Top stories here in 2017 were murder charges in a fatal van wreck from the year before and the political struggle over the top job in the local electrical utility.
Political wrangling over who should be the next person in charge of Petersburg Municipal Power and Light stretched on for months before and after the retirement of superintendent Joe Nelson in June. It started with a cost-saving proposal from the borough manager to re-organize borough departments to put the electric utility under the supervision of the borough’s public works director. Petersburg’s mayor Mark Jensen resigned over the issue and the vice mayor Cindi Lagoudakis took over that seat. The borough assembly held both closed and open discussions on the proposal. An executive session in May prompted an effort to recall most of the assembly with Jensen and other former mayors seeking their ouster. Ultimately recall petitions were not issued by the borough however, Jensen ended up running for election against Lagoudakis in October and taking back the mayor’s seat. Following the election, the assembly decided against the department reorganization and voted to start advertising for a new power and light superintendent.
Prosecutors brought charges against the driver of the borough van that crashed on July 4th, 2016, killing two passengers and injuring a third. 24-year-old Chris Allen faces second degree murder, manslaughter and assault charges in the deaths of Molly Parks and Marie Giesbrecht. They were working for the borough to help put on the Parks and Recreation Department’s Independence Day celebration. That case is scheduled for trial at the end of next July.
Voters in October decided to keep fluoride in the water supply after months of debate over the issue. The electorate also decided against permitting ATVs on local streets.
The first legal sales of marijuana happened quietly in mid July with the opening of Petersburg’s first retail pot store in downtown. The island’s first licensed grow operation also started up this year.
Throughout the year, volunteers and agency representatives also continued discussions on the problems of homelessness and opioid addiction in the community.
Scientists wrapped up two years of research on the LeConte Glacier and expect their work could signal how ice sheets will be melting around the globe.
A local family campaigned to keep a family cabin in the wilderness area at Petersburg Creek, one of 83 remaining privately owned cabins on the Tongass National Forest that may have to be removed.
Archeologists with the U.S. Forest Service reported on findings of a Native village site near Petersburg dating back over one thousand years, and adding to the evidence of long term habitation here even before settlement by Norwegians in the late 1800s.
In high school sports the boys basketball team notched their third state championship in March. The volleyball team added their first title in December.
Like other places around the state, Petersburg had problems with bears getting into garbage cans and seeking food late into the year. State workers trapped and relocated several to the mainland and cautioned about leaving food out for the nuisance animals. Hunters in central Southeast also set a new high mark for the month-long moose season around Petersburg, Wrangell and Kake.
The Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association completed the first release of hatchery chum salmon in Thomas Bay in the spring. The first adult fish are expected to return in three to four years and could be worth millions to fishing fleets in the area.
The Clausen Memorial Museum celebrated its 50th year, while across the street the local hospital celebrated its first century. Elected officials and hospital staff continued a discussion about whether a new or remodeled hospital building would be possible and continued with repairs to that aging building. Other local public structures did get an upgrade, with staff moving back into a renovated municipal building in early 2017 and the rebuild of the power and light offices starting up later in the year.