2012 Year in Review

by Angela Denning-Barnes on December 31, 2012

A King salmon disaster, faster internet, swimming pool and movie theater funding…it all happened in 2012. It is the last day of the year and we are looking back at the top stories and issues in KYUK News’ Year in Review:

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The new Internet system, Terra Southwest, was officially connected to the Y-K Delta region. YKHC was the first to test the high speed internet before other businesses and homes were linked in. The project was funded by 88 million dollars in federal loans and grants.

Many Lower Kuskokwim School District buildings were closed for six days due to frozen sewer pipes. The district got help from the facilities department of Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation to get the pipes working again.

Temperatures hit a record low at 17 below zero average. Residents suffered with high heating bills, many paying between 700 and 900 dollars a month for stove oil.

Jeff Hout of Bethel and Harry Williams of Kwethluk were sentenced to life in prison for torturing and murdering Hooper Bay teenager, Benjamin Kaiser.

Later in February, another Bethel murder case began….Korean cab driver, 54-year-old Young Suk Chong was found dead in her cab in Napakiak. 21-year-old Kyle Motgin of Napakiak was indicted for murder charges and is now awaiting trial.

The Association of Village Council Presidents convened a first of its kind “State of Our Salmon” Convention to address the low King salmon returns. The convention included international experts as well as local, state, and federal stakeholders.

Two local mushers finished the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in the top ten. Pete Kaiser of Bethel finished 5th and Mike Williams Jr. of Akiak took 8th in the thousand mile race.

Nuvista Light and Power held open houses in several communities about the Chikuminuk Lake project that the cooperative is pursuing. The proposed hydro-power project would dam the Chikuminuk Lake in the Wood-Tikchik State Park and power Bethel and 13 nearby villages. The project price tag is estimated at a half Billion dollars.

For the first time in Alaska history, the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended removing a judge from the bench permanently. . . Bethel District Court Judge Dennis Cummings. Twice he was found guilty of ex-parte communications. Cummings retired this year anyway.

Kelsey Ciugun Wallace of Bethel won the “Most Traditional” award at the Miss Indian World pageant in New Mexico. The 2011 Miss WEIO competed against 29 other contestants from all over North America.

Bethel Native Corporation had big news for its Shareholders when it announced it was partnering with Omni corporation who owns Swanson’s store in Bethel, to build a brand new Swanson’s grocery store and a two-screen movie theater.

The Bethel swimming pool project got a $24 million dollar boost in the state’s capitol budget. The funding pushed the project forward with a new completion date of the fall of 2014.

What was considered to be the perfect recipe for major break-up flooding on the Kuskokwim River turned out to be a surprise. Open water upriver and intact ice downriver had some communities evacuating residents as a precautionary measure. But the downriver ice turned brown and broke up within the same day. Experts guessed that the ice was melting from underneath by warmer water coming downriver.

Calista Corporation announces that they were going to cancel their annual shareholder meeting in June and re-do all their shareholder packets. The Corporation later re-scheduled the meeting for November.

It was all about salmon and lack thereof. . .

June brought a crash-King salmon run to the Kuskokwim. Unprecendented closures were put into place on subsistence fishing. The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group voted NOT to extend closures past one week, but the state extended it to 10 days anyway. Dozens of fishermen were cited for illegal fishing but they maintained they were just trying to feed their families. Some are still fighting those charges in court.

July brought about fishery disaster requests for both the Kuskokwim and the Yukon Rivers. It started with the Association of Village Council Presidents and was then supported by the Alaska Federation of Natives, followed by Governor Sean Parnell. Later in the year, the U.S. Commerce Department declared a federal disaster, allowing Congress to pursue relief funds.

A former Aniak resident got international attention for writing the book, “No Easy Day” about his first hand account of killing Osama Bin Laden. Former Navy Seal, Matt Bissonette, penned the book under the pseudonym Mark Owen, but his real identity was quickly released by Fox News.

Over 30 subsistence fishermen’s trials that had been scheduled for August were postponed. The fishermen had been arrested and charged with unlawfully operating drift gillnets that were too large.

After a summer filled with flight delays and cancellations due to run-way construction at the Bethel airport, it was still unknown whether or not the project would be completed by winter. KNIK construction had difficulty getting the right mixture for the runway surface to meet regulations. They ended up getting a temporary surface completed on half of the runway, but it will have to be re-done next year.

The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation Behavioral Health Services Program identified suicide prevention as one of its top priorities after a high number of completed suicides among Yupik men in the Yukon and Kuskokwim Deltas.

A songbird was found in Bethel thousands of miles outside of its normal range. Kevin Morgan noticed a Dickcissel at his bird feeder, a bird that is normally found in the Mid West. The bird stuck around for a few months, drawing bird watchers from other parts of the state to Bethel.

The State told Bethel city council that the Bethel loop won’t be open before 2014. They said it has taken longer than expected to re-open Tundra Ridge Road (also known as the Polk Road) because of the lengthy process working with the BIA.

At Calista shareholders meeting that had been re-scheduled, shareholders voted for major changes. They voted in two new board members, ousting 24-year-board member, Felix Hess. The new board re-instated Andrew Guy as President after he was put on administrative leave for most of the year. The new board also got a new Chairman Willie Kasayulie, replacing Art Heckman who had held the position for 18 years.

A domestic violence survey interviewed 514 adult women in the Y-K Delta. It found that 51 percent had experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or both at some point in their life. It also found that 17 percent had experienced this kind of violence within the past year.

Coastal Villages Region Fund which operated much of its fishing fleet based out of Seattle announced that they would move five of its salmon and halibut tender boats to Seward.

The Bethel City Council passed an ordinance to increase taxes on all tobacco products sold in Bethel. The ordinance will raise the price of a pack of cigarettes by two dollars and twenty-one cents and all other tobacco products would go up by 45%.

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