As another year draws to a close, many of us find ourselves reflecting on the last 12 months.
As a newspaper, we reflect on the stories that defined our community. We laughed and cried along with you, as 2013 was filled with many memorable stories. As we do each year, we recount some of the most memorable here with a “Top 10” voted on by the newsroom staff.
In many years, tragic events dot the calendar, and 2013 was no different. From a standoff coming to a fiery end to the needless deaths of two babies, we always seem to find some sorrow. Controversy, too, finds its way on the news and opinion pages, from crude-by-rail to the appointment of a prosecutor, the closure of Lake Quinault to the Transit Authority dropping weekend bus service.
Mixed among the tragic and controversial, though, the Twin Harbors always provide feel-good tales, like a shuttered mill site being donated to the Historical Seaport, and Grays Harbor College finding itself among the nation’s best community colleges.
Below, we offer you the top stories of the year as we look toward another year on the Harbor. As always, remember, these 10 are only the ones we selected, and many other stories could have found themselves on this list.
1. Hoquiam Standoff
An empty lot is all that remains of the house on Aberdeen Avenue in Hoquiam where in March a man wanted for fraud opened fire on police officers before being fatally shot himself.
Rick Marlowe, also known as Ray Mahailovich, shot Hoquiam Police Department Sgt. Jeff Salstrom when he and Officer Phil High arrived to serve a fraud warrant out of California. Salstrom was shot in the hip, wrist and shoulder with improbably minor injuries.
After a 20-hour standoff, Thurston County SWAT members shot and killed Marlowe as he crawled near the doorway, pistol in hand. The house caught fire for unknown reasons, completely destroying the building.
The house was torn down by the city on Aug. 19.
For his exemplary leadership and cool under pressure, Salstrom was awarded the department’s Medal of Valor along with the Purple Heart for his wounds.
After a year of arguments, permits and appeals, three companies aren’t much closer to bringing crude-by-rail to Grays Harbor as the year comes to a close. Imperium Renewables, Westway Terminal Co. and U.S. Development intend to build crude-by-rail facilities on the Harbor. Imperium and Westway have existing facilities at the Port of Grays Harbor, and U.S. Development would build one near Bowerman Basin.
The City of Hoquiam and the state Department of Ecology issued shoreline substantial development permits to Imperium and Westway in 2013. The Quinault Indian Nation and local environmental groups filed appeals with the state Shorelines Hearings Board.
The board ruled in November that the permits were incorrectly issued, as the city didn’t consider the cumulative effects of the projects. Both Westway and Imperium announced that they will continue pursuing the projects.
3. Harbor Paper shuts down
After reopening in 2012, Hoquiam’s Harbor Paper is once again closed.
The mill shut down in late February, with the owners citing a management restructure. About 180 workers lost their jobs when Harbor Paper closed. Many of the workers have received job retraining assistance from the federal Trade Act program.
After several months of unpaid bills, Grays Harbor PUD turned off the mill’s power in September. PUD Commissioners announced in December that the utility will take legal action to recover $480,000 in past-due bills.
The City of Hoquiam turned off the mill’s water in September, and city officials had to update its two-year budget to make up for a loss in tax revenue.
In December, Harbor Paper appeared on BidItUp, an online auction site. The auction will take place in February of 2014.
4. Newborn killed in Ocean Shores
A Humptulips couple in their early 20s were charged after their newborn daughter was found dead in the woods in early April.
Patrick L. Parnel, 22, was eventually charged with first-degree murder in the baby girl’s death. He allegedly told police he hit the newborn in the head with a tire iron after bringing her to the wooded area near the Ocean Shores airport where she was found dead. He allegedly said he brought the girl there thinking she was already dead after Brittany N. Taylor, 21, gave birth to her in a motel. Parnel is held in Grays Harbor County Jail on $1 million bail. His trial is set for March.
Taylor, 21,was sentenced to four years and 10 months in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree abandonment of a dependent person.
5. Jobless rate stays high
Joblessness continued to be a tsunami of bad news as double digit unemployment persisted in Grays Harbor County for all of 2013 and most of the year in Pacific County.
Five years in, it is the longest string of double-digit unemployment in the new millennium for Grays Harbor. Grays Harbor was also consistently among the top five of the state’s counties in unemployment this year.
The highest jobless figure of 13.6 percent was recorded in January and February. The lowest unemployment figure came in September, at 10.4 percent.
Pacific County, with fewer people, fared somewhat better, as unemployment dipped below double digits in August and September, when it hit 9.5 and 9.3 percent respectively.
6. Transit drops weekend service
The Grays Harbor Transit Board decided in July to cut all weekend bus service in an effort to balance the agency’s budget. But transit officials hope to restore service in 2015 with the help of a November ballot measure to raise sales taxes county wide by 0.1 percent.
Prior to the service cuts, Grays Harbor Transit was overspending its income by about $800,000 per year thanks to a reduction in federal and state funding. Eliminating weekend service will likely save the agency about $890,000.
The 0.1 percent sales tax increase will likely generate about $855,000 in new revenue for transit. However, the agency won’t start seeing the money until June of 2014. The sales tax increase won’t generate enough funding to restart weekend service until January of 2015, Transit officials said.
7. Lake Quinault closure
In June, the community was shocked when the Quinault Indian Nation closed Lake Quinault to most recreational activities for non-tribal members, citing water quality concerns. The bans came as summer swimming and boating season was beginning, and locals worried about the closure’s effect on summer profits.
In July, the Nation sent out letters to lakefront property owners asking them to remove docks, stating they had been placed there illegally. The same month, the Nation reopened the lake to swimmers.
In August, confusion abounded as the lake hosted hydroplane races, and a water quality study conducted by the county showed E. coli levels far below the Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold for safe recreational use. The nation, however, has maintained the ban.
8. Commissioners, Democrats battle over prosecutor
Grays Harbor County is still struggling with the surprising fallout of County Prosecutor Stew Menefee’s retirement.
After Menefee retired from the partisan post Sept. 30, the Grays Harbor Democrats selected Senior Deputy Prosecutor Katie Svoboda as their top choice to fill his term through 2014.
Some Democrats said they couldn’t trust the commissioners to honor their first choice and selected Party Chairman George Smylie, an attorney for the state, and Montesano attorney Vini Samuel to round out their required list of three nominees to send to the Grays Harbor County Commissioners. They left off former prosecutor and judge Mike Spencer, who had actively sought the appointment.
Since then, the commissioners declined to appoint Svoboda, instead selecting the party’s third choice, Samuel, who declined the appointment Nov. 27. The Democrats then balked at a demand for a new list as the process for an appointment — now past its apparent deadline — heads into a vast gray area.
Just what is to be done next is under review by the state Attorney General’s Office.
9. 2-year-old dies (tie)
In March, McCleary was rocked by the brutal rape and murder of 2-year-old Chayson Colley-Jones. The boy and his mother, Laura Colley, had only recently moved from the small town to Tacoma with Colley’s then-boyfriend Jake Musga.
Musga, 19, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and first-degree child rape and was sentenced in November to 50 years in prison.
At his sentencing, Musga begged for forgiveness from the boy’s family and God.
“I blacked out and hurt someone who didn’t deserve it,” Musga said.
Pierce County prosecuting attorney Angelica Williams said the attack lasted for hours and the toddler “literally was beaten from head to toe.”
Family members remembered Chayson as a loving, curious boy.
“Even a life sentence isn’t enough for Jake,” paternal grandmother Bobbye Choate said.
9. Weyerhaeuser gives land to Seaport (tie)
Thanks to the Weyerhaeuser Co. making 38 acres of Chehalis riverfront property in South Aberdeen available to the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority at minimal cost last spring, the organization’s vision for a Seaport Landing is closer to reality.
The landing is planned as a recreational, residential and business enterprise akin to Granville Island in Vancouver, B.C.
The former sawmill site was “purchased” for a rock bottom price: $38,000 included the appraisal, survey, boundary line adjustment, closing costs and the annual Department of Natural Resources shorelines lease, according to Seaport Executive Director Capt. Les Bolton.
More than 1,000 people attended the grand opening in July when the tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain berthed at their new home for the first time. An auction of equipment in the summer netted more than $544,000, Bolton said.
10. Grays Harbor College attains national ranking
In late August, a nationwide report ranked Grays Harbor College as the top community college in the state and the 15th best in the nation. The rankings, by Washington, D.C.-based Washington Monthly magazine assessed colleges based on student surveys concerning quality of teaching, and on data measuring whether students stay in school or graduate to complete certificate programs.
The high rankings from the national nonprofit magazine, which surveys colleges nationwide in its September-October edition, were due in part to state efforts, like funding tied to performance, but also to new focus by GHC itself, said college President Ed Brewster.