The pandemic didn’t end in 2022, but where it loomed large in January, by the end of the year COVID-19 had taken a back seat in many ways to the tumultuous events of 2022. Still, components of the pandemic: rises and falls in cases, reports of fatalities, transitions in public policy were newsworthy in most weeks of publication.
The November election flooded residents with mailers, commercials, fundraisers, forums and interviews with candidates vying for local, state and national offices for nearly the whole year. The death of longtime Alaska congressman Don. Young prompted a special election upset. Voters also had to try their hand at ranked choice voting and tackle the issue of a constitutional convention.
Other public health emergencies drew attention away from COVID as well — monkeypox, renamed mpox later in the year, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu all saw significant upticks and gave public health officials reasons to worry.
National culture wars spilled their way into local life, with controversies arising around library books and high school curricula. And fisheries disasters piled up.
Large gatherings and events made their way back into rotation. From shorebirds to Salmonfest to protest marches, the crowds and celebrations were back, and peninsula residents made the most of them. Student sports achievements (Nanwalek basketball and Homer High School football) were celebrated, art festivals and performances occurred almost every week.
The year began with almost 3,000 new COVID cases reported statewide in the first week of January. Hospitalizations increased and Homer’s long-term care facility at South Peninsula Hospital had its first positive case. By the end of the month, three people from the Kenai Peninsula were among the 21 deaths of COVID-19 reported in 2022 by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Concern for COVID was showing up everywhere. Homer Council on the Arts presented a pandemic art show by emergency room doctor Sami Ali illustrating the intense pressures for health care workers everywhere.
On their way to Juneau, south peninsula legislators Sarah Vance and Gary Stevens met with constituents and the Homer City Council to talk about local issues and concerns. The council also voted to partially fund the Homer Business Advisor position. Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce filed a letter of intent to run for state governor.
The U.S. Secretary of Commerce announced eight Alaska fisheries across the State of Alaska including salmon, cod and Tanner Crab qualified for disaster declarations. The fisheries occurred from 2012 to 2021. In the Cook Inlet region these included Upper Cook Inlet East Side Set Net (2018) and Upper Cook Inlet salmon fisheries (2020).
Homer’s first 2022 baby, Betty Lynn Fraley, was born on Jan. 17 to Cassy Quinlan and Jacob Fraley.
Homer’s 68th annual Winter Carnival held several events in early February. The parade was canceled due to lack of participation as a result of COVID-19 concerns. The social group Krew of Gambrinus, which has participated in the parade for 28 years, marched anyway — from Homer Brewing to Beluga Lake Lodge.
Longtime Homer resident and commercial fisherman Louie Flora announced that he would run for the Alaska State House of Representatives as a nonpartisan candidate.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District continued to require masks but with increased frustration from residents both opposed to and supportive of mask mandates.
The City of Homer filed an amicus brief in the United Cook Inlet Drift Association v. National Marine Fisheries Services and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration litigation in support of UCIDA.
Homer resident born in Sterling, Michigan, turned 100 years old and Homer News shared some of the stories of his life.
Thirteen individuals completed the Firefighter-1, Hazardous Materials Awareness and Hazardous Materials Operation class and joined local emergency service rosters.
On Feb. 24, two South Peninsula Hospital employees were recognized for their contributions to health and well-being of Homer. Derotha Ferraro, public information officer, and Laura Miller, the hospital’s laboratory director, were honored by the Rotary Club of Homer-Kachemak Bay as Paul Harris Fellows for their commitment to healthy communities.
Homer City Council got its first look at plans to transition the Homer Education and Recreation Complex into a community center that would include a two-court gym, track and performance stage, a second story with a running track, a commercial kitchen, a multipurpose room and staff offices and main reception. In mid-March, the council approved resolution to bring sewer and water to all of Old Town.
COVID-19 cases continued to fall, bringing relief to hospitals statewide and reduced masking in public settings. However, deaths were reported in later editions of the paper. Later in the month, cases were up again, still showing general instability in the state of the pandemic.
At their last home basketball game, Homer High School Mariner seniors were honored for senior night. The Nanwalek boys basketball qualified for their first state basketball tournament, their first contender was western Alaska’s Scammon Bay. The tournament took place in Anchorage. The Kachemak Nordic Ski Club held the Kachemak Marathon after it was closed the previous two years due to COVID-19. One hundred people participated in the event covering various ski trails around Homer.
Homer residents gathered with flags and signs at WKFL to support Ukraine amid the ongoing Russian war. Soldotna group joined the same week, showing support from across the peninsula.
Kenai Aviation announced plans to add weekday commuter flights from Kenai, Homer and Valdez to the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage.
Springtime brought several (minor) catastrophes to Homer.
The Homer News reported in its first issue of the month that a barge, dubbed the Redoubt, ran aground in Mud Bay at the end of March. The spill and response vessel was quickly pulled off the beach and into the bay. Later in April, a mail truck on its way to the southern peninsula caught fire, destroying a trailer and the contents inside it.
Springtime brought forth animals — the town hosted its first marine mammal forum — and election candidates, as they worked to make inroads in peninsula communities.
At the Homer Winter King Tourney, the Marley family pulled off another coup, with the team taking home the John Hillstrand Memorial Award for the second year.
Homer had a few bittersweet goodbyes in May.
After nearly two decades ported in Homer, the Coast Guard vessel Hickory headed to Baltimore before being reassigned to Guam.
Homer High graduated a class of students who had spent much of their high school years struggling with the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the ceremonies of 2020 and 2021, the 2022 commencement was held inside, marking the slow return to normal.
Shorebirds and birders flocked to Homer’s beaches during the 30th Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival.
The case of missing Homer woman Anesha “Duffy” Murnane saw its first break in May, with the arrest of a former Homer man for her kidnapping and murder. Kirby F. Calderwood, who was extradited to Alaska from Utah later in the year, is facing charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, kidnapping and tampering with physical evidence.
May 2022 closed with a fog-covered Kachemak Bay Memorial Day with gratitude honoring the men and women who made it possible for communities to gather together in peace.
COVID-19 was again in flux; the CDC raised alerts for the peninsula and with the onset of summer employment and tourism the number of positive test cases nearly doubled from the May report. The EPA again proposed restrictions to block plans for Pebble Mine’s copper and gold extractions in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. In other editions of the paper, COVID cases continue to rise and fall.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough made a step toward turning the region’s spruce bark beetle infestation into an opportunity to harvest timber.
In art, Pier One Theatre announced auditions for Ken Ludwig’s “Sherwood: The Adventures of Robinhood” with performances planned for August. Homer again celebrated Mary Epperson Day, a heart beat in the creativity of the community.
Kenai River Festival returned again to celebrate the watershed and its surrounding systems.
Seldovia Solstice Fest also celebrated art and music. Late June offered a Juneteenth Pride Parade with Pioneer Avenue marchers waving rainbow flags and banners to symbolize Pride and LGBTQ+ identities.
Finally, Homer’s KBBI Concert on the Lawn returned to close the month.
The arrest of a Homer man for the murder and kidnapping of Anesha “Duffy” Murnane earlier in the year prompted law enforcement to offer a June self-defense class for women. A memorial bench for Murnane and other missing and murdered people was installed at Homer Public Library.
With the boost of summer, Homer Farmers market news and harvest notes began to develop quickly, too, celebrating a variety of sunshine and storm days and a rainbow of heaping vegetables.
Homer’s athletic director Chris Perk announced retirement from his position after 22 years. His participation in Homer athletics extended well beyond that beginning with Little League and wrestling as a youth. Also announcing retirement was Mel Strydom, former owner of Homer’s Grog Shop, who passed the business to Mel Strydom after 17 years of ownership.
COVID again remained in flux with status of the peninsula varying between high risk and moderate. One woman’s COVID related death was reported at the end of the month. In other health and wellness news, a suicide crisis line (dial 988) was confirmed as part of a national initiative to connect people to crisis centers throughout the country. Suicide in Alaska is higher than the national average.
At the beginning of the month, the city council was set to consider rezoning West Hill and change the lower east area from rural residential to urban residential zoning. The rezone proposal covered the area south of lots on Reber Road, east of West Hill to Sound View. The rezoning passed before August.
The third annual Peony Celebration returned with events scheduled the first week of July.
The middle of the month delivered one of Homer’s largest protest marches, “Bans off our bodies.” About 400 individuals gathered to in support of individual reproductive rights in protest of the U.S. Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade. Speaking in support of the march were Claudia Haines with Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic and lawyer Ginny Espenshade.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District approved plans to begin updating classroom technology before the start of the 2022-23 school year after financial approval from the Board of Education. In the next four years, the district will spend about $2.18 million to replace classroom display devices.
Alaska Marine Highway System sailings between Homer and Kodiak on the M/V Tustumena were canceled in the end of the month due to crew shortages.
COVID remains in the front page and headlines of the paper and alert levels vary. Alaska’s first case of monkeypox — later renamed mpox — is also reported in early August. Mid-month students head back to the classroom with “symptom-free schools” protocols. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District announced modification of bus routes in response to lack of drivers and cost of fuel, with consolidation continued into September.
Salmonfest brought thousands of people to enjoy music and dance at the Ninilchik fairgrounds for a weekend of “fish, love and music are all about the salmon.” The event is held annually to advocate for all salmon-related causes — one of the biggest being opposition to the Bristol Bay Pebble Mine.
Also related to salmon (and all other Alaska marine resources), was the announcement of University of Alaska’s launch of a marine policy graduate program. UA administrators and faculty said it took years to get the program started but emphasized the importance of the training, especially in the context of climate change. The program is hosted through both the Fairbanks and University of Alaska South East campus.
Ninilchik Fairgrounds also hosted the 71st Annual Kenai Peninsula Fair with a packed schedule of attractions and Rodeo Alaska. 4-H Expo in Soldotna this month expressed similar peninsula interest in animals and agriculture.
In politics, voting occurred mid-month for various federal and state political representation. Running for District 6 representative were Ginger Bryant, Sarah Vance and Louie Flora. For senator: Gary Stevens, Walter Jones and Heath Smith. The Alaska Division of Elections reported that voter turnout was higher than usual. No one filed to run against Homer Mayor Ken Castner in the election scheduled for October.
Homer City Council appropriated funds for it “people-first” approach to transportation focusing on the safety and ease of nonmotorized users.
Other newsworthy topics for the month: gravel pit legislation, opioid settlement funds, marijuana business license applications.
Following allegations of harassment by a former borough employee, Charlie Pierce resigned as borough mayor to focus full time on his 2022 gubernatorial bid. Mike Navarre stepped in as interim borough mayor. Soon after Pierce’s resignation announcement, an internal investigation into allegations of harassment were also found to be credible. Many of the papers this month were full of Letters to the Editor expressing various support or concern for political candidates.
This is the month to truly stock up on end of the summer farmers market harvests. Homer News columnist writes this is the time to buy all the heads of cabbage to make sauerkraut, ferment vegetables, freeze soups and dry herbs.
School sports reports are back: Homer Mariner swim team members successfully swam across Kachemak Bay; volleyball, football and XC runners travel across the peninsula for competition. The U.S. Department of Education awarded a thee-year grant to serve isolated public schools. This funding will provide supplemental educational material to students in Ninilchik, Nanwalek, Port Graham and Tyonek.
COVID-19 updates continue to show up on the front page of the paper either reporting new deaths, vaccine booster information or rate of contagion.
Alaska World Arts Festival started, directed and produced by Sally Oberstein is back for the fourth year with a mixture of live performances, workshops and art events. Homer’s Documentary Film Festival, DocFest, also returned. Homer’s 19th annual Burning Basket took place on Sept. 19. The basket was constructed by Mavis Mueller.
The month ended with a severe headline story, “Calderwood indicted for murder.” The indictment charges Kirby Calderwood of killing Anesha “Duffy” Murnane with first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault.
As school moves through the fall, local athletes continue competitions, elementary school students begin an annual salmon in the classroom event with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Homer High school and KPBSD, in conjunction with law enforcement, also began the month with a school shooting threat from a Homer teen.
Perhaps one of the largest school sports achievements of the year was the October state championship trophy by Homer Mariner Football team.
The Kevin Bell Arena received help from volunteers to freeze the ice-rink and prepare for hockey season just days before closing temporarily due to inactive insurance.
The paper reintroduces readers to candidates for the 2022 November election. Mike Navarre attends first meeting as mayor. The Homer Chamber of Commerce also hosted a candidate forum for gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Pierce, Democratic candidate Les Gara and nonpartisan candidate Bill Walker. A later issue also covers a lawsuit detailing allegations of sexual harassment by Pierce.
The Alaska Historical Society presented Homer journalist and author Tom Kizzia with the historian of the year award.
Election season wrapped up after what seemed like years of campaigning by local, state and national politicians. On the southern peninsula, Republican Sarah Vance cruised to reelection to the Alaska House of Representatives, defeating Louie Flora and Ginger Bryant. Kodiak Sen. Gary Stevens, a Republican, won reelection to the Alaska State Senate after defeating Heath Smith and Walter Jones.
Incumbents reigned statewide, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola all retaining their respective seats. A measure that would have opened the Alaska Constitution for debate in a constitutional convention was defeated in a lopsided 70-30 vote.
The borough also passed a long-awaited bond package to support infrastructure improvements at schools across the borough. Infrastructure improvement were OK’d in Homer, with the city council funding the port expansion and more positions at the volunteer fire department.
The city library became embroiled in controversy over LGBQT+ books — a petition sought to remove books related to the topic from the children’s section.
In sports, Homer nabbed state swim titles; the Mariner hockey team announced it would not have a 2022-2023 season. Efforts to start a forest school in Homer continued. The proposed charter school would focus on immersion in the outdoors and emphasize nature as a classroom.
State officials also warned of a dangerous combinations of viruses — COVID-19, influenza and RSV circulation in Alaska —and encouraged vaccination.
Homer debuted the holiday season with its annual performance of the “Nutcracker” ballet.
The holiday season was on full display this month — with Santa making an appearance at the annual Homer holiday tree lighting, a swing choir performance and a luminaria event memorializing lost loved ones.
Four candidates joined the mayoral race to replaced former Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce, who resigned in August amid allegations of workplace harassment. The assembly also took up the issue of filling Nikiski member Jesse Bjorkman’s seat. Bjorkman was elected to the Alaska Legislature in the November election.
The Homer Police Department’s women’s self-defense class expanded to the central peninsula, where a class is scheduled for January.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy took his oath of office for a second term, after clinching just over 50% of the vote in November’s gubernatorial election.
Pebble Mine hit another roadblock, with proposed restrictions by the U.S. Environmental Agency. Also hitting a roadblock in December was a proposed Anchor Point gravel pit. After years of back-and-forth, an administrative law judge assented to an earlier court ruling blocking the Beachcomber LLC gravel pit, which had been proposed for a residential area on Danver Road and extending to the Anchor Point State Recreation Area.
A snowstorm dumped about 2 feet of snow to certain areas of the peninsula, bringing schools and businesses to a halt.