Top stories of 2021 | Part one

by Colleen Smith, Sienna Boucher and Diane Craig

Staff report

At the end of the year, we take a look at the biggest headlines of the past 12 months. Watch for part two in next week’s edition. We chose the top stories from our most-read online articles and events we feel impacted our communities.

1. Vikings soccer team wins state

The Orcas Island High School soccer team was crowned state champion on Nov. 20.

After beating the Friday Harbor Wolverines during the state playoff game on Nov. 19, the team moved on to the finals the following day.

The Vikings played Providence Christian, which dominated for most of the game, 1-0, but the Vikings persevered in the second half, bringing the score to 1-1. The game went into overtime with five penalty shots for each team. The Vikings took home the win with 4 successful shots.

Orcas Viking fans traveled to watch the games and tuned into the Orcas Booster Club live stream. The next day, when the team returned to Orcas, they were greeted with a parade.

2. Rains wash away roads; islanders rally

Meteorologists called them atmospheric rivers — narrow corridors or filaments of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere. In November, that concentrated moisture caused mayhem on Orcas and in the lives of islanders. Days of heavy rain washed out the road connecting Doe Bay with the rest of the island, created pools in driveways and pasture lands, and tested both the patience of residents and spurred a deluge of community spirit.

Late on the night of November 6, a section of Pt. Lawrence Road just past Doe Bay resort was swept away creating an impressive gap in the road, a gap that came to be known as the Great Divide. Immediately, the southernmost end of the island’s east side was inaccessible by car or foot traffic and 200 homes and their inhabitants were isolated.

It wasn’t long, however, before enterprising residents in conjunction with Doe Bay Resort got to work and within 36 hours, a footbridge enabled residents and packages and supplies to get across.

Offers of help were abundant. Island Rides shuttled residents in need of transportation to Eastsound or the ferry, or anywhere else on the island; Orcas Island Fire and Rescue and the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office provided emergency services and stationed a paramedic at Fire Station 27, on the far side of the washout; and the Orcas Island Community Foundation provided support to the rebuild and, ultimately, $100,000 in grant monies to islanders whose property was affected by floodwaters.

Once the culvert damage was inspected, engineers with San Juan County got to work constructing a one-lane temporary causeway to enable vehicle travel – an accomplishment that opened the south end to vehicle traffic the day before Thanksgiving.

In other parts of the island, a blocked culvert created a dangerous situation on Laporte Road just up from the junction with John Jones Road that inconvenienced 19 residences above the closure, and a section of Crow Valley Road was ruled impassable for a time.

Kudos to San Juan Public Works, OPALCO, Eastsound Water, and the private contractor teams who rallied to make short order of the floodwaters and road closures that resulted from the extreme — and memorable — weather patterns islanders experienced in November.

3. Orcas clinics merge

Island Primary Care — Orcas began serving patients this past spring. UW Medicine Orcas Island Clinic and Orcas Family Health Center merged into one practice. Island Hospital entered into a contract with the Orcas Island Health Care District in the summer of 2020 to manage the endeavor.

Island Hospital operated a clinic on Orcas previously, and the most recent contract ended when UW Medicine took over in the summer of 2017. At that time, a public hospital district did not exist on Orcas and the community relied on philanthropy to cover gaps in funding. Voters approved the formation of a PHD in 2018, which created a reliable funding source to subsidize healthcare on the island.

Island Primary Care opened in the medical center building at 7 Deye Lane in Eastsound on April 5. San Juan County Health Officer Dr. Frank James serves as the clinic’s medical director. Aaimee Johnson is the clinic manager.

4. Washington State Ferries have challenging year

Perhaps one of the wildest years for the Washington State Ferry system has been 2021, with the pandemic impacting employment and the ferry schedule.

Gov. Jay Inslee mandated all Washington state employees be vaccinated to maintain employment Due to being part of a union, ferry workers were not able to outright go on strike or protest the mandate. When it became official that all WSF employees were to be vaccinated and show proof by Oct. 18, this led to many employees organizing a “sickout” demonstration in order to reject the mandate but also not jeopardize their job too much. This demonstration largely took place on Labor Day weekend — one of the island’s busiest weekends.

At the end of October, 121 WSF employees were either fired or chose to retire early due to refusal to vaccinate. This included captains, deckhands, engineers and chief engineers. Many of these employees received medical or religious exemptions, but WSF did not honor that. To work for WSF, one has to be on-call for up to four years. After the firings of these employees, WSF was able to choose from these on-call workers, but staff shortages still remained.

This staff shortage led to long wait times and reduced schedules. The disrupted ferry schedules impacted deliveries to the island, doctor appointments, time visiting family, and many other critical aspects as the ferries serve as a lifeline to the islands.

5. Council places moratorium on vacation rentals

After years of listening to resident complaints and concerns about the regulation and proliferation of vacation rentals in the San Juans, the San Juan County council voted unanimously to impose a six-month moratorium on approving vacation rental permits effective Jan. 13. 2021. At the time of the moratorium, the county had issued 1,002 vacation rental permits, 430 of which were active; 202 listed as inactive, and the remaining 370 listed as non-compliant. The moratorium also stipulated a public hearing would be held within 60 days of the vote.

Following community input at a public hearing, input that included the impact VRs may have on long-term affordable housing and VR density in island neighborhoods, the council altered the moratorium to cover the urban growth areas of Lopez and Orcas as well as the hamlets of Orcas Island for six months. As part of the moratorium work plan, the council offered to pursue a cap on the number of vacation rentals on the islands.

In July, the council voted to extend the moratorium through Jan. 13, 2022, and considered caps based on recommendations by the San Juan County of Community Development that included: Limiting the number of permits throughout the county to 1,200 (from 1,002); San Juan would be limited to 520 permits; Orcas, 500. Caps for both San Juan and Orcas would be for houses located outside the Master Planned Resort designation.

Lopez permits would not exceed 174 VR permits or 4% of the number of projected housing units. Vacation rentals are prohibited on Shaw and Waldron. Lastly, the number of vacation rentals on all other islands would be limited to the remaining vacation rentals until the 1,200 cap is reached.

The council will revisit the issue again in early 2022.

6. Charter review commission puts forth amendment changes

The Charter Review Commission proposed amendments in the November election after many weekly meetings discussing which amendments they officially wanted to propose. Only two of the six were approved by voters.

The amendments that passed were No. 2 and No. 5. Those that did not pass were: No. 1, No. 3, No. 4, and No. 6.

Charter Amendment Proposition No. 2 was approved at 73.36% and rejected at 26.64%.

It concerns power limits for council members. County Charter council members will now only be able to run for three consecutive full terms of office and after concluding the third term be able to file for the position of County Council member or be appointed to County Council member.

No. 5 was approved at 51.72% and rejected at 48.28%. It is implemented in order to make sure there is no discrimination in the provision of government services.

Charter Amendment proposition No. 1 would have put equal protection on the economy and the natural world. It also would have added an acknowledgment to the Coast Salish people and recognized their ancestral lands and water, and treaty rights, but it was rejected at 51.85%, approved at 48.15%.

Amendment Proposition No. 3 was rejected at 60.92% and approved at 39.08%. It would have provided oversight of the department of Environmental Stewardship regarding the department’s duties to protect the environment.

No. 4 was rejected by 71.23% and approved at 28.77%. It would have removed the requirement that initiatives provide for new additional sources of revenue needed to implement the initiative.

Lastly, Amendment No. 6 was rejected at 63.56% and approved 36.44%. It would have established a new eleven-member commission appointed by the County Council to provide advice and support on matters concerning justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The committee still meets weekly and is already brainstorming charter amendments for 2022.

The proposed amendments for 2022 can be viewed at:

7. Taylor retried for murder, found not guilty

A Friday Harbor man whose murder conviction was overturned in August was found not guilty in November after a month-long retrial.

In June 2019, a San Juan County Superior Court jury found Kevin Patrick Taylor, now 58, guilty of both felony murder for the bludgeoning death of his wife Julie Taylor, 56, as well as arson for starting a fire in her car the same night as her murder in 2016. The jury returned special determinations that it was a crime of domestic violence and that the death occurred with a firearm.

Kevin Taylor was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His attorneys filed an appeal after the conviction. In August 2021, the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled that because one of the expert witnesses for the state, psychologist Dr. Jenna Tomei, made statements during direct examination that she was cautioned not to say, the defendant earned the right to a new trial.

“It was a question about Mr. Taylor’s responses to the police officer at the scene and whether they were appropriate (in relation to his state of mind). She said ‘Yes, he asked for an attorney.’ It was immediately caught. The state is not allowed to present evidence or testimony that a person asked for an attorney because it’s a Constitutional right,” explained San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord.

The prosecutor’s office charged Kevin Taylor again with two counts of Murder in the Second Degree-Domestic Violence and one count of Malicious Mischief in the First Degree–DV. The jury selection and new trial took place from Oct. 7 through Nov. 4. The jury was comprised of 12 men and women from San Juan, Orcas and Lopez and deliberated for eight hours.

Kevin Taylor’s attorneys argued that while murdering his wife he was suffering from “postictal psychosis,” which occurs after a cluster of epileptic seizures. They argued he didn’t have his condition properly controlled by medication.

Gaylord said the verdict was “stunning.”

Contributed photo
Point Lawrence Road on Orcas was washed out just past Doe Bay Resort.

Contributed photo Point Lawrence Road on Orcas was washed out just past Doe Bay Resort.

ferry update

Contributed photo Point Lawrence Road on Orcas was washed out just past Doe Bay Resort.