The year 2016 was one of change, sometimes drastic. Not just throughout the world, but here at home, too. Our borough has a new mayor, a new manager, and is soon going to need a new superintendent of schools. A Czech car company named an SUV for our town in the past year, and just a couple of weeks ago, the North Pacific Council tabled talk of Gulf Groundfish Rationalization.
Last year the general election ushered in Donald Trump as president elect.
Trump won Alaska. In House District 32, he garnered 3,764 votes to Hillary Clinton’s 2,701, out of a total of 7,472 ballots cast.
Locally, Kodiak Senator Gary Stevens will return to Juneau after running unopposed in both the primary and general elections. Republican Representative Louise Stutes was challenged, however, in her first bid for re-election. She defeated her main challenger, independent Duncan Fields with a difference of a little more than 200 votes.
Stutes, who made statewide headlines for joining a Democratically-led majority coalition, said fixing the state budget deficit is one of the legislature’s top tasks during her next term.
“First and foremost we need a sustainable budget for this state. We have to become fiscally responsible and have a solid plan for sustainability in our finances in this state. That’s a priority.”
Also on the November ballot was an advisory question about local government consolidation. Voters decided they would be interested in the borough and city discussing the option of forming one government.
Assemblyman Kyle Crow introduced the idea, saying Kodiak has too much government for this size of community.
“We have this body of elected officials, the city’s body of elected officials and a mayor, and we have city managers and borough managers, and if you looked at the last study, you’ll see that the experts agreed that consolidation would provide benefits just like many major corporations do that. One corporation swallows up a smaller corporation. They have a single attorney instead of two attorneys. It’s a combination of efforts.”
The assembly caused issues with the city council by not consulting it before putting the advisory question on the ballot.
That just added to the tension between the two bodies after the assembly unilaterally rolled back the 2012 Residential Building Code to the 1997 Uniform Building Code. They did so to relax restrictions for people interested in building their own homes. But the city council expressed frustration that the assembly failed to consult with it before moving forward, especially since the two share a building inspection department.
The council and assembly have since moved to improve their communication by increasing the number of work sessions they hold jointly. The assembly is also in the process of switching back to the 2012 code in order to be consistent with the city, but is working to include requirement exemptions for some residences.
Meanwhile, the borough is actively trying to make land available in Kodiak. Members of the assembly formed the Borough Lands Committee last year, in large part due to the closure of the Jackson Mobile Home Park, which emphasized the high rent and cost of property.
Kevin Suydam, a fisherman and classic car collector, bought Jackson’s with the goal of developing it into residential lots.
Residents fought to keep their homes, but the park closed in May of last year, causing many to contemplate leaving the island due to high rent and lack of affordable property.
Quite a few fishermen consider the island one home and their vessel another, such as former Jackson’s resident, Darius Kazprzak, who would bed down in his trailer only when he wasn’t out at sea.
“It’s been a pretty tough fishing season with the El Niño and the really bad weather and this. This comes at a really bad time. These three months of fishing you know, March, April, May, June, I mean this is what makes or breaks the season. Down time and moving a trailer and stuff, you basically lose out on the majority of your income for the whole year.”
Speaking of fishing, the 2016 Kodiak salmon season was a bust.
For pink salmon, “unmitigated disaster” comes to mind. The harvest was forecast to be 16.2-million of the littlest salmon, which itself was an estimate already 4.5-million below the 10-year average. But only 3.25-million pink salmon were actually caught and delivered. The ex-vessel value of the salmon caught in 2016, according to Fish and Game’s data, was approximately $14.5-million, the fourth lowest in 41 years and more than $20-million less than the 10-year average.
One possible new source of revenue for Kodiak is the commercialization of marijuana, which had been legalized in Alaska in 2014. Both the borough and city put together advisory committees that could help them determine regulation for marijuana cultivation and sale in their areas, and they implemented opt-outs to allow them time to deliberate. Both bodies are reaching the end of their opt-out periods, which is February for the borough and January for the city.
The borough is also recovering from the Twin Creeks wildfire that happened in Chiniak in 2015.
It signed a contract with A-1 Timber to conduct timber salvage in the area and sell the damaged trees, and it’s currently planning for replanting of trees in the area.
The Alaska Aerospace Corporation is also recovering from the disaster that took place at its launch facility in the Narrow Cape Area.
In 2014, a launch failure and rocket explosion damaged buildings on the property and, in August of last year, AAC held a rededication ceremony and cut the ribbon in recognition of the new beginning.
Governor Bill Walker cut state funding to AAC due to the state’s fiscal situation, but AAC is generating both new contracts and new funds. It’s attracted small companies like Vector Space Systems, which launches satellites.
Looking into the New Year, a language nest will help preschoolers learn the Alutiiq language, and encourage their families to do the same. The Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak received a $2 million grant from the Administration for Native Americans. That will go to the nest school and other Alutiiq-language initiatives in the community. The preschool is set to open later in January.