As 2017 comes to a close, we’re taking a look back at some of the top stories from Haines and Klukwan this year.
Haines politics were charged this year. In August, residents voted in a divisive recall election. Three assembly members survived the vote, retaining their seats in the local government. Nearly 60 percent of Haines voters rejected allegations of misconduct in office against Tom Morphet, Tresham Gregg and Heather Lende.
“And it’s nice to know that we still believe in democracy and the process and each other. I do think we’ve sent a message that treating our elected officials this way is not tolerable,” said Lende.
The assembly saw two resignations – Margaret Friedenauer and Mike Case. Case left his seat after an emotional meeting in April.
“So goodnight and good luck to Debra and to all of you,” Case said.
The assembly had just voted to hire Debra Schnabel as the new borough manager.
There was also turnover at the Haines School. The board decided to end Superintendent Tony Habra’s contract after one year, because it wasn’t satisfied with his work performance. Board president Anne Marie Palmieri read a statement to KHNS.
“This was a multi-layered process with input opportunities from Mr. Habra, staff, students, and community members as well as individual School Board members,” said Palmieri. “At that point, the School Board consensus was that Mr. Habra’s work performance did not sufficiently meet the depth or breadth of the District’s needs for strong leadership.”
The Klukwan School also has a new superintendent, following the resignation of the Chatham School District leader.
Haines lost its only blue shirt Alaska State Trooper, setting off an ongoing conversation about how to address police service outside the townsite.
The Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay was cancelled for the first time in its 25 year history. June snow and slush compromised the safety of the course. But one team – of unicyclists – completed the 150-mile race down the Haines Highway anyway. Ned Rozbicki peddled with Uniquest Yukon.
“Our humble request of the committee that runs this fine race is not that they send us all the prizes and ribbons,” said Rozbiki. But rather just that they include a uni category in the future.”
The Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan and conservation groups sued the United States Bureau of Land Management, over permitting of a mine exploration project in the Chilkat Valley. Constantine Metal Resources is conducting mineral exploration, known as the Palmer Project, about 35 miles north of Haines.
The complaint says BLM failed to consider future impacts of mine development before approving an expanded exploration plan in 2016. Complainants worry about the effects a mine could have on salmon in the Chilkat watershed, and the Bald Eagle preserve.
Kimberly Strong is the president of the Chilkat Indian Village.
“We’re really not trying to hurt the economy of our community but really trying to be good stewards of the land that was entrusted to us and entrusted to the next generation,” said Strong.
The Chilkat Valley News got a new owner this year. Tom Morphet sold the paper to Kyle Clayton.
“Be a mirror for the community, I guess, is one of the goals of a newspaper,” Clayton said. “So whether it’s a kid playing sports or on an Easter egg hunt or talking about conflict of interest with the manager or police funding. Everything is Haines, from the little kids running through the grass to some of the more controversial stuff. And I don’t plan on shying away from doing the heavy-hitting stuff, but you have to reflect everything, the positive too.”
In June, a private plane flying from Juneau to Haines went down on the beach near the Glacier Point airstrip. Two people, including the pilot, were killed in the crash. National Transportation Safety Board Alaska Chief Clint Johnson said an important detail was revealed in an interview with the sole survivor.
“Unfortunately it does sound like one engine, the right engine, was shut down intentionally,” said Johnson. “And they were unable to restart it, which ultimately led to the accident.”
A popular, but untreated and unregulated drinking water source in Haines tested positive for E. coli this summer, in a test conducted by KHNS. But, some residents, like Krystal Norberg, are reluctant to stop drinking it.
“I’ve drank it for 10 years,” says Norberg. “I’ve never gotten sick. Nor have I ever known anyone to have gotten sick.”
Historically low king salmon numbers prompted strict fishing restrictions in the Upper Lynn Canal. Restrictions impacted all fisheries, including subsistence. Jeremy Strong, of Klukwan, spoke with KHNS this summer.
“I really feel that I got lucky with getting almost the amount of fish I want to get,” Strong said. “But being used to fish Monday through Sunday, and then changing that to Wednesday through Saturday, it kind of puts it in a little bit of pinch.”
The University of Alaska offered up 400 acres of timber on the Chilkat Peninsula, amid a conversation at the local level about whether to limit resource extraction in Haines’ Mud Bay neighborhood. UA Regional Resource Manager Patrick Kelly told the assembly the timing of the sale was motivated by this conversation.
“Were it not for the borough – the planning commission – pursuing this resource extraction ordinance, would you have brought this sale forward at this time?” asked Tom Morphet.“Probably not,” said Kelly.
The University received no bids on the sale, but said there is strong interest, and is continuing negotiations.
The Freeride World Tour announced it will not return to Haines next year, after bringing the big mountain ski and snowboard competition to the Chilkat Valley for three winters. Tom Winter is a spokesman with the competition.
“The things that make Haines so challenging are also the things that make it so special, so wonderful,” said Tom Winter, a spokesman with the ski and snowboard competition.
The Haines Economic Development Corporation got its footing this year, after the assembly gave the green light for $95,000 in borough funding.
The first ever Chilkat Challenge Triathlon took place this summer. About 40 people competed in the 35-mile race.
The Chilkoot Indian Association and Haines Public Library worked together this year and last, to revitalize a Tlingit culture camp along the banks of the Chilkoot River.
Ted Hart, with the Chilkoot Indian Association, was one of those who helped bring the camp back to life.
“And I just felt it was really important to get these kids together, working on putting up food and respecting the land,” Hart said. “We’re all creating future leaders right now.”
In May, two major earthquakes centered between the U.S./British Columbia border and the Yukon shook residents awake. Jim Stanford lives about 26 miles up the Haines Highway.
“We were shaken violently out of bed,” said Stanford. “Our house shook real good. Probably in over 30 years that’s the most violent shake we’ve felt.”
And finally, the Chilkat Valley Preschool found a new home in an addition to the senior center, after a long search. Lead teacher and former preschool board president Alissa Henry:
“Thinking back at all we’ve been through trying to get a new building — yeah, it’s been hard to believe,” Henry said. “It just feels good to be in this space.”