Juneau residents turn out to watch the whale fountain in action on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Juneau residents turn out to watch the whale fountain in action on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Counting down the top stories of 2018

Elections dominate news cycle

It’s been an eventful year in the capital city and Alaska as a whole. With just hours left in 2018, the Empire is counting down some of the biggest stories of the year.

Byron Mallott suddenly resigns

In a topsy-turvy election season, the biggest piece of news was the abrupt resignation of former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott for what Gov. Bill Walker called an “inappropriate overture to a woman.” The details about the victim and what was said or done have not come out yet.

The resignation came with less than three weeks left before the general election. Walker was already polling third behind eventual winner Mike Dunleavy and Democratic candidate Mark Begich, and dropped out of the race shortly after Mallott’s resignation. Born in Yakutat, Mallott has been a prominent figure in Southeast Alaska from a young age. He served as Juneau’s mayor, the president of the Alaska Federation of Natives and as the executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund over the years.

Dunleavy wins gubernatorial election

The Republican candidate earned the job of Alaska’s 12th governor, defeating Begich handily in the Nov. 6 election. Dunleavy’s rallying call during the campaign centered around restoring the old formula for the Permanent Fund Dividend after the Legislature under Walker used the Permanent Fund to help balance the state’s budget.

Dunleavy, a former state senator, also focused on public safety during the campaign. He took the oath of office Dec. 3 in Kotzebue.

Climbers die on Mendenhall Towers

In early March, two experienced climbers — Juneau resident George “Ryan” Johnson and British Columbia man Marc-André Leclerc — attempted a challenging route up one of the Mendenhall Towers, a group of peaks that rise above the Juneau Icefield. They made it to the top, but something went wrong on the way down.

They didn’t return when they were supposed to, and the search began. As a result of bad weather conditions, personnel from Juneau Mountain Rescue and the Army National Guard were unable to make much progress in their search. Almost a week after the climbers were due back, searchers found ropes belonging to the climbers in a crevasse midway down one of the towers.

[Searchers use radar technology to locate missing climbers]

The men were presumed dead, and weather and snow conditions near the peaks have made it impossible to retrieve their remains.

Legislators resign after allegations

Six days after a Juneau woman accused him of violently assaulting her, Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel, resigned from the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 2. As medical records showed, Fansler hit the victim so hard that he ruptured her eardrum. In June, Fansler pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment and was sentenced to community service in lieu of jail time.

In February, Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint that alleged a year and a half of unwanted attention, flirting, phone calls and touching on the arms and torso. Parish was ordered to undergo sexual harassment training as a result. He also did not pursue re-election, but said the harassment complaint did not factor into his decision to do so.

AEL&P sale falls through

In July 2017, Ontario power company Hydro One announced that it was planning to buy Washington-based Avista Corporation, the owner of Juneau power company Alaska Electric Light & Power (AEL&P). A vocal group of Juneau residents was skeptical of the sale because the Province of Ontario owns 47 percent of the utility, making it the largest shareholder.

This December, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) rejected Hydro One’s application, writing in its decision that the sale “fails to provide a net benefit to Avista’s customers.” The UTC pointed to the fact when a new party took over in Ontario, party leadership fired Hydro One’s CEO and the entire board of directors. This did not provide a stable ownership situation, the UTC ruled.

Shakeups on the CBJ Assembly

A busy election season left the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly with three new members and a new mayor and deputy mayor. After former Mayor Ken Koelsch announced that he wasn’t going to run for re-election, Assembly members Norton Gregory and Beth Weldon resigned their seats in order to run for mayor.

Weldon was successful, beating political newcomer Saralyn Tabachnick in the Oct. 2 municipal election. Former Deputy Mayor Jerry Nankervis chose not to run for re-election to pursue a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives. The three open seats — left by Gregory, Nankervis and Weldon — were filled by newcomers Carole Triem, Michelle Bonnet-Hale and Wade Bryson, respectively.

The Assembly will experience more turnover soon, as Jesse Kiehl won his election for the Senate District Q seat. His seat will be filled by the end of January.

Judge makes ruling in cruise ship lawsuit

A long-awaited court decision came this month, and set a precedent far beyond Juneau. On Dec. 6, U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland ruled that municipalities can collect taxes from cruise passengers, but they can only use that revenue for projects that benefit the cruise ships themselves instead of the passengers.

The case dates back to 2016, when Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Alaska sued the CBJ alleging the misuse of taxes collected from cruise passengers. The argument stems from the Tonnage Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which essentially states that states can’t charge for a vessel’s cargo without providing a service to the boat. This ruling sets a precedent for cities with cruise ports all over the country.

State tsunami system has critical flaws

When a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck on Jan. 23, many along the Gulf Coast were notified of a tsumani warning. Others, however, were left in the dark.

A public records request from showed that the state’s tsunami warning system experienced several critical failures on Jan. 23 and left the Emergency Alert System to be activated by a single intern at the National Weather Service in Anchorage. Essentially, three of the five avenues for people to be notified failed.

Some of the problems revealed in January were being fixed as of this summer, as agencies worked to repair their systems and work out bugs.

Glory Hole changes name

Juneau’s homeless shelter was originally named after a mining term when it opened in 1982. The term — which refers to open-pit mining — has taken on a meaning in the realm of sexual slang.

In September, the shelter changed its name to the Glory Hall instead. It was a move years in the making. Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk said at the time that the name change was primarily because of the sexual definition. It’s made grant applications a little awkward in the past, she’s said previously.

The whale statue takes its place

A project 10 years in the making, the whale statue at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park at the Seawalk was fully installed in May.

The statue was the brainchild of former Juneau Mayors Overstreet and Bruce Botelho after a conversation in 2006. It arrived in Juneau in August 2016 after The Whale Project was able to raise approximately $1.6 million for the construction, artist fees and transportation.

[Video: Whale fountain]

The whale has had its share of detractors over the years, as people doubted the project — including the statue and the island where the statue is built — could be done without public funds.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


Members of a rescue team evaluate the terrain near the Mendenhall Towers as they search for the remains of climbers George “Ryan” Johnson and Marc-André Leclerc. (Courtesy Photo | Mike Janes)

Members of a rescue team evaluate the terrain near the Mendenhall Towers as they search for the remains of climbers George “Ryan” Johnson and Marc-André Leclerc. (Courtesy Photo | Mike Janes)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to members of the media before welcoming Juneau residents to the Governor’s Open House on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to members of the media before welcoming Juneau residents to the Governor’s Open House on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott abruptly resigned form office Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott abruptly resigned form office Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel, attends a House Judiciary Committee meeting at the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel, attends a House Judiciary Committee meeting at the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Mayor Beth Weldon, left, Carole Triem, Michelle Bonnet Hale, Wade Bryson and Loren Jones are sworn in to their new positions on the Juneau Assembly on Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Mayor Beth Weldon, left, Carole Triem, Michelle Bonnet Hale, Wade Bryson and Loren Jones are sworn in to their new positions on the Juneau Assembly on Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Mayoral candidate Beth Weldon, with family and friends, react as they watch Election results come in at the Assembly chambers on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Mayoral candidate Beth Weldon, with family and friends, react as they watch Election results come in at the Assembly chambers on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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