Top stories of 2021

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. We chose the top stories from our most-read online articles and events we feel impacted our communities.

1. Dwight Lewis convicted

A Lopez Island man who said he attempted to destroy a Black Lives Matter memorial in retaliation for repeated vandalization done to his Trump 2020 sign was found guilty of two counts in San Juan County District Court.

Laverne Dwight Lewis, Jr., 79, was found guilty of one count of reckless endangerment and one count of malicious mischief in the third degree on Sept. 13. He was found not guilty of one count of reckless endangerment. Lewis was sentenced to 15 days in jail.

“I’m destroying these signs because I’m tired of it being shoved down my throat,” Lewis said in a video posted to Youtube after being charged. “You liberals destroyed my Trump sign and I’m going to teach them not to mess with Dwight Lewis.”

San Juan County deputies originally suggested Lewis be charged with two counts of assault in the second degree; two counts of reckless endangerment; one count of malicious mischief in the third degree; and one count of harassment. He was ultimately tried for only two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of malicious mischief.

The trial lasted for five days, including juror selection. Lewis was represented by Friday Harbor attorney Robert Bulloch. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Teresa Barnett represented the state. Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock oversaw the trial.

The charges stem from an Aug. 12, 2020 incident on Fisherman Bay Road near Lopez Village. On that date, deputies responded to a report of malicious mischief in progress in the 1900 block of Fisherman Bay Road, where a series of Black Lives Matter memorial signs had been located since late June. The memorial was previously vandalized in late June, but no one was charged with a crime.

Organizers created the signs in solidarity with the #SayHerName campaign, which launched in December 2014. The campaign’s goal is to bring awareness to the names and stories of Black women and girls who have been victimized by racist police, the organizers explained. It has since expanded to #SayTheirNames to encompass the names of the hundreds of unarmed Black, Indigenous and People of Color who have died due to police brutality and white supremacy.

Over the night of Aug. 12, 2020, the remaining signs were mowed down by an unknown culprit which led to the decision to form a group to discuss the ceremonious removal of the signs.

Responding deputies say they saw Lewis near a truck with the name of his company — Windsock Farms — on the side of the memorial, along with an orange excavator parked on a trailer. Witnesses told deputies that Lewis had reportedly used his excavator — which was equipped with a flail mower — to destroy several of the signs. When one witness stood in front of the excavator, Lewis allegedly accelerated the machine and extended the running flail mower toward the witness, causing them to move out of the way.

After Lewis reportedly destroyed another sign, an additional witness reportedly slapped the excavator and told Lewis to stop. Lewis then, allegedly, swung the mower toward the second witness and drove toward them for approximately 10-15 feet, causing that witness to also move out of the way. A witness, at the behest of Lewis, captured the interaction on a cellphone video.

2. 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 approved 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 the current 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 once again in early 2022.

3. Pride flags stolen

In late April, the county sheriff’s office started receiving reports about pride flags disappearing from private residences on Lopez. Before the summer was over at least four were stolen or broken off their poles. A $1,000 reward, raised by concerned citizens, was offered for information leading to the identity of the thief or thieves.

Members of the community rallied to show support for those whose property was stolen. Many Lopezians, like Terell Carter who wrote a Letter to the Editor after his flag was stolen, lamented the insensitivity of the thefts.

“Whoever took it,” he wrote the Weekly, “I probably grew up with you. I am sure that you are a friend of a friend. Because on Lopez, everyone is a friend of a friend. I just wish you would own up to your actions.”

The culprit or culprits have yet to be identified.

4. FLIP swims toward the realization of a dream

It’s been quite a year for Friends of Lopez Pool (FLIP) as the decades-old dream for a community pool moves closer to becoming a reality.

In May, the Washington Senate and House of Representatives recently included $245,000 for the Lopez Island Swim Center in the 2021-2023 state capital budget. Sen. Liz Lovelett and Rep. Alex Ramel sponsored FLIP’s request in their respective legislative bodies. Sen. David Frockt, vice-chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee and the Senate’s lead capital budget writer, and Sen. Christine Rolfes, Senate Ways & Means Committee chair, advocated for the funding in the final conference budget sent to Inslee. The budget allocation meant that FLIP had raised 71% (or nearly $5.65 million) toward the total project cost of $8 million

In August, Banner Bank donated $10,000 toward realizing the dream of a community-wide pool. Presenting the check, Kathy Kantrud, Banner Bank Dual Branch Manager and new FLIP Board member, introduced the importance of this project to Banner Bank’s leadership. The donation brought the amount raised to $5.84 million of the $8 million to complete the project,

With the selection of the construction project manager/owner’s representative, Dana Warren of Warren Company, Friends of Lopez Island Pool (FLIP) began finalizing the process of building the Swim Center. Warren will oversee the pre-construction and construction phases to ensure this major community project stays on time and on budget.

FLIP received preliminary approval for 11 of the 13 reviews required for the San Juan County Building Permit to be issued; secured a donation of 2.5 acres for the site, and completed a site feasibility study. Construction plans, as well as mechanical and electrical engineering, were finished, and the site preparation, completed.

An increase in donors put the project at 73% toward its capital campaign goal, with more than two-thirds of FLIP’s private funding coming from local Lopez addresses.

In October the building permits were undergoing final review and FLIP started making plans to break ground as soon as spring 2022.

5. Animal news: deer die from disease; orca calf born

In May, the San Juan County Sheriff’s office started getting the calls. With the smell of rotting carcasses on private property, in ravines alongside the roads, deer were dying at a noticeable rate. Throughout the summer, deer on Orcas, San Juan, Blakely, Henry, Lopez and Stuart islands were showing up sick and dead, white foam around their mouths. Initially, fertilizers were thought to be the culprit. After an investigation by the Washington State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, however, it turned out to be a virus — AHD, or Adenovirus Hemorrhagic Disease.

The disease has no known cure and residents were urged to minimize the spread by not providing food and water to avoid deer collecting in one place.

“Adenoviruses belong to a small group of viruses that can infect a variety of animals, both wild and domestic first identified in California in 1994,” according to WDFW’s website. Signs of infection include rapid or open-mouth breathing; foaming or drooling at the mouth; diarrhea which is sometimes bloody; weakness; and emaciation with fawns being the most affected. There is no known cure or treatment, according to WDFW. The outbreak on the San Juans was the first documented case in Washington since the last outbreak in Goldendale in 2017.

When island weather started to cool down, the virus that killed a recorded 218 deer on Orcas and 112 on San Juan, started to subside. Since mid-November, the Washington State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife had recorded no new AHD-related deer deaths on San Juan Island since early August. The last public report of an AHD-related death was Oct. 2 on Orcas.

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It’s always good news when islanders learn of the appearance of a baby orca. In February, the Center for Whale Research confirmed a new calf – L125 – was born into the Southern resident killer whale community. The calf, the fourth offspring of L86, was determined to be in good health. The new calf has one living sibling, L106 (male), born in 2005. The mother, L86 has given birth to two other calves: L112 and L120, both now deceased. L112 (born in 2009) was killed by blunt force trauma during military exercises in 2012. L120 was born and died in 2014.

L125 is the first calf born into L pod since January 2019 when L77 gave birth to L124.

The last time the Center for Whale Research encountered Southern resident orcas in the Salish Sea was with J and K pod on Jan. 20. CWR’s most recent previous encounter with L pod was Sept. 24, 2020.

In July, earlier news of the new calf was tempered with a sighting of a struggling adult male Southern Resident, K21 by a commercial whale-watching vessel. The whale, also known as Cappuccino, appeared to be in poor body condition, emaciated and with a collapsed dorsal fin, according to a report by the Orcas Behavior Institute.

Reports noted that when K21 was seen on July 28, who, at 35 years old was the oldest male resident orca, was several miles behind the rest of his pod making little progress attempting to swim against the strong currents. Since the end of July, and with no further sightings of the Southern Resident male, orca scientist Monika Wieland Shields of the Orca Behavior Institute declared the iconic whale deceased.