2018 required residents to face difficult truths

 

December 20, 2018



The surfacing of what many residents described as a decades-long open secret shook the town this year: allegations from multiple men of sexual abuse by former school official Karl Ward. Craig Loomis, the first man to speak publicly, was contacted by several others who had similar experiences after he implored those affected to reach out to him privately.

Dwindling king salmon and efforts to protect them made headlines again. The king run failed to meet escapement goals for the sixth time in the past seven years, with the lowest return on record.

Similar to 2017, policing outside the townsite dominated headlines this year and the issue culminated in a ballot proposition where voters turned down a property tax increase to fund police service areas in the upper valley, Lutak and Mud Bay.

A death on a Glacier Point tour motivated some assembly members to consider revoking a Skagway tour company’s permit, after former employees warned the assembly earlier in the year of the company’s disregard for safety concerns.

Tourism grew and increases are projected to continue, weather events broke heat, rain and snow records, a tsunami warning woke the town, new restaurants opened, the borough narrowly missed creating a publicly funded garbage collection service and a mysterious fish washed up in Letnikof Cove. Broken down by category, this is the Chilkat Valley News’ 2018 year in review:


Schools

In April, four Haines High School graduates came forward detailing sexual abuse by former Boy Scout leader, school principal and superintendent Karl Ward, who died 21 years ago. The men decided to speak out after news circulated of Ward’s alleged sexual abuse of a resident who killed himself in March and left a video on his phone, alleging he was fondled and later raped by Ward. The men who spoke out said the abuse was an open secret in Haines that needed to be acknowledged.

Ward often invited boys into his home, served them alcohol and fondled or touched them inappropriately, according to the men. School staff removed a sign that had named the high school gym in Ward’s honor. Some former school employees and administrators admitted to having knowledge of the allegations, others declined to comment or denied they knew anything about it.

“The victims kept quiet, because how could a kid go against the word of Karl Ward,” said Craig Loomis, one of the men who stepped forward.

Ward was widely respected among many students and residents who were unaware of his past actions. The assembly later adopted a naming policy which stipulated that a person must be deceased for five years before they public places and facilities can be named for them.


Mayor Jan Hill made a public statement encouraging all residents to ask hard questions and listen to the answers. “We all must remain vigilant so nothing like this ever happens again,” Hill said. “Please be a witness for all that is good in our community while at the same time see more clearly, and with a new understanding, that sometimes all is not what it appears to be.”

As the dust settled from the revelations, the school changed the name of the gym and new leadership joined the district. The school board hired Roy Getchell as superintendent after Tony Habra resigned under mysterious circumstances in 2017. Getchell, who worked most recently in Avon, Colorado, was the sole finalist after the other finalist dropped out of the race. Getchell became the third permanent superintendent in as many years.

In September, the school board accepted a donation from former Haines resident Vera Smith, who willed more than $600,000 to the school district to be used in the creation of a scholarship fund. Smith died two years ago in her home state of Virginia.


About 25 high school students and 30 residents joined the National School Walkout on a drizzling March morning in support of families affected by the latest string of mass shootings. Senior Keegan Palmieri, student council secretary, led the march with sophomore Morgan Cloke. Cloke read the names of 17 people who were gunned down in the Parkland, Florida mass shooting.

Fish

About 850 king salmon returned to the Chilkat River drainage this summer, fewer than the 1,030 Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecast and the worst on record. The return tracks with other Southeast rivers, including the Stikine and Taku systems, which also had record low returns. The Alaska Board of Fisheries in January labeled Chilkat kings, along with fish in the King Salmon and Unuk rivers as “stocks of concern,” because runs have continuously failed to meet escapement goals. The designation came with unprecedented restrictions for sport, commercial and subsistence fishing across Southeast.

Hatchery chum harvests nearly reached the record levels of 2017, but wild chum returns were not estimated due to counting complications. With a nearly record low fall chum harvest and few fish counted upriver, it’s possible the run failed to meet escapement goals, according to biologists.

Early dismal sockeye returns had Fish and Game biologists concerned by mid-July, until a large pulse of fish, nearly double the 10-year average, swam past the weir in a week’s time. By the end of the run, managers were concerned about over escapement as sockeye poured into Chilkoot Lake. Sockeye escapement reached the upper end of the escapement goal on Chilkoot Lake and, despite a slow run, trickled above the lower end of the escapement goal on the Chilkat drainage.

Borough News

Voters elected Will Prisciandaro and Sean Maidy to the borough assembly in October. Prisciandaro garnered the most votes. Paul Rogers led Maidy by a handful of votes according to preliminary results, but after outstanding ballots were counted, Maidy slid ahead by two votes.

Policing outside the townsite again dominated headlines in 2018. In March the assembly rejected for the second time an offer from the Department of Public Safety to take $25,000 in exchange for accepting police responsibility borough-wide. The assembly voted in June to reject the same contract and directed staff to collect data on police response outside the townsite after the state moved its Alaska State Trooper position to western Alaska.

In June, assembly members complained that police were patrolling and issuing tickets outside the townsite.

In July the borough manager proposed a police service area ballot measure that gave Lutak, Mud Bay and Haines Highway voters the opportunity to choose whether or not they wanted to pay higher property taxes to create a new police service area. The assembly later voted to let each area vote to create three separate service areas in their corresponding neighborhoods.

The ballot question garnered public criticism, especially from Upper Valley residents, many of whom thought the borough should continue lobbying for the return of an Alaska State Trooper blue shirt. Others thought the ordinance’s language was too loose, and allowed police too much discretion for when they could send an officer or patrol. Residents in all neighborhoods voted down the proposition. The police now respond to emergency calls only, as they have done since the troopers pulled its blue-shirt trooper out of Haines in 2017.

Prompted by citizen complaints and borough staff concerns, the borough assembly began discussing taking a more active role in waste management. In June, the assembly voted 4-2 to adopt six recommendations from borough manager Debra Schnabel that included reporting Community Waste Solutions’ landfill conditions to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation as well as initiating a plan to develop a transfer station to collect municipal solid waste. Assembly members Brenda Josephson and Tom Morphet opposed a borough-funded solid waste program. A working group met for more than a year to address similar issues and recommended the borough create such a system that would be paid for by an up to 1 percent sales tax increase.

In August the assembly narrowly advanced a ballot measure that would have given voters the option to approve the tax increase after Mayor Hill broke a 3-3 tie vote. During the measure’s final hearing, which Hill was absent from, the proposition failed 3-3.

In January the rumblings of whether or not committee and advisory board members should be appointed or elected began to stir after the Mayor stopped scheduling public safety commission meetings. Hill said the assembly’s refusal to accept several of the commission’s recommendations warranted another look at the purpose and makeup of that body. The assembly finally appointed Paul Rogers, Pat Heffley and Chuck Mitman to the commission at the end of February.

In April, the assembly rejected Hill’s recommendation to appoint Zach Ferrin to the planning commission. The planning commission recommended Jessica Kayser Forster, but Hill said Ferrin would add balance to the body.

The assembly’s government affairs and services committee discussed electing advisory board members rather than appointing them, but ultimately took no action. Morphet later garnered signatures for the question to appear on the ballot, to the chagrin of several assembly members who felt the issue had already been discussed and dropped. The proposition failed by wide margins at the polls.

Assembly member Maidy launched an effort to exempt residents from paying sales tax on their long-term residential rentals. The exemption will reduce sales tax revenues by around $45,000, according to staff estimates. The assembly voted to approve the exemption.

Construction finished on the first phase of the Small Boat Harbor expansion. Construction began in early 2017 after the borough agreed to a $13 million contract with Pacific Pile & Marine. The construction contractor later led a claim of differing site conditions to the tune of $1 million. After multiple negotiations both the borough and the contractor were unwilling to concede and the issue headed to mediation. The borough settled for $598,000.

The borough assembly hired Alekka Fullerton as borough clerk in February after long-time clerk Julie Cozzi announced her retirement.

In March, the University of Alaska withdrew its controversial timber sale on 400 acres of land on the Chilkat Peninsula. The borough assembly in 2017 voted to evaluate the borough’s legal options if the university awarded a contract because the proposed sale “violates all existing provisions for commercial use in the Mud Bay rural residential zone as well as the purpose and intent of that code.” The university’s board of regents announced the sale in 2017 after the planning commission discussed limiting resource extraction in the rural residential zone.

Weeks later, the university announced a negotiated sale of 100 million board feet of timber from 13,000 acres of its holdings in the borough. In May, about 100 residents attended a university-hosted community meeting that became inflamed at times when some residents expressed frustrations about the meeting format that aimed to address questions in small groups. Some attendees wanted the university to answer questions in front of the entire audience. Because the negotiated sale is confidential, details about the harvest, including the buyer, are private, according to university policy.

The university said a contract would be signed by summer, but that date has been pushed well into 2019 as the university claims illegal trespass trails and logging have delayed negotiations.

Assembly member Tom Morphet’s proposal to levy a fuel tax and toll on the Klehini River bridge in an effort to pay for road and bridge maintenance was soundly rejected by fellow finance committee members Stephanie Scott and Brenda Josephson.

Assembly member Morphet and Chilkoot Indian Association tribal council member James Hart led to run in the democratic primary for the Alaska House of Representatives District 33. They ran against Juneau’s Sara Hannan and Steven Handy in the primaries. Hart dropped out of the race too late for his name to be removed from the ballot. Hannan won the seat.

The Port Chilkoot Distillery received word from the Alcohol Beverage Control Board that its patrons might have to mix their own drinks after the board redefined “distilleries’ product,” in regulations. The new definition limited such products to a “spirit made or distilled in the licensed facility.” The change meant that distilleries could serve non-alcoholic mixers, but couldn’t combine them. The borough assembly later approved a letter supporting a bill in the Alaska Legislature that would allow distilleries to again serve cocktails. In May, Fairbanks Rep. Adam Wool proposed an amendment to a bill that allowed distilleries to combine their products and mixers.

Constantine Metals increased its resource estimate by nearly 2 million tonnes and its 2018 drilling results will be released in a preliminary economic assessment in early 2019.

Committees struggled to choose between immediate safety and long-term goals as they reviewed repair and replacement options for the deteriorating Lutak Dock. Members of the borough assembly, port and harbor advisory committee and planning commission met jointly to discuss funding options. In June, the borough and freight company Alaska Marine Lines discussed striking a deal for the company to construct a new roll-on/roll-off barge ramp on leased borough land.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska closed its local office and announced that it would stop matching local youth with adult mentors. Haines was one of four rural communities where matches ended. The organization cited a lack of sustainable funding as a reason to discontinue creating matches. Current matches have continued.

Odd and Unique

In January a strong gust of wind tore a roof rack off a car and hurled an attached ski carrier across Main Street through the bookstore’s window, sending shards of glass throughout the store. “Glass was embedded in everything,” owner Darcee Messano said. “It was like a bomb went off.” A National Weather Service forecaster estimated wind speeds at 50 knots.

Several Haines snowbirds and vacationers in Hawaii received ballistic missile threat text messages on their cell phones. Hugh Rietze, Steve and JoAnn Ross Cunningham, Russ and Cynthia Lyman and others were all on the island when a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee clicked the wrong button on a computer during a routine drill, sending out mass public alerts. Rietze said he was hoping the attacker was a bad shot, and the Cunningham's sought shelter in a Kauai Hindu temple, but arrived to find the gates locked.

Harry Rietze discovered a mysterious sea creature on the beach outside his home on Letnikof Cove in February that one scientific paper described as “a puzzling fish with soft bones.” Known to whalers in the 1930s as “bastard halibut,” Rietze kept the frozen rag fish carcass in his cannery’s freezer.

Klukwan resident Valentino Burratin, 74, lost his bearings while berry picking on Sunshine Mountain and was missing for the weekend while multiple local and state agencies conducted a search-and-rescue operation. Burratin described the ordeal as a private, three-day camping trip where he admired the starry night sky and “the creation that my God made.” He subsisted on watermelon berries for hydration and was eventually located by a U.S Coast Guard helicopter rescue crew.

As residents across Haines unburied and dusted off belongings to donate to the annual Hospice of Haines fundraiser, one lucky rummager found a hidden treasure—a roughly 72-year-old bottle of Rémy Martin cognac worth several thousand dollars. Volunteers found the bottle among donations given by Lucy Harrell, who received the bottle from a distillery owner as a 25th birthday gift while volunteering in France in 1946.

The Hammer Museum received a donation of 1,600 hammers from late hammer enthusiast and collector Jim Mau, of Phoenix, Arizona. Hammer Museum founder Dave Pahl said the hammers, and a pile of reference materials also included in the donation, will greatly help to fulfill the museum’s mission to preserve the history of the hammer, man’s first tool.

Business

The borough assembly approved in January Haines’ first commercial marijuana-growing operation. Erika Merklin’s “Resurrected Dreams” began operating this year.

Haines’ first marijuana retail store, Winter Greens, opened for business in July. Jason Adams and wife Shawna operate the business across from the cruise ship dock with Jason’s parents Keleen and Brad Adams. “It’s very much a family business,” Jason Adams said.

Harris Air began regular flights from Haines to Juneau, filling the gap left by Wings of Alaska and increasing the town’s air carriers to two.

In January, after 41 years in business, Roger Schnabel announced plans to sell Southeast Roadbuilders to the multinational transportation construction company Colas Group. SE Roadbuilders became a subsidiary of Colas Group’s Alaska affiliate Colaska, which also owns Juneau-based company Southeast Alaska Construction (Secon).

Pilotlight owners Cambria Goodwin and Eric Forster opened Alpenglow, a wood-fired pizza restaurant on Main Street in the former Coliseum Theatre building. The building became vacant after the Moose Caboose restaurant closed in 2017.

Ryan and Danina Parker opened a new restaurant at the former Klondike pizza restaurant in Dalton City. Raevyn’s Café’s counter service offers Cajun- and Mexican-inspired dishes.

The Haines Economic Development Corporation contracted with the McDowell Group for a $49,500 baseline economic data report and a five-year economic development plan.

The Chilkoot Indian Association finalized its purchase in February of the Portage Cove fast-ferry dock from Klukwan Inc. CIA had been waiting for months for approval from the Federal Highway Administration to use the agency’s tribal transportation funding to buy the dock.

The American Bald Eagle Foundation broke ground on new aviaries in May. Outside structures were reorganized to accommodate more tourists, as well as make the enclosures larger and better suited to their avian ambassadors.

Local property owner and investor Chris Thorgesen bought and renovated the former L.A.B Flying Service building and the historic King’s Store building in May, adding to his sizable list of properties.

Genny Rietze began Haines' first commercial composting business, Haines Compost in October. Reitze, inspired by the zero-waste movement, will pick up family and business food scraps, etc. weekly in exchange for usable compost next spring.

Jo Goerner purchased Babbling Book and the Dragon’s Nook bookstore in December. Goerner’s Moosterious Emporium is the second purchase of the bookstore after former owner Darcee Messano bought it from long-time owners Tom and Liz Heywood.

Southeast Alaska State Fair director Jessica Edwards stepped down and the fair board hired Kari Johnson to replace her. Edwards will stay on to advise Johnson and work as events manager through the transition.

Arts

First Friday events grew around town after Alaska Arts Confluence director Carol Tuynman launched an advertising campaign in which local businesses partnered to promote the monthly event that highlights products and local artists.

The American Legion Post 12 commissioned a mural depicting servicemen and women to be painted by local artist Merrick Bochart. The 16-by-18 foot mural, hung on the north wall of the post, depicts veterans from every branch of service from different wars throughout American history.

A wearable art piece by resident Beth Bolander sparked criticism that she engaged in cultural appropriation, and her piece was taken off the runway in Juneau. Bolander’s piece was influenced by Japanese artwork and fashion and won third place in Juneau’s wearable art competition. The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council received complaints about cultural appropriation and racism, and asked Bolander to withdraw the piece for the show, and Bolander agreed. The piece drew support for Bolander when it was featured at the Haines fair in July.

Tod Sebens directed a Neil Simon comedy in March. “Jake’s Women” ran for three days. Jono Green, Brenda Josephson, Kristin Brumfield, Tracey Harmon, Angie Papas and Marie Boisvert starred in the production.

The fanciful world of Narnia landed on the Chilkat Center stage in July. The Summer Youth Theater Conservatory put on “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis. Director Marcos Najera and assistant director Debra Piver from Center Theatre Group in LosAngeles headed the production.

Mark Sebens, Sue Waterhouse and Michael Stark wrote and directed “The Sinking of the Princess Sophia,” a documentary theater production. Letters, messages, historical photos and narrative slides were displayed on a screen while actors brought the 1918 shipwreck to life.

Tourism

Sales tax revenue jumped 6.3 percent in 2017, with a large boost from tourism. Coffers received $579,000 in revenues in 2017 compared to $499,000 in 2016. Tourism was projected to grow even more in 2018. Sales tax figures for 2018 will be released in early 2019. Foot traffic from cruise ships is projected to increase by at least 17.5 percent—about 22,500 more people—in 2019, according to preliminary cruise and Haines- Skagway Fast Ferry estimates.

In February, the borough fined Skagway tour company Alaska Excursions $2,500 for operating a tour at Glacier Point without a permit in 2017. The fine was the beginning of a cascade of events that left some assembly members considering revoking the company’s permit. When owner Robert Murphy applied for a 2018 permit, about 10 former employees criticized the company for neglecting safety practices and routine maintenance. Murphy said most of the employees had not been “invited back” to the company and were disgruntled, although several of the whistleblowers left in good standing. The assembly approved the company’s new ATV tour and renewed its canoe tour.

In July, a man drowned during one of the company’s canoe trips after high water forced a canoe to go broadside and its motor failed to start—a dangerous event one of the former guides, who criticized the company, warned could happen. Afterward, several assembly members discussed revoking the company’s permit, but decided to wait to discuss the issue when Alaska Excursions applies to renew their permit in 2019. The company is being sued by former guests who were injured during a zip-line tour and others as a result of a vehicle accident.

In October, the borough attorney said the municipality has legal standing to revoke the 2018 permit, or deny the renewal in 2019. “If the primary motivation is elevating a public policy of safe commercial tours, that motivation is best expressed through the denial of a permit renewal request,” attorney Brooks Chandler wrote, citing borough code that states the purpose of the commercial tour permitting process is to “protect public safety and welfare.”

Haines Borough Tourism Director Carolann Wooton created a full-page advertisement depicting a romantic couple by a fire at Mud Bay and a half-page advertorial about Haines as a romantic destination that ran in the Wall Street Journal, Horizon Travel and Lifestyle magazine. The ad also ran on the “Good Morning America” jumbotron screen in Times Square in New York City.

The borough assembly cut heliski terrain in January after Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists released a decade-long study identifying probable bear and mountain goat habitat. The map was modeled based on GPS locations and denning sites, and is used to keep a buffer between helicopters and the animals.

heliski companies reported the worst season on record due to lack of snow. Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures owner Scott Sundberg said his company used an average of 37.5 percent of its allotted skier days. Alaska Mountain Guides used 48 percent of its allowable days. Alaska Heliskiing used only 18 percent of their days, according to an end-of-season report that borough code requires operators to submit. According to National Weather Service data, 97.5 inches of snow fell, well below average for the region, although monitors lack consistent data at high elevations.

The borough formed a committee to address Chilkat River access in light of the Alaska Department of Transportation’s Haines Highway construction project.

The borough assembly voted 4-2 to stop issuing new tour permits in the Chilkoot River corridor and prohibit permit holders from transferring their permits for the duration of the moratorium. Assembly member Morphet proposed the moratorium and said the decision would send a message to Alaska State Parks, the agency responsible for regulating the area where tourist congestion has caused dangerous bear interactions.

Sports

Decent snowpack on the highway for the first time in two years made the 49th annual Alcan 200 International Road Race a year for the books. Thirty-five riders attempted the 155- mile run from the Canadian border to Dezadeash Lake and back. Local Jack Smith Jr. held his spot as the second fastest racer for the second year in a row driving an average of 110.3 miles per hour. Zack Ferrin placed third, one minute behind Smith.

Haines High School alum Kyle Fossman was voted into the Alaska High School Hall of Fame. A 2010 graduate, Fossman was one of 13 athletes inducted this year out of 20 who were nominated statewide.

Haines Dolphins Rio Ross-Hirsh and Pacific Ricke qualified for the Junior Olympics in Anchorage and the Northwest Age Group Champs in Federal Way, Washington.

After an exciting season filled with tie-breaking games and tough losses, the Glacier Bears boys’ basketball team secured the number two seed in the regional tournament in Juneau. The final conference games against the Wrangell Wolves mirrored the down-to-the-wire games that defined the hotly contested season. Down by two with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, senior Dylan Swinton scored. Wrangell drew a foul and hit both free throws, securing their 61-59 win. The Bears dominated the following night with a 56-40 lead. Both the girls’ and boys’ team were eliminated after two defeats in the first day of the regional tournament.

Klukwan brought home its third consecutive championship title from the Lion’s Club 72nd Annual Gold Medal Basketball Tournament in Juneau. The B bracket Haines men’s team took first for the second year in a row and the Haines women’s team finished second.

Six Haines seniors earned 19 medals at the 16th Alaska International Senior Games in Fairbanks. Tomi Scovill, Nancy Nash, Marian and John Carlson, and Connie and Tom Ward road-tripped to the competition. There were 21 categories of events, ranging from track and eld to mini golf and swimming; more than 400 senior athletes competed.

The boys and girls cross country teams both placed second behind Sitka at the Region 5 cross-country championship in Juneau. Siyel George placed fourth overall out of eight teams that competed in his division. Avery Williamson placed fifth overall out of five competing teams.

Weather

A tsunami warning woke the town on an early January morning driving some residents to higher ground. A 7.9 magnitude earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska triggered text-message warnings sent around 12:20 a.m. to cell phones.

A sharp decrease in snow left winter sports enthusiasts, backcountry skiers and heliski operators pining for powder. Snowpack at tree-line was measured at three feet in February, nine feet below average, according to Haines Avalanche Center director Erik Stevens. The bare snowpack, exposing dangerous crevasses, reduced Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures’ terrain by about half, owner Scott Sundberg reported.

Paul Swift retired as the local National Weather Service volunteer observer. An 18-year veteran, Swift recorded more than 6,500 weather observations, and measured 2,865.4 inches of snow and 1,117.72 inches of rain. “Paul is one of the best co-op observers we’ve had,” Weather Service lead forecaster Pete Boyd said. “He was very consistent. His measurements were always accurate.” Swift passed the rain gauge to Jim Green.

In May, the town received precipitation levels 260 percent above average.

Above average summer temperatures and below average precipitation necessitated several burn bans in the borough throughout the summer. The Fourth of July was the hottest in almost seven decades, tying the 1951 record high of 84 degrees. The average temperature on the national holiday is 57 degrees.

September marked the driest month on record. A total of .03 inches of precipitation was recorded at the airport weather station. The previous record was .36 inches set in 1934. Three wild res burned in the borough during the dry period.

 
 

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