SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

2009 Year In Review

Some Times No Big News is Good News


January 08, 2010

Ketchikan, Alaska - Unlike some other years in recent memory, there was no single story that dominated Ketchikan and set local tongues to wagging in 2009.

The local economy was down this year, but not nearly as far as some had predicted as Ketchikan - and much of the rest of Alaska - avoided the economic meltdown that struck other communities in the United States.

Rather the year was punctuated smaller news stories than popped into and out of the collective local conscience. If nothing super wonderful happened, then at least you could say that - as a community - nothing super terrible happened either.

One of the quieter stories that built up over the year was the high number of suicides that have afflicted Ketchikan for the last year and a half. Local mental health providers estimated that there had been an average of between one and two suicides a month, the highest rate in anyone's memory. Several public meetings were held toward the end of the year and a committee was formed to begin addressing the causes of the epidemic.

Economy slightly down, but steady

Economically, much of the community was in a holding pattern in 2009.

Two high profile, long-time Ketchikan businesses went out of business in 2009. Waldenbooks, which had been in the Plaza Mall since 1986, announced it was closing due to a corporate restructuring.

Skinner Sales and Service, which had previously been Lewis Chevrolet for more than two decades, announced it was closing shortly before Christmas because its owner faced financial difficulties at his other locations.

The Plaza Mall itself experienced a bit of a resurgence as a new owner lowered rental rates and attracted numerous smaller Ketchikan businesses to relocate to it and both floors of the mall were nearly full for the first time in more than a decade.

But on the other hand, there was significant vacant shop space in the community, particularly in the Downtown area as there was retrenchment in the visitor industry and numerous businesses either closed in 2009 or chose not reopen at all during the summer.

The picture won't improve in 2010 as several cruise lines announced projected cutbacks for the 2010 season with passengers totals expected to drop up to 160,000 visitors . Cruise West, which had operated smaller ships out of the Ketchikan for many years, announced that it would be basing its ships in different cities for the next few years.

One bright spot in the economy was continued growth at the Ketchikan Shipyard with an additional drydock and approximately 170 employees by year's end. The shipyard also moved more into original vessel construction with a new ferry for the Mat-Su, a fueling barge for Chevron Canada and a replacement ferry for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.

There were two prominent "accidents" in the area in 2009.

The Alaska Marine Highway System experienced an embarrassment but not a disaster when the ferry Lituya broke free from its moorings in Metlakatla during a January storm and drifted onto a small island nearby.

A section of hillside gave way on North Tongass Highway in February, dumping tons of rock onto the highway and cutting off the north end for several hours. Two houses, left hanging by the new cliff, had to eventually be destroyed and the state Department of Transportation has planned significant new road work in the area in 2010.

City moves to divest human services and telecommunications

Local government had good news and bad news in 2009. Declining sales tax rates led to a budget crunch that caused the city government to speed up efforts to divest itself of both Gateway Human Services and the Ketchikan Public Utilities telecommunications division. Neither effort was completed by year end, but a public vote on the KPU divestiture had been scheduled for April of 2010.

City government also faced a challenge when it was determined at mid year that the community faced up to $20 million in potential bridge and trestle repairs on many of the wooden streets.

Good news came in the form of the final completion of the Swan Lake-Tyee Lake electrical intertie which promises to help meet community electrical needs at least the next several years.

The borough government moved its offices into a refurbished White Cliff school property in March. Gov. Sarah Palin visited Ketchikan cut the ribbon for the move in.

The South Tongass Volunteer Fire Department moved into a new station near Mountain Point in December, Governor Sean Parnell opened the station by sliding down the fire pole.

One area that remained unresolved for the borough was the future of the 200 acres of land at Ward Cove. After several attempts to sell the parcel whole, it was decided to move ahead with subdividing the property into smaller parcels. Negotiations with the Alaska Marine Highway System to sell part of the property for a lay-up facility continued..

On the local tax front, although overall community assessments rose 3.2 percent this year, the assembly lowered the property tax mill rate to 6 mills and voted at the end of the year to do away with the business personal property tax entirely. A proposal to level a 5 cent per cigarette tax in 2010 gained steam in December.

Lybrand named Citizen of the Year

George Lybrand was named Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year in 2009. Lybrand owns Southeast Engineering and has served terms on both the Borough Assembly and City Council but was recognized more for his well-known generosity toward those down on their luck in Ketchikan over the years.

Former Craig resident Rachel Waterman was back in the news after the state re-indicted her for alleged involvement in the murder of her mother, Lauri. The crime took place in 2004 and two of Rachel Waterman's former boyfriends have pleaded guilty to the murder. The state contends that Rachel Waterman conspired with the two men to murder her mother, but her first trial ended in a hung jury. Her second trial is set for June, 2010.

In local sports news, the Kayhi girls basketball team came achingly close to playing for the state championship in March. A last second three-point shot appeared to tie their semifinal match against Wasilla, but a foul was called away from the ball and the shot was waved off. Kayhi then finished 5th in the tournament. The girls did finish the year by winning the Clarke Cochrane Invitational for the fourth straight year.

The Kayhi boys basketball team staged a rare defeat of Juneau during the regular season but then fell to their long-time nemesis in the regional tourney. The opening of Thunder Mountain High School in Juneau in 2009 means that Kayhi will now have two instead of one competitor in the Southeast 4A league in the future.

Local law enforcement officers were credited with two dramatic fire rescues in 2009.

First a city police officer Michael Purcell was on patrol on Adams Street when he smelled smoke and found a local house partially in flames. He alerted the occupants who were distracted by a video game and hadn't noticed the fire. Later in the year, two state troopers, Zak Huckstep and Jack LeBlanc, rescued a woman and young child who were trapped in a burning house on Jenck Road.

Weinstein Steps Down as City Mayor

Longtime City Mayor Bob Weinstein resigned after nearly 12 years in office to take a position as the regional liaison for newly elected Alaska Sen. Mark Begich. Longtime councilman Lew Williams III was appointed to replace Weinstein in May and then was elected to a full three year term in October. Bob Sivertsen and Matt Olsen were also elected the city council and former borough and city mayor Jack Shay was successful in seeking a seat on the city council, at the expense of longtime councilmember Charles Freeman.

The political career of another longtime regional political leader also came to an end in 2009 as Craig Mayor Dennis Watson lost his re-election bid by a single vote. Watson had been Craig Mayor for 20 years. Millie Schoonover is the new Mayor of Craig.

On the borough government side, Todd Phillips and Mike Salazar were re-elected to seats on the borough assembly. The borough wide election also featured a $23 million bond proposition to fund a replacement for the Mike Smithers pool. It passed by a wide margin.

Initially, only one person filed for the three available seats on the School Board. Choc Shafer was easily re-elected. Five people did file as write in candidates for the other two seats. Michelle Houtcooper and Roseann Lynch were elected as write in candidates and David Timmerman was appointed to replace David Lieben who resigned his seat.

Law enforcement officials indicated that 2009 was a fairly average year in Ketchikan. There were no murders and assaults in general seemed to be down from previous years, but there was an increase in drug related crimes and there were several high profile drug busts in 2009.

Not all the crime was of a serious nature in 2009. A Whale Pass man charged in May with weapons misconduct after his truck stalled at an intersection and he shot it five times

Several well-known local citizens passed away in 2009 including:.

Joe Sadlier, 82, prominent Ketchikan World War II veteran, on April 16.

Patrick Doherty, 19, valedictorian of Kayhi Class of 2008, on June 15.

Sefton Reid, 31, Coast Guardsman who drowned in Herring Cove on June 27.

Don Ross, 84, Ketchikan pilot and miner, found major uranium mine on Prince of Wales, June 25.

Ralph "Scootie" Homan, 91, near life-long resident and member of 1934 state championship basketball team, June 30.

Tom Friesen, 70, former city councilmember and local broadcaster, Oct. 29.

Bob Norton, 57, former city councilman and youth sports coach and announcer on Dec. 15.

2009 Weather stats (Courtesy of the National Weather Service)

High temperature: 84 degrees on three different days: July 30, July 31 and August 5

Low temp: 6 degrees on January. 2

Highest Wind gust: 62 on November 14

Windiest day: 20.9 mph average wind speed on Sept. 10.

Most sunny days in a row: 13 July 25-Aug. 6

Most rainy days in a row: 44 Oct 14 to Nov. 30!!!

Rainiest day: 5.12 inches on Sept. 10 (see above).

Total Rainfall for 2009: 149.28 inches (but NOAA is always about 20 inches below reality on this one!)

Miscellaneous weather factoids:

May 2 (76) and June 3 (80), July 31 (84) were all time record highs for s for those days.

From July 27 to Aug 2, it was the highest low temperatures - most in the low 70s - for those days in Ketchikan's history

Jan. 2 (6) was all time coldest Jan 2 in history

June 1 to 6 temps were from 74 - 80 (one of best weeks ever in Ketchikan)

Only to be outdone by August 27-31, which featured five straight days above 80!

Overall, the weather in the summer of 2009 was just above average temperature wise and right about normal, precipitation wise. Compared to the Monsoon of 2008, it felt like we had died and gone to Fiji.



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More Columns by Dave Kiffer

Historical Feature Stories by Dave Kiffer

Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska. He is also currently the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor.
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Dave Kiffer ©2010

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