Year in Review 2014: June to December

Salmon, forest, water, election, roads and more were up for debate during the second half of 2014 in Alberni.

Here are the final pieces to our annual Year in Review, compiled by reporter Katya Slepian. This is a brief overview of the news that we covered in 2014. If you’re interested in reading more extended pieces, all our newspapers are available online at www.albernivalleynews.com and click on the e-edition link.

 

The Alberni Valley Fringe Festival returned to the city for its second year. From Zelda to burlesque to a post-Alice Wonderland, Albernians came out to see a dozen shows with top-notch performers.

The old Somass Hotel’s fate was decided in June, with the Uchucklesaht First Nation deciding that if the cost to repair the building was going to be the same as building a new one, it was better to build anew.

Residents received reassurance from the city’s economic development manager that despite the 2008 recession, Port Alberni was doing well. While the forest industry was seen as unlikely to once again become the behemoth it was in earlier years, Alberni’s mills diversified and survived the recession.

More economic development could be in store for the Alberni Valley, with the Port Authority pitching a transshipment hub that could see fibre shipped abroad from Sarita Bay, close to the mouth of the Alberni Inlet.

West  Coast General Hospital also received a boost, with an expected $3.4 million emergency room upgrade.

McLean Mill also saw some changes, with a plan to increase ridership and introduce vendors into the train station.

Reducing ice fees for the Bulldogs claimed its first casualty, with long-time parks and recreation programmer Ron Paulson on the chopping block.

(Paulson later resurfaced as a contender, and then a winner in the November 2014 municipal elections.)

 

July saw two farmers’ markets remaining in Port Alberni, a holdover from the split between the original Spirit Square Farmers’ Market and the new Port Alberni Farmers’ Market in Cherry Creek.

PAPA proved to be ahead of the game in consulting with local First Nations when the Tsilquot’in ruling—conferring Aboriginal title over their surrounding area —came in.

A new adult summer reading club started up in town this summer, aided by the Port Alberni Starfleet chapter.

ADSS Grade 12 student Denae Edgar beat the medical odds after an ovarian cyst burst just days before her prom. While Edgar had to undergo emergency surgery, she was able to walk across the stage in her prom dress to receive her high school diploma.

For the first time since 1962, boats raced across Sproat Lake for the 2014 revival of the Sproat Lake Regatta.

Two hopefuls entered the mayoral race for the Nov. 15 municipal election. Former ADSS principal Mike Ruttan and SteamPunk Cafe and Coffee House owner Kevin Wright announced their candidacy and became the first to challenge incumbent John Douglas and Malcolm Menninga threw in his hat on the council side. Expecting a baby didn’t deter Sharie Minions with continuing her council run nor helping out with the Young Professionals of the Alberni Valley’s community garden.

The Huu-ay-aht First Nation took a big step  in July when they signed an agreement with Steelhead LNG to explore the possibility of a liquefied natural gas plant in Sarita Bay.

While no one’s fallen off of Centennial Pier just yet, the PAFD added a new rescue technique to their arsenal just in case.

City council voted to change up the city’s transit system, adding holiday service starting Labour Day and switching up the fares.

On a more energetic note, council and mayor were presented with an Active Transportation Plan which laid out the benefits of a more walkable and cycleable city.

Residential school survivors were shocked as the Alberni Indian Residential School survivors memorial was vandalized near the end of the month. Vandals also cut down the Hupacasath First Nation’s welcome sign.

The public put up a fight to keep the Valley’s beloved Martin Mars waterbombers in the air. An online petition asking the province to reinstate the Martin Mars’ firefighting contract gathered more than 18,000 signatures.

An elderly driver paid an impromptu visit to Steampunk Cafe on July 22, reversing across the street into the coffee shop’s patio. Fortunately there were no serious injuries to any of the patrons sitting on the patio at the time.

Beaver Creek residents were finally able to enjoy a glass of crystal clear tap water after switching to the city’s water supply.

More sick kids than ever got the chance to be hugged by an angel when Port Alberni teenager Angel Magnussen, who runs Hugginz By Angel non-profit business, got a new blanket crafting studio courtesy of Telus.

On the ice, the Bulldogs signed Billy Christopoulos as their goalie for the 2014-15 season.

 

Drag racers flocked to the Alberni Valley for Thunder in the Valley. Nearly drivers came out for the internationally renowned event that attracted people from the Alberni Valley and beyond.

The struggle between Island Timberlands and the Watershed-Forest Alliance over the old growth at McLaughlin Ridge reached a head, with the WFA asking for a pause to the logging on McLaughlin Ridge amidst worries that cuts there may be affecting the city’s drinking water quality.

Local first nations, Port Alberni residents and environmental activists rallied for clean drinking water outside of city hall, threatening more direct action if logging in the China Creek watershed continued

Port Alberni’s Randi Levasseur spoke about how her nursing practicum in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the year inspired her to continue nursing in areas where medical care is hard to come by.

Levasseur wasn’t the only one making a difference. Local teen Makenna Cyr’s passion for animals won her top prize at the Vancouver Island Exhibition Fair. The teen, who is a member of 4-H, hopes to become a teacher and pass on her passion for agriculture to other youth.

The town was outraged when 30 salmon were found dumped on the Hupacasath reserve, with local resident Wawmeesh Hamilton calling the dumping a “disgusting waste”.

Starfish wasting disease attacked the starfish population in the Barkley Sound, putting the whole ecosystem at risk.

Port Alberni local and summer coordinator at the Maritime Discovery Centre Mike McDowall expressed concerns over the dangers to both residents and tourists walking along Harbour Road.

Chinook salmon were a welcome sight at Port Alberni’s 43rd annual Salmon Fest. Low returns had meant that the 42nd annual derby was coho only, leading to smaller fish and less turnout.

The city turned into ‘cougar town’ when a rogue cougar showed up on Centennial Pier during a late night stroll.

The Valley’s housing market showed promise with younger than usual investors looking to snap up Alberni real estate while it remains affordable.

The 10th Avenue crossing conundrum continued with city council finally voting to place a non-binding public opinion question on the Nov. 15 civic election ballot. The Huu-ay-aht First Nation and Steelhead LNG considered a partnership to build an LNG facility on Huu-ay-aht territory at Sarita Bay.

A Port Alberni teen was sentenced as an adult to six years in prison for the rape of an exchange student in Roger Creek Park in May 2013.

 

Port Alberni’s Ray Ursel took home $15,000 and top prize at the Salmon Fest derby with a 37.7-pounder caught just south of Bamfield.

With Salmon Fest wrapped up it was onto the Alberni District Fall Fair, an annual event that takes the Kin Club weeks upon weeks of preparation. Between painting signs, setting up the midway and getting ready for the logger sports, volunteers put in some serious hours.

As always, there was a bit of horsing around courtesy of the horse division of the local 4-H club as Carole Walton prepped her girls to take home some prizes during the fair.

September is usually the month when parents can breathe a sigh of relief as students head back to school but this year many were left scrambling to find child care as the teacher strike continued.

Students and teachers only made it back into classrooms on the second last day of the month after 86 per cent of the province’s teachers ratified a new six-year agreement.

While parents with kids in school district schools were thrilled to have their children back in schools, local parent Kalyne McIvor appreciated home schooling her kids more than ever as their lesson plans were unaffected by the strike.

Jamie Amos, assistant equipment manager for the Bulldogs, raised over $10,000 in Terry Fox Run fundraising.

Editor Susan Quinn made the News beyond an article byline when she won the Peter Gzowski Life Literacy Fellowship. The fellowship provides funding for one Canadian journalist each year to  publish a literacy project to enhance public understanding, support and awareness of literacy.

A record 1,600 motorcycles roared into Port Alberni as part of the 30th annual Toy Run.

Two weeks later a slightly quieter if no less passionate group rolled into Port Alberni. Island Radio’s Carla Johnson braved the Hump to raise money for cancer research and to send kids fighting cancer to Camp Good Times as part of the Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock, a 1,000 km bike ride across Vancouver Island.

Good news came to Port Alberni by sea as well as by land in September with the announcement of a merger between Canadian Alberni Engineering and Kamma and Blake Industries. The companies launched their last two boats as separate companies before becoming one. City economic development manager Pat Deakin was enthused by the merger, saying that it would “allow the companies to go after more work and bigger jobs.”

Port Alberni’s first university opened its degree program this month. Students can now receive their Bachelor of Arts in Disability Management at Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health and Sciences.

Then-city councillor Hira Chopra announced his mayoral run, while Monty Mearns of the United Steelworks announced his city council ambitions.

The AV Museum acquired a rare Emily Carr painting that they plan to use in an exhibit about outdoor recreation in the Alberni Valley.

 

October started with a new player jumping into the debate about bridging the Roger Creek ravine. Retired road and logging engineer Jim Rhodes proposed a low level 10th Avenue crossing from behind the Fall Fair Grounds to the southern end of Cherry Creek Road. According to Rhodes, such a crossing would have cost $5 million —just over a third of the  earlier proposed $14.6 million high level crossing from the north end of 10th Avenue to the intersection of Johnston Road and Tebo Avenue. City engineer Guy Cicon argued that any crossing was unnecessary with Port Alberni’s current situation, saying that there were far more urgent uses for the city’s already strained budget.

Despite this, the $5 million crossing replaced the $14.6 million one on the Nov. 15 civic election ballot during a city council meeting that ran till after 11 p.m.

Seeing this, local resident John Mayba stepped forward and proposed a pedestrian and cyclist bridge over the Roger Creek ravine

Cherry Creek Fire Department volunteer firefighter Svetlana Zaytseva earned a BC Hydro grant to upgrade her training. Zaytseva received the  BC Hydro Community Safety Award which included a grant that sent her and fellow volunteer firefighter Rick Adams to the mainland.

Stories like these help inspire the fire department’s junior firefighters, Eric Gill and Caden Stephens. Both 18, they plan to use their time as junior firefighters to help them stay on the emergency response career track.

Port Alberni Port Authority CEO Zoran Knezevic and Huu-ay-aht executive director James Edwards and elected chief councillor Jeff Cook joined Premier Christy Clark on a trade mission to India in October. Both PAPA and the Huu-ay-aht went in hopes of finding investors for the trans-shipment hub and LNG facility proposed to be built at Sarita Bay.

An injured puppy also got to go on a journey this month. Bubba, an eight-week-old hound-labrador mix got airlifted from Ahousaht to Tofino after breaking its leg due to being hit by a car.

Dave Jansma also got set to undergo a medical miracle. The Port Alberni native received his second live organ transplant, this time a kidney, from Allison Dupuis, a woman he barely knew but who would go on to save his life.

The Portal Players Dramatic Society opened their 37th season with The Woman in Black, a production notable for having just two actors and a key role for the Capitol Theatre itself to play.

Salvation Army major Bruce Mac Kenzie didn’t have any reason to celebrate in October. With mounting complaints by neighbours about after-hours dumping at the Salvation Army depot at Fourth Avenue and Redford Street and not enough money to do anything about it, Mac Kenzie was at a loss about what to do.

October saw a record number of city council candidates, with 23 stepping up to fight for six spots. Seven mayoral candidates also stepped forward. The city also saw its first electoral organization, Alberni First, crop up.

Port Alberni fire crews responded to a fire at the old ADSS. The incident frustrated PAFD fire Chief Tim Pley who said that he warned the school district that this would happen.

 

November saw some good News in the form of a Tuesday edition. While the News Advertiser is a different format with more advertising, two November issues featured stories on their covers: Tim Sherwood only wanted to install a Christmas tree base when he dug into the Blue Marlin Inn parking lot but instead he found all sorts of artifacts, including a helmet dating back to the First or Second World War.

The Bread of Life struggled to provide enough food for those in need as donations flagged in November.

Dave Jansma received his third kidney at the beginning of the month, while his donor Allison Dupuis recovered from giving one of hers up at Vancouver General Hospital.

Alberni District Secondary School students got a chance to venture outside of the classroom and into the forest as part of Ryan Dvorak’s Project-Based Learning, which was featured both in the education ministry’s Learn magazine and on the front cover of our newspaper.

Port Alberni remembered the fallen with several Remembrance Day ceremonies across town.

In one of its last moves before the municipal election, city council voted to form an ad hoc committee to review Compliance Coal’s Raven Coal project application.

With the civic election slated for the middle of the month, talk about a district municipality started up again.

The city elected former ADSS principal Mike Ruttan to be its new mayor, flanked by new councillors Denis Sauve, Chris Alemany, Sharie Minions, Ron Paulson, and incumbents Jack McLeman and Dan Washington. That list includes three out of four Alberni First candidates—not enough for a voting block, which many people had feared might happen.

Alberni First organizers vowed the electoral organization would fold after the election, having completed its goal of having candidates elected to council.

Ruttan emphasized the importance of mayor and council cooperating in an election night interview. Other key issues included public engagement, more standing rather than ad hoc committees, better marketing of what Port Alberni has to offer and a focus on tightening the budget while still addressing key voter concerns.

While political turmoil ranged outside, the students in VAST were knitting up a storm inside as part of the education centre’s knitting group.

WiL debuted the music video for his single Make Make at Char’s Landing.

The port authority purchased a narrow strip of land beside the Somass Mill for $319,000.

The Huu-ay-aht First Nation also took a big step by voting to continue exploring the proposed LNG facility at Sarita Bay in partnership with Steelhead LNG.

 

Political turmoil gave way to nature’s wrath as the Alberni Valley was battered by rains, high tides and ever rising river levels  during the second week of December. Third Avenue saw waist high levels of water while the Somass River wreaked destruction on homes and infrastructure on the Tseshaht First Nation reserve as it rose far above its banks.

While Port Alberni’s infrastructure was spared from the worst of the flood damage, it was having a difficult enough time staying in one piece on its own. Built largely during the boom times half a century back, the city’s infrastructure is showing its age. The city spends $2 million on roads, storm, sewer and sanitary capital construction projects but city engineer Guy Cicon admits he could use double that to fix the deteriorating infrastructure.

From cracked and crumbling roads to the often leaking pipes beneath them, Port Alberni is breaking apart at the seams.

In happier city news, director of parks, recreation and heritage Scott Kenny was honoured for 25 years of service with the city. The “green gentleman” was honoured along with AV Museum assistant program coordinator Cathy Bagley and public works employees Paul Graitson and Neil Ruel.

The Zattzoo Project honoured the late Zakkaree Coss with An Evening with Zakkaree at the Rainbow Room. Coss was a local musician who passed away in 2013 following a car accident.

A Christmas tree farm saw a change in ownership this year as Kirkpatrick Christmas Trees became the Tara Christmas Trees under Robbie and Olive O’Dwyer. While a Christmas tree farm might seem like an eccentric acquisition, O’Dwyer comes from a long tradition of Christmas tree farm owners in her native Ireland.

The much fought over Canal Beach issue was settled at least a little bit by city council, with council voting to authorize the mayor and city clerk to sign an indemnity agreement with Western Forest Products, releasing the company from any liability arising from public use of the beach.

The Heritage Awards took place in December, honouring those who advocated for the city’s history in 2014.

The community came through for the Kiwanis Hilton Children’s Centre after a broken furnace left them out in the cold, raising the money needed to replace the malfunctioning part.

The Sunshine Club also did its part for the community this holiday season, making colourful placemats for those who received meals courtesy of the Meals on Wheels program.

Earnie Bodger returned to making his glitter stars in support of the Breakfast Program this year, selling well over 500 stars at Scotiabank.

Port Alberni’s Colin Simister raised the idea of bringing Pride back to the city and the community leapt up to support him. Simister is in the midst of organizing a Pride BBQ at WIlliamson Park at the end of July 2015.

 

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

twitter.com/alberninews

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