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Top Stories Part 2

  • Mon Jan 10th, 2022 10:40am
  • News

by Colleen Smith, Sienna Boucher and Diane Craig

Staff report

At the end of the year, we take a look at the biggest headlines of the past 12 months. This is part two. We chose the top stories from our most-read online articles and events we feel impacted our communities.

8. Heated races for port and fire commissioner; EMS and fire do not merge

This year was a time to elect new and fresh commissioners to the island. The commissioner positions include the Port of Friday Harbor Commissioner along with the San Juan County Fire Commissioner.

Commissioner positions are held for a four-year term.

Dwight Colley took over as Commissioner No. 2 on the board of San Juan County Fire Protection District No. 3 against incumbent Bob Jarman.

While the EMS and Fire merger did not pass in the November elections, Colley is an EMT himself, which he said he thinks will aid the relationship between EMS and the Fire Department.

“I think there needs to be at least one fire commissioner with up-to-date EMS experience,” he told the Journal during a Q&A.

Along with the merger, Colley also said he wants to ensure the fire district operates in the public interest and that all decisions to impose taxes will be transparent and the district will hold itself accountable for any action taken.

The Port Commissioner race brought one of the biggest changes to port leadership in decades as Greg Hertel held the position for over 30 years. His long-lived incumbent streak was dismantled by Victoria Compton.

Both Compton and Hertel are long-time islanders. Hertel arrived on the island 48 years ago and Compton arrived 30 years ago.

She said she was determined to run when she felt as if the port had been losing touch with the community. She also has been directing the Economic Development Council for over a decade and said she feels her perspective is a valuable and insightful asset which she can apply to her work as Port Commissioner.

While Hertel served the community for 30 years, Compton hopes to bring something better to the community with fresh ideas and to continue to integrate the community with the port.

“Old ways of thinking just don’t serve our community anymore,” she said during a virtual commissioner forum.

9. COVID 2021 recap

It has now been a year since the COVID-19 vaccines came out, changing both the course of the pandemic and political climate of the country. The Sounder has kept the community updated on both statistics along with COVID-related political dilemmas in the community.

Last January, students were still attending school virtually. Things took a turn when elementary students came back to school Jan. 19 under Gov. Jay Inslee’s road map to recovery released on Dec. 16, 2020.

By March 5, 2021, the Health Department had reported that San Juan County had gone two weeks without any new reported cases.

By April, San Juan County was already leading in vaccination rates, while the National Guard came to help, traveling by whale watching boat and school bus.

With vaccination rates up and case numbers declining, by summer the mask mandate was lifted. Smiles were visible in the grocery stores once again.

Then, the Delta variant came into the picture. The county COVID count returned June 18 with 195 total infected individuals. According to the San Juan County Health Department, all the individuals at the time were breakthrough cases of fully vaccinated individuals.

The Health Department released a press release Jul. 22 that stated, “The increase in breakthrough cases around the country, and now locally, is not unexpected. The delta strain of the virus is spreading exponentially in areas where COVID vaccination rates are low.”

The mask mandate came around shielding faces once again on Aug. 14 and has remained since. Despite rising cases, schools opened up once again for the 2021-2022 school year, with sports making a comeback as well. To keep outbreaks at bay, students are required to wear a mask in school, but it is not necessary outdoors or while playing sports.

Teachers were required to show proof of vaccination by Oct. 18. San Juan County schools have not enforced a vaccine requirement for the students, but some highly populated city schools in Washington have.

Now, the Omicron variant has taken the place of the Delta strain and is known to be highly contagious.

The Washington State Department of Health stated that boosters are essential for combating the Omicron variant. Now, anyone five and older is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccine supply has continued to increase. Currently, more than 1,245,000 people are fully vaccinated across the state and San Juan County continues to be the most vaccinated county in Washington.

10. Dwight Lewis convicted for destroying BLM signs

A Lopez Island man who said he attempted to destroy a Black Lives Matter memorial in retaliation for repeated vandalization done to his Trump 2020 sign was found guilty of two counts in San Juan County District Court.

Laverne Dwight Lewis, Jr., 79, was found guilty of one count of reckless endangerment and one count of malicious mischief in the third degree on Sept. 13. He was found not guilty of one count of reckless endangerment. Lewis was sentenced to 15 days in jail.

“I’m destroying these signs because I’m tired of it being shoved down my throat,” Lewis said in a video posted to Youtube after being charged. “You liberals destroyed my Trump sign and I’m going to teach them not to mess with Dwight Lewis.”

San Juan County deputies originally suggested Lewis be charged with two counts of assault in the second degree; two counts of reckless endangerment; one count of malicious mischief in the third degree; and one count of harassment. He was ultimately tried for only two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of malicious mischief.

The trial lasted for five days, including juror selection. Lewis was represented by Friday Harbor attorney Robert Bulloch. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Teresa Barnett represented the state. Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock oversaw the trial.

The charges stem from an Aug. 12, 2020 incident on Fisherman Bay Road near Lopez Village. On that date, deputies responded to a report of malicious mischief in progress in the 1900 block of Fisherman Bay Road, where a series of Black Lives Matter memorial signs had been located since late June. The memorial was previously vandalized in late June, but no one was charged with a crime.

Organizers created the signs in solidarity with the #SayHerName campaign, which launched in December 2014. The campaign’s goal is to bring awareness to the names and stories of Black women and girls who have been victimized by racist police, the organizers explained. It has since expanded to #SayTheirNames to encompass the names of the hundreds of unarmed Black, Indigenous and People of Color who have died due to police brutality and white supremacy.

Over the night of Aug. 12, 2020, the remaining signs were mowed down by an unknown culprit which led to the decision to form a group to discuss the ceremonious removal of the signs.

Responding deputies say they saw Lewis near a truck with the name of his company — Windsock Farms — on the side of the memorial, along with an orange excavator parked on a trailer. Witnesses told deputies that Lewis had reportedly used his excavator — which was equipped with a flail mower — to destroy several of the signs. When one witness stood in front of the excavator, Lewis allegedly accelerated the machine and extended the running flail mower toward the witness, causing them to move out of the way.

After Lewis reportedly destroyed another sign, an additional witness reportedly slapped the excavator and told Lewis to stop. Lewis then, allegedly, swung the mower toward the second witness and drove toward them for approximately 10-15 feet, causing that witness to also move out of the way. A witness, at the behest of Lewis, captured the interaction on a cellphone video.

11. Thomas leaves town to be FH admin; FH gets a new mayor

The town of Friday Harbor is in for some big changes in 2022 as it will be getting both a new Town Administrator and a new mayor.

After 40 years of municipal work, Duncan Wilson is retiring from his position as Town Administrator. This Dec. 13 Mike Thomas began the transition of slowly taking over the position while he goes through training. Wilson officially retires Jan. 22. The decision is not one that is voted upon by residents but is decided by the council.

Up until then, Thomas is currently serving as San Juan County manager. He is also not a stranger to local government work, as he has been involved in it for 30 years. While most of his work has been spent in King County, he has spent considerable time in the San Juans, with both of his children graduating from Friday Harbor High School.

Wilson said he will be sad to leave as he enjoyed municipal work in the islands more than anywhere else.

“These have been the best nine working years of my life,” Wilson told the Journal in a June interview.

Although he enjoyed it, the job was not always easy. Financial matters have been especially difficult to deal with during the pandemic, as small businesses around the world have taken a hit. Thomas will soon be relayed the baton of handling the town’s economy. Wilson said he is confident that Thomas is well-equipped with competence for the job.

While the Town Administrator often works closely with the mayor, Thomas will be getting to know the newly elected mayor Ray Jackson.

Jackson surpassed incumbent Farhad Ghatan by a landslide in the 2021 mayoral election at

Jackson moved to the island in 2010 for work and by his surprise, he unexpectedly fell in love with it. He describes the San Juans as the place he is meant to be and has a passion for the community.

One of his favorite things about the community, he said, is how people come to the island from all over the world. It is the unification amongst the diversity that he admires the most. With the pandemic causing strong political tension, Jackson expressed the island has been less unified than in the past and he hopes to bring people together as he assumes his new position as mayor.

“It is a unique place because everybody here has immigrated. People’s perspectives are different because of where they come from and what they have gone through,” Jackson told the Journal in a July interview. “I want to work on getting us together, understanding that there is power in knowledge.”

Jackson has volunteered his time for the community, such as the teacher gift bag event that was organized by Rami Amaro.

He is a veteran of three branches of the military- the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force. He said that his experience has taught him how to run a tight ship all while maintaining a friendly and vibrant community.

12. Animal news: Deer die from disease; orca calf born

In May, the San Juan County Sheriff’s office started getting the calls. With the smell of rotting carcasses on private property, in ravines alongside the roads, deer were dying at a noticeable rate. Throughout the summer, deer on Orcas, San Juan, Blakely, Henry, Lopez and Stuart islands were showing up sick and dead, white foam around their mouths. Initially, fertilizers were thought to be the culprit. After an investigation by the Washington State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, however, it turned out to be a virus — AHD, or Adenovirus Hemorrhagic Disease.

The disease has no known cure and residents were urged to minimize the spread by not providing food and water to avoid deer collecting in one place.

“Adenoviruses belong to a small group of viruses that can infect a variety of animals, both wild and domestic first identified in California in 1994,” according to WDFW’s website. Signs of infection include rapid or open-mouth breathing; foaming or drooling at the mouth; diarrhea which is sometimes bloody; weakness; and emaciation with fawns being the most affected. There is no known cure or treatment, according to WDFW. The outbreak on the San Juans was the first documented case in Washington since the last outbreak in Goldendale in 2017.

When island weather started to cool down, the virus that killed a recorded 218 deer on Orcas and 112 on San Juan, started to subside. Since mid-November, the Washington State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife had recorded no new AHD-related deer deaths on San Juan Island since early August. The last public report of an AHD-related death was Oct. 2 on Orcas.

For more information, visit wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/diseases.

It’s always good news when islanders learn of the appearance of a baby orca. In February, the Center for Whale Research confirmed a new calf – L125 – was born into the Southern resident killer whale community. The calf, the fourth offspring of L86, was determined to be in good health. The new calf has one living sibling, L106 (male), born in 2005. The mother, L86 has given birth to two other calves: L112 and L120, both now deceased. L112 (born in 2009) was killed by blunt force trauma during military exercises in 2012. L120 was born and died in 2014.

L125 is the first calf born into L pod since January 2019 when L77 gave birth to L124.

The last time the Center for Whale Research encountered Southern resident orcas in the Salish Sea was with J and K pod on Jan. 20. CWR’s most recent previous encounter with L pod was Sept. 24, 2020.

In July, earlier news of the new calf was tempered with a sighting of a struggling adult male Southern Resident, K21 by a commercial whale-watching vessel. The whale, also known as Cappuccino, appeared to be in poor body condition, emaciated and with a collapsed dorsal fin, according to a report by the Orcas Behavior Institute.

Reports noted that when K21 was seen on July 28, who, at 35 years old was the oldest male resident orca, was several miles behind the rest of his pod making little progress attempting to swim against the strong currents. Since the end of July, and with no further sightings of the Southern Resident male, orca scientist Monika Wieland Shields of the Orca Behavior Institute declared the iconic whale deceased.