In 2017, Ketchikan rallied to save its mountain, and won. The year also was marked by record rainfall, record tourist numbers and a brand-new industry that doesn’t make everyone happy.
Here is a look back on some of the year’s news in southern Southeast.
A decade-long saga that came to a dramatic head in 2016 finally ended in spring of 2017.
That’s when Congress and the Alaska Legislature approved companion bills to transfer sensitive Alaska Mental Health Land Trust parcels in Southeast for federally owned land more suitable for logging.
Mental Health Trust officials had threatened to log those sensitive sites, which included Ketchikan’s iconic Deer Mountain, and a steep hillside in Petersburg close to homes.
In a special August ceremony in Ketchikan, Gov. Bill Walker, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and other officials gathered to sign the state bill.
A Ketchikan group called Save Deer Mountain was founded by Ray Troll and Bob Weinstein. Both were there to witness the successful end to their efforts.
Here’s Weinstein, speaking after the signing ceremony: “This is an example of how local communities, local governments, state governments and federal governments can all work together on an issue and agree. And when they do, it’s a success.”
Ketchikan’s year also was marked by a million cruise ship passengers. Candy Borda was greeted with a sash, gifts, singing and dancing as she walked off the Norwegian Jewel on Sept. 25th.
“I was shocked. I was shocked and I was thrilled,” she said. “That’s really amazing to be the one-millionth visitor, because this is the first time I’ve ever been to Alaska. So, what an experience! And then to have all of this? I was just really, really grateful.”
The year also brought plenty of precipitation. The city already is known for rain. But this year, Alaska’s First City broke its own record– topping 45 inches in the three summer months.
“We stopped our truck and watched a salmon swim across the road in front of us at Signal Creek Campground,” said Paul Robbins Jr. with the U.S. Forest Service, explaining why the federal agency chose to close the campgrounds in late August.
Ketchikan also saw more than its usual share of homicides this year. Dr. Eric Garcia was killed in mid-March, and Jordan Joplin of Washington has been charged in that death. Police haven’t disclosed the manner of Garcia’s death, but have said there were no outward signs of violence.
Fifty-five-year-old Richard Branda was killed in early October on Water Street. Joshua Kenneth Bliss has been charged in that death. And 26-year-old Timothy Murphy of Ketchikan was charged in the late-October shooting death of 64-year-old Brian Stanton. That alleged crime took place at a logging camp on Prince of Wales Island.
This year marked the first legal marijuana sales in Ketchikan after state voters chose in 2014 to legalize it for recreational use. There was a failed attempt to locally ban retail sales, and the Stoney Moose then became the first pot store to open its doors in early April.
Nicholas Thayer was the first customer in a long line to buy legal cannabis. He said he was eager to support a legal market, “because then it will teach the idea that you don’t have to wait three hours in a parking lot somewhere. It doesn’t have to be sketchy anymore.”
Since then, two other retail establishments opened in the community, along with some cultivation businesses.
Over on Prince of Wales Island, the City of Craig elected Tim O’Connor as its new mayor, unseating Dennis Watson who had been in that position since 1989.
Metlakatla also has a new mayor, Karl Cook. He won against incumbent Audrey Hudson. She had been in the position since 2013.
Also this year, Ketchikan’s Schoenbar Middle School completed a special project that had been in the planning stages for a while.
The Pathfinder totem pole was carved by students and community members over the past year under the direction of carver Kelly White. It was raised in early June in front of the school, where an earlier pole used to stand decades ago.
The project was spearheaded by art teacher Angel Williams.
“And we had kids of all ages and all abilities working on this from little ones to big ones to adults to former students,” she said during the ceremony. “It is a community pole. It brings us together.”
And what’s coming up in 2018? Well, bigger cruise ships will be arriving in Alaska’s Inside Passage, and the City of Ketchikan is gearing up for that big change.
Statewide, we’ll have some mid-term elections. Incumbents whose seats will be up for election include state Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan, Gov. Bill Walker, and U.S. Rep. Don Young.
So, get ready for another interesting year.