The number one story of the year was an easy pick. The CenturyLink underwater cable break between Lopez Island and San Juan Island that cut phone and internet service for the majority of county residents.
Selecting the rest of the top ten was difficult.The criteria was the stories had to have significant long-term impact on the community. Not making the cut was the Christmas Eve traffic stop since the repercussions are still up in the air.
1. CenturyLink underwater cable break The ten-day outage resulted in lack of 911 service, phones and internet for most citizens. The lack of communication impacted safety, the local economy and contact with friends and family. There was a positive result, Orcas Power and Light Board voted to move ahead with expansion of its Island Network internet service.
Fire at Downriggers
2. Fires: Volunteer firefighters were especially busy in 2013 with five major fires. Arson is suspected in the Olga Artworks and a house on Orcas.
Straw covers the more than one acre that was clearcut and burned without any permits. The actions violates state, county and possible federal laws
3.. Mar Vista Clearcutting New owners at Mar Vista apparently didn't feel the existing expansive and clear views at the former Mar Vista Resort were enough. Workers for the owners cut and burned vegetation on the shoreline. The action reinforces the need for Shoreline Management Plans. How strongly the regulatons are enforced will affect future actions against shoreline violations.
4. Local Access to Healthcare The controversy around the limitations on healthcare due to the religious beliefs of others heated up. The ACLU filed a lawsuit over a case in Michigan. Their report includes mention of the situation on San Juan Island. The spotlight includes the use of public funds in a religiously based healthcare corporation.
5. National Award for San Juan Island EMS The San Juan Island EMS and Island Air ground-breaking fixed-wing ambulance medevac service won the 2013 Fixed Wing Award of Excellence awarded by the Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS).
6. Elections, Elections, Elections San Juan County's six-member "Winter Council" operated for five months while campaigning for seats on the new three-member council. Lopez voters approved a renewal of the special tax which enables Lopezians to run its own solid waste transfer center. It was the incumbents' year for various county positions, hospital board, Town of Friday Harbor Council and many county-wide and island-specific positions.
7. Enforcement of the Current Use Tax Break Program San Juan County Council held back $75,000 in funding from the county's Assessor's office until he provides answers to their questions about the tax abatement Current Use program. The Assessor's efforts to enforce the law has met with politically-based resistance from the current and past councils. Some citizens who have abused the program are upset they must leave the program and also pay back taxes and fines. Others believe the program should be expanded to include even more property.
8. Orcas Recycling takes over island's Solid Waste system After months of negotiations, Orcas Island Solid Waste Facility was turned over to a local organization.
9. Customs Office Relocation An angry and committed group of citizens organized against the relocation of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office into a buildingin downtown Friday Harbor that has for the past several years been empty or rented at a reduced rate.
10. Ferry Lane Terminal Conditions webpage A new feature on the Washington State Ferries website provides less angst for islanders returning from the mainland. It is now possible to see how many spaces are available on each sailing. The information updates every 15 seconds.
11 .OPALCO "Miracle Man" Kevin Zoerb, an OPALCO lineman was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center and admitted to the ICU Burn Unit in critical condition after he came in contact with a live wire on Lopez Island. More information on Zoerb's webpage on the Caring Bridge website.