From politics to local sports action, 2016 was a busy year in the Chugiak-Eagle River area. Here are some of the events that shaped the calendar year.
The year began with the Lady Mustangs girls’ basketball team winning the Capital City Classic Championship against the gals from Juneau-Douglas High School with a score of 48-42. It was a bit of good news for the local area as statewide economic forecasts left a dark cloud over the start of the New Year. With oil prices plummeting, state lawmakers began the ugly task of figuring how to cut the budget. Merry Braham and Susie Gorksi of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce gave state Sen. Anna McKinnon a magic wand and wished her luck. The Alaska Club opened its Eagle River pool and splash park – a nice addition for local swim fans. Eagle River’s Dan Kendall was featured on National Geographic relating his story of being a young boy in Valdez during the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. The Chugiak High School boys’ basketball team won the Birchwood Bowl for the fifth straight year in the eight years history of the match-up between CHS and Eagle River High School. Customers of the Matanuska Telephone Association were allowed to vote to de-regulate the utility and representatives from the Matanuska Electric Association questioned the benefit of the utility becoming part of a single Railbelt electric utility. Alaska operations for British Petroleum announced a 13 percent workforce reduction. The Anchorage School District began its search for a new superintendent.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz made good on his promise to hold office hours in the Chugiak-Eagle River Library as the Anchorage Assembly began addressing local marijuana laws at the start of the month. The CHS culinary arts program again won top honors in the Alaska ProStart competition. The ASD also ramped up its efforts to cut the 2016-17 budget that was being formulated in the spring of 2016 as the state Dept. of Education opted to scrap implementation of a controversial new testing methodology to gauge student performance. The boys hockey team from ERHS made its first state tournament appearance and the first round of tryouts were held for the new semi-pro football team, the Eagle River Broncos. Members of the ASD School Board approved $1.5 million for upgrades to Yosemite Drive where ERHS is located and nearly $40,000 to search for an Outside firm to search for a new superintendent.
The Anchorage Assembly defined distances that marijuana operations must be distanced from places such as churches and schools. Area-based state legislators held town halls to solicit opinions and ideas for balancing the budget from locals. Marcus Dushun Cosby, age 24, was killed at the Wood River Apartment in Eagle River on March 11. The coroner’s office listed the cause of his death as multiple gunshot wounds. The apartment building parking lot was littered with shell casing and several residents told reporters there was a lot of gunfire. The case remains open at this time. Crystal Kennedy, former ASD school board member, announced her intentions to run against Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-District 14, thus launching a bitter battle between the two women with similar political viewpoints but drastically different styles. The U.S. Army announced it would delay plans to relocate the 4-25 Infantry unit from Fort Richardson for at least one year thus relieving concerns regarding a negative economic impact on the local area. Cloudy weather delayed the Easter Egg drop and hunt sponsored by Alliance Christian Fellowship at Eagle River High School but the hunt at the Eagle River Lions park went on as scheduled. The Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center hosted its first ever gun show. No businesses filed to open a pot shop in Eagle River when the municipality began taking business applications.
Amy Demboski, Chugiak’s representative to the Anchorage Assembly, successfully fought off a challenge by Nicholas Begich, also of Chugiak. School bonds failed. Eagle River’s first car wash, the Duck Pond, which had been out of operation for several years, was demolished. Early in the month, the school district announced its timeline for hiring a new superintendent out of a pool of more than 80 candidates. Late in the month, the district announced it had narrowed the search to two candidates: both from Alaska. The crash of a Cessna 172P near the Beach Lake Road claimed the lives of four. Dead in the crash were George Kobelnyk, age 54, pilot; Christian Bohrer, age 20; co-pilot; and two passengers – 36-year-old Sarah Glaves and 27-year-old Kyle Braun. State legislators failed to pass a budget by the end of the regular session and began a special session. A last minute effort by parents of pending CHS and ERHS graduates began in late April to organize the annual Grad Blast party. Rep. Shelley Hughes filed for the senate seat being vacated by the pending retirement of state Sen. Bill Stoltze. Amy Demboski, Anchorage Assembly member, sponsored the first of several crime town hall events. State Rep. Dan Saddler, R-District 13, celebrated the passage of a bill near and dear to his family – the ABLE Accounts that allow families of individuals with special needs to set aside up to $14,000 per year without being penalized on state aid.
Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board announced their findings that the crashed Cessna 172P owned by George Kobelynk made contact with a juvenile bald eagle. Dr. Deena Paramo of the Mat-Su School District as chosen to head the ASD beginning July 1. The Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce hired Dana Thorp-Patterson, formerly with the University of Alaska, to take the reins from Susie Gorksi upon her retirement at the end of the month. APD Chief Christopher Tolley defended crime statistics at several meetings in the Chugiak-Eagle River area despite a growing theme that the department’s statistics are not accurate. The “Elephant Cage” – a World War II era listening post on Elmendorf Air Force base was shut down. Stephanie Le Prowse, the daughter of Til Wallace and niece of Art Wallace, re-opened the former Fugi Gifts store under its new name, Rivers Edge Gallery, thus beginning yet another chapter at one of the area’s historical curiosities. Amy Demboski joined the Trump Alaska campaign team. A 20-acre wild fire in the Eagle River Valley alerted the area to the danger of fire in the dry conditions that prevailed in May and throughout the summer months. The Alaska Fine Arts Academy based in Eagle River welcomed a new director and also announced the settlement of financial issues with the Internal Revenue Service. Despite municipal budget woes, cops and firefighters got a raise. The Municipality tightened its lease laws.
The Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks baseball team played a full season of fun in the sun – and rain – as locals continued their full-developed support for the team and its mostly out-of-state college players at Lee Jordan Field in the Loretta French Park complex. The CHS boys’ varsity baseball team had its hopes of a second Cook Inlet championship dashed in a 3-1 loss to Service High School. Anchorage Assembly members addressed the issue of cell phone towers by directing that providers co-locate on existing towers. The new bridge over the Eklunta River near the parking lot for the Thunderbird Falls trail head opened.
Lee and Barbara Jordan moved out of Birchwood after 54 years. Lee was the founder and original owner of the Alaska Star and served as the area’s mayor during its short-lived separation from the Municipality. Several local residents took on the Mount Marathon challenge in Seward over the Fourth of July holiday. An Eagle River man, William Ahrens, ended up in the national spotlight as his son, Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, age 48, of the Dallas Police Department died of gunshot wounds he suffered while on duty during a Black Lives Matter demonstration. The state legislature began its fifth special session. The Eagle River Post Office staff won a district award for conducting the most mobile processing transactions. Pokemon Go, a hand-held game, swept through Chugiak and Eagle River as it did the rest of the nation. Folks were out all hours of the night walking the streets and trails of the local area trying to capture Pokemon on their phones and other devices. The primary race between Rep. Lora Reinbold and Crystal Kennedy took several nasty turns as each took turns pointing to flaws in the other. Former state senator Fred Dyson publicly endorsed Kennedy and suggested via editorial in the Alaska Star, that it was time for Reinbold to “take a couple years off.” In the end, Reinbold won the race. Independent candidate, Joe Hackenmueller of Eagle River, then ramped up his bid against Reinbold for the general election. Eagle River’s Corey Cogdell took home the bronze medal in the women’s trap shooting at the Olympics in Brazil. Alev Kelter, a CHS graduate, played on the U.S. Women’s Rugby team. The ERHS Wolves varsity football team ended its 24-game losing streak with a victory over the Barrow Whalers by a score of 22-20.
The ECHO News headed by Lj Kennedy, editor-in-chief and publisher, and Amy Armstrong, managing editor, made its debut just in time for Lee Jordan’s 86th birthday. Jordan as well as Frank Baker and Daniel Shepard joined forces to create a “community-driven newspaper with a hyper local focus.” Its motto, “For Our Community, By Our Community, About Our Community,” is demonstrated in its working relationship with student interns and other community members as correspondents. ERHS football won in Ketchikan. Local area legislators weighed in on a pending lawsuit filed by an Anchorage lawmaker and co-filed by former state Sen. Rick Halford of Chugiak accusing state Gov. Bill Walker of acting out of his authority when he cut the PFD check each state resident receives in half based on the state’s fiscal crisis.
Amy Demboski sponsored yet another crime town hall at the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center on the first day of the month. This event added a twist – crime prevention and safety vendors were on hand to assist attendees with their home or personal safety concerns. Mustangs Varsity Football won the Railbelt Conference with its defeat of the Colony High School Knights by a score of 30-7. The Mustangs played at home the following week in the first round of the play-offs against the Service Cougars, but were defeated by a score of 54-42. The second annual Maddy’s Run raised more than $17,000 to assist local children with life-threatening diseases. The event began in 2015 to honor the battle Maddy Brandl, a Homestead elementary school fourth-grade student, was fighting against ovarian cancer. The ECHO News held the area’s first political candidate debate not sponsored by a political party on Oct. 25 at the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center. All candidates from the four local races were on hand.
Rep. Lora Reinbold retained her seat by defeating independent challenger Joe Hackenmueller. The local race coincided with the presidential election. The local area’s only early voting station was the senior center and the lines were regularly quite lengthy, according to election workers whom noted that a significantly greater number of voters were turning out. The Salvation Army announced its plans to return to the local retail market in early 2017 with a store near the Alaska Club in Eagle River.
The annual Merry Merchant Munch held the first weekend in December once again served as the gateway for locals to get in the holiday spirit and get ready for the season of feasting and gift giving. Several hundred people turned out for the tree lighting and the arrival of Santa Claus in the downtown Eagle River square. Several local service organizations – the Elks, the Lady Lions, the Lions and the folks from the American Legion and Love, INC., – provided meals and gifts for local families in need. The Chugiak Community Council formalized its opposition to a proposal by the Heritage Land Bank to drastically increase the proposed housing density for the Carol Creek property between the Eagle River Fred Meyer and the Harry J. McDonald Center. The family and friends of Linda Bower, murdered in 2014, received only a sliver of justice when her alleged murdered David Joseph Thomas confessed to the murder and entered a plea deal for a second-degree murder conviction on Dec. 14. Bower’s family asked the judge not to accept the plea deal based on the fact that Thomas would be eligible for parole in 14 years of the proposed 50-year sentence.