Advances in the arts and public projects marked much of the news in 2016, and combined, for some novel exchanges.

At a Sept. 8 Haines Borough Planning Commission meeting dominated by critics of the proposed harbor expansion project, commission chair Rob Goldberg suggested a 630-foot steel wall breakwater planned for Portage Cove might someday be an attraction.

“All you need to do is take some sheet steel and use a cutting torch and make some designs. It could be leaping salmon or breaching whales or sea lions or something and just bolt them to the steel… It could be a piece of art, easily,” Goldberg said.

On land, the borough hired a local artist to beautify the town’s crosswalks. But Merrick Bochart’s mermaids and fish designs ran afoul of state transportation officials who deemed them a safety hazard and ordered them removed.

“If an accident was caused because a pedestrian or motorist couldn’t tell it was a crosswalk, could you sleep with yourself at night? We said we couldn’t,” said Department of Transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow.

Local issues – that included a hard-fought decision to start harbor expansion and the firing of the borough manager Bill Seward after six months on the job – played against a steady drumbeat of ominous news from the State of Alaska: Cuts that started unraveling the town’s institutions, with threats of deeper ones to come.

Offices of the Division of Forestry and Division of Public Health established here more than 40 years ago were slashed to minimal, intermittent service. Last week, state public safety officials said the state trooper position here will be their next reduction. The impact of social services cuts that eliminated Lynn Canal Counseling as an independent provider in 2015 became evident recently with a shortage of case managers serving the needy.

“Piece by piece, the social networks that exist are starting to fray at the edges,” said Pat Hefley, local administrator for SEARHC, the tribal nonprofit that provides many of the town’s health and social welfare services.

Public radio station KHNS was spared a proposed 27 percent cut, but reductions to ferry service severed the “Golden Circle” route that for decades made tour travel easy between Haines and Skagway. RV park owner Fred Bretthauer called the change a “disaster,” cutting the town out of a bump in independent visitors seen in other towns due to cheap fuel and the weak Canadian dollar.

“We are not getting the increase that the RV parks on the Alaska Highway are getting,” he said. Hotel Halsingland owner Jeff Butcher said the cut changed a longstanding business model and quipped: “Now it’s the Golden Horseshoe.”

Independent tour businesses ended the year bracing for another impact – a slashing of state tourism marketing funds from $5 million to $1.5 million in the past year. State funding at one time reached $20 million.

“The effects of the dramatic drop in state funding will be seen over the next few years,” predicted Susan Bell, a former Haines tourism director who also worked as a state commissioner of economic development. “It will be difficult for Haines to make waves in the marketplace.”

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, who visited town in October, brought no good news. He noted revenues from oil are so depressed that the state’s total income won’t cover even the cost of funding schools. He pushed for a state income tax, and new taxes on gasoline, mining and fisheries. “You lose 80 percent of your income, in my world, you make some changes. You make some hard decisions,” he said.

For local government, state cuts meant the borough assembly and school board each dipped into savings in 2016 to cover budget deficits that, combined, totaled about $1 million. School and borough officials noted reserves will dry up in just a few years at that rate.

“There are going to have to be changes, and the only changes where we can take money off the table is staffing,” interim school superintendent Rich Carlson told the school board in April. The Haines Borough Assembly started its budget discussion in November, aiming to make headway on budgeting.

News about the Haines Borough was dominated by the harbor expansion, which survived appeals to the borough planning commission, election to the assembly of two members critical of the project, and a failed attempt to send the project’s design to area voters. The assembly voted 5-1 on Nov. 8 to award Pacific Pile & Marine the contract for the project’s first phase, construction of a 600-foot steel breakwater and uplands fill that will create a nearly four-acre parking area.

“I think this is one of the biggest and best projects we’re going to see,” said Mayor Jan Hill.

At the request of harbor users, the assembly last week added $420,407 to the project for 33 more feet of breakwater, on assurances that an equal amount would be spent on aesthetics of the project’s uplands.

Concerns about cost and aesthetics – the look of the waterfront – dominated public concerns, but some leaders focused on the process that led to the project. Planning commissioners successfully fought for language that would explicitly send future borough projects to them for review at the earliest stages, and newly elected assemblyman Tom Morphet questioned the roles of borough advisory committees he said are dominated by industry and amount to government-funded lobbying groups.

The borough also advanced two critical projects in 2016: sewer plant upgrades and overhaul of the municipal Lutak Dock. As the year ends, the municipality is on the cusp of investing up to $1.6 million in its aging sewage treatment plant and perhaps as much as $6 million. A consultant working on designs for a new dock at Lutak reported this month that a preferred alternative among three proposed designs would be determined in January. Price tags on the alternatives range from $24 million to $61 million.

Personnel issues also made news, as the school district brought on a new superintendent and the borough hired a new manager and a police chief. Manager Bill Seward, hired in May on a 4-2 vote, lost his job by the same margin in December. Seward made headlines by halting the harbor project and temporarily banning two residents from the borough office, but it was his handling of interpersonal matters that appeared to sway the assembly’s vote against him. At year’s end, Seward hired a lawyer and said he was entertaining suing the borough. His supporters were advocating a recall of Morphet and perhaps other assembly members who voted for the firing.

The borough created a new busking policy for street performers, helped fund a bear monitor position at Chilkoot River, and approved a pact for use of Mosquito Lake School by a group of residents striving to keep the facility open as a community center. It switched the focus of an ongoing project on biomass heating from wood pellets to wood chips due to the cost of pellets and the availability of chips from the local forest.

At a July meeting, the planning commission arrived at a mid-course approach to a borough-owned lot at Third Avenue and Main Street. Some residents want the area to become a park and others want a chance at buying the property for commercial development. Planners said offers to buy the lot were derailed by a lack of details for what developers intended to do with the .75-acre parcel. Said commissioner Larry Geise: “I haven’t heard anything tonight that makes me feel like I want to be in a hurry to sell it.”

Besides the hire of Heath Scott as chief in July, police news in 2016 included an accidental self-shooting by one officer and a badge forfeiture by another. Scott ended a decades-long department policy by refusing to release a log of calls to the department known as “the police blotter.” The department stationed a plain clothes officer at the beer festival and patrolled in an unmarked car.

Two arrests involving meth charges at year’s end underscored suspicions by police that use of the drug here is growing. “There are dozens and dozens of people using meth here,” said officer Chris Brown.

News about the town’s retail economy in 2017 suggested a state of flux. The borough reported in spring that sales tax revenues increased 2.3 percent in 2015, the biggest increase in five years. The jump included a springtime spike possibly attributable to Freeride World Tour, an extreme skiing competition held in Haines the past two years.

A new restaurant opened in Main Street’s long-shuttered Coliseum Theater building, but the closure of Main Street landmark King’s Store and the advertised sale of many other businesses raised questions. Demographics may play a part, a news report found. Several of the businesses are owned by aging baby boomers looking to retire.

“You’re looking at people who are retirement age or wanting to do something else,” said Beverly Jones, who operated King’s nearly 20 years.

Sale of Canadian logs for firewood here ended after a sales tax dispute with the borough, and Constantine Metal Resources received approval for its next stage of development at the Palmer deposit, a potential mine near 40 Mile.

The prospective mine drove the valley’s hottest environmental debate – whether a high level of protection called a “Tier 3” designation should be pursued for the Chilkat River. The village of Klukwan pushed for the protection, citing potential mine impacts. More than 100 residents turned out at a Chilkat Center meeting where state officials were on hand to answer questions about the designation. Many residents spoke in opposition.

“The fish go up there every year. Why classify something and have another law that is stuffed down our throats?” asked resident Duck Hess.

Low returns of king salmon to the Chilkat canceled the Haines King Salmon Derby for the second consecutive year. But the cancellation and restrictions on commercial, sport and subsistence fishing weren’t enough to return even the state’s minimum escapement numbers to the river in the fall. Biologists have narrowed the decline to poor ocean survival. “There are sources of mortality in our ocean that we cannot identify,” said Brian Elliott, a king salmon biologist for Fish and Game.

Environmental stories in 2016 included brown bears at Chilkoot River with green paint on their faces, an $800,000 price tag for cleanup at an illicit rifle range at 7 Mile Haines Highway, and discoveries of dumped trash along the highway and around town. The Haines Borough formed a solid waste committee, citing continued, unlawful dumping as one of its concerns.

The American Bald Eagle Foundation conducted an aerial count of eagles during the fall congregation, the first such comprehensive count in 16 years.

Advances in the arts made front-page news several times in 2016, including additions to an outdoor gallery at Fort Seward, placement of interpretive plaques around the fort, creation of a giant mural depicting the town’s history on Main Street, and the May opening of Klukwan’s Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center.

The village opening marked the first time that the famed Whale House artifacts, considered among the world’s finest totems, went on public display. Art buffs, Native leaders and others connected to the history of the pieces came from around Alaska and the Lower 48 to witness the event. “They have so much power and beauty, not just the art, but in the legends behind the house posts,” said Bernadette Price, an office worker who came from Portland, Ore., for the center’s opening.

In June, residents watched in awe as Skagway muralist Clayton Conner wrapped the town’s history around the 190-foot perimeter of the Coliseum Theater building in little more than a week – freehand, using a paint sprayer and brushes. The Alaska Arts Confluence, a Haines-based nonprofit that has brightened Main Street with displays, volunteered to address aesthetics of the harbor project, seeking grant funds to aid the design of the area.

In sport, Haines women notched a first for the town, winning the women’s bracket in Juneau’s annual Gold Medal Basketball Tournament, topping a scrappy Craig squad, 54-49. Chris Brooks notched his second win in the Alcan 200 snowmachine race, Haines High freshman Marirose Evenden ran at the state cross-country meet and Sean Asquith led local racers in the 24th Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay. The Haines School erected its first record board, listing best performances in track and field.

Deaths reported on these pages in 2016 included those of several World War II veterans. The year’s toll included Layton Bennett, William Wiley, Betty Venables, George Meacock, Martin Schroeder, Aaron Nash, John Schnabel, Gordon Tandy, Erma Schnabel, Maxim Arsenault, Estelle Balet, John Orr, Ronnie Hauser, Dan Blackwell, Carl Dixon, Jordan Barber, Sharan Van Winkle, Matilda Rapaport, Charlie Jimmie, Mick McCarter, Kimberly Chambers, Jeff Burruss, Carole Ann Dixon, Betty Smith, Lawrence Willard, Olive Jackson, Leo Smith, Erwin Hertz, Josephine Hinman and Timothy Tong.

Milestones of 2016 included the 50th birthday of the Chilkat Valley News, the 25th anniversary of the release of the Haines-based Disney movie “White Fang,” and the opening of a Wellness Center housing social services and a new dental clinic.

Haines High School grad Crystalyn Lemieux was named a Fulbright Scholar in August and Hazel Englund on Sept. 16 became the first known resident born in the Chilkat Valley to reach age 100. At a community birthday party held at the fairgrounds, Englund attributed her longevity to “working in the garden, etc.” Also, she said, “(I’m) too ornery to kick the bucket.”