Top 10 Stories of 2009: A look back at the year, by the editorial staff of The Journal

Clockwise from top left, Carrie Lacher reacts to vote results showing her election as the first woman mayor of Friday Harbor, Nov. 3 (Journal photo / Jane K. Fox). The Town of Friday Harbor celebrated its centennial with three parties Feb. 9 (Journal photo / Richard Walker). Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Burglar, eluded law enforcement and made national headlines (Contributed photo / San Juan County Sheriff’s Department).  - Designed by Richard Walker
Clockwise from top left, Carrie Lacher reacts to vote results showing her election as the first woman mayor of Friday Harbor, Nov. 3 (Journal photo / Jane K. Fox). The Town of Friday Harbor celebrated its centennial with three parties Feb. 9 (Journal photo / Richard Walker). Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Burglar, eluded law enforcement and made national headlines (Contributed photo / San Juan County Sheriff’s Department).
— image credit: Designed by Richard Walker

Here's a look back at 2009, by the editorial staff of The Journal. These are the events that had the most impact on the most people on San Juan County.

1. Hospital District approves PeaceHealth contract (March 18): San Juan Island hospital district commissioners approved a contract that gives PeaceHealth the right to build and operate a hospital on San Juan Island for 50 years.

Peace Island Medical Center is proposed on a 22-acre site near Friday Harbor Airport, and will provide 24-hour inpatient care, with many services for which islanders must now travel to the mainland.

PeaceHealth owns and operates other hospitals, among them St. Joseph in Bellingham.

According to the contract, PeaceHealth will bear two-thirds of the cost of buying land for and building the hospital, estimated at $29.8 million. One-third of the cost will be raised philanthropically by the San Juan Community Hospital Committee.

PeaceHealth will build an EMS facility at the new hospital and sell it to the hospital district, which will presumably use proceeds from the sale of the current Inter Island Medical Center property.

PeaceHealth will be responsible for all financial liability of the hospital, but the property taxes islanders pay now to the hospital district will be passed on to PeaceHealth to subsidize healthcare services.

When the new hospital opens, the existing hospital district commission will be responsible only for EMS. A governing board appointed by PeaceHealth will be responsible for operation of the hospital.

Proponents say the new hospital is critical because of declining Medicare reimbursements for fee-for-service clinics — service at IIMC is reimbursed at a doctor’s visit rate — and the fact that islanders must travel to the mainland for many services. District commissioners said they saw no alternative to the agreement other than to raise property taxes.

Construction is expected to begin in 2011, with the hospital opening in 2012.

2. Voters save school sports, county programs (Nov. 3): The San Juan Island School District had cut funding for school sports to preserve funding for essential programs.

The county had made $1 million in cuts and was looking at $1 million more.

Islanders saved the day, approving property tax increases to fund school sports through the recreation district and to stave off more cuts to county programs and services.

The increases — totalling 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation — came as a school bond measure of 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation expired. That means voters will still see a property tax decrease of 41 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Island Rec’s contract with the school district to be the funding vehicle for school sports, which will continue to be operated by the district, is believed to be the first such arrangement in Washington state.

The county property tax measure will generate an additional $960,000 a year for six years to support 4-H, senior services and other programs.

3. Lacher elected first woman mayor (Nov. 3): Carrie Lacher downplayed her gender during her campaign for mayor, but all of those mayoral portraits on the wall in the Council Chambers wouldn’t let her escape this obvious fact: Since Friday Harbor’s inception 100 years ago, there had never been a female mayor.

Until Nov. 3.

Voters elected Lacher the Centennial Town’s 28th mayor, giving her 429 votes to Bob Low’s 305.

“I haven’t made it an issue because there were more important things to talk about,” Lacher said of gender and her election. “But it’s a very clear sign that people want a change.”

Lacher, a Town Council member and chairwoman of the county Solid Waste Advisory Committee, takes office as mayor Jan. 1. On her priority list: Controlling utility rate increases, giving Friday Harbor a stronger voice in Olympia, establishing a funding source for street improvements, and looking at safety in the Harbor Ridge mobile home neighborhood on Roche Harbor Road.

4. Judge Linde dies in Hawaii (Dec. 3): Superior Court Judge John O. Linde — in his youth the state’s youngest District Court judge, in the sunset of his career the county’s first high court judge — died while vacationing in Hawaii. He was 62. The cause was determined to be cardiac arrest.

Linde was vacationing with his wife, Carol, and friends. He suffered cardiac arrest while snorkeling in Anaeho’omalu Bay. A charter snorkeling boat found Linde’s body about 75 yards off shore. The people on the charter boat took Linde to shore and performed CPR; he was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

About 600 people, including judges, legislators and local officials, packed Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church Dec. 12 for a memorial service, then went to the San Juan Island Yacht Club for a reception.

Linde was a private practice attorney in Friday Harbor when Gov. Christine Gregoire appointed him to the Superior Court in December 2007. He won election to a full four-year term in November the next year. He was sworn in as San Juan County’s first elected Superior Court judge on Dec. 31, 2008.

Linde’s community involvement included service on the boards of the Friday Harbor Athletic Association, Inter Island Medical Center, San Juan Community Theatre, San Juan Golf and Country Club, and San Juan Little League.

“I am shocked and saddened to hear of the loss of our friend and community member who has been such a huge part of our lives in Friday Harbor,” one resident wrote The Journal.

5. Residents worry about CAO’s impacts on rights (July 28): An estimated 300 islanders crowded into Friday Harbor High School’s Hall Gym on July 28 to hear a panel of well-credentialed experts take issue with the state’s best available science and pending changes to the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance.

Cities, towns and counties, whose long-range planning is dictated by the state Growth Management Act, are required to periodically revise their rules regarding development near “critical areas” — aquifer recharge areas, areas prone to flooding, fish and wildlife habitat, steep and unstable slopes, and wetlands.

Some say changes need to go farther to protect the county’s shorelines, and they propose a 150-foot building setback from the shoreline and 100-foot setback from wetlands. Others say current setbacks are sufficient, and that the county should be focusing on impacts from upland development.

The forum, sponsored by the Common Sense Alliance, featured four panelists who called on islanders to take a critical look at the “best available science” developed by various state agencies. They cautioned against accepting it on face value.

If uncontested, the panelists warned, the science championed by the state — the driving force behind the proposed update — could result in unnecessary restrictions on the use of private property.

At the behest of land use attorney Dennis Reynolds, the County Council decided to focus on upland areas in its Critical Areas Ordinance update, and focus on shoreline areas when it updates its Shoreline Master Program.

6. Transfer station stays at Sutton Road, for now (May 6): The County Council voted 4-1 to rebuild the solid-waste transfer station on Sutton Road, rather than develop a new site elsewhere that can meet the island’s future needs.

Failures at the Sutton Road site and the investment needed to correct those flaws, as required by the state, as well as ensuring that the island has just one solid-waste operation, weighed heavily in the council’s decision.

The county faces an April 15 deadline to engineer a solution that prevents contaminated water from the tipping floor from mixing with groundwater at its solid-waste operation.

The council nixed the recommendations of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee and the Public Works Department, which recommended a 27-acre site on Beaverton Valley Road.

The Sutton Road selection prompted the resignation of long-time SWAC member George Post, who called the decision a “mistake.”

In December, the council began exploring mandatory roadside pickup of garbage and recycling as a means of reducing traffic and future construction costs at Sutton Road.

7. Council stays with farmers market project (Dec. 17): Initially, the clock seemed to be working against the Nichols Street farmers market proposal.

The Friday Harbor Town Council, feeling pressed to commit lodging tax funds to the project despite unanswered questions as a Dec. 18 deadline approached, almost backed out of the deal Dec. 3.

Dec. 17, the project went into extra innings. And the project took on new life.

The Town Council voted 3-2 to commit to working with the San Juan County Land Bank and the San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild toward purchasing the Nichols Street site for a permanent farmers market and other tourism-related uses. A six-page memorandum of understanding between the three agencies contains contingencies from the town that must be satisfied before the town would commit lodging tax money for the purchase. The contingencies must be satisfied one month before the closing.

While the Nichols Street site is commonly referred to as the “permanent farmers market site,” a farmers market is only one component. The former site would have a public green space larger than the Sunken Park lawn, an outdoor performance stage, and an outdoor market area. Architect David Waldron has described it as “part small park and part town square.” The old Boede Cement Plan building would have indoor market space and a commercial kitchen.

The Ag Guild has negotiated a purchase of the property for $775,000. The Land Bank would contribute $400,000 and in exchange would receive a historic preservation easement on the Boede Cement building and a conservation easement on the open space. The town would contribute $375,000 and, in exchange, would own the site. The Ag Guild would lease it from the town and sublease it to other vendors. The Ag Guild would also renovate the building, to the tune of about $162,000.

In previous meetings, town officials and residents worried that the town would have to reimburse its lodging tax fund if the state auditor determined later that the project is not a “tourism-related facility” that qualifies for an investment of lodging tax money. They also worried about the market’s impacts on parking and traffic, and what limitations the Land Bank’s easements would put on the site being sold if the venture failed.

Dec. 17, Town Council members were confident the memorandum of understanding and the closing date extension provide the time to get the questions answered.

8. Inskeep leaves $4 million for scholarships (Sept. 25): Jerry Inskeep Jr. couldn’t afford to go to college, but a gentle man saw his potential and paid his tuition.

Inskeep never forgot the man’s generosity and, after graduating from Yale and establishing a successful mutual fund company, devoted his life to paying it forward.

“Jerry’s hope was to make that kind of difference in other’s lives and I am proud to say he has done just that,” San Juan Island Community Foundation board member Bev Tietjen said at the foundation’s annual Breakfast of Champions at Mullis Center.

Inskeep, who died Aug. 16 from liver cancer, bequeathed $4 million to the San Juan Island Community Foundation for college scholarships for local graduating seniors.

“Because of his kindness, his legacy will continue on in perpetuity,” Tietjen said.

Inskeep, 78, graduated from Yale University in 1953. He co-founded Columbia Management Company, an investment advisory and mutual fund management company, in Portland, Ore. He quietly provided scholarships for students in California, Oregon and Washington.

A letter from a beneficiary who asked to remain anonymous paid tribute to Inskeep: “So many aspects of my life would not be if it were not for this kind-hearted man, and with this it gives me great hope for this world we live in.”

9. Officials fear ‘no-go’ economic impact (Sept. 9): Few, if any, dispute that the killer whales of Puget Sound would benefit from greater protection and more support.

But when the federal agency tasked with reviving the endangered population proposed expanded on-the-water protections, even some of killer whales’ strongest advocates lined up to oppose it.

The proposal would double the size of the 100-yard buffer permitted between boats and orcas today, create a half-mile “no-go” zone off the west side of San Juan Island during the height of the tourist season, and effectively bring a halt to all water-related activity at the county’s most popular campground between May and September.

The whale-watch industry proposed a “slow-go” instead. And local officials feared a potential hit to the local economy of $3 million to $10 million in annual spending.

Ken Balcomb, director of Center for Whale Research, said the agency is missing the boat.

“What the whales need is more salmon,” he said. “It doesn’t make any difference to me if you pass these regulations or not, nor does it make any difference to whales.”

10. Friday Harbor celebrates its centennial (Feb. 9): Ferry whistles blasted. Sirens sounded. A cannon was fired. And the town partied like it was 1909 again.

Friday Harbor celebrated its 100th birthday Feb. 9 with plenty of pomp and circumstance, as well as parties at three venues — the Grange Hall, the Friday Harbor Fire Station and the San Juan Island Yacht Club.

The day was the centerpiece of a year of events that included a new book (“Friday Harbor,” Arcadia Publishing Co.), a record-size Centennial Fourth of July Parade (leading to the town’s third-best month ever in sales tax revenue), a series of historical exhibits and performances in the San Juan Community Theatre, and walking tours of the historic district.

Another significant milestone this year: July 25, the tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain sailed into Garrison Bay for the annual Encampment and the 50th anniversary of the joint military occupation of San Juan Island by American and British troops.

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