PORT ORCHARD — With a fledgling 2018 still in its infancy, the Independent takes one last look at 2017 in this issue with a compilation of the top news story headlines that appeared in our newspaper in the latter half of an eventful, sometimes tumultuous year (Our staff reported on the top stories for January through June in last week’s print edition).
Here are significant stories from July through December 2017:
— New state budget reveals good news for SK schools: Washington state legislators finally were able to piece together a funding plan for state school districts so they would be able to adequately fund education, according to the requirements of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary case. The plan essentially shifts an over-reliance on collecting funds from levies to money generated by property taxes.
“I think that the plan that is in place right now is a good one,” said Sen. Jan Angel, 26th Legislative District Republican. “It levels that playing field” for the majority of the state’s school districts, she said.
— Tremont widening project in ceremonial kickoff: More than a decade in the making, the Tremont Street widening project got underway following a ceremonial groundbreaking event attended by Mayor Rob Putaansuu, City Council members and 26th Legislative District representatives. The City Council approved a $12.8 million bid by Active Construction to build the Highway 16-to-Port Orchard four-lane connector arterial. The work is to be completed the first half of 2019.
“Ten years ago, Port Orchard embarked on a journey to widen Tremont Boulevard to create a gateway into our community,” Putaansuu told the ceremony gathering. “With a grand vision and no resources of its own, the city accepted $3 million of federal transportation funds to design a right of way. Little did we know that a great economic recession was just around the corner.”
The Great Recession dried up virtually all sources of funding for Tremont and other state projects. With the $3 million from the feds already spent on planning, Putaansuu said the city had no choice but to make the project its top priority.
“We either had to fund our $18 million project by 2018 or be forced to repay that $3 million with no money to do so,” the mayor said. Through a creative blend of city, county and state funds, the project was able to get funded.
— St. Vincent de Paul finally opens: The nonprofit agency’s new Bethel Avenue headquarters and thrift store opened its doors July 6 after receiving approval of the remaining permits required by the City of Port Orchard and the state’s Labor & Industries division. The new building was needed after Port Orchard Ford owner Bruce Titus purchased the land where St. Vincent’s old building sat in order to expand the auto dealership’s property footprint.
— Sailing ship drops anchor in Port Orchard: Historic sailing ship “Lady Washington” arrived on a three-day visit July 24-27 to Port Orchard’s marina and was made available for public tours and sailings.
The sailing vessel typically has a crew of 10 to 14 people, including paid officers to volunteer deckhands, as part of a two-week maritime training program.
— Kitsap Parks head, recreationists differ on outcome of South Kitsap Regional Park’s tree thinning operation: Early in July, the county’s parks department followed through on a long-term plan to clear out some root-rot-infested trees in the popular park.
Parks Director Jim Dunwiddie said his department has been aware of the issue for two decades and had been monitoring large pockets of root rot in the park’s trees.
“We were able to finally make a commitment to address that situation,” Dunwiddie said. But many local park enthusiasts felt the recreational area, as a result, had been left looking vandalized, with some areas “demolished.” The parks director countered that seemingly healthy trees were removed to ensure the root rot was completely eliminated in the regional park.
— Protesters outside courthouse call for the elimination of Trident missiles: Two dozen protesters stood outside the doors of the Kitsap County Administration Building and Courthouse to demonstrate their opposition to what they asserted will be an unprecedented $1 trillion upgrade to the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal. Fourteen of the activists had been arrested for blocking the gate to Bangor Naval Base at a rally earlier in the year.
Given citations after their arrest, they arrived at the courthouse July 25 for a Kitsap County District Court mitigation hearing. The demonstration that day was peaceful.
— McCormick planned community relaunches with Phase 1 sale: The consortium owning the 800-acre McCormick Master Planning Community site in Port Orchard announced the sale of 172 home sites as part of its Phase 1 development plan. The group, which includes developer MainStreet Property Group and Winward Real Estate Services, chose four builders to construct houses ranging in size from 1,800 square feet to 3,337 square feet. The consortium said some homes at the site had already been sold.
— Port Orchard QFC closing its doors at end of August: The Kroger chain-owned grocery store at South Park Village closed its doors at the end of its lease at the shopping center. The store’s 34 employees were given an opportunity to transfer to other Kroger-owned stores, including Fred Meyer on Sedgwick Road.
QFC is known for its line of gourmet products in addition to other brands familiar to Kroger-affiliated store customers. Company officials attributed the closure to declining business at the Port Orchard location.
— Finishing touches being added to city’s new annex: The City of Port Orchard opened an annex office that provides citizens better access to getting building permits, project applications and coordinating their activities with the city’s Department of Community Development.
The building at 720 Prospect St., was purchased in September 2016 for $230,000, then refurbished and furnished through a $70,000 allocation by the City Council. The Community Development organization had a public open house on Aug. 8.
— SKFR Prop. 1 fire district levy approved: South Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s Proposition 1, a property tax levy lid lift proposal, was approved by voters Aug. 1. District voters approved the proposal by a 62.3 percent to 37.7 percent margin.
The measure called for an increase in SKFR’s regular property tax levy to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
The levy represents more than $2 million of the fire district’s $15.4 million budget. Fire Chief Steve Wright said the levy lid lift allows the fire district to keep pace with South Kitsap’s growth. The additional funding also restored cuts that had been made a number of years ago, forcing the district to reduce firefighter/EMT staffing by 12 employees and remove career staffing from three fire stations.
— SKFR on the watch for summer fire outbreak: Kitsap County and most of western Washington were recipients of some two straight months of measurable rainfall this summer, necessitating a series of fire burn bans in the area. A Stage 1 burn ban, issued by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, was implemented in July, rescinded, then reinstated in August. Several brush fires broke out in South Kitsap during the summer but were contained by SKFR firefighting brush trucks.
— Construction begins on Olympic View Apartments: Ground was broken Aug. 3 on a 38-unit apartment building behind the vacant K-Mart building in Port Orchard.
The new apartment complex is one of the benefits the City of Port Orchard has gained by offering developers building multi-family properties of the city a tax exemption over eight years. Developers must construct new buildings or revamp structures with 10 units or more.
— Gaeta found competent to stand trial: Gabriel Gaeta, the man accused of raping and murdering 6-year-old Jenise Wright in 2014, was found competent to stand trial after an evaluation by doctors at Western State Hospital.
He initially was found not competent in February, at which time Superior Court Judge Jennifer Forbes ordered the defendant’s admission to the Lakewood hospital for a period of up to 90 days for “competency restoration” and a further evaluation of his ability to move ahead with his trial.
According to Gaeta’s latest evaluation, released Aug. 2, psychologists found Gaeta “demonstrated a factual and rational understanding of his current charges and of court procedures.”
— City treasurer closes out ledger on career: Allan Martin, the City of Port Orchard’s city treasurer of eight years, retired after a long career in state, county and city government. Earlier in his career, Martin was assistant state treasurer and worked in similar capacities for Chelan and Thurston counties.
Martin later lost a close race to become state treasurer in 2008. He cited his efforts to reduce inefficiencies in the department as one of his accomplishments, as well as the establishment of an online method for customers to pay their utility bills.
— Public Market’s Carter & Co. seeking new home: Popular chocolate and ice cream shop Carter & Co. closed its Bay Street store after its lease was not renewed by landlord Abadan Holdings LLC. Abadan officials said they elected not to renew the lease in order to promote better relations between the building’s tenants. Carter & Co.’s existing store at Westbay Shopping Center remains open.
— Farewell, St. Vincent Building: The building that once housed the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop and social services offices on Bay Street, next to Port Orchard Ford, was demolished to make way for the auto dealership’s expansion plans. In July, the nonprofit relocated to its new building at Bethel Avenue and Mitchell Road.
— SKHS students protest overcrowding: Many of the 2,811 students enrolled at South Kitsap High School walked out of school Sept. 15 to protest overcrowding conditions at the school building. Voters have rejected three separate bond issues that would have funded construction of a second district high school.
— Amy’s On The Bay is on the market: Popular Bay Street restaurant Amy’s On The Bay and its sister eatery Sidelines, were listed for sale at the end of September. Owner-operator Amy Creed said she decided to place the businesses on the market because she wanted to devote more time to her family. She said a few potential buyers were considering purchasing the businesses.
— Port Orchard teen killed in SK crash: James Oatridge, 17, an area teenager who was a passenger in a vehicle traveling on Willow Road SE and SE Spruce Road, was pronounced dead at the scene of a two-car collision Oct. 8. The driver of the Honda apparently failed to yield to an oncoming Ford F-250 truck or went through the intersection without stopping, said Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson.
— Four family members perish in house fire: Four South Kitsap family members, including two toddlers, perished as their two-level home on SE Castlewood Drive in South Kitsap went up in flames early in the morning on Oct. 14. Toddlers Madison, 2, and Collin, 1, perished in the fire along with their father Merle and grandmother Vili. Grandfather, father and husband Donald Simpson attempted to douse the flames with a garden hose, but the inferno soon overwhelmed his effort.
— Man accused of writing ‘offensive and threatening’ letters to SKSD: The South Kitsap School District was awarded a protection order Oct. 18 by Kitsap County District Court against Port Orchard resident Larry Lee Mann.
He reportedly sent threatening letters — written anonymously or signed by individuals with fictional names — to administrative officials and sent to various district school buildings. School Superintendent Karst Brandsma was granted a one-year protection order against Mann by Judge Marilyn Paja. Mann has been sharply critical of district policies over the years.
City’s mixed-use ordinance unveiled: The City of Port Orchard and Mayor Rob Putaansuu introduced a mixed-use pilot program and development regulations ordinance to the city’s planning commission on Nov. 7, which would target underperforming downtown-area properties primarily for development. The mayor hoped it will spur new development — residential and commercial — in the downtown area.
— Rosapepe ousts Donlin for City Council seat: Incumbent Port Orchard council member Clancy Donlin was badly beaten in his run for re-election to his at-large seat on the City Council by challenger South Kitsap School District official Jay Rosapepe. He won by a margin of 72 percent to 27 percent.
Another incumbent seeking re-election, Fred Chang, easily defeated challenger Maureen Wheeler for the Position 6 seat. South Kitsap School Board of Directors member Chris Lemke lost his bid for re-election to challenger Elizabeth Sebren.
— Josephine’s relocating to old Pavilion location: The vacant downtown site of the former Port Orchard Pavilion on Bay Street finally has a new tenant. Josephine’s Redeemed Boutique, at 1961 Bay St in the Annapolis area, announced plans to relocate to the new location at 701 Bay St.
Josephine’s, owned by Samantha Smith, said she is making the move because the high-visibility location offers her business an opportunity to grow. It will be renamed Josephine’s Mercantile when it reopens in March.
The store also will include Pinch Cafe, owned by Stacey Hayter, which she envisions as a midday dining destination.
— Port Orchard teen ‘very seriously’ injured by fallen tree: Fifteen-year-old Caitlin Shaw was seriously injured when a tree crashed through the roof of her family home at 1259 Arnold Ave. E. on Nov. 13. High winds in the area contributed to the accident. Shaw was taken to Tacoma General Hospital, where she started her recovery from the injuries.
— Home Made Cafe partners take home edg3 Fund prize: Business and life partners Suanne Martin Smith and Paul Robinson were recipients of a $20,000 grant from Kitsap Bank as winners of the edg3 Fund competition, in which area small-business owners pitched business plans for how they would use the money to improve their business operations.
— Port Orchard’s A&W closes, future in doubt: The landmark fast-food restaurant on Mile Hill Drive closed its doors Dec. 1 after the business’s owner, Sidharth “Sid” Sethi, met with property and building owner Rick Gehring Nov. 27.
Both men concluded there were no options available that would allow Sethi’s restaurant to remain open. Gehring said that in the near-term, the only choices available would be to find a new operator, find someone who wants to develop the property into an original restaurant or completely redevelop the property.
— Families rejoice as Nimitz returns home: The U.S. Navy’s oldest aircraft carrier returned to its home base of Bremerton Dec. 10 with an anxious and excited gathering of family members and friends awaiting the crew’s arrival at their homeport pier. The “city afloat” vessel sailed more than 78,000 miles during its six-month deployment while seeing duty in the Arabian Gulf and the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
— Safety concerns force pool closure: The popular community pool at South Kitsap High School was temporarily closed while school district administrators figure out how to pay for extensive renovation work on the pool, enabling it to reopen. Officials said the heavily used pool is in need of a permanent remedy to fix its badly outdated and inadequate mechanical systems.
—SKHS’s new tardiness policy spurs outrage: A new attendance policy instituted by South Kitsap School District officials has some students and parents contending that it has contributed to a high number of students being tardy to class.
School district spokeswoman Amy Miller said staff members have been seeing “an unacceptable level of tardiness at South Kitsap High,” especially on late-start Wednesdays.
To curb the amount of disruption to class time, the high school decided to institute a new attendance policy Dec. 11 that requires late students to check in at electronic kiosks outside their classroom so teachers don’t have to pause teaching in order to change an absence into a tardy.
As a result, a number of students and parents have complained to district and high-school administrators that the new policy sometimes forces students to be up to 15 minutes late to the classroom.
— Port Orchard community activist, historian Bryan Petro passes: Petro died Dec. 14 at his home of an apparent heart attack. Robert McGee, the owner of Whiskey Gulch CoffeePub and a friend of Petro’s, said in a Facebook post that “Bryan Petro was an institution in South Kitsap. Sadly, he has passed on. I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with him bettering our community, but most proud to have been able to shake his hand and call him my friend.”
The high-wattage, engaging personality was a well-known community volunteer and a repository of knowledge about Port Orchard’s history and family lineage.