This week, the Journal continues to count down the most popular stories of 2017.
Readers viewed the top 10 in the last edition. The following articles, ranked 11 through 18, were featured in the Journal last year and were selected in this listing by staff picks, website statistics and reader feedback.
11 China bans recyclables
In July 2017, officials of China notified the World Trade Organization that they would prohibit the import of certain solid wastes and scrap into their country, including mixed paper and mixed plastics, starting Jan. 1.
On Oct. 19, San Juan Transfer Station Recycling announced they would no longer accept comingled or mixed materials. Recology, the facility in Seattle that processes San Juan Island’s recyclables, stopped accepting mixed recyclables. By November, recycling standards changed again. The transfer station announced they would accept clean source-separated recyclables including aluminum cans, tin cans, mixed paper, clean cardboard, metal, and wood.
After announcing that they would discontinue processing of commingled recyclable materials, the Town of Friday Harbor staff negotiated with San Juan Sanitation to continue business as usual. On Nov. 15, the Town of Friday Harbor staff re-established their source for processing of commingled recyclable materials.
12 County endures affordable housing shortage
In 2017, the affordable housing shortage in San Juan County seemed to touch almost every Journal article. Staff at the nursing home, called the Life Care Center of the San Juans, attributed its closure to the island’s lack of affordable rentals; a severe weather shelter opened on San Juan Island to aid the growing homeless population; and a hostel opened, partly, to supply housing for seasonal workers.
Staff from the county’s community development department solidified the issue’s severity in November. They reported that half of the county residents cannot afford to buy nearly 80 percent of the county’s total houses, including homes that are not currently on the market. The majority of houses are affordable for those who earn between $75,000 and $149,000 a year, which accounts for about 25 percent of the population.
Affordable housing is defined by the county as equaling no more than 30 percent of an occupant’s gross monthly income. This includes housing costs, as well as property taxes, insurance and utilities, except for phones. A whopping 78 percent of those earning less than $20,000 paid over the county’s limits for affordable housing in 2015.
County staff investigated whether vacation rentals in the area’s growing tourism-driven economy was a culprit. By February 2018, county council will hold a hearing on changes in vacation rental permit regulations, including altering rules about solid waste and parking. However, San Juan County Affordable Housing Coordinator Ryan Page told the county council last November that the problem is not vacation rentals, but seasonal homes. Page said there are 13,619 county housing units, which is enough for today’s county population of 16,314. That accounts for one housing unit for every 1.2 full-time residents. However, of the 3,561 new housing units created between 2000 and 2010, 56 percent were occupied only seasonally, and not full-time.
Despite the gloomy data, there was progress too.
• County staff is considering purchasing land on Argyle Avenue to build affordable rentals for seasonal workers, while a private citizen wants to buy the land to provide affordable, long-term rentals and commercial spaces.
• An apartment complex, which offers income-based rentals, was purchased by a regional nonprofit to continue its reduced rent.
• The Journal helped 11 tenants at another apartment complex, which was partially income-based, receive reimbursements for being overcharged rent for about two months.
• The county council appropriated money to start construction of the Turn Point and Pear Point connector road to continue San Juan Community Home Trust’s next building phase for affordable housing. The project has been in the works for about a decade, though it’s currently awaiting a review by the hearing examiner due to an appeal.
13 Preservation of Mount Grant is fully funded
In a unique opportunity, the San Juan Preservation Trust and San Juan County Land Bank worked together to preserve a 141-acre parcel on San Juan Islands called Mount Grant.
The San Juan County Land Bank purchased half the property for $1.5 million and now own and manage the property, while the trust, who raised $4.2 million dollars during their two-year campaign, maintains a conservation easement over the land.
Native plant species, wildlife habitat, and a 360-degree view from Mount Baker, the Olympics to Vancouver Island, and northern Canadian islands are preserved. A road, that had already been built prior to buying the land, will remain, giving limited driving access.
A management plan is still in the process of being created and will involve public input.
14 When pigs swim
If only pigs could fly, they wouldn’t have to swim. On Valentine’s Day, a pig named Frieda boarded a ferry on San Juan to meet her breeding partner on Lopez, but she never made it. Instead, she made her own destiny. A Washington State Ferry camera surveillance recorded the pig jumping off the boat toward the bow. Frieda swam to Orcas Island, where the owners picked her up a few days later.
15 Black bear roams Orcas Island
A black bear arrived on Orcas over Memorial Day weekend and spent nearly two weeks touring the island.
Residents of Blaine, Ferndale and the Lummi Reservation reported seeing the same bear in mid-May. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers set traps that proved unsuccessful. The bear later swam to Lummi Island, where two more traps were set, but he dodged those as well and officers said he swam to Orcas Island.
“In the 15 years of doing this, I have never had a bear swim to an island,” said WDFW Game Warden Dave Jones.
On Saturday, May 27, it was first seen on Point Lawrence Road heading toward Obstruction Pass. Over the next 10 days, the bear was seen in Olga and North Beach Road, where it was getting into sheds and garbage cans.
During his time on Orcas, the young male bear was referred to by some as the new “mayor of Eastsound” while others warned of the danger in befriending a wild animal. Social media was alight with sightings and tales of the creature.
On June 8, he was found inside a culvert trap that WDFW had set at an address off of Olga Road. He was relocated to Eastern Skagit County near the Marblemount area.
Sheriff Ron Krebs said the bear had not acted aggressively and seemed to have been enjoying a steady diet of bird seed, garbage and barbecue leftovers while on Orcas.
16 CenturyLink cable appears frayed, attached to OPALCO cable
The same underwater fiber cable that left parts of the county without internet and phone services for up to 10 days, when it broke in 2013, was visibly fraying last winter.
Gerry Lawlor, of Rock Island Communications, and Joel Mietzner, of Orcas Power and Light Cooperative, brought photos of the compromised CenturyLink cable to the county’s first two council sessions of 2017, saying they feared the worn cable could break at any time.
They also showed images of the same CenturyLink cable tied to OPALCO’s power cable with rope and wire. This was done to stabilize CenturyLink’s cable, said Mietzner. He anticipated that when OPALCO employees performed scheduled maintenance on their cable, last summer, it would compromise the one CenturyLink attached to it.
The cable in question was coming out of the water, from Lopez Island, and sitting on land near Pear Point Road on San Juan.
A CenturyLink representative assured the cable was protected and would be removed from OPALCO’s state-designated cable jurisdiction once their permits were granted to work on it.
CenturyLink is the main landline provider in the county, while OPALCO is the local electrical co-op and Rock Island is the co-op’s Internet Service Provider. In the end, the companies worked together to replace the cables seamlessly.
17 Judge Eaton retires
A retirement party was held at the courthouse in Friday Harbor on Dec. 15 to honor Judge Donald Eaton as he stepped down at the end of 2017.
Eaton, a long-time islander, was appointed to the position by then-state Governor Christine Gregoire in 2010, after the passing of Judge John O. Linde.
Eaton and his wife Sheryl moved to the islands, in 1979, from the East Coast. In the late 70s and early 80s, there were only approximately five local attorneys, he said, and it was not unusual to be paid in salmon or fence posts.
At the party, Eaton was greeted by friends, co-workers and community members — young and old — who gathered at the courthouse to honor him. Eaton turned the state’s mandatory age of retirement, in 2017, at 75.
“It is an honor to have served and it isn’t just a cliche,” he said.
Dec. 29, Kate Loring, currently a partner with Goddu Langlie Loring Sandstrom PLLC, will be sworn in as the presiding judge. Loring was appointed to replace Eaton by Governor Jay Inslee, last November.
Eaton said he believed he is leaving the county in good hands, in his closing remarks at the event.
18 Women’s March draws crowds
In what was one of the largest protests recorded in the Town of Friday Harbor and San Juan County’s history, about 14,000 islanders participated in the Women’s March on Jan. 21. The event was in tandem with many other Women Marches across the world that also took place on the same day, including the original location in Washington D.C.
Locally, these marchers were protesting a variety of concerns, from reproductive rights to environmental issues. Many walked off the ferry from Orcas, Lopez and Shaw to attend. Protesters sang and chanted as they walked from the San Juan County Courthouse, through the town, met fellow activists exiting the inter-island ferry, and looped back to the Friday Harbor Middle School commons where speakers were scheduled. The commons overflowed with participants, and many had to stand outside to hear.
“Our hope is that this event will bridge divides [and] open communication…,” said organizers before the march.