Wildfires stayed away, but other issues heated up in 2016
Politics at every level claimed headlines throughout the year
By Don Nelson
For the first time in three years, wildfires didn’t dominate the local news headlines in 2016.
Not active fires, anyway — summer came and went in a relatively quiet fashion, compared to the vast devastation of 2014 and the deadly Twisp River Fire of 2015.
But the aftermath of those fires continued to consume a lot of the Methow Valley’s attention. Much public thought, discussion and action were given over to reviewing the causes and consequences of the past two fiery summers, as well as recovery and future preparedness. Those issues will continue to be prominent in our lives for years to come.
Fire didn’t leave us entirely unscathed. The February blaze that extensively damaged the Twisp River Pub has left that vital local business in limbo ever since.
And it wasn’t a dull year for local issues.
A plan by the U.S. Army to conduct helicopter pilot training programs in the North Cascades was headed off, in part due to community pressure. The fight against industrial mining in the Methow Headwaters continues, with promising developments in Washington, D.C. — and uncertainty about what might happen under a new administration.
Politics became a hot topic in the last half of the year. Two incumbent county commissioners were challenged and ultimately ousted by newcomers who promised a different way of doing things. Fallout from a controversial road vacation decision, changes in various planning documents and strategies, a turf dispute between the commissioners and the Superior Court judges, a full slate of legal wrangles over various county actions and policies, and a mystifying suggestion to consider moving the juvenile detention facility far away kept the spotlight on county government.
The retirement of state Sen. Linda Evans Parlette set off a scramble to fill her 12th District seat, ultimately won by state Rep. Brad Hawkins.
Other community concerns were either resolved, or not. Winthrop finally hired a new town marshal after being without a police force for months. Okanogan County Fire District 6 commissioners dealt with concerns over accumulated payments to Chief Don Waller, as well as the funding and location of a new fire hall. The Winthrop Rink finally got its refrigeration system going.
Some of these stories will continue to make headlines in 2017 or beyond, while others may fade away. The unexpected will consume much of our time here at the newspaper, we assume.
Following is a month-by-month overview, briefly summarized, of 2016’s local headlines in the Methow Valley News. We tried to cover the highlights, but may not have included some things of specific importance to some readers.
Debate stirred as Okanogan County considers revising its rules for overnight tourist rentals.
Methow Valley Irrigation District says it will exclude members who convert to wells.
Abundant snow is a boon to valley’s winter economy.
Citizens raise questions about a paid leave agreement for Okanogan County Fire District 6 Chief Don Waller.
Winthrop accepts gift of a downtown park to be financed by Jim and Gaye Pigott, then donated to the town.
Warmer weather melts Twisp River ice dam that was threatening town.
Winthrop begins reviewing applicants for the open position of town marshal.
Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink closes because of repeated delays in delivery of refrigeration equipment.
Alan Caswell is appointed to fill a vacant seat on the Twisp Town Council.
Leaky roof at Methow Valley Elementary School gets a temporary repair.
County commissioners seek input on juvenile-detention facility options.
State Sen. Linda Evans Parlette introduces bills to expand use of prescribed burning.
County mulls moving its juvenile detention to facility near Spokane.
Methow Headwaters Campaign, a local coalition of businesses, individuals, environmental groups and other organizations, forms to oppose long-term industrial mining in the Methow Valley.
Above-average snowpack bodes well for the summer.
Winthrop and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) begin planning for Highway 20 repaving project in 2017.
Voters approve Methow Valley School District levies by wide margins.
Conservation Northwest sues to prevent U.S. Forest Service plans to log burned area near Loup Loup Pass.
Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) awards $5 million contract for construction of the new Pateros-Twisp powerline.
Early-morning fire damages large portion of the Twisp River Pub.
Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives is asked to investigate the cause of Twisp River Pub fire.
Town of Twisp begins considering alternatives for financing necessary street repairs.
Hard questions are raised about the 23-year history of Twisp’s undeveloped industrial park.
Original play by Liberty Bell High School drama students is shelved because of some parents’ and students’ concerns.
Heavy rainfall causes mudslides near Black Canyon that close Highway 153.
Rain and warmer temperatures threaten the statewide snowpack.
Nick Allgood purchases North Cascades Builders Supply in Winthrop.
County commissioners halt new marijuana operations while considering stricter zoning controls.
Statewide survey finds four new wolf packs and more breeding pairs.
Fire District 6 commissioners decide to leave Chief Don Waller’s paid leave contract in place.
Investigators begin wrapping up their initial review of Twisp River Pub fire.
Twisp begins considering formation of a transportation benefit district to help pay for needed street repairs.
Student brings a pellet gun to Methow Valley Elementary School; incident spurs a discussion of school district policies.
A suspect is charged with burglary at marijuana store in Winthrop.
Winthrop reboots its search for a town marshal after rejecting applicants.
Methow Valley Democrats give Sen. Bernie Sanders a big win at weekend caucus.
Twisp’s transportation benefit proposal is approved by the Town Council.
Conservation groups and Forest Service settle ATV lawsuit over access to Forest Service roads.
Congressional delegation listens to Okanogan County residents’ frustrations about how 2014 and 2015 wildfires were handled.
Gov. Jay Inslee signs state legislation that allows for increase in prescribed burning.
Heavy runoff and sediment cause minor flooding, road closures around the valley.
State funds are allotted to help Twisp build a new civic center.
Methow Valley School district plans to begin buying seven new buses with levy proceeds.
PUD breaks ground on the new Pateros-Twisp transmission line.
Yodog! pet grooming business opens in Twisp.
Ryan & Kuehler law firm opens in Winthrop, specializing in water and environmental issues.
U.S. Army drops its plans to conduct helicopter pilot training in the North Cascades area.
WSDOT approves use of a pilot-activated navigational beacon at Methow Valley State Airport.
State Sen. Linda Evans Parlette announces her retirement from the Legislature.
Warm weather turns streams loose, flooding roads and properties.
Peter Goldmark announces that he won’t seek a third term as state lands commissioner.
Freestone Inn unveils its new bar and bistro.
County continues to weigh its options for the juvenile detention center.
County commissioners, staff take steps to cover operational cash flow problems.
Twisp decides to seek a sales tax increase to support street repairs and maintenance.
State Rep. Brad Hawkins announces that he will seek the state senate seat being vacated by Linda Evans Parlette.
Arrowleaf Bistro opens at its new Winthrop location.
A citizen organization, Represent Okanogan County, is created to encourage potential candidates to challenge the incumbent commissioners who are up for re-election.
Highs temperatures melt previous optimism about summer water supplies.
Twisp River Pub fire investigators still awaiting lab report.
Kellen Northcott is appointed to fill a vacancy on the Winthrop Town Council.
County commissioners approve an emergency funds transfer to cover current operating expenses.
Public comment period opens on a Forest Service restoration plan for the Buttermilk Creek and Libby Creek watersheds.
Review of process indicates that the Twisp Business Park deal met all legal obligations.
Town of Twisp decides to ask voters to approve sales tax hike for street projects in August election.
Harts Pass Road blocked by rocks and won’t open soon, Forest Service says.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell listens to local officials, first responders about firefighting issues.
Record high temperatures cause a major runoff in the Northwest.
Regular Methow Valley bus service provided by TranGO will start July 1.
County commissioners extend the moratorium on new marijuana operations.
Okanogan PUD commission unanimously agrees to restart Enloe Dam.
Climber dies in fall from Goat Wall near Mazama
Trail riders encounter a wolf near Mazama.
Nelsons take over as new owners at Riverside Printing in Winthrop.
Local leaders gather for a disaster response exercise.
Community plaza will be next phase of TwispWorks development.
Former Arrowleaf Bistro building is razed to make way for new park in Winthrop.
Countywide commissioner races draw many contenders.
Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) concludes that Twisp River Fire of 2015 was caused by a tree coming into contact with a powerline.
Brian de Place is named executive director of the Methow Valley Citizens Council.
U.S. senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell sponsor a bill to restrict mining in Methow Headwaters.
Winthrop hires a new town marshal, Hal Henning.
Statewide survey finds strong support for grizzlies returning to the North Cascades.
Forest fuels clearing project begins at the Loup Loup Ski Bowl.
Hannah McIntosh is named economic development coordinator at TwispWorks.
Methow Valley School District announces that the Independent Learning Center will move to the TwispWorks campus.
County commissioners award contract for legal advertising to Methow Valley News and Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune.
Funding falls short for crucial renovations of Twisp’s Wagner Memorial Pool.
Methow Valley Ciderhouse opens at new Winthrop location on Highway 20.
State Court of Appeals voids county’s ATV ordinance because of inadequate environmental review.
Okanogan County is sued by a Superior Court administrator, and the court itself, in a dispute over management of and compensation the court’s staff.
Twisp pool repairs get underway, with a July opening projected.
County commissioners decide that the juvenile detention facility will remain in the county.
Okanogan County Farm Bureau charges Represent Okanogan County with campaign violations.
Lawsuit is filed by insurance companies seeks damages related to 2014 Rising Eagle Road Fire.
Water rights restrictions likely this summer, state Department of Ecology says.
Firefighters knock down blaze near Boulder Creek campground.
County asks State Appeals Court to review its ruling on the county’s ATV ordinance.
Commissioner candidates draw full house for public forum.
Economic analysis calls Enloe Dam electricity too costly.
Old Schoolhouse Brewery is sold to three new owners.
Valley’s TranGO bus service draws passengers, interest in first week of operation.
New Winthrop marshal proposes pay hikes to attract, keep officers.
County commissioners adopt a detailed new zoning code.
Property taxes, federal reimbursements relieve county’s cash flow problems.
Mazama couple denies all claims in Rising Eagle Road Fire lawsuit.
Flash flood sweeps through French Creek properties.
Winthrop Mayor Sue Langdalen announces her resignation because she is moving out of the community.
Construction begins on The Barnyard Cinema in Winthrop.
U.S. Forest Services exploratory mining decision for Flagg Mountain is delayed because of tribal concerns.
Trail’s End Bookstore in Winthrop announces that it is moving to a new Riverside Avenue location.
Leak still plagues Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp after recent deck, lining repairs.
Twisp reaches agreement with Lloyd family for town trail compensation.
Torrent floods Winthrop Marshal’s office, causes road damage.
Andy Hover, Ashley Thrasher advance to general election in District 2 county commissoner race.
One of two Three Rivers Hospital district levies headed for approval.
Winthrop agrees to salary increases for police officers; marshal recommends new office site to replace flooded space.
Confederated Tribes express concerns about proposed Flagg Mountain copper mining.
Winthrop business owners ask for review of WSDOT’s crosswalk plan for the four-way stop on Riverside Avenue.
Twisp voters approve sales tax hike to support transportation projects.
Represent Okanogan County will register with the state as a political committee.
Town council appoints Anne Acheson to fill vacant mayor’s position in Winthrop.
North Cascades Basecamp is sold to Seattle-based Bush School.
Sheilah Kennedy, Chris Branch will face off in District 1 county commissioner race.
Conservation groups sue county over its newly adopted zoning code.
State Appeals Court declines to reconsider its decision invaliding the county’s ATV ordinance.
Methow Valley School District’s bus barn is razed for more productive use of the space.
New dairy, Doubletree Farm, begins selling locally produced milk.
Valley and county will get upgraded emergency communications system.
Twisp reviews a revised in-kind services agreement with Lloyd family related to the town trail.
Yakama Nation joins others in suing Okanogan County over its zoning code.
Methow Valley Citizens Council celebrates 40 years of activism.
ATV issue rolls back onto streets of Winthrop as county Commissioner Jim DeTro leads a group of riders into town for lunch.
Pumpkin Festival outgrows its patch, popular fall celebration takes a break.
County asks state Supreme Court to hear the case that invalidated its ATV ordinance.
WSDOT scales back pedestrian ramps at Winthrop’s four-way stop.
Okanogan County proposes new ordinance to guide land-use process.
Twisp again delays OK of in-kind services contract with the Lloyd family.
Contract awarded for forest-thinning project in South Summit area on Loup Loup Pass.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell backs aggressive fuel-reduction efforts to contain fires.
Forest Service moves to protect upper valley from future mining through “mineral withdrawal” process.
Bob DeHart is appointed to fill a vacancy on the Winthrop Town Council.
Motorcycle safety study identifies dangerous spots on Highway 20.
Twisp finalizes an in-kind agreement with Lloyd family related to the town trail.
New Twisp police officer, Stephen Purtell, has deep local roots.
Twisp gets four new generators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
State campaign finance watchdog says Represent Okanogan County met filing requirements.
Confluence Park is dedicated in downtown Winthrop.
Winthrop Town Hall will get a structural inspection.
Gary and Anna Clark retire after of operating Coyote Ridge Automotive in Twisp.
U.S. Agriculture Department backs proposal to protect Methow headwaters from future mining.
Methow Valley gets its own ballot drop-off site.
New civic building proposal in Twisp includes street vacation.
County considers proposal for RV park near Methow.
Retail marijuana outlet is proposed for Carlton.
County mulls options for promoting tourism.
TranGO ridership tops 1,300 in first three months.
County is reviewing development plan in light of a recent state Supreme Court decision affecting water rights.
Winthrop Town Council decides that town’s residents will vote on annexation to Okanogan Fire District 6.
County adopts emergency rule to deal with potential development restrictions related to state Supreme Court decision; contemplates new regulation affecting drinking water systems.
Okanogan PUD suspends works on Pateros-Twisp powerline until spring
Two new commissioners elected to Okanogan County board: Andy Hover and Chris Branch.
Proposal for vintage trailer park near Methow still raising questions.
U.S. Forest Service revises its statement on outfitter-guide permits.
Methow.com alters its online commenting rules.
Methow Valley residents take part in North Dakota pipeline vigil.
Winthrop Rink’s new refrigeration equipment is formally dedicated.
Head Start program will expand to a full-day schedule.
Part of fire-damaged Twisp River Pub demolished.
Winthrop nears finish line of town’s proposed westernization code update.
County considers speed limit reductions on West Chewuch, Gold Creek Loop roads.
New water use application process proposed by county.
Oliver’s Artisan Kitchen opens in downtown Winthrop.
New report cites factors leading to Twisp River Fire tragedy.
US Forest Service is evaluating future of Smokejumper Base.
Citizens urge simple water-application process
State auditor recommends changes in District 6’s paid leave policy.
Josh Thomson is appointed to fill Twisp Town Council vacancy.
Commissioners hear opposition to lower speeds on West Chewuch Road.
County considers ending public access on several roads.
Kind Grinds coffee shop opens in Winthrop.
DropZone coffee shop opens in Twisp.