The end of one year and the anticipation of the next is always a good time to reflect.
Here at the Homer News, we look back on the past year and all the news and happenings that came with it: the happy, the sad, the political and the people-oriented.
We have reviewed each newspaper from 2018 and pulled out the biggest stories from each month as a little reminder of just how much has happened in our Cosmic Hamlet by the Seat in the last 12 months.
No “Year in Review” is ever complete without the photos that went with those stories, too.
The first baby born in Homer in 2018 was Brooke Addison Buzga. She was born at 8:29 a.m. on Jan. 4 to Jaimee and David Buzga of Anchor Point. Brooke’s parents had a little fun in the months, weeks and days leading up to her birth, making their friends and family to believe they were going to name her Brisket.
Longtime Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Painter said farewell to his post in order to retire. Painter had led the department for 17 years and had been in Homer for 26 years. He recalled fondly the fact that the national Kids Don’t Float awareness program was started right here in Homer.
Barrett Fletcher, a local man, started up the Kenai Peninsula’s first chapter of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in protest of a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly rule about who could give invocations before assembly meetings. The church, often referred to as FSM, started off as a protest itself, in the form of a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education in 2005 — its founder sent the letter as a way to argue against teaching creationism in biology. At the time, Fletcher planned to give the church an established presence on the peninsula so its member would be allowed to give invocations before the assembly.
A man on the run from police swam through the Beluga Slough while trying to evade them. Jason Christman, 40, was eventually arrested when police caught up with him in someone’s yard on Ocean Drive Loop after he ran up from the beach. Police were after Christman because he had broken the window of a home. They attempted to find him and lost him. Police later got another call that he had returned to that same home and caused more damage. That’s when police tracked him to Bishop’s Beach and saw him jump into the Slough.
The Homer News published its first “Fact or Fiction?” article in order to debunk the rumor that nuclear medicine wasn’t available at South Peninsula Hospital because of a city ordinance making Homer a “nuclear free zone.” In fact, nuclear medicine isn’t offered at SPH simply because it’s too expensive.
The Homer Bookstore published its 2017 bestseller list. “Homestead Kitchen” by Eve and Eivin Kilcher topped the list, followed by “pH” by Nancy Lord and “Kachemak Bay Alaska” by the Homer Foundation.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District began its contract negotiations with the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association and the Kenai Peninsula Education Association. The groups were set to meet to exchange initial offers.
A 7.9 magnitude earthquake rattled Homer and the greater Southcentral Alaska area, but caused no damage locally. The quake that hit around 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 23 was 181 miles southeast of Kodiak and was about 6.5 miles deep. A tsunami alert was activated for Homer and other coastal communities, and was later canceled when no significant wave arrived.
About 700 men, women and children turned out for the Women’s March on Homer 2018. They walked along Pioneer Avenue to WKFL Park to celebrate messages of hope, strength and warmth. It was the second iteration of a march and movement created in 2017 in response to the inauguration of President Donald Trump, called the Women’s March on Washington.
Girdwood musher Nicolas Petit, originally from France, won the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race for the first time on Jan. 28. It was his third time participating in the race. This T-200 race had a different route than normal, due to lack of snow in Kasilof, the traditional starting point for mushers. Instead, the race began at Freddie’s Roadhouse in Ninilchik and took mushers to McNeil Canyon Elementary school near Homer. Mushers had to complete that loop twice to complete the race, which was actually only 167 miles that year.
A former Homer teacher died while snorkeling in Hawaii on Feb. 3. The man, Mike Cline, was 80 years old. A memorial service was held for him locally at the Homer United Methodist Church.
After coming close to what would have been its first ever berth to a state championship game, Homer’s hockey team fell short by losing to Wasilla in a semifinal game in Soldotna. Wasilla topped the Mariners with a 4-2 win in the Northstar Conference matchup, and went on to earn their spot in the state championship by defeating Colony in the conference championship game.
South Peninsula Hospital named Joseph Woodin as its new CEO after the departure of Bob Letson, who had led the hospital for a decade. Woodin came to Homer from Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, where he had been president and CEO for just over a year before that hospital’s board voted to dismiss him, giving no reason for their decision.
The Homer girls’ cross-country ski team took first place in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Championships. The girls nabbed first place at the meet held in Seward with a combined time of 2 hours, 6 minutes and 2 seconds in the duathlon race, which combines both classic and skate skiing.
More than 100 students at Homer High School staged a walkout during their lunch hour on Feb. 21 in order to honor those killed in the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Students marched out of the front doors and down to the parking lot before gathering on the football field to form themselves into the number 17. That’s the number of students and adults killed in the Florida shooting. Students arranged to have an aerial photograph taken of themselves on the field and also made a video the organizers said would be sent to state government officials.
A student from Ninilchik was taken into custody on Feb. 20 after allegedly making threats to bring a gun to Ninilchik School. A concerned parent reported the 12-year-old boy to Alaska State Troopers, who informed the school, which informed staff and parents. The student was not on school property when he was taken into custody.
The Homer girls’ cross-country ski team took eighth and the boys’ team took 10th at the state championships held Feb. 23-24 in Fairbanks. Autumn Daigle and Katia Holmes took second and third place, respectively, in both the classic race and the skate race for the small schools division. Senior Jacob Davis took second place in the both the skate and classic ski races for the small schools, and senior Denver Waclawski took third in the classic race for the small schools.
The Homer City Council voted against allowing marijuana establishments to expand to the Homer Spit, the city’s Marine Commercial District. Including that district in the list of districts where marijuana establishments are allowed in Homer was suggested by the city’s Planning Advisory Commission and the Cannabis Advisory Commission, and was supported by the Port and Harbor Commission.
Skiers from all over the state descended on Homer for a one-of-a-kind cross-country ski race held on March 8. It was the Kachemak Bay Nordic Ski Marathon, but with a twist. Since there wasn’t enough snow at the Lookout Trails on Ohlson Mountain Road, the usual marathon location, organizers moved the race to the McNeil Canyon trail system. However, they also got special permission to have the race route go through Cook Inlet Region Inc. land, borough land and private property. This expanded the race’s three separate courses (42k, 25k and 13k) beyond the existing McNeil Canyon and Eveline trails and all the way up to Bald Mountain.
Haven House announced 2018’s women of distinction. Linda Chamberlain was Woman of Distinction, Daisy Lee Bitter Anderson was Woman of Wisdom, and Chloe Pleznac was Young Woman of Distinction.
Homer High School students brought a production of “West Side Story” back to Homer for the first time in 15 years when they performed it at the Mariner Theatre on March 23-25. Some of the student performers remarked on how some of the themes of the 1957 musical, like racism, were still very relevant in 2018.
Terry Kadel was promoted from assistant fire chief at the Homer Volunteer Fire Department to the head position. He was hired on in the wake of Chief Bob Painter retiring after leading the department for 17 years. Kadel came from Girdwood, where he had served as deputy chief since 2001.
A Nikolaevsk man was shot and killed by an Alaska State Trooper after he assaulted a different trooper during an altercation. Trooper Luke Kumfer had gone to Nikolai Yakunin’s house after a report that he was in contact with a woman there who he was not allowed to be in contact with per a court order. Yakunin attacked Kumfer and injured him “severely,” according to troopers. Sgt. Daniel Cox was the trooper who shot and killed Yakunin.
Denver Waclawski, then a senior at Homer High Schoool, won the annual Sea to Ski Triathlon in Homer. He finished the 5 kilometer run, the biking portion from West Homer Elementary to the Rogers Loop trailhead, and the final skiing leg in 1 hour, 5 minutes and 55 seconds. Josh Mumm, who claimed second place, crossed the finish line only 4 seconds after Waclawski.
More than 1,200 anglers hit the waters of Kachemak Bay on March 24 for the 2018 Winter King Salmon Tournament. Charlie Edwards won the top prize with his 24.60 pound fish caught aboard the Optimist. He walked away with $25,280 in winnings.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly decided to once again revisit the idea of moving the boundaries of both hospital service areas on the peninsula. Dale Bagley said the ordinance that was brought forward was meant to remedy a situation in which members of the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area were paying taxes to support that hospital, but were in actuality getting services at Central Peninsula Hospital.
Work began in April on repairing damage done to the Anchor River State Recreation Area parking lot by significant erosion. High tide cycles and heavy storms in September 2017 washed away 200 lineal feet of the parking lot. The repairs were funded by a $84,000 grant from the state, which was dedicated to repairing a 100-foot section of parking lot that had been damaged before the September 2017 events.
Lee Post and high school student Ben Kettle were honored at the 2018 Celebration of Lifelong Learning. Post, a longtime Homer resident known as the “bone man” for his extensive work with marine skeletons, is a part owner of the Homer Bookstore. Kettle was then a senior at Homer High School and was slated to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology after graduation, where he planned to study electrical engineering and computer science.
Homer Medical Clinic unveiled the results of its remodel and expansion. South Peninsula Hospital CEO Joe Woodin was there for an open house in which community members could tour the new space along with South Peninsula Hospital representatives.
A freshman at Homer High School, Laura Inama, won a chance to hone her skills out of state with the Alice Witte Memorial Volleyball Scholarship. Inama, who had been pulled up from JV to the varsity volleyball team that season, won the scholarship provided through the Homer Foundation. It gave her the opportunity to attend a five-day skills camp at Soka University in California that summer.
Homer Police Officer Will Hutt retired in April after 23 years serving the community, spending five years as lieutenant at the department. Hutt recalled several good memories, saying one of the things that brought him the most joy was reuniting pet owner with their lost dogs. He also remembered exceedingly difficult times on the force, chief among them the 2006 Homer Airport shooting, in which he and several other Homer officers were involved.
Homer residents got an up close look at practice exercises designed for oil spill response thanks to the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, which sponsored the public tour of the annual drill. The exercise is practiced by area commercial fishermen with their own vessels. They practiced using booms and other oil spill response equipment, as well as communication and working together.
The Homer City Council voted to create a task force to look specifically at the Homer Education and Recreation Complex and what the city’s option are to deal with it moving forward. The council created a series of questions it wanted the task force members to answer, including whether the upstairs of the main HERC building could be used safely without major improvements, what it would cost to demolish both buildings on the site, and what the minimum required improvements needed to use all of the HERC facility.
Local resident Wilma Gregory turned 100 on April 21. She was born in 1918 and has lived in Homer since 1958. Gregory was raised on the farm where she was born in Minnesota. She finished high school a year early, enrolled in aircraft school in Nebraska, went on to inspect planes for Martin Aircraft Modification Center, and eventually joined the Women’s Army Corps.
The Homer City Council decided to go with a sales tax increase in order to pay for the construction of a new police station. At a meeting in May, members voted to ask residents if they would approve a year-round 0.35-percent sales tax hike to raise the necessary funds for the project.
A Voznesenka man got six years in federal prison after being convicted of being a felon in possession of firearms. The man, 42-year-old Joseph Kuzmin, had been convicted of crimes in the Homer area previously, including third-degree assault in 2006, and for driving under the influence and refusing to submit to a chemical test in 2009.
Homer saw a large pulse of shorebirds in early May, which many took as a sign of what was to come during the annual Shorebird Festival. About 20,000 birds passed through the area.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly set its base funding for education at $49.7 million. That was the same amount budgeted for the previous year. The assembly has the ability to fund more than whatever base it sets, but rarely chooses to fund education to the allowable cap.
The Bunnell Street Arts Center’s Plate Project hit 25 years in May. Volunteer artists paint myriad plates, which then are taken home by those who donate either $250 or $125 to Bunnell.
The Homer News reported that former director of South Peninsula Hospital’s rehabilitation department was placed on leave in December 2017 during an internal hospital investigation after several female employees made allegations that he had bullied, harassed and sexually harassed them. One former patient alleged he had touched her inappropriately during a physical therapy session in 2009. Douglas Westphal returned to the department in January to work as a therapist after his leave, but was no longer head of the department.
Pink salmon rearing net pens placed at the head of Tutka Bay by Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association came loose and floated over into Tutka Bay Lagoon. The pens had been in a spot not actually allowed by Alaska State Parks because of a mix up in permitting. The spring storm and winds blew the nets closer to the spot where they were actually allowed.
The Homer track and field team took second place in the borough-wide meet, with Soldotna High School taking first place for both the boys and girls. Homer’s Laura Inama took first place in the long jump and the 200 meter dash. Marina Carroll took first in the high jump and the triple jump, and Autumn Daigle took first in the 3,200 meter run. Homer also got a first place event out of the 3,200 relay team of Daigle, Katie Baring, Brita Restad and Brooke Miller.
Students from Homer High School, Homer Flex School and Ninilchik School all moved their tassels to the other side of their caps in graduation ceremonies across the lower peninsula. Many spoke of their future plans as well as reflected on fond high school memories.
Firefighters had a busy week as they put out fires on East End Road and Eagleaerie Avenue. The Eagleaerie fire destroyed a dry cabin, but no one was hurt. The wind-driven fire on East End Road came close to damaging two homes, but firefighters from Kachemak Emergency Services, Homer Volunteer Fire Department, Anchor Point Emergency Services and the Alaska Division of Forestry all responded together to put it out.
Homer’s first ever marijuana retail store opened at the end of May on Ocean Drive. Uncle Herb’s celebrated a busy opening day and the opening of its second location (the first Uncle Herb’s store was opened in Anchorage). A small queue of Homer area residents waited outside the building for it to open. At the head of the line was former Homer City Council member David Lewis, who also served on the city’s marijuana advisory commission.
Paul Seaton announced he would run for reelection in the Alaska House of Representatives as a nonpartisan candidate. Republican Party officials had criticized Seaton for joining the House majority and tried to keep him from running in the Republican Primary.
Timothy Whip, the regional principal of the Razdonla and Kachemak-Selo Schools, announced his plans to retire after about seven years serving in the Russian Old Believer villages at the head of Kachemak Bay. Whip retired with more than 30 years of experience in the education sector, but said he planned to stay involved in advocating for education in some way. Greg Melvin, a special education teacher at Razdolna, was named as Whip’s replacement for principal there. Voznesenka Principal Mike Wojciak took over as principal at Kachemak-Selo.
The HERC task force met for the first time to discuss options for the future of the HERC site. The members established a work scope for their future meetings.
Homer experienced some controversy over a city recognition of Pride Month. Mayor Brian Zak was set to read a recognition of June as Pride Month in Homer at a city council meeting. Recognitions and proclamations are not uncommon at those meetings. Part of its purpose was to remind people that Homer was set to have its first ever Pride March in June. However, after several citizens called council members and complained, members Heath Smith, Shelly Erickson and Tom Stroozas pulled out of the meeting. This meant there wasn’t a quorum and the council couldn’t meet, so the recognition couldn’t be read. Zak read the recognition anyway in front of a small crowd outside Homer City Hall at the time originally scheduled for the council meeting.
The high school football team for Voznesenka School was disbanded after a five-year run. The school had progressed to a varsity level team after a few years of playing eight-man football and scrimmaging with other schools. After five seasons, however, the school decided to drop the varsity sport in order to better focus its resources on its existing sports. Principal Mike Wojciak said time, personnel and financial constraints for the school make juggling that many sports difficult.
A teenager from Homer was killed in a plane crash while visiting family out of state in June. Parker Gibson, 15, had been involved in his community in a number of ways, notably as a Peer Educator through the R.E.C. Room. He had been visiting family in California when the crash happened.
Homer’s inaugural Pride March saw about 280 men, women and children (and several dogs) hit the streets from Pioneer Avenue to Grace Ridge Brewery. There has long been a place for LGBTQ members to march in Homer’s annual Fourth of July Parade, but this marked the first time Pride was officially celebrated on its own in the city.
The Homer Educational and Recreational Complex Task Force toured the city building on June 26 as it began its job of coming up with recommendations on what to do with the embattled building. The task force was to determine if the upper level of the old school building can be used without capital improvements, what minimal improvements would be needed, what it would cost to demolish the building, and what it would cost to build a new recreational building.
Women interested in starting a roller derby team met at Alice’s Champagne Palace to talk about holding a derby at the South Peninsula Athletic and Recreational Complex. SPARC opened up three hours on Tuesday nights for practice if women want to form a team.
“It’s all about empowering women,” said Bailey Lowney, one of the organizers. “Just getting out there and kicking ass, you know?”
A Utah couple on July 2 started a 2-year cycling tour in Homer with the goal of cycling all the way to Argentina. Sophie George and Chris Haag began their adventure with little fanfare. The couple will make their way through 15 countries and two continents.
A group of homeowners in the Dorothy Drive neighborhood petitioned the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Department to vacate the last 2,000 feet of the Skyline Drive area road, including the home of country music singer Zac Brown. Neighbors in the area had become frustrated by fans driving on the rural road to see Brown’s home. Some fans have even walked into Brown’s unfinished house. If granted, the road would become private, with restricted access. KPB Mayor Charlie Pierce also directed the road be closed off for public safety reasons, but borough attorney Colette Thompson later said the road hadn’t been closed off. The petition was to have been heard at an Aug. 13 meeting of the KPB Planning Commission, but the landowners pulled their petition in early August after failing to get a majority of landowners to sign off on the idea.
A short-term vacation rental boom contributed to a labor shortage because summer workers were having trouble finding housing. One woman found a solution by camping on a friend’s property. Land’s End Resort owner Jon Faulkner bought a six-plex to offer reduced-price housing for his employees, but the lack of affordable housing also made it hard for permanent workers.
“Our community needs stability in year-long housing. Our community needs an economy to support those of us who do want to live here longer than four months a year,” said one Homer resident, Corrina Pariyar.
Candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. Congress sparred at a debate at the Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer on July 10. Democrat Dimitri Shein faced Non-partisan Alyse Galvin. Shein ran primarily on his support for “Medicare for all,” or health insurance for every resident. Galvin took a broader approach. Both agreed on many positions, including opposition to President Donald Trump’s tax reforms and to the Pebble Mine. They also supported Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Locals and visitors competed in the Kachemak Bay Scottish Club Highland Games, including the halibut toss, an event unique to Homer. They hurled hammers, threw stones and pitched sheaves of hay, but the big event was the caber toss, where men and women tried to flip big logs end over end.
In response to increased crime in Anchor Point, residents met on July 31 to set up a Neighborhood Watch program. A representative of the Alaska Department of Public Safety talked to citizens about how to organize to make communities less friendly to crooks.
“We’ve just had so many people with break-ins,” said Cindy Burns, Anchor Point Senior Center director and the organizer of the meeting. “What do we do?”
Commander Adam Legget on July 18 took command of the USCGC Hickory from Commander Andrew Passic in change-of-command ceremonies held at the Homer Boat House.
Homer District Court Judge Margaret Murphy on July 23 ordered a squatter to vacate an Anchor River homestead. The Dwight and Deborah Glanville family said Keith Evans, 57, had overstayed his welcome on the land. The Glanvilles had allowed Evan’s father, Bill, to stay at a house on the land. The son helped care for his father, but after Bill Evans died, the Glanvilles said it was time for the son to leave. In August, prosecutors charged Keith Evans with trespassing after he hadn’t met a deadline to vacate the property.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission at its July 16 meeting denied a gravel pit permit near the Anchor River. The application would have allowed about 30 acres of excavation off the main beach access road. Landowner Emmitt Trimble said he would appeal the decision to the Board of Adjustment.
Vancouver, British Columbia, resident Ashley Camp took the lead in the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby with a 221.4-pound barn door caught on July 28 while fishing with Capt. Brian Nollar on the Bell Isles. By the end of the derby in September, she held on to the top slot.
Kenai prosecutors indicted for the third time a man involved in a 2014 Christmas Day car crash that caused an Anchor Point girl to lose both her legs. A judge on Aug. 7 arraigned Larry Pyatt, 32, on nine counts, including assault, reckless driving and driving under the influence. Pyatt swerved into a vehicle stopped along the Sterling Highway whose driver was helping another stalled vehicle. The girl was pinned between the two cars. Two indictments had been dismissed earlier, with one judge saying Pyatt did not voluntarily consent to a blood draw. Prosecutors said that in the new indictment they had addressed previous irregularities.
An Ohio man started his run on Aug. 7 from Anchor Point to Key West, Florida. Starting on the westernmost point in the Alaska road system that’s connected to Canadian and U.S. highways, Pete Kostelnick, 30, intended to run all the way to the southernmost point in the road system. On his first day he ran 60 miles to Soldotna.
The Pratt Museum announced it would close from Sept. 5, 2018, to May 4, 2019, as the museum renovated the building. The museum shelved plans for a new building and instead will remodel the existing structure, addressing issues like handicapped access.
Big storms that started Aug. 13 hammered the Homer Spit, sucking out to sea the beach near the Glacier Drive-In Restaurant and by a city campground. The boardwalk took the brunt of the waves ripping down rocks protecting the Spit road.
“We’re the first in line,” said Glacier Drive-In owner Lee Pedersen. “Now there’s nothing to stop it.”
A mother-daughter team published a new book on dinosaurs. Written by Deborah Klein and her mother, Janet Klein, “Alaska’s Dinosaurs and Other Cretaceous Creatures” fulfills a request by Deborah Klein’s sons, Kai and Sylas Reising, for a book on the state’s dinosaur finds. Illustrated by EmmaLee Moore, the “color and learn” book includes all the information known so far about dinosaur’s in the 49th state.
Sarah Vance won the Republican Party nomination for District 31 Representative after an updated count on Aug. 28 showed her with a lead of 94 votes over second-place challenger John Cox. Vance, who had been spokesperson for Heartbeat of Homer, a group that unsuccessfully tried to recall three Homer City Council members in 2017, made her first run for a state office. Henry Kroll also ran for the GOP nomination. Rep. Paul Seaton ran unopposed as a nonpartisan candidate for the Democratic Party nomination.
Homer Police arrested two men on motor vehicle and other theft charges. Police said Travis Catron, 25, and Niko Mogar, 27, had been involved in a string of vehicle break-ins and thefts in downtown Homer and on the Spit between Aug. 21 and 27. Numerous residents reported items stolen from cars, from firearms to fancy chocolate. Police caught Catron in a stolen Prius after the owners had been on the phone reporting the theft when they said they saw their car being driven by their Spit home. Police started pulling together the threads in the cases when they caught Catron.
Two Russian adventurers, Anna Vazhenina and Anatoly Kazakevich, ended a two-year journey from Lake Baikal to Alaska in Homer on Aug. 26. Traveling in an inflatable and packable catamaran, the Iskatel, they followed the path of early Siberian explorers, at some points moving the boat by truck over river and lake portages. They stored the boat in Homer and offered to sell or loan the Iskatel to other adventurers who might want to make the return journey to Russia.
Homer Police Officer Ed Stading died Sept. 3 after a long illness. Stading joined the force in 2005 and had more than 2) years of law enforcement experience.
“He was a great officer for us,” said Homer Police Chief Mark Robl. “… He was a big guy, a strong guy, but truly a gentle giant.”
Citing a need to take care of new family responsibilities, Homer City Council candidate Deb Lowney withdrew from the three-person city council race. Lowney’s niece, Shay Lowney, died from complications of an illness on Aug. 29, and Lowney and her husband became guardians of Shay Lowney’s three school-age children. Lowney’s name will remain on the ballot, but she said if elected she would not serve. That made the other two candidates, incumbents Donna Aderhold and Heath Smith, the likely winners.
An employee of North Star Terminal on the Homer Spit on Sept. 11 turned in a box of about 100 used syringes and needles to Homer Police. The worker found syringes on a section of beach on the Mud Bay side of the Spit. Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said he didn’t know where the syringes came from, but it’s common for drug users to dump syringes where they shoot up. Robl said people who find syringes should be careful handling them and take them to the police station for safe disposal.
The Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center on Sept. 11 cancelled a District 31 State Representative candidates forum planned for Sept. 25 at Alice’s Champagne Palace. Republican Party officials set new stipulations for debates that included them not being held at venues that served alcohol. The time, date, moderator and location also would need to be approved by her, said GOP District 31 chair Nona Safra. However, Republican Party candidate Sarah Vance said decisions about debates would come directly from her. The forum also included a debate between Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly candidates Willy Dunne and Troy Jones; that debate also was canceled. Rep. Paul Seaton said he would hold an event on Sept. 25 for his campaign.
Connor Schmidt, 25, announced that he would run a write-in campaign for Homer City Council — and then ended the campaign after he discovered he had missed a deadline to register to vote in city limits. Under city code, a person is eligible to run for city office if they have registered to vote in the city at least 30 days before the municipal election in which the candidate intends to vote. Schmidt has been a city resident for two years, but said that “much to my dismay” he had neglected to change his registration in time.
The Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the city of Homer violated the due process rights of citizen activist Frank Griswold in his appeal of a 2014 Homer Advisory Planning Commission decision granting a conditional use permit application. The Supreme Court said a Superior Court judge had failed to serve notice to Griswold that his standing to appeal was at issue and thus his due process rights were violated. The Supreme Court reversed a Superior Court decision affirming the planning commission decision and remanded the case to the lower court to decide Griswold’s case on its merits. City Manager Katie Koester said the city had never raised the issue of standing and that was something the judge decided on his own.
The Homer Advisory Planning Commission at its Sept. 19 meeting approved a conditional-use permit for a controversial 20,000-square-foot medical center to be built on a lot just below South Peninsula Hospital. Although numerous people spoke or wrote letters against the project, the commission approved the CUP in a 6-0 vote. Dr. Paul Raymond said he needed the new building because his current building had become two small for Kachemak Bay Medical Clinic. Commissioners said they could find nothing in city code that would not allow the CUP.
City officials and Homer City Council members on Sept. 25 held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the expansion of Greatland Street from the Sterling Highway to Pioneer Avenue. The extended road now provides a new north-south link from Homer’s two main downtown roads. Council member Donna Aderhold road her bike to the ceremony to show that the street includes bike lanes. Council member Shelly Erickson noted that she got the ball rolling on the project in June 2017 when she introduced an ordinance to build the extension
“People were having trouble making left-hand turns down on the Bypass,” she said. “There (were) a number of near misses.”
The Homer Documentary Film Festival held its 15th run starting on Sept. 27. Highlights of the festival included “RBG,” about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” about Fred Rogers, creator of the TV series, “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.”
In city elections, voters chose Ken Castner as their next mayor. Incumbent Mayor Bryan Zak chose not to run for re-election, citing health issues as he battles cancer. Former Homer City Council member David Lewis ran against Castner. Castner ran a unity campaign, saying he would not vote to break a tie vote by the council and that he would not issue mayoral proclamations.
“I ran to bring both sides together,” Castner said.
Incumbent council members Donna Aderhold and Heath Smith also won re-election to 3-year terms.
In Kenai Peninsula Borough elections, Assembly member Willy Dunne beat challenger Troy Jones, winning re-election to the District 9 seat for the lower peninsula. Two propositions to change the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area boundaries passed, moving the boundary south from near Clam Gulch and expanding it around Kachemak Bay. A proposition to approve a $5.5 million bond to build a new Kachemak Selo School failed by 1,433 votes.
Outdoor gear and fishing supply store NOMAR celebrated its 40th year in business. Started by Kate and Ben Mitchell in an old school bus, the company changed the fishing industry with its “no-mar” brailer bag that made unloading fish easier without marking them. Ben Mitchell credited his wife with the company’s success.
“It’s Kate,” he said “She’s stuck with it and keeps it going.”
An Anchorage Superior Court judge ruled the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly’s invocation policy was unconstitutional. Judge Andrew Peterson said that because the policy required people giving the invocation to be members of religious organizations with “an established presence” in the borough, it violated the U.S. and Alaska Constitution’s clauses prohibiting establishment of a religion.
“It is not inclusive of every religious view practiced by the residents of the Kenai Peninsula,” Peterson wrote.
Lance Hunt, an atheist, Iris Fontana, a member of the Satanic Temple, and Elise Boyer, a member of Homer’s small Jewish community, had filed the lawsuit challenging the policy. The assembly later decided not to appeal the decision, and reinstated a policy similar to what it had in place before adding the requirement that religious or spiritual groups have an established presence.
Students with the Kachemak Bay Campus Semester By the Bay program got perhaps more than they expected in learning about marine biology — flensing and cleaning a dead sea otter. They helped recover the body after a beach walker reported finding the otter on Aug. 13 near Deep Creek. Debbie Boege Tobin, a biology professor at KBC, said the otter was a “code 4” in terms of decomposition.
“We call it intestinal pudding,” she said.
The Homer City Council at its Oct. 22 meeting approved putting the question to voters on whether Homer should once again ban thin plastic bags. The proposed ban would prohibit retailers from providing single-use plastic carry out bags. Bags for meats and produce would be allowed.
After 32 years in business, Barb’s Video closed on Oct. 31 after a blow-out sale of all DVDs on Oct. 20. Barbara Jacobs started the store in 1986 and sold it to Janet and Charlie Higley in 2008. The video store found it hard to compete with online entertainment available as streaming videos. It had been the only rental video store left in Homer.
According to 30-day Alaska Public Offices Commission reports before the general election on Nov. 6, District 31 candidate Rep. Paul Seaton had raised almost $80,000 to challenger Sarah Vance’s $27,000. Vance got support through a political action group called Families of the Last Frontier, which received $140,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington, D.C. The PAC spent $17,000 in radio ads, digital ads and website development in support of Vance and against Seaton.
The Homer Bookstore celebrated 40 years of ownership by its current group of owners. Woody Suttles started the store, later selling it to Kathy and Splinter Smith in 1974. They in turn sold it to Joy Post and her son Lee in 1978. Daughter Sue and friend Jenny Stroyeck joined the team in 1994. The store moved around town at several rental locations, finally settling in at its own home on Pioneer Avenue in 2001.
In a surprise upset, challenger Sarah Vance defeated 16-year incumbent Rep. Paul Seaton. Though Seaton did strongly in the Homer, Diamond Ridge and Fritz Creek precincts, Vance won with about 58 percent of the vote, with victories in Anchor Point, Ninilchik, Kasilof and Funny River pushing her to victory. Republicans targeted Seaton because he joined a bipartisan and independent House coalition. Vance ran on a platform of restoring the PFD.
“Alaska is going through some difficult times,” Seaton said. “When you propose solutions to difficulties, there’s always elements people don’t like. That’s the way it is.”
Citizens criticized a draft management plan for Kachemak Bay State Park and Kachemak Bay Wilderness Park. In comments and at public meetings, they objected to changes like allowing winter heliskiing or drones in the park. In early December, former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andrew Mack adopted the plan right before Gov. Mike Dunleavy took office. Dunleavy’s new DNR commission rescinded the adoption.
A federal judge sentenced a Port Graham man, Ryan Meganack, 35, to 15 months in jail, to be served consecutively to a 15-year sentence he got in state court for sexual assault. Meganack pleaded guilty to false distress and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He faked his own death, triggering a massive search and rescue effort that cost the U.S. Coast Guard almost $350,000.
Wearable Arts celebrated 35 years of fun, fiber art with a show, “Time Traveling,” on Nov. 17 at Land’s End Resort. The show included pieces from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s as well as new work.
Coincidental finds over the month of November of Pleistocene bones added new knowledge to an understanding of ancient mammals on the lower Kenai Peninsula. Beachwalkers found a mammoth tooth, an ankle bone of an unidentified hoofed animal and a steppe bison horn.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough approved oil and gas leases on borough land in the Anchor Point area to Hilcorp. The leases were for subsurface rights only, and allow Hilcorp to extract petroleum resources from borough property in return for a 12.5 percent royalty. Homer assembly member Kelly Cooper said it wasn’t an easy decision to make, but she voted for the leases because otherwise the royalties would go to the state. The ordinance accepting the leases stipulated that revenues would support Anchor Point Emergency Services.
The city announced that Homer Volunteer Fire Department Chief Terry Kadel was no longer at his job, but City Manager Katie Koester said she could not elaborate on whether he had been fired or had resigned. Koester cited personnel rules for her silence. Kadel had worked for the city since September 2017, first as assistant chief and then as chief after former chief Bob Painter retired in early 2018. Koester later appointed former fire chief Robert Purcell as interim chief.
A 7.0-magnitude earthquake rattled Southcentral Alaska on Nov. 30. While Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley suffered major property damage, Homer escaped with almost no harm. Low-lying areas evacuated briefly after officials issued a tsunami warning. A Homer man, Tom Sulczynski, became famous through photos as the guy in the red SUV when the Minnesota Drive off ramp collapsed under his car as he headed to the Anchorage airport. He and his passenger, Bekah Taylor, escaped harm, though crevasses surround the car on all sides. They made their flight out of Anchorage.
The Homer City Council passed with no debate or contention the city’s 2019 budget. The $21 million budget included a 0.5 percent cost of living adjustment for city workers.
“It’s only the biggest thing we do every year,” joked Homer Mayor Ken Castner.
The HERC Task Force made its recommendations on what to do about the old city building. The task force suggested keeping the building in “warm” status for the next five years and allow current users in the lower floor to keep using it. That will give the city time to find a public-private partnership.
An Anchor Point man, Rusty Counts, 39, pleaded guilty to 21 misdemeanor wildlife violations related to his poaching of three moose. A judge sentenced him to nine months in jail and a $100,000 fine. He also had to forfeit his weapons and a four-wheeler. A prosecutor called it one of the most egregious poaching events ever seen.
The Homer High School Mariner wrestling team with a fourth straight boys team championship in the Kachemak Conference. The Homer girls also won the regional championship. The boys later captured the state wrestling title, and girls wrestler McKenzie Cook became the second girl and 14th wrestler to win a fourth state crown in Alaska wrestling history.
The state licensing board for therapists found a South Peninsula Hospital therapist, Douglas Westphal, did not violate any statutes or regulations governing the practice. Two women had filed complaints, and after a review of the complaints, a board member found the complaints did not merit further action, including an investigation.