We’re about to start a new year and a new decade in 2020. But before we move forward, we're looking back on the past year inthe Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta through KYUK’s top stories.
2019 was the year Bethel’s own Pete Kaiser won the Iditarod. Not only did Pete Kaiser win the Iditarod, but Bethel made bookends of the race last year, when rookie Victoria Hardwick came in last, collecting the Red Lantern.
In Kuskokwim local races, the Bogus 150 made history, when the youngest musher took first place, beating the oldest racer by just a few minutes. Jason Pavila, age 15, of Kwethluk, came in first. Chasing him was George Manutoli, who last won the race in 1998, six years before Pavila was born.
As sled dog season was just beginning this winter, Bethel wrestlers finished their official season, closing 2019 by bringing home the gold, winning their seventh team title in a decade. High school senior Hayden Lieb won his fourth state championship in a row, becoming the 12th wrestler in Alaska history to do so. He also received a college scholarship to wrestle at the University of Wyoming.
2019 saw a deep division in the Bethel City Council. A battle between the council leadership and city staff resulted in the departure of several staffers, starting with the firing of City Manager Pete Williams, followed by the resignation of City Attorney Patty Burley, among others. Bethel responded by voting for new council members, who are now busy trying to get the city back on track to deal with the challenges ahead.
It was also another hot year. The heat was so intense that salmon developed "heat stress," and died in streams before they could spawn. On the Yukon River the die-offs were particularly impactful, because a weak late Chum salmon run also shrunk the month-and-a-half-long summer commercial fishing season to about two weeks.
It was also a bad year for the Mulchatna Carribou. That herd's population dropped by half and so did the hunting bag limit.
The lack of ice protection last year also meant storms took their toll on coastal villages, flooding homes and eroding some river communities. Akiak lost a mile of riverbank in just one day.
Ice conditions were so marginal early this year that people died crashing through thin ice, two of them in Church Slough. This took place the same year that the longest shut-down of the federal government in history drove up the cost of patrolling the Kuskokwim River to check on ice conditions.
This winter, the ice is just as bad, and Bethel Search and Rescue is working overtime marking unsafe ice and open water.
After a 20-year wait, Newtok residents moved away from their eroding village to cross the river and climb a hill to pioneer Metarvik. More are now waiting to join their neighbors in the new village site.
After struggling with the impact of liquor-by-the-bottle sales, Bethel voters decided to go back to a damp status. This time restaurants will still be able to sell alcohol, but there will be no liquor stores in town. Bethel’s new damp status goes into effect Jan. 6, 2020.
2019 was the year the US Attorney General visited the region. William Barr said he wanted to see the public safety crisis firsthand. He saw so few resources for bush Alaska law enforcement that he declared a "Law Enforcement Emergency," and committed additional federal funds to deal with it.
This winter, parents awoke to the shocking news that one of the region’s long-time educators had been arrested in the night on sex charges. Bethel Gladys Jung Elementary School principal Chris Carmichael was fired and is being held in federal custody. More investigations are ongoing.
Lawmakers from Southwest Alaska took the lead in fighting the extreme cuts proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in his first year in office. Many of those cuts would have devastated the bush. As a member of the Finance Committee, Sen. Lyman Hoffman played a key role in reshaping the budget, protecting the power cost equalization provision, among many items important to rural communities. He was named the Alaska Federation of Natives’ "Citizen of the Year."
Also, after 14 years in the planning, Hoffman’s “Blue Sky Subdivision” won approval opening up 22 much-needed acres for housing in Bethel
Early in the year, the Calista Regional Native Corporation and its former board chairman Wayne Don reached a settlement that closed a chapter in a battle that had landed in the court.
In 2019, resistance to the proposed Donlin gold mine began to grow, with objections coming from the region’s tribes, Calista’s membership, and even The National Congress of American Indians, which passed a resolution opposing the mine.
And last, but not least, led by an Elder from Toksook Bay, people from several communities worked together to revive the tradition of making a baby parka out of duck feathers. No one had made such a garment for almost a century.