OMAK The reopening of the Omak Wood Products mill headlined The Chronicle’s Top 10 stories of 2013.
Other stories that made the list included the July 29 fire that destroyed the Colville tribal administration building, five homicides in Okanogan County — the most in any year of the past decade — and the ongoing debates on wolves, all-terrain vehicles and marijuana.
Here are the Top 10:
After more than four years of hibernation, the Omak Wood Products mill was brought back to life over the summer. The region celebrated the mill’s reopening with a ceremony Oct. 7 that featured a number of speakers, including Gov. Jay Inslee.
“The most exciting place to be in the state of Washington today is right here at Omak Wood Products,” Inslee said. “There’s no better example in the state of Washington of teamwork than right here.”
The event was attended by more than 100 community leaders and mill employees.
For Richard Yarbrough, president of Omak Wood Products, the grand opening ceremony marked the culmination of more than three years’ worth of negotiations and work to get the mill back up and running. The first official steps to reopening the mill at 1100 E. Eighth Ave. in Omak began in March.
“I’ve done nothing in my career as meaningful as this,” Yarbrough said. “I’m pleased to welcome you all to the grand reopening of the mill. This is a mill town.
“It’s been a mill town since 1921. A lot of people put in a lot of work into this thing.”
Colville Business Council Chairman Michael Finley said it took “dogged persistence” to restart the mill.
He said there was a time when scrapping the mill was considered by the tribe, which owns the mill.
“It has been very challenging,” Finley said. “The timing is right to go down this road. It’s putting our people back to work.”
As of last week, the mill had 100 employees, but could employ as many as 200 by the time it hits full stride.
About 230 people were employed when the mill — then operating as Colville Indian Plywood and Veneer — shut down in January 2009.
The true impact of the mill’s reopening could take a couple years to realize.
Inslee said the mill’s reopening is “important to the whole state. It’s really encouraging to see the mill get going. It took leadership. If you can get multiple parties aligned good things can happen.”
An early morning fire July 29 destroyed the Colville Confederated Tribes’ administration building, and personal items, official documents and historic artifacts.
“No one was hurt and that’s our saving grace,” Colville Business Council Chairman Michael Finley said. “But some of the information to help ensure the Colvilles’ way of life is gone.”
Firefighters responded to the blaze at 1:16 a.m. It knocked out communication systems across the Colville Indian Agency campus, essentially the tribe’s capital. The building, constructed in 1975, housed 40 employees working in the Tribal Tribune newspaper, elections, the technology department, and land and property-related offices.
“This really has an impact on efficiencies for services we deliver to tribal members… For the first time in our government’s recent history, our legislative body and administration is without a headquarters,” Finley said.
Tribal archives and enrollment files were stored elsewhere, but a variety of other documents and items – some historical – were destroyed, Finley said.
During 2013, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office investigated five homicides — more than any year in the past decade.
In four of the past 10 years, there were no homicides in the county. The previous recent high was four in 2011.
Since 2003, the Sheriff’s Office has investigated 19 homicides, with 13 of them coming in 2009 to 2013. The figures do not include vehicular homicides, suicides or other types of deaths.
The five homicides have led to four arrests, with the killing of Leonard K. Miller remaining an active investigation.
• Miller, 88, was killed in his rural Omak home in February. His body was found Feb. 9.
The manner in which he died has not been made public.
No arrests have been made.
• Ronald Eugene Moore, 31, is accused of first-degree murder in the March 21 shooting death of his father, Raymond E. Moore, 62, at their home near Okanogan.
His trial is set for March 4. , 2014, in Okanogan County Superior Court.
• Don Arthur Moore, 65, was charged April 24 with first-degree murder in the April 20 shooting and stabbing death of Bruce R. Molony at Molony’s home on Foggy River Loop Road near Riverside.
Moore remains incarcerated at the Okanogan County Jail. His trial is set for Feb. 4.
• Tony J. Halford, 47, of Malott, and William T. Bordua, 65, of Okanogan, were pronounced dead at 1481 Old Highway 97 at about 12:30 p.m. July 1. Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers called the shooting a “murder-suicide.”
Bordua, who was Halford’s landlord, was killed when he tried to evict Halford. Halford then turned the gun on himself.
• John Wayne Jennings, 57, and his son, Adam Shaun Jennings, 27, of Pontiac Ridge were charged with first-degree murder Nov. 18 in the shooting death of a Hoquiam hunter.
Michael Ray Carrigan, 52, was killed near the Jennings home.
Charging documents alleged each man either was armed with the firearm or was an accomplice of the other. The Jennings trial is scheduled for Feb. 4.
Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin delivered the keynote speech at Republic High School’s commencement ceremony June 1.
The high-profile Republican politician attracted a crowd of about 700 people to the Tigers’ gymnasium to see 26 students graduate.
“I am here because this town is special,” Palin said. “This is the coolest town.”
Palin told students to stand up and turn over their chairs – each found a dollar bill taped under their seats.
“You gotta get off your butt to make a buck,” Palin told the class of 26 graduates.
Palin used her speech to teach students a life lesson – success comes from work ethic, perseverance and looking out for other people.
The wolf controversy has been boiling in North-Central Washington for several years now and continued throughout 2013. This is the third year in a row it has made The Chronicle’s Top 10 stories of the year: It peaked at No. 2 in 2011 and was No. 3 in 2012.
The federal government is in the process of deciding whether or not to remove the gray wolves from the Endangered Species list, an effort supported by Okanogan County commissioners.
On April 26, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission passed an emergency rule that allows a livestock owner – or one of his employees or immediate family members – to kill one wolf if it is caught in the act of attacking livestock or a family pet.
The issue gained momentum in March when Twisp resident John Stevie witnessed a wolf attacking one of his dogs.
Stevie testified about the incident in front of the state Legislature.
North Valley Hospital, in the face of continued financial difficulties, closed its assisted living facility in the spring.
A recall petition was filed in February against Commissioners Helen Casey, Richard Larson, Lael Duncan, Clarice Nelson and Herb Wandler, resulting in a Superior Court hearing.
The petition was tossed out because petitioners Danny Gratrix and Rosa Snider had not signed the petition under oath before a judge, court clerk or notary public.
Later in the year, Snider filed for election against Larson; he held on to his post in November.
With a new state law that went into effect July 28, all-terrain vehicles were a source of considerable debate, especially on the county level.
A lawsuit is still pending against Okanogan County, which approved two ordinances to open about 635 miles of roadways to ATV use. The Methow Valley Citizens Council and Conservation Northwest filed the suit Aug. 14 in Okanogan County Superior Court.
The groups have asked the court to issue an injunction against the ordinances as well as an order declaring that the ordinances violate the Revised Codes of Washington and the state’s Environmental Policy Act. Although public input was fairly evenly divided at the July 25 and July 29 hearings, some residents expressed concerns about noise, safety and environmental damage. In the July 29 hearing, Commissioner Jim DeTro said it wasn’t the commissioners’ job to interpret state law.
Meanwhile, members of the North Central ATV Club, the driving force behind the new ordinances, said they were thrilled with the commissioners’ decision. Some towns allow ATVs on their streets. Pateros recently joined Conconully, Tonasket and Okanogan in permitting them. The issue was brought to the Brewster and Twisp councils as well, but with no success.
Cities and counties across the state have been in the process of determining how to handle marijuana businesses in the wake of voters approving Initiative 502 in 2012.
Okanogan County commissioners decided marijuana-related businesses should be able to operate without conditional use permits from the county.
All six residents who gave comments asked the board not to require conditional use permits.
Douglas County has chosen to treat marijuana as any other crop in accordance with state and local laws, and Winthrop resident David Sorenson urged Okanogan County to follow suit.
“I feel that adding another roadblock in front of the people that have the ability to attempt to pull off these ventures is just going to discourage economic growth, something that this county badly needs,” he said.
In Okanogan and Ferry counties, more than 40 businesses applied for licenses to produce or sell marijuana.
Only one of those applicants — Green Valley Living in Tonasket — is applying for a retailers’ license.
The $9.5 million M/V Sanpoil was christened Aug. 14, marking the new Keller ferry’s maiden voyage across the Columbia River.
Jeanne Jerred, of Keller, performed the ceremonial honor of breaking a bottle of nonalcoholic “champagne” over the ship.
“I wish for calm winds and fair waters,” said Jerred, a former Colville Business Council member and Sanpoil tribal elder.
The event featured nearly 300 people in attendance for the 1.5-mile maiden crossing.
Dozens of dignitaries turned out, including most of the Colville Business Council, Sanpoil tribal elders, state officials, legislators and commissioners from several counties.
“Wow, I can’t believe we’re here today,” 7th Legislative District Rep. Shelly Short of Addy said during the dedication ceremony. “This has been a long time coming… It’s amazing that we are here today.”
Short helped organize a “show-me” tour on the Martha S. in 2009 to convince other state lawmakers that a new ferry was necessary.
Colville Tribal Chairman Michael Finley said many people helped complete the project, calling the realization of the new ferry and upgraded landings a “true collaboration.”
Omak School District Superintendent Art Himmler, 68, died the morning of Feb. 7 in a one-vehicle crash two miles south of Pateros.
Himmler came to Omak in 2009 from the Steilacoom Historical School District, where he had served as superintendent since 1994.
He died shortly after 7 a.m. Feb. 7 while on his way to an educational meeting in Wenatchee.
The Washington State Patrol said Himmler was attempting to pass another vehicle when his pickup truck skidded on ice, went off the road’s left side and overturned. Himmler was thrown from the vehicle.
It’s not known if he was wearing a seatbelt. No drugs or alcohol were involved, although he was traveling too fast for conditions, the patrol said.
Himmler died at the scene.
He had been hailed as a visionary who was an advocate of online education.
“He has given us a view of what future schools will look like,” School Board Chairman Wendell George said. “He made Omak the largest school district in the state providing online education. (Students) have access to more classes and excellent teachers.”
“Art was a visionary,” Brewster Superintendent Eric Driessen said.