At the end of the year, the Journal takes a look at the biggest headlines of the past 12 months. We chose the top stories from our most-read online articles and events we feel impacted our communities. Part 1 ran last week.
6) Public hospital district board rotates, offers EMS to fire
San Juan County is home to dozens of taxing districts, but none that keep islanders on their toes like San Juan County Public Hospital District 1. For a board comprised of nonpartisan positions, there has been a stark divide.
By the beginning of 2018, a revolving door of commissioners and staff had begun. Within three days, Commissioners Bill Williams and Monica Harrington resigned, and the district’s superintendent and Jerry Martin — the chief of the local EMS department overseen by the hospital district — withdrew their previously given resignations.
The board, which operated with Williams, Harrington and the newly elected Anna Lisa Lindstrum in the majority, flipped, and longtime commissioners Michael Edwards and Mark Schwinge took the power and appointed two replacements.
Out was the recently appointed interim EMS chief — which was refuted by four EMS staff members — and in was a new idea: merging EMS with the local fire district, thus freeing the hospital district of managing the department and possibly saving money.
As of January, there have been two public meetings about the island’s fire district taking over EMS, but no official decision has been made. Chief Martin has agreed to stay with the department until a resolution is approved, and a six-month severance package for him was included in the department’s 2019 budget in anticipation of his departure.
The end of 2018 brought good news: the district sold the island’s former medical center after five years on the market. The funds will pay down the bond for the EMS building, which was bought in 2012, and the district will no longer spend roughly $30,000 a year on the center’s maintenance.
7) Islanders say goodbye to four San Juan Island influencers
Joyce Sobel was a quiet leader throughout the islands for 43 years, establishing and connecting organizations in the community. Sobel was instrumental in forming the Lopez Island Family Resource Center. She also helped with the following:
• Educational initiatives including a countywide early learning coalition.
• The food bank’s financial planning and fundraising.
• School programs such as Head Start and the Special Pal Program.
• Women’s Emergency Fund.
Joan White was the county’s straight-shooting clerk since she was elected in 2006, serving three consecutive four-year terms. The clerk is the keeper of records for the San Juan County Superior Court, and also takes notes of actions during superior court trials. She was described as strong, decisive, reliable and dependable, with an open-door policy and can-do attitude.
Bill Ament left a legacy of love, laughter and compassion that will continue through the islanders whose lives he touched. Ament and his wife Rita were known for their Dance Happy classes as well as their instruction of tap, salsa, merengue, foxtrot, cha-cha, jazz and hip-hop to children, teens, adults and seniors.
A longtime visiting scientist at the University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs passed away this year, but his legacy in science will be remembered. Osamu Shimomura won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2008 for his research on aequorea jellyfish and the discovery of green fluorescent proteins. Those proteins have since been modified for use in medicine. They are injected into cells allowing doctors to spot anomalies, a technology used in cancer detecting.
8) Opioid crisis hits the islands
The nation is in the midst of an opioid crisis, and San Juan County, with two recorded deaths in 2018 linked to heroin, is not immune. Last year, county officials took steps to combat the problem. After those deaths, local deputies began carrying Narcan, a medication used to treat opioid overdoses. Opioids include heroin, oxycodone, as well as synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, and other pain relievers. Recent studies have shown prescribed pain relievers open the door to heroin use. Counties across the nation are suing drug manufacturers in an attempt to hold those companies responsible. San Juan County joined that suit in June and will be represented by the Keller Rohrback Law Offices in Seattle. The firm is a leader in the multidistrict litigation in Ohio, where all the lawsuits are being consolidated, and is hired on a contingency fee basis.
The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office would like to acquire a drug-sniffing dog, according to Sheriff Ron Krebs, as an added tool to find illegal drugs, especially during situations like traffic stops.
9) Island public schools face state-led funding shortage, local wins
In 2018, San Juan Island’s only public school district felt a financial pinch that came with ups and downs.
The good news: Despite an increase in state taxes for schools, in April the island district was able to renew its four-year levy.
The bad news: Due to a new state law, the local levy is estimated to fall hundreds of thousands of dollars short of the last collection.
Island property owners are taxed twice for schools: through a state educational levy, which is distributed across Washington school districts, and a local school levy, which remains at home.
Fearing a lack of funds, the district board implemented a hiring freeze on the heels of the local levy renewal. A month after the decision, the freeze was lifted and district board chairman Ralph Hahn resigned without explanation.
San Juan Island School District Superintendent Danna Diaz also left at the end of the school year to work at a district in Oregon. Both departures followed a strike for one school day of the 2017-18 school year, which was resolved when the teachers negotiated a raise for that year.
Last October, two-year contracts with both the district’s teachers and other staff members were finalized with more raises. Interim superintendent Kari McVeigh was hired in June and has agreed to stay through the next school year to help her permanent successor transition. School board member Jack McKenna said the new hire could be selected by the end of next summer.
10) Local teams finish stellar seasons
The Friday Harbor High School sports teams were on fire this year. In February the boys basketball team finished first in their league and were 9-1 in league games and 15-8 overall. The girls basketball team also went into the postseason, heading to the regional playoffs.
During the spring season, the girls softball team made it to state, and boys baseball made it into the district playoffs.
This fall, the undefeated girls soccer team made it to the state playoffs, as did the boys soccer team while the football team made it to the district playoffs.
A small yet successful swim team also made a splash. Friday Harbor junior Kyla Balcomb-Bartok competed in the Northwest District 1 and 2 preliminary and finals. Balcomb-Bartok qualified for district in three events. She competed in the 200 individual medley and 500 free and placed sixth in the 400-yard freestyle relay.
The junior Tigers youth football team made history with a perfect season, finishing 9-0 and scoring 380 points with 0 against them. These 11- and 12-year-olds were the 2018 champions of their division. The Tigers peewees, ages 7-8, finished in second place. The freshman, ages 9-10, made it to the playoffs.
• Woman drives off Anacortes ferry terminal
On Thursday, Jan. 25, an Everett woman, Nicole K. Barney, 30, died when she drove a Jeep Cherokee off the dock at the Anacortes Ferry Landing. The terminal closed for four hours while emergency crews responded. Reports from the Washington State Patrol said Barney entered the staging lines at approximately 7:50 a.m. where she momentarily parked the vehicle. She then drove back toward the ticket booth, suddenly U-turned and returned to the staging area where she parked again.
Witnesses said Barney was stopped for a couple minutes before accelerating down the dock and into the water. The Jeep was eventually retrieved from the water, and state patrol confirmed Barney was found inside the vehicle.
• Islanders learn new road rules thanks to roundabout
This spring, the town of Friday Harbor completed construction on a miniature, painted roundabout at the intersection of Argyle Avenue and Spring Street. The roundabout was designed to improve traffic and pedestrian safety. The project, which took about a year to plan, was finished in only a few days. Due to space constraints, town staff opted for a painted structure as opposed to a permanently raised island. The roundabout caused initial confusion and local drivers were forced to review the rules of the road.
According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, drivers should not stop in the roundabout. Motorists, outside the roundabout, should yield to traffic already inside. When a gap in traffic opens, drivers should enter the circle and use turn signals before exiting.
• Police investigate string of thefts
In November of 2018, Connor William Daniels, 21, of Friday Harbor, was charged with burglarizing the San Juan Cheese Shop, after admitting to the crime. He also confessed to three additional commercial burglaries. The San Juan County Prosecutor’s Office has yet to charge him with additional theft counts.
In the last two months of 2017, six thefts were reported from local businesses. San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs said the crimes were likely related.
About $4,000 has been taken from all of the businesses combined. The thefts occurred at Van Go’s Pizza, San Juan Cheese Shop, Mike’s Cafe and Wine Bar, and the San Juan Island Food Co-op. The local American Legion was burglarized twice.
The prosecutor’s office declined to comment on whether Daniels was involved in all six of the above business thefts.
• Port buys Jensen Shipyard
After over 100 years operating on San Juan Island, Albert Jensen and Sons Shipyard staff turned the keys over to the Port of Friday Harbor in 2018. On April 11, the port commissioners voted to buy the shipyard, and a week prior, decided to hire North Island Boat Company in Anacortes, Washington, to manage the property. Port commissioner Greg Hertel noted that North Island staff is knowledgeable in permitting, ecology and best management practices.
Since that time, a master plan for the shipyard has been adopted. Plans include continuing current services, maintaining the shipyard’s historical significance and outlining renovation projects for some of the property’s buildings. The master plan also states commissioners would like to explore additional services for seaplane repair; add a public boat ramp; restore portions of the shoreline for public use; create educational opportunities through public access to the shoreline; and install interpretive signs.
Visit www.portfridayharbor.org/jensen-sons-boatyard-and-marina-master-plan to read the full plan.