2022: Big year for post-pandemic firsts, Lutak Dock and late rogue crime wave
December 22, 2022
In 2022, some iteration of the phrase "back after pandemic hiatus" was scattered throughout CVN headlines and stories like crumpled surgical masks littered along city sidewalks and in coat pockets. From the annual Celebration canoe journey and Lynn Canal Community Players productions to the return of large cruise ships and Canadian tourists, 2022 marked the return of events and economic drivers after a pandemic hiatus that brought some sense of normalcy despite high gas prices, inflation and worker shortages.
A Ukrainian refugee fled to the upper valley to live with her daughter and son-in-law.
Human remains were unearthed during the Haines Highway project and so was soil contaminated with petroleum. The human remains were sent to a lab for analysis; the contaminated soil was dumped along the side of the river.
Like many across the country, Haines residents protested masks at school and the Supreme Court's ruling on abortion.
It was a good year for people who use products made of animals after a dog found a resident's lost wallet made of salmon skin.
Also, a rogue crime wave kept police in the news this month.
The year 2022 was also noteworthy for disillusioned reporters, especially this one, who naively thought that the Lutak Dock would finally be old news and that assembly candidates would have to provide a different answer than "the Lutak Dock" when asked what was the most important issue facing Haines. Instead, the dock reconstruction project became mired in controversy. While some argue that a reconstructed dock would result in a mushroom cloud of fugitive dust, others are sure it will bring forth a New Age of Commerce where residents will dive into a pit of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. Many just want the dock to be rebuilt to its former status.
Back after pandemic hiatus
This summer's cruise ship traffic count reached nearly 80,000 visitors, roughly double the average since 2010. The uptick in tourism brought borough revenue back to pre-pandemic levels. The borough generated $419,944 in sales tax from tourism businesses this summer, up from $172,669 last summer and $75,651 in 2020 but below the $469,093 generated in the summer of 2019.
"We had the best three days we've ever had in business just this year. We broke our sales record one day, then again, the next day and then beat that record just a week later." said Alaska Rod's co-owner Rhonda Hinson.
Many of the ship's dockings were in the evening hours after most business typically close. Hinson said many tourists and tourist operators expressed frustration that there were limited venues open. "We heard constant complaints from visitors, only the bars and us were open."
Many business owners had to operate with limited staff, a difficult hurdle for staying open.
"It was very daunting. It wasn't so much the volume, it was the schedule," said The Bookstore owner Amy Kane. "The real difficulty was finding employees who could cover those hours. It was like going from zero to ninety, and I'm not sure I was even ready to get back to sixty."
In January, the Southeast Alaska State Fair decided to resume the annual beerfest after canceling for two years in a row.
Lynn Canal Community Players announced in February it would resume community theater productions. In April, they staged Agatha Christie's "A Murder is Announced."
"Right now, as much fun as we can bring to the community, the better," director Roger Gentry said in February. "Agatha Christie is always popular. Her sales were topped only by William Shakespeare and the Bible. We thought that would be a good choice."
LCCP also resumed its summer theater conservatory, and produced X additional plays this year including "All in the Timing," "Mama Mia," a Clue murder mystery and "Tinsel and Tidings" (a 1950s-inspired rebrand of Holly Jolly Follies).
The first large cruise ship in nearly three years docked in May. The Serenade of the Seas was welcomed by the Chilkat Dancers, the Haines Marching Band, public officials and business owners who were unsure how many would get off the boat to come shop.
More cruise ship passengers visited Haines this year than in the past 20 years.
The Haines Hot Shots youth shooting club also resumed and two members of the squad fired their way to the top four of their age brackets at a clay-shooting state championship in Anchorage in June.
The Haines Arts Council also resumed hosting concerts at the Chilkat Center. Performances included Wisconsin-based duo Sundae + Mr. Gossel, pianist and comedian Sarah Hagen, Italian violinist Luca Ciarla, a contemporary dance company Eisenhower Dance Detroit and a collection of local artists at the Northern Lights Showcase.
Tlingit master carver Wayne Price was one of 25 seafarers who departed Haines in dugout canoes on Thursday, June 3 on their journey to "Celebration" in Juneau-a gathering of Native peoples to celebrate and perpetuate their culture and traditions.
The journey marked the first Celebration since the pandemic and its 40th anniversary. The canoe pullers endured rain, fog, high winds and 3-foot seas during their four-day trip to the site of the Auke Kwaan village near Juneau where Natives from around the region gathered.
The American Bald Eagle Festival also returned after a two-year pandemic hiatus.
Protesters gathered in front of the Haines School every day in early February, before and after classes, to voice opposition to the school's mask mandate. Those in opposition to masks also spoke during school board meetings. Superintendent Roy Getchell made masks optional for students and staff on March 7 after Haines was cleared of community spread.
More than 100 people walked up and down Main Street in July, protesting the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 case that guaranteed abortion rights nationwide.
The ruling had no immediate direct effect on rights in Alaska, where a state Supreme Court ruling in 1997 confirmed that "reproductive rights are fundamental," and that they are encompassed within the right to privacy" in the state constitution.
Glacier Bears wrestlers took top spots at the state championship in Anchorage.
The Glacier Bear girl's cross-country team won their third state championship in four years in October. The boys finished second in state behind Wrangell.
With some key runners gone from the team this year, senior Avari Getchell said she and her teammates understood that winning their division at state would pose a bigger challenge than it did in past years. "We worked really hard this year because we knew we needed to," Getchell said.
The Bears track and field team ended their season placing in the top four at the state meet at Dimond High School in Anchorage in May. Despite only having 10 athletes competing, the team received one first-place medal, three third-place medals, and two fourth-place medals.
High school swimmer Lucia Chapell notched a personal best time to finish 10th in the state in the 100-yard backstroke at the state championship meet Nov. 4 in Anchorage.
The cheer team placed first at the Region V basketball tournament in March.
The Glacier Bear girls basketball team split a series against the Petersburg Vikings in February. It was the girls' first conference win since 2016.
Heavy snow, followed by rain damaged homes and property in early January. Haines received about two feet of snow between Jan. 8 and Jan. 11 on top of a base of over three feet. Then temperatures warmed, bringing rain and raising the risk of roof slides. Other parts of Southeast got six feet of snow during the storm.
Severe weather prompted the governor to declare a disaster emergency in Haines, Skagway, Yakutat and Juneau. The declaration made available state public assistance funds, which cover repairs on municipal infrastructure but not private homes.
Before the disaster was declared, snow and ice, strong winds and a low tide combined to sink the harbor gangway.
December keeps getting colder. Haines' average temperature in December 2021 was 16.1 degrees Fahrenheit. That's 0.6 degrees lower than the average temperature of the next coldest December, which was in 2012, and more than 3 degrees lower than the third coldest December on record, in 2008. So far this December, the average temperature is 21.1.
In other weather-related news, many residents – in Haines and across the state – reported extremely loud noises and shaking windows and walls early in the morning on Jan. 16. The sonic booms were caused by a massive underwater volcano eruption 6,000 miles away – near the Pacific island nation of Tonga. There was a tsunami advisory for the Pacific coast of the U.S., but no major waves or damage were reported.
The controversy over the Lutak Dock project was sparked at a March 24 Ports and Harbor Advisory Committee meeting after the group hosted, without notice on its agenda, Yukon mining industry leaders who said the phase 3 design of the Lutak Dock could accommodate sealed ore container shipping without the construction of a specialized ore dock, and that depending on the timing of its construction, they could use the dock to ship their ore.
Later, the Haines Borough Assembly voted 5-1 to approve conceptual plans for Phases 1, 2 and 3 of the Lutak Dock-a controversial vote for some residents who opposed phase 3 because they thought the designs were catered toward Canadian mining interests. Borough officials and an engineer deny the charge.
Months later, the phased approach was scrapped after the contractor Turnagain Marine proposed a project that mirrored a more expensive version put forth by a different engineering company that received widespread community support in 2017.
The Haines Borough Assembly voted unanimously in September to schedule a special meeting to discuss the approval of the contract with Turnagain Marine after Lynn Canal Conservation (LCC) and many of its members accused borough staff of promoting a new dock design outside of the public process.
Mayor Douglas Olerud requested that the assembly schedule the special meeting.
"Reading the comments in regard to this item it's clear that there is considerable confusion in the community about what this resolution does and doesn't do," Olerud said. "This will allow more time for staff and our contractor to describe the process and allow community members to have their questions answered."
LCC sent an alert to its members with a number of claims including that borough staff were attempting to commit Haines "to a project whose primary purpose would be an ore dock for Yukon mines, and the Palmer Project should it be built."
Others say rebuilding the dock is a separate question from issues related to mining.
"Regardless of what kind of dock gets built, the ore shipping thing is still going to be an issue down the road. Even if the dock right now was in beautiful working shape, the issue of shipping ore would still be there," resident Dennis Geasan said. "I see this as an infrastructure issue and I don't see how we can do anything else."
In late September, the assembly unanimously approved the contract with Turnagain whose early plans have since been approved by the planning commission and the ports and harbor advisory committee.
Turnagain hopes to finalize a dock design in the spring, finish permitting by next fall and complete construction by the fall of 2024.
Worker shortages made it hard for some restaurant owners to open as much as they wanted, even as customers returned after the past two pandemic-infected summers.
Christy Tengs Fowler, owner of The Bamboo Room, said her restaurant's hours changed multiple times a month because of limited staff.
"We're going two weeks at a time," she said. "I'm putting posters on a sandwich board outside the restaurant and the Bamboo Room Facebook page and Haines Chatters. I don't even know what our hours are coming up."
Rusty Compass owner Lee Robinson discontinued lunch service on April 1 when his panini grill chef, who had worked at the coffee shop for a year, left in mid-March. His replacement quit after 10 days.
Another local business chose to entirely close for the season. In April, Sarah Jaymot shut down Sarah J's Espresso Shoppe for the season after four months of actively searching for staff, including recruiting through the drive-through window.
Mountain Market also suspended its espresso bar and kitchen services for six weeks in the spring due to short staffing. This was the first time in over 30 years they had to completely close the kitchen, owner Mary Jean Sebens said.
Haines has gone a year without a full-time state parks ranger, and the wait for a new hire could continue through next summer.
Alaska State Parks didn't receive an application from a "viable" candidate for the Haines area ranger position, Southeast area superintendent Preston Kroes told the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council in November.
The position has been vacant since Travis Russell left to become a Haines Police officer in November 2021.
Inflation, supply chain issues
Local grocers were left guessing when products, from bread one week to cheese the next, will be back in stock.
Historic inflation and supply chain problems have persisted for months across the country and in Haines, and there doesn't seem to be a clear end in sight.
Tyler Swinton, manager at Olerud's Market Center, said in February that the trend is that prices on just about every product went up. He said that since the pandemic started there has been more uncertainty about the availability of products across the board, but that freak events, like flooding in Seattle, have also caused delays in production and shipping.
Unleaded gas surged to nearly $7 a gallon in June at the two stations in Haines - the highest price in recent memory.
To cover rising fuel costs, Alaska Marine Lines upped its fuel surcharge to 15%, after raising it to 12.5% in the fall, up from 6.5% earlier in the year (which was below pre-pandemic levels).
Lilly Ford's Siberian laika puppy Sacha sniffed everything in February, which is how Rebecca Brewer's lost wallet was retrieved from a snow berm along Chilkat Inlet.
Brewer had noticed her salmon-skin wallet missing in early February. She posted notices around town at places she may have left it behind. She notified the police. After a few days, she canceled the credit cards inside. "I thought I'd never recover it. I'd given up hope."
On Feb. 12, while walking Sacha along the beach side of Mud Bay Road, Ford noticed her dog had stopped behind her. Sacha was walking in a circle around an object. "His nose pointed to it just as I turned around."
It was Brewer's wallet, soggy but intact.
Museums Alaska was named Haines resident Michael Marks the state's "volunteer of the year."
"I'm completely flabbergasted," Marks, 69, said of the award.
Hammers for lifting lids off stoves and for mutilating government stamps on sealed cigar boxes are among thousands featured in Dave Pahl's new book, "The Improved Hammer: A Guide to the Identification, History and Evolutions of the Hammer."
Rogue Crime Wave
While Haines Police investigated a theft of tens of thousands of dollars from Alaska Mountain Guides, the alleged thief and his wife gallivanted across the U.S., stopping in Las Vegas for a concert, seeing a Broadway show in New York and planning a cruise to the Caribbean, according to charging documents.
Former Alaska Mountain Guides (AMG) employee Dionicio Charles, 43, was charged earlier this month with first-degree theft, scheme to defraud and misapplication of property. Police say he used the access that came with his position as AMG's finance director to wire at least $30,000 from the company to his and his wife's bank accounts and to write himself more than $28,000 in checks from AMG. He was arrested in Utah on Dec. 6.
A man was arrested last week at 7 Mile Mud Bay Road after a months-long dispute over property ownership escalated into a violent altercation.
The man originally was charged with one count of felony assault and three misdemeanors, including assault and trespassing. After an indictment in the Juneau Superior Court, the defendant now faces eight felony assault charges.
Haines Police said the man attacked a neighbor with a cordless drill and that the victim experienced symptoms consistent with a heart attack. He was subsequently treated at the Haines clinic and medevacked to Anchorage.
A 21-year-old man suspected of killing a 75-year-old woman in Fairbanks was apprehended by U.S. border agents at Dalton Cache, the border crossing 40 miles northwest of Haines. The suspect allegedly crashed his car into the victim's Fairbanks home, killed her, stole her silver 2005 Subaru Legacy wagon and drove out of town.He bypassed the Canadian border station at Beaver Creek and headed south until the stolen vehicle broke down on Haines Highway four miles north of the Pleasant Camp/Dalton Cache border station, where he attempted to cross back into Alaska on foot, according to City of Fairbanks communications director Teal Soden.
A DNA match enabled Haines Police this summer to identify a Juneau man in connection with the March 2017 break in at the Haines Health Center where prescription painkillers and sedatives were stolen. During the investigation five years ago, local police found the suspect's blood on an automated medication dispensing system that had been broken into. The 26-year-old suspect was arrested by Juneau police in September 2021 in connection to a separate burglary.
Bone fragments found in April during construction along the Haines Highway were determined to be human.
The remains, which consisted of two bones-a rib and right tibia-were unearthed by the highway work crew and on-site archeologist on April 11.
The exact location of the discovery hasn't been disclosed publicly to prevent looting. Highway reconstruction is occurring between 12.2 and 20 Mile.
The Alaska Department of Transportation broke seven state laws this summer in connection with its Haines Highway reconstruction project after its contractor SECON excavated contaminated soil associated with the Haines-Fairbanks pipeline fuel spill, and stored it next to the Chilkat River. The Army Corps of Engineers had been finishing up a two-year soil remediation project in an effort to remove about 15,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the area of the highway reconstruction project at 14.5 Mile.
Reported deaths this year include Mae Haines, Norm Baxter, Paul Phillips, Mark Stevens, Marsha Deanne Wilson, Dean Olsen, Ronald Miner, Gerard "Gerry" Ballanco, Michael McDonnell Bridge, Samuel Edward Smith, Thomas Boisvert, Leatha Veda Aitken, Michele Fehlings, Fred Weiler, Kathleen Anne Madsen, Marlys Jean Johnson, Pat Metcalf, Jerry Ashcraft, Haley Michele Rostron, Leonard Bowman, Harold Williams, Peggy Ormasen, Rob Miller, Jack Henricksen, Smith "Smitty" Katzeek, Randy Smith and Bob Vuillet.