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Top news stories of 2006

The Southern resident killer whales J, K and L pods were listed as endangered under federal law late last year. In March, Luna, the orphaned L-pod whale died when struck by a tugboat propeller in Nootka Sound. Luna was a six-year old whale who'd been separated from his family and surfaced on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Then, with two calves born to local orcas this June, the killer whale population rose to 89. In early November, four Southern resident orcas were presumed dead after being missing for over three months. Since 1976, when the whale population was tracked, the numbers have fallen from 121 to 71. The population climbed to 99 by 1995, then dropped to 79 in 2001. By Margie Doyle, Editor

Innovative senior housing project planned for Lopez

The Hamlet on Lopez Island, a living and care facility for senior citizens, is slated to begin construction in early 2007. This the first development of Lopez Housing Options (LOHO)

The US Dept. of Agriculture's Rural Development program committed to a 40-year, 4.5 percent interest loan of $1 million for The Hamlet .

This development has been described as the first of its kind in the U.S. "The state sees this as a prototype for innovative rural senior housing," said LOHO vice chair Gary Tabasinske. The facility is a combination of an adult family home with 24-hour supervised care, 14 cottages (for both independent and semi-independent living), and a common building, where Hamlet seniors can socialize. Occupancy is set at approximately 30 people. The total cost of the project is in the $4 million range, and construction is slated to begin in early 2007. LOHO hopes for occupancy in the buildings by the end of 2007 and early 2008.

The USDA funds are for the adult family home portion of the housing development. Money for the cottages will come from a combination of regional banks and funding from a major foundation. The board is also considering refundable entry fees. The common building is being partly funded by a bequest from Helen "Louie" Lewis, as well as a challenge grant from the families of Lewis and her partner Dort Horn, both of whom are deceased.

The most recent census data shows Lopez has 2650 residents, 25 percent of whom are 62 and older. That segment of the population is expected to grow 19 percent by 2010. By Colleen Smith, Islands Weekly editorial staff

Mother Nature acts unmaternal

Mother Nature demanded attention, especially in the winter months of February, November, and December. A windstorm on Feb. 4 damaged docks and closed roads with winds in excess of 50 mph. At high tide, the storm pushed driftwood across roads on Orcas and Lopez Island, and many areas lost power. Then in November, gusting winds on Nov. 15-16 caused power outages and intermittent loss of ferry service to the Lopez dock, undergoing repairs to the dolphins that guide the ferry into the dock. The damage from the mid-November storm had all been repaired by Sunday, Nov. 26 when a heavy, wet snowfall caused tree limbs to snap under the weight. The next day the wind came out of the northeast, felling more limbs across public roads and private driveways. The following day saw record cold temperatures, downing more lines. OPALCO performed heroically, and with the assistance of four off-island crews, most power outages were repaired by Friday, Dec. 1. By Margie Doyle, Editor

New guest house rules approved

Six years of gridlock and uncertainty came to an end in the summer of 2006 when state officials gave a green light to a new set of guest house rules. Approved by the County Council in June, the new rules allow a limited number of free-standing guest houses to be built each year. But they also include tight constraints on where, and on how, they can be built. Critics, the county's prosecuting attorney included, protested that the limitations are excessive and were not needed to satisfy state planning guidelines. Though a flood of applications followed after the rules took effect, the year ended with the county preparing to fend off at least a dozen legal challenges contesting those rules and the process by which they placed on the books. By Scott Rasmussen, County Reporter

Conservation organizations spearhead purchase of Turtleback Mountain

Turtleback Mountain was purchased locally through a partnership of conservation organizations that included the san Juan Preservation Trust, the Trust for Public Land and the San Juan County Land Bank through a six-month $18.5 million fundraising campaign. The purchase guarantees that the mountain will remain an undeveloped conservation area accessible to the public. A highlight of the fundraising was a rally, held Sept. 16 at the Coffelt Farm in Crow Valley, where 120 volunteers served an estimated 1200 people who pledged $400,000 towards the purchase. By Margie Doyle, Editor

Pieces of Home rule fall into place

There were bumps and bruises along the way. But by the end of 2006 the overhaul of county government that was brought on by Home Rule, which voters approved the year before, was nearly complete.

The first-ever, full-time administrator, Pete Rose, had been hired in June and took over executive duties of running the county's day-to-day operations. A salary commission, created amid controversy in May, determined how much elected officials of the county would earn, including $32,000 a year and full benefits for each of the six members of the expanded County Council, with Gene Knapp, Howie Rosenfeld and Ron Peterson sworn into office in early December. By Scott Rasmussen, County Reporter

Many island organizations have new leadership

This was a year for a turnover of leading lights at many island organizations. In May, the Orcas Island School District decided upon Glenn Harris, a northwest native who's returned from northern California to superintend the top-performing (and financially strapped) school district. The Funhouse enlisted Pete Moe, most recently a marketing director from the east coast, who grew up in Bellevue and worked with his uncle in the mid-90s building a home in the San Juan Islands. The Chamber of Commerce chose Lance Evans to oversee the affairs of the Island's business community. Lance comes to the chamber from careers in national television broadcasting and as director of government affairs at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. Since arriving on Orcas, he's been president of the Orcas Island Medical Center Association, a representative on the San Juan County Health/Community Services Advisory Board, president of the Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Services board, and an officer of the Orcas Island Community Foundation. He's currently a volunteer EMT and wildland firefighter with the Orcas Island Fire Department.

The Orcas Island Community Foundation chose Sturgis Robinson who's served as a diplomat, a river guide and a college president as the OICF's first Executive Director to oversee the organization's funds of over four million dollars. Linda Tretheway took the baton from Senior Center director Jan Koltun-Titus in June. Tretheway has been involved with the center since 1998 when she started as a volunteer drivers. Her activities on the island range from serving as a firefighter, church deacon and Freeholder,to Lions Club membership and involvement with the Historical Museum and Orcas Center. By Margie Doyle

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