Top 10 Stories of 2008

A look back at the year, by the staff of The Journal and

A look back at the year, by the staff of The Journal and

1: “Border agents stop locals,” Jan. 30 Journal.
In January, the U.S. Border Patrol began regular citizenship checks of people getting off the ferry in Anacortes, presumably as an anti-smuggling and anti-terrorism tactic.

Some islanders questioned the legality of checks without probable cause, while others protested that Border Patrol was targeting Mexicans on the islands. A total of eight people were taken into custody for possible immigration violations.

All eight waived the right to contest their detention before a federal judge and voluntarily agreed to return to Mexico, the home country of each. Among those sent to Mexico was a family four from Friday Harbor and a long-term resident of Orcas Island.

In March, more than 200 people attended a special San Juan County Council meeting at which U.S. Border Patrol Deputy Chief Joe Giuliano talked about the reasons behind the citizenship inspections. Giuliano said there’s no specific law allowing such inspections inside the border. However, he said, there’s no law prohibiting them either and that such inspections have been upheld by the courts. Despite that, council members questioned the fairness of the inspections and whether it was worth it, given how few ferry riders were found in violation.

In a strange twist, on Oct. 24, Giuliano pleaded innocent to child rape charges in Whatcom County Superior Court. His trial begins Jan. 28.

2: “Deficit forecast for schools,” April 2 Journal.
The San Juan Island School District forecast an $800,000 budget deficit for the 2008-09 school year, caused primarily by declining enrollment and a shortfall in state funding for statewide voter-mandated salary increases for teachers.

The school district was able to pare that deficit down to $600,000, and the San Juan Island Community Foundation and the San Juan Island Schools Foundation spearheaded a campaign that eradicated most of that deficit and restored positions and programs.

Looking ahead, the school district hosted public meetings on such subjects as consolidating services with other districts, raising money for an endowment for local public schools, and lobbying the Legislature for full funding for basic education. But those efforts may not yield results soon enough.

Another year of enrollment declines and the recession wreaked more havoc on the district’s finances. The district is again grappling with a deficit — this time, of $717,000 for the 2009-10 school year.

3: “Lost orcas mourned,” Oct. 15 Journal.
Six Southern resident orcas — including K7, believed to be 98 years old — failed to return with their pods this year and were presumed dead. In addition, an apparently aborted whale fetus was found on a Henry Island beach.

The loss dropped the local orca population to 83, the lowest since 2003. One of the orcas showed signs of malnourishment. That fact, along with low salmon runs, prompted fears that depleted salmon runs are leading to the orcas’ starvation.

4: “Streets torn up Monday for new sewer line,” Sept. 11
Construction began on replacing the underwater sewer line in the harbor area with an upland sewer line. The long-anticipated project — the result of a settlement with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance — is expected to cost $3.5 million and will boost sewer rates from $79.64 to $87.81 a month.

The good news: Gone is an aged, leaky cast-iron underwater sewer line that caused pollution problems in the harbor.

The tough news: Installing the new line meant digging up Front Street to the traffic turnaround, and ferry lanes 1 and 2 to First Street to Court Street to Second Street to Culver Street. Five days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Downtown businesses complained in fall that construction was hurting business. The project was expected to be completed by Nov. 17, but was delayed because of rock.

At the request of businesses, the town postponed construction during the Christmas shopping season — a decision made easier by the storm that struck the islands.

5: “Annex vote delayed,” Nov. 26 Journal.
The Friday Harbor Town Council postponed a possible vote on the annexation of the Buck property, about 48 acres east of the town limits and near the former gravel pit. Islanders packed to standing-room-only the San Juan Island Grange for a public hearing Nov. 20.

After listening to four hours of public comment, the council asked town staff and the property’s owner, Vincent Buck, to see if they could resolve issues raised in the proposed development agreement. The agreement before the council had the developer paying as much as $7 million in off-site improvements.

Those improvements are supposed to offset the impacts of up to 240 new homes, built over 20 years, on the town’s utilities and existing ratepayers. The San Juan Community Home Trust would build 120 affordable homes on 15.5 acres it would acquire from the Bucks; the Bucks would develop a mixed-use neighborhood on the balance.

Without annexation, the neighborhoods would probably not happen because the land is currently zoned one home per five acres and doesn’t have adequate water nor waterwater service.

Buck said he is willing to pay a “fair” portion of the costs, but that he and the town are “far apart” on their understanding of what is fair.

The big issue is whether the town has enough land within the town limits to satisfy its immediate affordable-housing needs. A town study says yes and, to underscore that, Michael Mayes of Madison Glenn Properties on Nov. 10 announced he was selling three acres on Malcolm Street to Homes for Islanders for development of up to 44 affordable homes.

6: “County cuts looming,” Oct. 29 Journal.
The County Council faced the prospect of eliminating 30 full- and part-time positions and closing seven day-use parks after learning that it would start 2009 with less money than expected.

The County Council later restored most of the cuts, but at a big price: It dipped into its reserve fund.

That could pose some challenges for the council in 2009: Auditor Milene Henley predicted $1 million less in lodging and sales tax revenue next year, and she also warned that the county will likely run out of money by 2012 unless new revenue streams can be found.

7: “Ranker wins state Senate seat,” Nov. 4
Election Day resulted in historic changes in San Juan County.

Among them: County Councilman Kevin Ranker, San Juan South, was elected Nov. 4 to the 40th District state Senate, succeeding Harriet Spanel, who retired. Ranker became the first San Juan County resident elected to the state Senate in about 100 years, and his election is expected to give the San Juans a stronger voice on issues affecting the region. (40th District state Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Anacortes, is House speaker pro tem).

In 2009, Ranker will serve as vice chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee; vice chairman of the Natural Resources, Ocean and Recreation Committee; and member of the Transportation Committee, and the Environment, Water and Energy Committee.

8: “Man shot to death; brother held,” Oct. 1,
Jermaine Reaves, 22, of Friday Harbor was shot to death Sept. 28 in a Tucker Avenue apartment he shared with his brother, Jawaad, 21.

Jawaad Reaves was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. He pleaded innocent and was released on $50,000 bail. His trial is scheduled to start Feb. 9.

Officers went to the scene to investigate a domestic violence report. When they arrived, they were met by Jawaad Reaves. In the apartment, deputies found Jermaine Reaves mortally wounded with a gunshot wound to the chest. He was taken by Airlift Northwest helicopter to St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham, where he was pronounced dead.

In the apartment at the time were the Reaves’ mother and a friend. Also found in the apartment: A 20-gauge shotgun, which is commonly used to hunt small game.

Jawaad Reaves’ arraignment drew a standing-room-only crowd. Sobs broke out as family and friends described the close bond between the brothers.

“They were more than brothers, they were best friends,” Jason Napier said. “It’s just so hard to imagine this has happened. We’re all in a state of shock.”

9: “Amid turmoil, good news: $1M rebate,” Oct. 29 Journal.
OPALCO members received a surprise with their October bill: money back.

The rebate was a result of a Bonneville Power Administration rate-case settlement in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. BPA gave OPALCO a one-time rebate of about $1 million. OPALCO’s Board of Directors unanimously decided the best use of the rebate was to provide it to the membership, given the tough economic climate.

As a result, members paid a basic rate of $25 in October. OPALCO encouraged members to use the savings to boost the local economy by shopping locally or supporting a local non-profit.

10: “MacLeod sacked, Sutton reprimanded,” Jan. 30 Journal.
The San Juan County Council voted 4-1 to remove Alex MacLeod as chairman of the Ferry Advisory Committee, saying his communication style had “caused damage so severe that he needs to be removed.”

The council also reprimanded committee member Ed Sutton for his obscene e-mail responses to council requests for information. Sutton apologized and later became chairman of the committee.

MacLeod was removed because he ignored Council Chairman Howard Rosenfeld’s request that a committee meeting be adjourned because it had not been advertised. The council was also irritated that MacLeod recommended, without consulting the council, the Sidney run be suspended for 20 days because of a shortage of ferries. They also criticized his reference to Washington State Ferries staff as “inept” in a guest column for The Seattle Times.

— With writing by Richard Walker of The Journal of the San Juan Islands and Colleen Smith Armstrong of The Islands’ Sounder.