2003 brings war, a new mayor

Governor resurrects road study, school district averts a teachers' strike and Kmart leaves town

Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Who would have foreseen on Sept. 11, 2001, that terrorist attacks on the United States would result two years later in Juneau residents helping fight an American and British war with Iraq, local marches for peace and the Juneau Assembly passing a resolution urging caution in the federal investigation of possible terrorists?

Linda Rusaw told the Empire she'd rather see her son home, but she believed in what he was fighting for in the Middle East. Will Rusaw joined the Army in 2000 after graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School.

"I agree with President Bush. Something's gotta be done," she said in March. "I think the most important reason we're there is to get rid of Saddam Hussein, because I believe he's a big supporter of al Qaida."

The Rusaws were just one of several Juneau families with a personal reason to pore over newspapers, avidly watch the television and study the Internet for news about the war.

In late September, Spc. Josel Carrillo of Juneau was injured in Iraq. Regarding the incident, The Associated Press reported one soldier was killed and two others injured in Kirkuk when someone fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the soldiers' vehicle. A few days after he was hurt, Carrillo was able to e-mail his family in Juneau and tell them he would fully recover.

In a packed meeting room in late April, the Juneau Assembly approved a resolution outlining the city's approach to investigations under federal anti-terrorism legislation and asked Congress to re-examine the Patriot and Homeland Security acts.

The Juneau Committee for Defense of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights brought the original resolution to the Assembly.

Juneau People for Peace and Justice - a group of about 40 people - has been meeting weekly since the early fall of 2002 to promote peace.

Meanwhile, at the polls

In 2003, Juneau voters elected a new mayor, Bruce Botelho. A former mayor and state attorney general, Botelho campaigned partly on a plan to build a new Capitol. He defeated Dick Knapp, a retired Coast Guard rear admiral.

Dan Peterson, a 21-year-old University of Alaska Southeast student, moved from the Juneau School Board to the Juneau Assembly, defeating incumbent Dale Anderson. David Stone, a spokesman for Alaska Electric Light and Power, ran unopposed for an Assembly seat vacated by Ken Koelsch.

Voters had to wait several weeks to learn who won the fifth of five open Juneau School Board seats because the election was so close that some residents wanted a recount.

Twelve candidates, including two incumbents, ran for School Board. When the dust had settled, publisher Alan Schorr defeated credit union executive Bill Peters by four votes. Other winners were newcomers Andi Story, Phyllis Carlson, Rhonda Befort and Julie Morris.

Voters in October also doubled the city tax on cigarettes, to 30 cents per pack, and doubled the 6 percent excise tax on cigars, chewing tobacco and other tobacco products.

At City Hall

In March, the Assembly appointed local businessman Rod Swope as city manager, after declining to make permanent the interim position of former Assembly member John MacKinnon.

Capital City Fire and Rescue Chief Mike Doyle resigned in November after six years on the job, saying he was tired and admitting that recent department organizational changes have not been universally popular.

City officials said they would move ahead with a planned reorganization of the fire department, which includes paid professionals and volunteers.

School days

The big education news was a year of contentious negotiations for a teachers' contract, including threats of a strike, culminating with a one-year contract for 2 percent raises.

Juneau School District Superintendent Gary Bader resigned to take a job with the state. He was replaced by Assistant Superintendent Peggy Cowan. Juneau turned over principals at three elementary schools and one middle school.

Plans moved ahead for a $63 million high school at Dimond Park in the Mendenhall Valley. Voters agreed over the summer in a special election to add $12.5 million to the roughly $50 million they had approved in 1999.

The Assembly trimmed the budget early in the year, then reluctantly added some back late in the year as a cushion. The city may seek construction bids in spring 2004 for an August 2006 completion.

JDHS and Floyd Dryden Middle School were renovated, and voters approved bonds for more improvements at both schools.

A new leaf

With the advent of the administration of Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski, the state resurrected the environmental study that could lead to construction of a road linking Juneau and Skagway or enhanced ferry service in upper Lynn Canal.

A city mining ordinance passed in July could speed development of Coeur Alaska's Kensington Mine Project by six months, the company said.

Officials said construction could begin on the gold mine, which would be built about 45 miles north of downtown Juneau, in the fall of 2004. The project, which would employ 325 construction workers and 225 in full-time operating jobs, awaits a completed federal environmental review.

Supporters said the new city ordinance streamlines a cumbersome and duplicative process, while critics argued it demonstrates a loss of local control.

In November, the U.S. Forest Service said Greens Creek Mining Co. can expand its disposal area for mine debris on Admiralty Island to accommodate two more decades of mining. About 260 people work at the mine.

Several hundred Juneau residents gathered in September at a town meeting on a federal bill that would facilitate a controversial land transfer involving Berners Bay.

The bill would allow the U.S. Department of the Interior to trade an undetermined amount of federal land near Berners Bay to Sealaska Corp. and Cape Fox Native Corp. in exchange for about 3,000 acres of Native corporation land near Ketchikan.

"Berners Bay occupies a special place in the hearts of the people of Juneau," said Dana Owen of Friends of Berners Bay. "It is a gem in our backyard."

Other developments

In April, after about seven years of consideration, the Juneau Planning Commission approved a conditional-use permit for an 18-hole golf course on West Douglas. Nonprofit developers Totem Creek Inc. now must negotiate a lease with the city and find financing.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in March it will build a scaled-down fisheries research center at Lena Point. The redesign could take 12 to 14 months.

NOAA canceled bids on the Lena Point project when construction costs came in $6 million over budget. As earlier proposed, the federal lab would house 100 National Marine Fisheries Service employees.

Alaska's new fast ferry, the Fairweather, will be based in Juneau and make runs to Haines and Skagway five days a week and to Sitka two days a week, the state said in a change of plans. The 235-foot ferry, set to begin operating in May 2004, originally was to be housed in Sitka and make daily trips back and forth to Juneau.

The city's Steamship Wharf-Marine Park construction project was completed in the summer, creating Marine Park Plaza downtown for the public and tour buses.

Businesses come and go

The top business story was the closure of Juneau's Super Kmart in mid-April, costing about 130 full-time and part-time jobs. It was part of a nationwide closure of several hundred stores. Kmart had opened in Juneau in 1993.

Jo-Ann Fabrics, which opened in March in the Nugget Mall, hired about 50 people. And Alaska Industrial Hardware, which opened at the Airport Mall, employed about 15 people.

Two private cruise ship docks downtown won city permits in January after a discussion about whether they would increase or relieve congestion downtown. One dock would serve smaller boats. The second would accommodate 960-foot cruise ships.

In February, Barry and Carlene Shaw reopened BaCar's, the popular downtown restaurant they first opened in 1993 and closed in 2001.

The restaurant Mike's Place, a Douglas institution, closed in September. It opened in 1937 and was operated nearly all the time since then by the Pusich family.

"There are people that have grown up and spent most of their lives here and raised their families and have had many occasions here," Mary Kay Pusich said at the time. "It's going to be a big change for all of us in the community."

To your health

The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium opened a $10 million clinic near Salmon Creek in the spring. Officials at the Native health care organization said the 32,000-square-foot building allows it to care for more patients.

This winter some city employees, surprised by a new policy allowing domestic partners to receive city health insurance benefits, backed a petition opposing the rule. But the Assembly on a 6-2 vote agreed with City Manager Swope's decision to provide the benefits. The new policy provides coverage for unmarried same- and opposite-sex couples who have lived together in a spouse-like relationship for at least a year.

The Bartlett Regional Hospital addition and renovation may cost more and be delayed. The city expected construction to cost $30 million. In the second round of bidding, in December, the low bid came in at $36.9 million. The hospital board hasn't decided what to do.

Ends but not odds

Perseverance Theatre artistic director Peter DuBois announced he would take the job of associate producer at New York's well-known Public Theatre.

DuBois had been in Juneau for five years. He is the second Perseverance artistic director to move on to a prominent theater. In 1998, Molly Smith left to become the artistic director of Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

In the courts

Former Kmart employee Frank Brian Rowcroft was found guilty in November of last year's $100,000 theft from the Kmart safe. Sentencing is set for Jan. 6.

Adrian Paige, accused of slashing a man and injuring a police officer downtown in August 2002, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. He also was found guilty of second-degree robbery and second-degree theft.

The two men responsible for setting a fire in June 2002 at a self-storage building near Lemon Creek were sentenced to prison in January of this year. The fire destroyed the property of about 150 people, as well as the building, and endangered firefighters.

Michael Blevins was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison with three suspended. Cricencio Bagoyo was sentenced to 12 years in prison with four years suspended.

A federal judge ruled that Juneau school officials did not violate a student's rights by confiscating a banner during 2002's Olympic Torch Relay. The banner read "Bong hits 4 Jesus." But the former student, Joseph Frederick, will appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Church examines itself

A Juneau Catholic lay committee's investigation of sexual abuse allegations against a local priest turned up credible but less serious accusations of "inappropriate behavior" from other former parishioners, the Juneau diocese said in April.

The new claims made against the Rev. Michael Nash were to be forwarded to a Vatican committee, which will decide his future in the church, local Catholic officials said.

Nash was accused in November of sexually abusing former Juneau resident and parishioner Joel Post in the early 1980s. The lay committee didn't decide whether Post's allegations were credible, the diocese said.

Nash, former pastor at Cathedral of the Nativity, has maintained his innocence. He agreed to step down from his duties as priest while Juneau church officials, a lay committee and police investigate Post's claims.

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