From Washington, D.C., to Homer, 2017 stood out as a year of transformation. Some saw radical change with the inauguration of President Donald Trump, who promised to “drain the swamp” and “make America great again.” Others saw a step backward into past days of racism and sexism and a shredding of the social contract.
If in 2017 anyone thought national politics would not ripple down to the end of the road, one word dispelled that notion: Recall. Following Trump’s inauguration, resistance to the 45th president blossomed the following day with the national March for Women, including what could be the biggest political demonstration ever in Homer when more than 900 people strode up Pioneer Avenue. The resistance continued when a Homer activist, Hal Spence, helped draft a Homer City Council resolution promoting inclusivity that also included statements critical of Trump.
When Spence’s draft hit social media, even though its council member sponsors toned down the anti-Trump lines by the time it came before the council, conservatives rose up in reaction. Resolution 17-019, what some called an inclusivity resolution and others called a sanctuary city resolution, drew fierce opposition and died in a 5-1 vote. That led to a recall petition to penalize the resolution’s sponsors, council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds, and a cabin fever controversy that lasted well into early summer.
And so 2017 went. The year saw tensions eased somewhat by a cold, snowy winter that killed off spruce aphids and brought back events like the Kachemak Nordic Ski Marathon. New leadership emerged as longtime executives like the head of Hospice of Homer or South Peninsula Hospital retired. The city council saw two new members elected, Rachel Lord and Caroline Venuti, increasing to four the number of women members. The ongoing opiod crisis and an apparent rise in property crime challenged the criminal justice system. Homer addressed addiction head-on, with a needle exchange program and more public discussion of the problem.
Through it all, Homer did what it does best: catch fish, create art and music, care for each other, and celebrate living in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Everest Reutov was Homer’s first baby, born at 8:15 a.m. Jan. 4, 2017, at South Peninsula Hospital to Kcenia and David Reutov. He surprised his parents by arriving before an expected Jan. 23 due date.
A Homer man, Larsen Klingel, qualified for the 2018 Boston Marathon — but as a passenger in a racing wheelchair. He’ll be pushed by Andy Beardsley of Richmond, Virginia. Rather than wait for several years for the wheelchair team category, Beardsley qualified in the 50-60 age group as a regular runner in the Richmond Marathon, even though he pushed Klingel.
South Peninsula Hospital added a new service: telemedicine for stroke patients. Working with Providence Alaska Medical Center, the equipment allows SPH doctors to consult with a neurologist in Seattle.
On Jan. 6, Homer Police used security camera footage and tips on social media to arrest a Homer man, Johnney Boy Newman, suspected to have robbed the South Peninsula Athletic and Recreation Center. After footage circulated on Facebook that showed a man in a backpack stealing from the SPARC while it was under construction, someone at the Homer Public Library saw Newman wearing a similar backpack and told police.
A city council resolution failed to support building salmon rearing net pens in Tutka Bay for the Tutka Bay Hatchery. The vote was 3-2, but failed because of council rules requiring a minimum of four votes for an action to pass.
A family hiking at Diamond Creek on Jan. 5 found a steppe bison horn on the beach. Holly Keintz noticed the horn while hiking with her husband Jordin and daughter Natalie. The right horn, it could be the match of a left horn found in 2012 by A.J. Weber. It’s the 19th Pleistocene animal bone found in the Homer area and further evidence that animals roamed in an ice-free area between 27,000 and 55,000 years ago.
Abe Alborn purchased and renovated the historic Heritage Hotel on Pioneer Avenue. Now named King’s Landing Hotel, it originally was named the Heady Hotel and built in 1948.
More than 900 people participated in the Homer Women’s March, part of international demonstrations held Jan. 22 after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Demonstrating under the theme “women’s rights are human rights,” the line of marchers stretched from Main Street to WKFL Park on Pioneer Avenue. “The sight of them coming toward us was the most inspiring thing. It was overwhelming. Wonderful,” said demonstrator Anne Wieland.
Four trucks with Donald Trump flags drove by the marchers as they headed home after the event. One driver “rolled coal” or spewed diesel exhaust on the marchers. People also marched in Seldovia, Kenai and Seward. Some Homer women participated in a march in Washington, D.C.
Homer City Council member Shelly Erickson introduced a memorandum to start discussion on a zoning ordinance to address the winter homeless problem. Erickson suggested changing zoning laws to allow churches to provide temporary overnight housing from October to April.
A group of dancers presented New Dances Now!, a revival of modern dance in Homer. One piece features projected video edited from surveillance camera footage showing women dancing at a gas station, a grocery store and a liquor store.
With changes in Alaska’s crime laws that allow first-time drunk driving offenders to serve time on house arrest, the city of Homer explored using electronic monitoring as an alternative to expensive jail time.
Eivin and Eve Kilcher’s “Homestead Kitchen” topped the Homer Bookstore’s 2016 best seller list, selling almost 1,000 copies and breaking previous records set by Tom Kizzia’s “Pilgrim’s Wilderness” and J.K. Rowling’s “Order of the Phoenix.”
People skiing in the Ski for Women used the fundraiser for South Peninsula Haven House to make statements on equality and climate change. One woman in a uterus costume was followed by an entourage of women dressed as sperm.
As part of the Big Read, Homer High School students performed Thornton Wilder’s play, “Our Town.” The Big Read also featured another Wilder work, his novel, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.”
The Homer City Council revisited the idea of a new Homer Police Station when it created a new Police Station Task Force. The task force was asked to come up with two proposals, one for a station not to exceed $6 million and another not to exceed $9 million, both amounts less than the $12 million proposal voters defeated in the October 2016 election.
Alaska writer, professor and biologist Jim Rearden died Feb. 18, 2017, at the age of 91. Writer Tom Kizzia called Rearden “a bedrock of our literary community.” Rearden received the Governor’s Award for the Humanities and wrote 28 books and more than 500 articles about Alaska. He had a gift for meeting interesting personalities and telling their stories.
The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority awarded a $10,000 grant to The Exchange, a program to provide cleaner, sterile needles and syringes to drug users. The program’s purpose is to reduce the risk of getting diseases like AIDS and hepatitis from infected needles, but also to provide addicts with disease testing and information about drug treatment programs.
After four hours of testimony and about 100 speakers, the Homer City Council voted down 5-1 Resolution 17-019, a controversial resolution its proponents said promoted inclusivity while others said would make Homer a sanctuary city. The resolution stated the city “adheres to the principle of inclusion” and is committed to “resisting efforts to divide this community with regard to race, religion, ethnicity, gender, national origin, physical capabilities or sexual orientation.” The resolution became controversial after a draft resolution containing “whereas” clauses critical of President Donald Trump appeared on social media. A revised resolution deleted those references. “This is a Rorschach test,” said Andy Haas. “We look at this and we all see different things and I’m surprised by the diversity of things we see.”
“If people are afraid of each other in Homer, putting this brownie button thing on the door isn’t going to change that fear,” said Sarah Vance.
“I’m here to refute anyone who believes we don’t need this kind of resolution because we don’t have these kind of problems in Homer. Let me reassure you we do,” said Shahmeer Azmat, who spoke of being harassed for being a Muslim immigrant.
In response to Resolution 17-019, a group organized to recall Homer City Council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis and Catriona Reynolds, the sponsors of the resolution. Only Reynolds voted for the resolution. The petition claimed the three are unfit for office because they took part in political activity while in office, that they used their office as a platform for broadcasting political activities, and that they caused economic harm to the city because of publicity surrounding the draft resolution.
In response, Lewis said of the group that “they should put their big boy pants on. Democracy is messy and everyone has a right to free speech.”
Directors of Alaska’s farmers markets came together in Homer for the first Alaska Farmers Market Organizers Conference. It featured three days of talks, socializing and networking.
As proof that the good old, cold days of winter had returned to Kachemak Bay, the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center postponed the 24th annual Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament because of icy harbor conditions. The tournament was scheduled for March 18 and postponed to March 25.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Willy Dunne filed a lawsuit challenging a restriction a legal nonprofit put on assembly members prohibiting them from speaking or writing about the assembly’s controversial invocation policy. Dunne sought to have an opinion piece published in the Homer News and other papers about the invocation, but borough attorney Colette Thompson told Dunne the legal nonprofit, the Alliance Defending Freedom, didn’t approve of Dunne’s opinion piece. Dunne claimed that as an assembly member he had a constitutional right to speak on the invocation issue.
Organizers of a recall effort against council members Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds set up an office on Ocean Drive and started collecting signatures. A sign out front said “You’re fired!” Recall supporters Michael Fell and Larry Zuccaro said citizens should look at an email exchange regarding Resolution 17-019 and that when they did, “it will be clear to all that nothing short of a recall process would be acceptable.”
An analysis of 541 emails by the Homer News showed the first draft was an anti-Trump and a sanctuary city resolution, but it also showed that Reynolds backed off from a sanctuary city resolution after Mayor Bryan Zak advised not doing so. At a council meeting in late March, about 100 supporters of the challenged council members showed their love by holding up paper hearts.
The Ninilchik boys basketball team won its second state Class 1A championship after defeating Gambell 79-39.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assessor’s Office sent out the 2017 property assessments. Dramatic increases in assessments on the lower Kenai Peninsula, especially in how the office reclassified some properties, led to howls of protest from land and homeowners, private assessors and real estate agents. The borough hadn’t done local field inspections for 5 years.
Dr. Randall Weist retired from the Homer Medical Clinic after 19 years working at the clinic. Weist first started working in Alaska in the early 1980s when he did a 2-year stint on St. Paul Island and in Juneau to fulfill the obligations of a U.S. Public Health Service scholarship. Weist planned to start his retirement with a cross-country bicycle trip.
Homer City Clerk Jo Johnson certified a recall petition against council members Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds, with an election set for June 13. Petitioners turned in a sufficient number of signatures. Citing the advice of City Attorney Holly Wells, the clerk said the grounds for recall should be “liberally construed in favor of the recall process.” She rejected one allegation, that the council members participated in political activity as defined in city code, because they did not attempt to influence the nomination of a person to political office or any ballot proposition.
Homer Police arrested three people on drug and gun charges after Julian Stowe, 25, texted Homer Police Sgt. Ryan Browning in what police said was an attempt to set up a drug deal. Browning had texted Stowe in early March seeking information on a wanted suspect. Police said Stowe, thinking Browning was another Ryan, texted the cop with a text reading “I have ‘go’ I need to get rid of please.” “Go” is slang for “methamphetamines.” Browning responded and set up a deal. Two men with Stowe were charged with weapons misconduct.
The South Peninsula Athletic and Recreation Center opened on April 15 and welcomed the public to see and use the 12,000-square-foot indoor athletic center.
After 19 years working at Hospice of Homer and 15 years as its director, Darlene Hilderbrand announced her retirement. At 70, she said she wanted to start enjoying “the last third of my life.” Replacing her is lifelong Alaskan Jessica Golden, who moved to Homer from Anchorage.
The city sought bids to expand Hickerson Memorial Cemetery on Diamond Ridge. In March the city sold its last burial plot. The expansion will add 106 2-feet-by-5-feet plots and 60 2-feet-by-2-feet urn plots.
Homer pioneer Beryl Myhill, 90, died April 14. Born in South Dakota, she came to Alaska in 1944 to help a young missionary woman. She met her husband, Howard, in Homer, and together they helped start a church, the Homer Assembly of God, in their basement, and build Homer Rexall Drugs.
With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union-Alaska, council members Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds challenged the recall election, asserting that the grounds for recall were insufficient and that the council members were only asserting their free speech rights when they backed Resolution 17-019.
About 450 people showed up on Earth Day for the March for Science, part of international and national events to show support for science and research.
About 100 people overwhelmed a small conference room at the Homer Harbor Office where Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, planned to meet with constituents. Sullivan held a meeting on the lawn outside.
Homer gave a warm welcome to the crew of USS Hopper when the Arleigh-Burke class destroyer visited on its way to participate in Northern Edge 2017. About 500 people waved U.S. flags and greeted the ship as it rounded the end of the Homer Spit. A planned barbecue and reception for the crew got delayed when Hopper had to pull back when it bumped the Deep Water Dock on a low tide. The ship circled in Kachemak Bay as dock workers put in more dolphins, the big rubber bumpers that go between the dock face and a ship. Cmdr. J.D. Gainey praised the warm reception he and his crew got while in town.
The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival celebrated 25 years of the big birding weekend highlighting the arrival of shorebirds to the bay.
City Clerk Jo Johnson announced her retirement effective May 31. Assistant Clerk Melissa Jacobsen was later promoted to the senior position.
Homer Electric Association members voted to keep two incumbents on the board, Kelley Bookey and Jim Levine, and voted out another incumbent. Dick Waisenen lost to newcomer Dan Furlong.
A mystery mailer with no return address or identifying information doesn’t violate Alaska laws regarding political campaigning, an Alaska Public Offices Commission official said. The flier informed citizens of a lawsuit filed by Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds challenging a recall election against them. Because it took no stand on the election it was considered informative only and thus the anonymous writers didn’t need to file with APOC.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Erin Marston ruled a recall election against Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds can proceed. The judge rejected free speech arguments made by the council members, and said that the right to recall “cannot be hampered in cases when a legally sufficient petition for recall is brought, whether explicitly or implicitly, as reprisal against politically unpopular speech by publicly elected officials.”
The Police Station Task Force recommended a city lot at the corner of Grubstake and Heath Street as the site for a new police station.
Floating strip joint the R/V Wild Alaskan anchored off the Spit for a few weeks in June, part of what owner Darren Byler of Kodiak called “our summer civil liberties recreational event.” Byler had lost his alcoholic beverage license when he ran the strip joint near Kodiak. No alcohol was to be served during the Wild Alaskan’s Homer visit.
With 912 votes to be counted, and with the “no” votes ahead slightly, on election day the recall vote looked to close to call. Council members Aderhold, Lewis and Reynolds kept their seats, though, when all votes were counted. The “no” votes prevailed by margins of 56 percent or better.
A Federal Aviation Administration official met with citizens and some pilots to discuss noise issues stemming from use of Beluga Lake and the Homer Airport. Noise complaints can be addressed in the context of safe aircraft operations, said FAA official Ken Thomas. If pilots follow rules like flying at proper altitudes of 1,000 over congested areas or 500 feet over uncongested areas, noise will be less.
The Homer City Council approved extending Greatland Street from where it ends by Save-U-More to Pioneer Avenue. In a tie vote broken by Mayor Zak, the council passed an ordinance appropriating $671,000 from the Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails Program to help fund the project.
Owners of a small RV campground, who also own the Sportsman’s Supply store next to it on the Homer Spit, were told by the city that the piece of land the campground rested on was actually not zoned for such use. According to city code, RV parks must be at least 40,000 square feet, while the RV park owned by L.H. and Marcia Pierce was only 7,800 square feet. The issue came up when the couple went to renew their lease with the city. The council directed City Planner Rick Abboud to draft an ordinance that would change Homer’s zoning to allow businesses on the Spit, like Sportsman’s Supply, to at least use motorhomes as caretaker lodging, like the Pierces do when they’re in Homer to run their seasonal business.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough decided it would settle a lawsuit in which assembly member Willy Dunne, who represents Homer, claimed his free speech was being restricted when the borough’s attorney told him not to publish an opinion piece in local newspapers. The borough attorney was given that advice by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian legal nonprofit representing the borough in its ongoing lawsuit over its controversial invocation policy. The borough opted to pay Dunne $10,000 to partially cover his legal fees, and the court dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the parties can’t bring it back to court again.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a report that detailed the events surrounding former Alaska Dispatch News owner Alice Rogoff’s July 2016 plane crash into Halibut Cove. The report said that “glassy water” contributed to the crash, in which no one was harmed. This is a condition in which the water is so smooth that it becomes mirror like and can greatly affect a pilot’s depth perception when landing.
Local police officers and emergency responders got some good practice in rescue procedures when an Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities worker spotted a truck that had fallen off of Baycrest Hill on the Sterling Highway. Emergency responders kicked into high gear, deploying people down the cliff side with ropes, putting a spotter with binoculars atop an extended ladder truck and even using a drone, before they realized the crash had happened several days earlier and that the driver had walked away unharmed and failed to report the crash.
A man from Port Graham, Ryan “Unga” Meganack, also faced felony charges for an incident in December 2016 in which he faked his own death in order to avoid an Anchorage court appearance in a sexual assault case. His apparent disappearance from his skiff, which was orchestrated with the help of his girlfriend at the time, put a large and expensive search effort into motion, with the U.S. Coast Guard alone having spent more than $310,000. Local authorities and volunteers had also spent time on the search before Meganack was found hiding outside Port Graham.
Heartbeat of Homer, the group that spearheaded an effort to recall three city council members in June, got a slap on the wrist from the Alaska Public Offices Commission for filing Independent Expenditure reports nearly a month late. APOC assessed Heartbeat of Homer a $725 penalty for that late filing, but later fined it half or $362.50. This was the group’s third time making a late filing, but they had not been fined the first time because it was the group’s first mistake. APOC assessed a penalty for the second late filing, but reduced the penalty by half from $50 to $25 because it was the group’s first election cycle.
Margaret Anderson, a pioneer homesteader and the first woman to be elected to public office in Homer, died at 94 years old in the home she and her late husband, Fred, had built. The Anderson family established their homestead above what is now Pioneer Avenue. Margaret was elected to the Kenai Peninsula Public Utility District No. 1, the city of Homer’s predecessor, in 1955, and later to the Homer City Council in 1979. She was instrumental in getting both Homer’s first hospital and original museum built.
A man was stabbed on the Homer Spit during what the police described as an argument about a woman. One man pulled out a knife to defend himself during the fight, and stabbed the other man in the back with it.
The list of candidates running for seats on the Homer City Council skyrocketed to eight, which would later be whittled down to seven, during a small boom in political involvement in Homer. Five of the candidates were women, while three were men, with two of those women, Rachel Lord and Caroline Venuti, going on to win the council election in October. Many of the candidates at the time they filed mentioned wanting to bring Homer residents back together, or help the town to heal, after the divisive events of the recall election in June.
South Peninsula Hospital CEO Bob Letson announced he would retire at the end of the year after nearly a decade with the hospital. Letson oversaw much growth at SPH over the years and pushed for several advancements, including the addition of specialists from Anchorage.
Staff at the Homer Airport, along with emergency responders, hospital staff and several community volunteers, participated in its triennial disaster drill. The drill is required in order for the airport to remain in good standing with the Federal Aviation Administration. This time, the simulated disaster was that of a Dash 8 aircraft crashing onto the runway at the Homer Airport while attempting to land. Volunteers were packed onto a school bus being used in place of a real plane, and were given instructions for what sort of injuries they were to pretend they had when the first responders showed up.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District had its work cut out for it when parents and school staff noted several bumps with the start of a new busing system. This school year marked the Lower Kenai Peninsula’s first under a two-tier bus system, where students are taken to school in two waves, with bus drivers making their routes, then repeating them for the second wave. This allows fewer buses to be used and saves the district money, but the transition wasn’t smooth. During the first week of school, parents noticed longer bus wait times, kids getting on the wrong bus, and confusion over drop off spots.
A local Homer chef was chosen to represent the state of Alaska in a national food showcase event, Flavored Nation. Mandy Dixon, owner of La Baleine Cafe on the Homer Spit, was preparing to make a reindeer sausage dish to showcase at the three-day event, after that was chosen as the “iconic” food of Alaska. Dixon said that other more obvious Alaska dishes, such as salmon or king crab, were being considered, but that those foods also had strong ties to other states. Reindeer sausage was uniquely Alaskan, and she said the event organizers went with that food option in part because of the animal’s long history within the state.
The Homer City Council decided it didn’t want to revisit a resolution asking the Alaska Legislature to take another look at the standards for recalling elected officials. Council member Tom Stroozas had asked for reconsideration of the resolution after the council members voted on it. Any member can ask for reconsideration within 48 hours of a meeting. When the issue came back up at the next meeting, the council voted not to revisit it. In other words, they let the resolution that called for asking the Legislature to review the recall standards stand unchanged. Stroozas said he wanted the matter reconsidered because the resolution had been approved through the consent agenda, and he wanted it to be given more of a chance for discussion.
An active and important member of the Homer area running community made her return to the sport after a six-month hiatus. Saundra Hudson, a longtime track and cross-country coach and local teacher, had to stop running after she slipped on the ice while running in March of this year. She spent six months getting treatment out of state, and friends signed up to keep her company in shifts while she was on 24/7 watch for a concussion and other brain trauma. Hudson took to the track once again to cheers and support during the first ever Mariner Mile event, a fundraiser hosted by the high school cross-country team to give back to the Kachemak Bay Running Club. The club often supports the team financially throughout the year.
An ethics complaint filed against three city council members by the group Heartbeat of Homer got dismissed by an administrative law judge after the Heartbeat of Homer spokesperson broke the complaint’s confidentiality. The complaint was dismissed specifically because the group, which advocated for the recall of the three council members, violated the complaints confidentiality requirements. The spokesperson, Sarah Vance, had sent a copy of the complaint to KBBI radio reporter Aaron Bolton, who reported on it.
The Homer City Council voted down a measure that would have given a slightly greater property tax exemption to disabled veterans living within Homer city limits. Council member Tom Stroozas had introduced an ordinance that would have adopted in Homer the same tax code used by the Kenai Peninsula Borough when it came to disabled veterans. At the borough level, “a disabled veteran or a resident at least 60 years old who is the widow or widower of such a person (a disabled veteran), is exempt from taxation in an unlimited amount.” In Homer, the first $150,000 of assessed property value on a disabled veteran’s home is exempt from taxes, according to state law. Adopting the borough’s tax code for disabled veterans would have only affected a few homes withing the city. According to the ordinance, there were only 10 veterans living in Homer with homes assessed at a property value greater than $150,000.
Caroline Venuti and Rachel Lord became the city of Homer’s new council members during the October municipal election. Lord earned 1,070 votes, with Venuti following just behind at 1,057 votes. Sarah Vance was the next closest candidate, earning 428 votes, or 27 percent of the total 1,736 votes cast in the election. According to the election results, Homer saw a 37 percent voter turnout of its registered voters. The two women came out on top of a busy race that included seven total candidates from across the political spectrum. Their victory brought the council’s balance to four women and two men, plus Mayor Bryan Zak.
The Homer Volunteer Fire Department finally filled a long-empty position, that of assistant chief. Tarry Kadel came to fill the spot from the Girdwood Fire Department, where he spent the last two decades serving. He began there as a volunteer and worked his way up to deputy chief there. Kadel, who arrived in Homer ahead of his partner and their dog to scout for housing, said he was excited to make the move and that he had enjoyed Homer when he had veisited previously to provide training for first responders.
The first ever Walk with a Doc event was held in Homer and the newly completed South Peninsula Athletic and Recreation Center, or SPARC. Walk with a Doc is an international program that has had chapters all around the world since the mid 2000s, but was just this month adopted in Homer by members at South Peninsula Hospital. The topic of the first walk was blood pressure and heart health. Now, twice a month, residents can walk with a local doctor for an hour, learning about a specific health topic and asking questions.
The city council voted to send a letter to the Marijuana Control Board weighing in on its discussion of onsite consumption for the state, with the letter recommending against onsite smoking, vaping or dabbing. The only onsite consumption option this leaves is that of edibles. This decision was made on the advice and input of Homer Police Chief Mark Robl, who said onsite smoking of pot could cause potential problems for police officers, should they ever have to respond to a call inside a business where that was allowed. No police officers in the state are allowed to use or be associated with marijuana.
The city changed its policy regarding the billing of water and sewer services after employees discovered a mistake that had resulted in a local business being under billed for its water for a decade. City Manager Katie Koester revealed to the council that the account for the Washboard, a local laundromat, had been assigned an incorrect code number for the last 11 years. That code number caused the wrong multiplier to be applied to the Washboard’s water use. The business was billed one tenth of what it was supposed to be paying until employees discovered the error when using the Washboard as a reference for another account. This prompted the city to update its policy on water billing, such that if the city realizes a business is being under billed, the city can only seek to recoup up to two months of those costs.
Longtime local midwife Mary Lou Kelsey announced her retirement and was celebrated with a party at the Best Western Inn. Kelsey worked at South Peninsula Hospital and had been involved in midwifery since moving to Homer in 1981. She helped spearhead and pioneer the midwifery program at the hospital, and delivered more than 1,000 babies in her years of work. A certified nurse midwife, Kelsey trained several other nurse midwives over the years and helped spur the connection between them and the hospital, integrating their work with that of OBGYNs.
Charlie Pierce took the helm as the new mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough after a runoff race between him and fellow Republican candidate Linda Hutchings. The runoff was held after they came out as the top two candidates, with Pierce taking 38 percent of the votes, Hutchings taking 31 percent, and Dale Bagley taking 29 percent. In the runoff, Pierce took 4,301 votes compared to Hutchings’ 4,256. In the final vote count, Pierce won by a margin of only 45 votes.
A leader of one of the first five families to arrive at the site that would become Nikolaevsk, Alaska’s first Russian Old Believer village, died at the age of 70. Vladimir Prohorovich Martushev left a legacy and 10 children behind, having moved up to Alaska after emigrating to Oregon from China, where many Old Believers sought refuge from persecution by the Russian Czar and the Orthodox Church. Vladimir served for a time as mayor of Nikolaevsk, and also helped build the village’s first fishing boats in Kachemak Bay. He was one of the first commercial fisherman who spearheaded what is now a thriving industry among the Old Believers.
The Homer Advisory Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for Aspen Hotel to build a location in Homer. With hotels around the state, the company is seeking to buy a plot of land across the Safeway on the Homer Bypass. Since that’s also the Sterling Highway, the company needs approval from the Alaska Department of Transportation for a driveway. The Army Corps of Engineers also has to approve the company’s plans to deal with an area of wetlands created by culverts across the highway. If all goes according to plan, workers could break ground on the 72-room hotel in May 2018.
A medic serving with Kachemak Emergency Services recounted his trip to Las Vegas as a volunteer with the American Red Cross in the wake of the mass shooting that left 59 people, including the shooter, dead during the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Travis Ogden had signed up for a 10-day deployment with the Red Cross and had anticipated being sent to help somewhere being affected by hurricanes. Instead, he was given notice to head to Vegas within 24 hours. There, he treated 19 patients, all but one of whom went on to live.
A Voznesenka man was convicted in federal court for being a felon in possession of firearms. Joseph Kuzmin, 41, faces up to 10 years in federal prison. Kuzmin has a long string of charges relating to incidents in the Russian Old Believer village. He has three felony convictions, including a 2006 offense for third-degree assault, and two 2009 offenses for driving under the influence and refusing a chemical test. The charge relating to firearms happened when Alaska State Troopers in December 2016 were called to a report of domestic violence in Voznesenka. The caller, a relative of Kuzmin, claimed to troopers that Kuzmin had choked him. When troopers arrived, they found he was in possession of a Ruger model 10/22 .22-caliber rifle and a Ruger model M77 .300-caliber rifle, as well as ammunition.
Homer won a state grant to help support the Homer Police Department’s anti-drunk driving program — Project Drive. Sgt. Ryan Browning helped create the program as a way to get education about drunk driving into the schools, and has been an instructor for the program ever since 2011 as it’s grown. The program now serves several lower Kenai Peninsula Schools, and has traveled to Anchorage and other parts of Alaska to give presentations. A future goal for Browning is to travel to the Southeast to bring Project Drive to Juneau and the surrounding area. It involves both traditional education as well as the opportunity for students to drive a side-by-side all-terrain vehicle while wearing vision-impairing goggles, known as beer goggles.
Another ethics complaint filed against the three council members who were the subject of a June recall election (Donna Aderhold, Catriona Reynold and David Lewis) got dismissed by an Anchorage administrative law judge. Filed by Larry Zuccaro, the complaint bordered “on the frivolous,” according to the judge. Andrew Lebo, the hearing officer who heard the complaint, wrote that “Mr. Zuccaro’s complaint is without merit in all respects. Respondents committed no ethical violations when they fulfilled their duty as council members and voted to certify the recall election.”
The Homer City Council passed its budget for fiscal year 2018 after several adjustment and changes were made to it. Those changes included a 0.5 percent cost of living adjustment for all city employees, which was reduced from the original 1 percent increase the city’s Employee Committee had asked for. Another budget adjustment was the elimination of funding for a drone for the Homer Police Department and a transfer of $1 million from the city’s Health Insurance Fund to be spread between several other city funds, including the one for the construction of a future police station. The final result was a $27.1 million budget, with $12 million in the general fund.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation had to hear about a truck crash that possibly spilled fuel into the Anchor River from someone other than the truck’s driver. The driver and a passenger escaped unharmed from the rollover on Dec. 4, after which the driver called and reported it to his boss, the owner of AK Trucking. It was a citizen who reported the crash and possible spill to the DEC, a day later. The Alaska State Troopers also reported it to the DEC the same day. AK Trucking’s owner said the company itself responded to the crash site and spent 12 hours and $10,000 cleaning up the mess.
An Anchor Point man was sent to South Peninsula Hospital and later to Anchorage with injuries after being shot by an Alaska State Trooper. The incident occurred when 47-year-old Fernando Ospina opened the door to his home that Soldotna troopers were called to by a report of gunshots and shouting. Troopers said he pointed a rifle at them. One of the responding troopers, 12-year veteran of the Department of Public Safety Matthew Wertanen, shot Ospina once.
A lifelong Homer resident and homesteader died at the age of 86. Larene “Tepa” Rogers grew up with her brother helping the family at its fishing site on Kalgin Island. Her parents arrived in Alaska separately in the 1920s, met, and moved to Homer. At only age 12, Rogers drove a taxi whenever a second driver was needed. Rogers entered South Peninsula Hospital on Dec. 11, the 64th anniversary of her marriage to her late husband. She died five days later “as a rainbow took shape across Kachemak Bay and sunshine flooded the sky.”