KYUK’s Top News Stories of the Year

by Angela Denning-Barnes on December 30, 2011

The 2011 year is coming to a close and the KYUK newsroom has compiled a list of stories that helped mark the year as it unfolded.

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January

A new Children’s Advocacy Center opened in Bethel, as an addition to the Tundra Women’s Coalition. The CAC supports children who come forward with allegations of sexual abuse. Funding came from the State of Alaska, the Rasmussen Foundation, and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

A new study showed Native males in Western Alaska suffered the second highest rates of homicide in the state, but only by a thin margin. The region had a rate of 9.7 per 100,000 and the Northern region was 9.8.

Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof won the Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race, but two local mushers were hot on his heals. Mike Williams Jr. of Akiak finished just one minute behind Gebhart. Pete Kaiser of Bethel finished third. The race featured wind chills of 70 below zero.

Alaska’s Congressional delegation was sworn in. Senator Lisa Murkowski won her 2nd full term as a write-in candidate with overwhelming support from the Alaska native population of Alaska.

Bethel was featured on national TV. The National Geographic channel aired an episode of the “Alaska State Troopers” which was shot in Bethel.

The long awaited sobering center opened in Bethel. YKHC hosted the opening ceremony and ribbon cutting.

Oscar Lajoie of Anchorage, the convicted killer of a boy with familial ties to Bethel, was sentenced to almost five decades in prison. It was March of 2009 when Colton Crow, age 16, was killed by a bullet fired by Lajoie that came through an open door at a warehouse party.

February

Music by Bethel resident, Mike McIntyre was featured on the popular cable reality show, “Flying Wild Alaska.” The show follows the Tweto family and their Era flying business.

And the fear of bedbugs had slowly made its way to the region. The Cooperative Extension Service and the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel took a lot of calls from concerned residents about bedbugs after the topic had been raging in the national media. They said close cleaning and freezing furniture like mattresses can help solve the problem.

Bethel’s Jeremiah Klejka won the Junior Iditarod. The 17-year-old had nearly a 30 minute lead on the competition in the 160 mile race.

An epidemic fictional story set in the tundra of the YK Delta is now being sold in Anchorage book stores. The book, called “The Raven’s Gift” was authored by Don Reardon, who was raised here in Bethel, and graduated from Bethel Regional High School.

March

The Aniak Halfbreeds boy’s team won State basketball. It was the first state championship for the Halfbreed boys.

Two young local mushers finished in the Iditarod’s top 20. 23-year-old Pete Kaiser of Bethel finished 8th place and 26-year-old Mike Williams Jr. of Akiak finished 13th.

A settlement was agreed on between the Catholic Church’s Oregon Province and hundreds of sex abuse victims, many of whom live in Southwest Alaska. The settlement included about $166 million in compensation to victims.

And hundreds of mysterious snowballs showed up on a lake in Tuntutuliak. Some people thought they were formed by the wind, but many lifelong residents had never seen anything like it before.

April

There was local concern about radiation arriving from a Japanese nuclear power plant that failed because of an historic tsunami. The Bethel fire department said they were monitoring the situation with radiation detectors.

The threat of a federal shut-down was close to the wire and the Yukon Delta National Wildlife was on stand-by to close. All federal lands in the area would have been off-limits for travel. Only two of the refuges 20 staff could have worked. But, the shut-down was avoided by Congress in the final hours.

Bethel’s Pete Kaiser won the 440-mile Kobuk race in Kotzebue.

55-year-old Superior Court judge Marvin Hamilton III passed away April 3rd from what appeared to be a heart attack. Hamilton had traveled the world before presiding over one of the busiest criminal courts in the state. Hamilton had served as Bethel Judge for the fourth judicial district for the past four years.

May

The village of Crooked Creek experienced a devastating spring break-up flood that destroyed nearly a dozen homes. Power and water services were temporarily shut down. About 50 people were evacuated by helicopter when the flood waters rose to 30 feet.

Bethel leaders celebrated Senator Lyman Hoffman’s 25 years of public service. Hoffman’s public service started as the city manager back in 1977.

The top official from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Secretary Eric Shinseki, spent Memorial Day afternoon in the Bering Sea Village of Kwigillingok. Along with Senator Mark Begich, he praised members of the World War II era Alaska Territorial National Guard, and told them he will work to improve service to the veterans that walk in their footsteps.

June

The summer’s first fuel barge raised gas prices by 52 cents. The lowest price at a Bethel gas station was $5.97. Heating fuel raised 72 cents to $6.04.

Fishing for king salmon was closed in areas of the Lower Kuskokwim River for the first time in history. Federal and State biologists were concerned with the numbers they were seeing and reports they were hearing from subsistence fishers. King fishing was restricted downriver of Tuluksak, including the lower river tributaries through July. The move was protested by tribal leaders and elders in Akiak.

July

Nearly two dozen dentists from the Lower 48 visited the Dental Health Aide Therapists Program in Bethel to see how it works. They were interested in pursuing similar mid-level providers for their communities back home.

19-year-old Kelsey Wallace of Bethel won the Miss WEIO competition. The Miss World Eskimo and Indian Olympics cultural pageant takes place in Fairbanks every year.

One of the biggest summer camps in the state shut down. The Kuskokwim Campus Talent Search summer camp in Bethel had played host to well over 1,000 students from the Y-K Delta. The program had always had a difficult, if not impossible, time complying with the federal requirements.

The village of Aniak lost a leader from its community. Calvin Simeon, age 46 of Aniak, died in his home. Family said he died of a prolonged terminal illness.

August

Chevak was the latest village in the region to install a new energy plant combining wind and diesel.

Calista Corporation announced it was closing Alaska Newspapers Incorporated after 19 years of running the subsidiary. ANI included the Tundra Drums and five other rural, weekly papers.

And a few weeks later, Calista sold the Tundra Drums newspaper to Edgar Blatchford, who is the former founder of Alaska Newspapers Incorporated and a former two-time Alaska commissioner.

The Department of Fish and Game announced that they would shut down its field office in the village of Emmonak. Staff said they were facing harassment and their office was being vandalized.

The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation held a groundbreaking ceremony for care facility in Bethel. Once constructed it will be the only place in all of Western Alaska to offer disabled elders around the clock care.

September

The Lower Kuskokwim moose hunt opened with about 1,500 permit holders going after a quota of 100 bull moose. The hunt closed five days later on state land and eight days later on federal lands.

A successful blood drive in Bethel brought in 120 pints of blood in two days.

Two young pilots crashed their planes in mid-air near Nightmute, killing one of them. The pilots had been dating and one of them flew over the top of the other, causing the crash.

October

Nine families in Crooked Creek, who had lost their homes in the flood, moved into brand new homes built over the summer by volunteers. The community held a potluck of thanksgiving.

A high profile murder case was heard at the Bethel courthouse. Jeff Hout, of Bethel, and Harry Williams, of Kwethluk, were convicted of second degree murder for torturing and killing 19-year-old Benjamin Kaiser of Hooper Bay.

A brown bear is seen walking in a Bethel subdivision–the first one residents ever remembered seeing in town. It only stuck around for one night.

In an historic election, Bethel residents elected six of seven city council seats, the most ever in a single election.

A settlement was reached in a 1997 lawsuit alleging the state was neglecting its duty to provide adequate funds for rural schools in the state. The agreement will provide more funding for school construction in the Y-K Delta.

Yuraq (Eskimo dancing) dance diva Mary Ann Sundown of Scammon Bay passed on at an estimated 93 years of age.

November

Bering Sea storms hit coastal villages causing flooding and damages in some areas. The villages of Platinum and Goodnews Bay lost some boats and connex vans.

Bethel city council passed a resolution supporting by-pass mail in rural Alaska. The federally subsidized program has been under attack, with Congress seeking to have Alaska pay millions for the program to continue.

Forty-five National Guard soldiers from the Y-K Delta deployed to Afghanistan the day after Thanksgiving. First, they will complete training in Indiana.

December

Bethel Native Corporation sent record dividends of $4.81 to its shareholders.

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, started telling hunters to let them know if they find any diseased seals because so many had been showing up this year.

The Bethel Warrior Wrestling team took state for the second year in a row under the coaching of Darren Lieb and Courtney Gerdts, who both received Coach of the Year awards at the tournament.

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