high chum catch. The year's sockeye harvest – 37,000 fish – compared to a 10-year average harvest of 139,000.

"It's been a hard year to manage in a lot of ways because of the low number of sockeye and the huge number of chum, to maximize the harvest of the enhanced fish and not overharvest the sockeye," biologist Mark Sogge said.

Concerns over local bear and mountain goat populations were raised when Fish and Game released a seven-year study showing probable goat wintering and bear denning habitat. The study prompted the assembly to approve a small increase to the proposed heli-ski terrain map.

Other environmental stories included discovery of oil residues from the Lutak Army tank farm site seeping into Lutak Inlet, continued conflicts between bears and tourists along the Chilkoot River.

Prospects for logging and mining also dominated headlines in 2017. The state delayed its Baby Brown timber sale for at least a year after discovering it made a procedural error.

Constantine Metals Resources reported promising concentrations of silver at its Palmer deposit, and the Chilkat Indian Village sued the Bureau of Land Management, saying it hadn't properly scrutinized the company's mining exploration work to date.

In an effort to increase revenues, the assembly approved marijuana and tobacco taxes. The assembly placed a $2 excise tax on each pack of cigarettes and a 45 percent of the wholesale cost of other tobacco products. The marijuana tax will charge $5 per ounce to cultivators. The tobacco tax riled some community members who complained about an unfair tax burden. Mike Ward said he closed his Lighthouse Restaurant and Harbor Bar because of the assembly's decision. In a letter to the editor, Leonard Dubber wrote, "Come spring I will be putting up a 'For Sale' sign if this does not get changed."

After meeting all year, the Solid Waste Working Group presented a plan to the borough assembly that includes up to a 1 percent sales tax increase to help pay for an estimated $500,000 municipal solid waste program.

The plan was designed to address illegal dumping, the lack of public refuse containers and "a struggling operator with inadequate revenues to capitalize equipment necessary for efficient and environmentally sound operations."

Community Waste Solutions opposes the plan, manager Sally Garton said in November.

Reported deaths this year include Vera Smith, Lois Wickward, Rock "Rocky" Hernandez, Richard Jepsen, Bob Duis, Joe Baker, Bill Kurz, Tom True, Tracie West, Charles Joseph Howard, Dorothy Dek, Donald Petersen, Kaci Ahmuty, Song Nash, Aundrea "Andy" Moore, Tom Bieleski, Diana Kelm, Naomi Kerwin, Jerry Loomis, Bruce Gilbert, Paulina Phillips, Mike Murphy, Dave Dal Maso, Suzy Combest, Ed Beitner, Lorrie Wackerman, Suzi Baker, Rachel Hotch, Gates Haddock, Hazel Englund and Ardis Nelson.

Rescues and feats of survival also made the news. Plane crash victim Chan Valentine was rescued by a group of Haines residents. While recovering in the hospital, doctors found a tumor on Valentine's brain and later removed it.

"How many more miracles can we have? It was kind of surreal," said Theresa Valentine, mom of crash and brain tumor survivor Chad Valentine.

All passengers aboard an Alaska Seaplanes flight survived an emergency landing in August near Coughlin Island, three miles outside of Juneau, after the plane's engine failed.

"We were all really cold," survivor Luck Dunbar said. "We kind of huddled together. My legs were shaking like I had pistons in my knees. I was just popping. We watched (the plane) sink from the beach."

Milestones include the publication of an academic history of the Chilkat Valley titled "Across the Shaman's River: John Muir, the Tlingit Stronghold, and the Opening of the North," by former teacher and CVN reporter Dan Henry.

Winter Fest saw a strong local turnout in its inaugural year, despite cancelled ferries and a closed Haines Highway that blocked out-of-town participation.

"We anticipated quite a few from Yukon and Juneau, so yes, it did impact the turnout," said former tourism director and event organizer Leslie Ross of the windy, snowy weather. "I think next year with just word out to a few groups in other communities, we will grow."

Snow cancelled a summer solstice bike ride.

The Chilkat Challenge Triathlon kicked off its first year where racers paddled, biked and ran through the valley.

The Southeast Alaska State Fair prohibited smoking on fair grounds for the first time. The fair's board of directors approved of smoking areas 40 feet from gates and doorways.

Haines joined in on one of more than 600 events worldwide, 16 in Alaska, for the Women's March, which was in part a response to the election of President Trump. Organizers said the event was a "display of strength behind positivity and equality."


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