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Wrangell in 2014: Power transfers, playing host to the region events

 

Sentinel file photo

In this photo submitted by Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Wrangell High School senior Cody Thomassen shows off the 3x2 brow tine moose he harvested on the Stikine River 2014.

Kicking things off with a new borough manager in Jeff Jabusch, 2014 for Wrangell was not only a period of changes, but also one of building and continued development. Pavement was poured at the Marine Service Center, a number of roads were resurfaced or due to eventually see improvement, and the city was able to showcase itself to other regional communities by hosting several prolific functions.

January

Wrangell Cooperative Association collected 210 registrations for Tlingit-Haida members at its first membership rally, far more than originally anticipated.

Anchored tug Silver Bay 2 sank offshore from the old mill property after a winter storm. The same storm also caused Pat's Lake to rise over its banks, submerging the nearby forest road and cutting off access.

Wrangell Convention and Visitors Bureau confirmed the borough's inclusion in the 2013 Salty Dog Rally as its endpoint. Sponsored by Boating Puget Sound, rally organizers would later announce the rally's cancellation. Much to the borough's disappointment, Wrangell has still been unable to get a $2,000 fee it had paid refunded.

The Port Commission approved a contract with Juneau-based architectural firm Corvus Design for planning a new mariner's memorial at Heritage Harbor; $11,372 was allotted to the design from state grant funds.

Trident Seafoods obtained the go-ahead from Planning and Zoning to construct its new bunkhouse. More than housing the company's seasonal workers, the bunkhouse would further benefit the community later in the fall by accommodating visitors for Southeast Conference and the Region V High School Wrestling Tournament.

James Stough was elected to serve as the Thomas Bay Power Authority Commission president. The commission's major task for 2014 would be to finalize the transfer of Tyee hydropower operations and related contracts to the Southeast Alaska Power Agency.

February

Local entrepreneur Steve Helgesen and Kevin Skeek were awarded $40,000 in seed money after winning a Path to Prosperity competition, to be used to start up Tongass Guitars. The pair's idea was to use sustainably-harvested Sitka Spruce trees for guitar building.

The WCA's Indian Environmental General Assistance Program (IGAP) office undertook the cleaning up of illegal dump sites around Spur Road, retrieving and disposing of 15 truckloads worth of garbage, discarded appliances and gill nets.

Boy Scouts from Wrangell's Troop 40 were recognized for their efforts in cleaning up debris off the shore of Zarembo Island, as well as adopting and maintaining the cabin at Twin Lakes. A group of Scouts delivered a presentation on their work to the Alaska Forum on the Environment in Anchorage.

Wrangell City and Borough hired Lee Burgess as its new finance director. Formerly the lead clinician with Alaska Island Community Services' Crossings program, Burgess took on the long-vacated position, which had been a duty shared by the borough manager since the previous summer.

The fishing trawler Falcon was reported sunk at Shoemaker Bay Harbor, coming to rest on a nearby beach. A state spill response crew contained leaks from the craft before the borough arranged for its disposal.

March

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell paid a visit to Wrangell, discussing his proposals for education reforms with school and borough staff. Parnell was keen to gather support for a proposed bill expanding funding for charter schools and streamlining the high school graduation exam process.

Ladies from the Wrangell Medical Center's Auxiliary raised $3,500 for a new fluid warmer, helping the hospital pursue its Level IV Trauma Center certification. The process is a long one, and is still in the works going into 2015.

Elks Lodge and Totem Bar joined Rayme's as smoke-free destinations, following a national trend kicking cigarette butts out from bars, restaurants and other public spaces.

Wrangell High School's cheerleaders headed to State in Anchorage for the second year in a row. The squad held a community bake sale to raise money for the trip, joining 35 other teams from around the state.

The Wrangell Thunderbirds took second in the Lions Club Gold Medal Basketball Tournament in Juneau, a regional tourney for 32-and-under year old players.

A pair of water main breaks at St. Michaels and Bennett streets disrupted service and traffic. On closer inspection, the breaks were found not to be caused by freezing temperatures, but rather were due to corrosion in the pipes' ductile iron construction. The material has proven to have a shorter lifespan than initially expected, and the borough plans to replace iron pipes throughout the network with high-density polyethylene piping.

April

Discussions to be held between SEAPA, Wrangell and Petersburg over the future of the Tyee Hydroelectric Plant and TBPA were opposed by Authority Commission president and Assembly member Stough, on the grounds that the borough governments did not have the authority to conduct such negotiations. Discussions by the Assembly during subsequent meetings better clarified its role in deciding TPBA's future role in the negotiation process, and Stough would resign from both the Assembly and Commission in June.

New banners were put up by the WCA for the bridge to Chief Shakes Island in preparation for the summer season. Featuring a combination of traditional clan crests and Tlingit-styled artwork, the flags were locally designed.

Plans for the new mariner's memorial were submitted for public review, with the general consensus opting for one of the three designs. The option planned for use of steel in its design and would incorporate a boardwalk and paved plaza.

A new secondary principal was chosen to replace Monty Buness after his retirement in August. Kokhanok and Igiugig traveling principal Colter Barnes was chosen from a pool of candidates by the school board. A new superintendent for Wrangell Public Schools was also decided on, with Thomas and Delta-Greeley principal Patrick Mayer tapped for the position.

Wrangell's State Rep. Peggy Wilson announced she would not seek re-election for her seat in the Alaska Legislature in November's election, citing family concerns. Candidates competing for the Republican nomination in August's primary would include three Ketchikan residents: Agnes Moran, Chere Klein and Patti Mackey. Independent candidate Dan Ortiz would run against the winner of that contest in November's general election.

May

The Marine Service Center began using its new 300-tonne ship lift, an Italian-made Ascom model. The $1.3 million lift had been ordered the previous year, in order to expand the range of services Wrangell could provide. Around $2.75 million left over from the purchase were reallocated for paving projects and other improvements at the yard.

Wrangell was also slated for $1.6 million in the state's capital budget, with another $3 million in proposed infrastructure reallocations penciled in. Projects picked for financing included $615,000 for a Wrangell connection to the upper reservoir, $600,000 for floats at Shoemaker Bay, $150,000 for a water treatment study plant, $50,000 toward the WCA's downtown carving facility, and $100,000 to develop a plan for the former Institute property.

Wilma Stokes resigned from the Borough Assembly, citing health reasons. She had served on the local governing body since 2007.

The 17 students from Wrangell High School's graduating class were offered over $471,000 in scholarships and awards from a variety of sources. The largest local scholarships – each valued at $20,000 over four years, established by Alaska Pulp Corporation founder Tadao Sasayama – were awarded to students Matthew Covalt, Tyler Eagle and Calleigh Miller.

Wrangell's schools also honored six retiring personnel with a banquet at the Elks Lodge, including long-time secondary principal Monty Buness and Stikine Middle School secretary Linda Buness. Teachers Ray Stokes, Dan Roope, Vickie Buness-Taylor and Sue Brown together had given over a century of service to the profession.

The annual Brian Gilbert Memorial Golf Tournament raised more than $50,000 for Wrangell Medical Center, one of the largest sums in the tournament's history.

June

Wrangell Harbor Department assumed responsibility for the Meyers Chuck dock and seaplane float, from the Alaska Department of Transportation. The transfer also saw the payment of $1.4 million to be put toward the facility's future replacement.

Montana college freshman Kelley Krumm was named the overall winner of the 2014 Salmon Derby, hooking a 42.8-pound king salmon near Southeast Cove. The fish is considered the fourth-smallest winner in the derby's 61-year history, with the average at about 51.8 pounds. The largest caught was in 1955, at 74.4 pounds.

Wrangell's MSC was chosen to be featured on a television program, with camera crews poking around the yard with cameras and sound equipment filming segments for a "Deadliest Catch"-style reality show to be aired on an unidentified broadcast outlet. Wrangell's boatyard was selected with two other shipbuilding and harbor facilities for the program.

July

Wrangell's Nolan Center marked its 10th anniversary with a reception and art auction. Completed in 2004, the 4,000 square foot museum and auditorium has become a focal point for civic events, hosting everything from weekend movies and community market to large receptions and regional conventions.

SEAPA voted to terminate its contract with TBPA, with the Wrangell Assembly following suit to approve a new power contract with the agency. As part of the formal agreement, SEAPA assumed public pension obligations and collective bargaining negotiations in addition to operation of Tyee. TBPA general manager Michael Nicholls was also released from his contract with three months' severance pay.

Work was concluded on Weber Street, which was repaved through a collaborative effort spearheaded by the WCA. The half-million dollar project was three years in the making.

Erica Smith was crowned this year's Fourth of July Queen, selling 33,471 tickets overall. The five contestants together sold over 100,000 tickets, which at a dollar apiece, benefits the next year's Independence Day celebrations.

Wrangell hosted its fifth annual Alaska Bearfest, a five-day festival featuring a number of presentations, symposiums, artwork and activities. Among this year's guest speakers were artist Ray Troll and ecologist Dr. Lance Craighead.

August

Irene Ingle Public Library held its best summer reading program so far, with 147 students participating over the break. Library staff and volunteers hosted a pizza party at the community pool, distributing a variety of prizes.

Chere Klein won the Republican primary for District 36 House candidate, setting her up against Independent candidate Dan Ortiz for the general elections in November. Voters across the state also rejected the first of four ballot measures for the year, which would have reinstated the old Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share oil production tax system.

The neon-illuminated cross atop First Presbyterian Church was retired during roof repairs. Serving as a beacon for ships for well over a century, the cross was one of only two globally noted on charts for navigational purposes. A replacement was installed in December.

September

SEAPA approved rebates to member utilities, equivalent to a half cent per kilowatt hour. The agency's board made it clear the rebate may be the last for the foreseeable future as it looks to upcoming expansion projects such as the raising of Swan Lake's dam.

The 56th Annual Southeast Conference was hosted at Wrangell's Nolan Center, bringing in more than 200 visitors for the three-day conference. Economic reports for the region were positive, with job earnings and demographic figures showing all-time highs. The conference for the first time examined maritime industry as its own sector, finding growths in that area have helped offset losses elsewhere in the health and timber industries. The conference also allowed Wrangell to showcase some of its community improvements, including the Marine Service Center and innovative high school vocational education program.

Pool problems plagued Parks and Recreations and the Borough, with improvements and ultimately renovations needed that are expected to hover at around $2 million. The issue topped Wrangell's capital projects request list for the coming legislative session.

October

In local elections, Wrangell voters reelected David Jack as their mayor. Incumbents Susan Eagle of the school board, Becky Rooney and Mark Mitchell of the Borough Assembly, and Cori Robinson of the hospital board were also reelected. There were also some new faces picked as well, with Stephen Prysunka added to the Assembly, Walter Moorhead to the Port Commission, and Beth Blake on the hospital board.

Artists with Wrangell Art Gallery celebrated their fifty years with an open house. The group of eight maintain a shop on Front Street, selling crafts in a variety of artistic mediums.

Wrangell High School's cross-country team did well at the 1A-3A State Championship in Anchorage, sending six of its runners along. Bryce Gerald beat his personal best and took eighth place at the meet, and the girls team won the All-Academic Award and placed in seventh overall.

Work on WCA's new Front Street carving facility had barely come to a close before work on the first project therein began. White Enterprises was contracted by the Alaska State Museums to create a small-scale, cedar planking tribal house, similar to the one on Shakes Island. Once completed, the house will be put on display at the new State Library, Archives and Museum in Juneau.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game confirmed that the 2014 moose harvest was the second best on record for the Wrangell-Petersburg area, with 104 counted. Hunters had a relatively mild winter and climbing moose population to thank for the good harvest.

November

In a surprisingly tight race, area voters elected Ortiz over Klein for the District 36 House seat. It was not the only close contest, with Independent candidate for governor Bill Walker edging out incumbent Gov. Parnell on a unity ticket, and Dan Sullivan beating Sen. Mark Begich for his seat. Alaska voters also affirmed three ballot measures, significantly raising the minimum wage, allowing marijuana to be regulated and sold in the state, and adding an additional layer of protection to Bristol Bay fisheries from the effects of possible large-scale mining projects.

An unusual power outage briefly affected service in Wrangell, Ketchikan and Petersburg, after high, dry winds deposited sea salt onto lines near Ketchikan's Bailey Substation. The buildup acted as a conductor, allowing power to bypass the lines' insulation and triggering the failure. Though common enough in other parts of the country, Ketchikan Public Utilities personnel admitted it was the first time such a cause was seen in the area.

Wrangell's Assembly voted to join in as an intervener in three lawsuits being filed against the United States Forest Service over its impending Big Thorne timber sale. Citing solidarity with the community of Craig and the region's vulnerable timber industry, members approved the one-time fee of $5,000 to side alongside other communities and businesses in support of USFS.

TBPA commissioners elected to power themselves down for the winter, setting a date for their next meeting in April. Lacking a clear mission or sure source of funding, the commission had hopes the Wrangell and Petersburg assemblies would chart a new course for them for the future.

December

Sentinel file photo

The Wrangell Wolves Cheer Squad took second place during the Region V tournament in Juneau in early March.

Wrangell High School hosted the Region V Wrestling Tournament, attracting nineteen schools' teams and over 230 wrestlers. The Wolves took first for 2A schools – its first team title in 20 years – with ten of its wrestlers chosen for state competition in Anchorage. At State, the team took seventh overall, and wrestler Alisa Heller placed second in Alaska's first all-girl tournament.

Wrangell Medical Center staff informed the hospital's board of trustees that their finances are in a bad way, with an independent audit totaling WMC's assets $4.1 million lower than the previous year, with scant operating funds on hand, rising expenditures and $4.3 million in accounts receivable. Problems with the Medicaid billing system are partly to blame for the large receivables figure, and write-offs related to the previous bid to build a new hospital accounting for most of the lost assets.

Running group The Southeast Beasts held their final run for the year, in all raising around $12,000 for various charitable causes.

 

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