2011 Year in review

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 20:00
Emergency personnel survey the wreckage of a small plane crash near the Birchwood Airport that killed five members of an Eagle River family in May.

Bridges new and old, legislators coming and going and a major plane crash were among the headlines this year in Chugiak-Eagle River. In case you missed them, here’s a month-by-month account of the biggest stories to appear this year in the Star:



A new law allowing fireworks in the Municipality of Anchorage on New Years Eve led to dozens of complaints following a loud holiday celebration. The only major injury reported, however, was when an Eagle River airman lost his hand in a fireworks-related mishap.


A “problem” wolf was shot on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the first of several killed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in an effort to cull a population of aggressive wolves that had been showing no fear of humans.



Tom Reinbolt took over the helm of the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department. Reinbolt replaced Bruce Bartley, who retired after six years as chief and 28 years with the department.


Peters Creek lost a pioneer when Kay Sisson, 76, died on Feb. 27. Sisson’s was one of the first families to settle on Aurora Borealis Road in 1960. Sisson was known for her decades-long fight against the encroaching creek, her welcoming nature and her tireless service on the local road board.



Sgt. Michael M. McCloskey, 26, died on March 6 after he shot himself in the stomach in an apparent late-night game of Russian Roulette at the home of Pfc. Jacob Brouch, 25. The two men served together in the 6th Engineer Battalion of the 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, and had been drinking heavily, according to court documents. Brouch was charged with second degree murder in the incident after he allegedly encouraged McCloskey to play the game. Those charges were later reduced to manslaughter.


Municipal Parks and Recreation director John Rodda announced the Harry McDonald Center in Eagle River would undergo a $6 million expansion to add an indoor artificial turf field and 27,000 feet of indoor space.


A new pathway built in Chugiak drew local residents ire when it was discovered that sections of a roadside path constructed as part of the Old Glenn Highway upgrade were not separated from the highway. State transportation officials said the path, which runs near Chugiak Elementary and the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center, was safe. But local residents pointed out that the path seems almost to be part of the roadway.

“You can’t pay me to go out there now,” area resident Deborah Jones told the Star.


A federal appeals court overturned the 2007 conviction of former Eagle River Rep. Pete Kott on bribery charges. Kott had been sentenced to six years in prison, but was released in 2009 after questions arose about the credibility of star witness Bill Allen.


Nine more wolves were killed on JBER as part of the ongoing Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s wolf removal effort.



Eagle River incumbent Bill Starr returned to the Anchorage Assembly after winning easily over challengers Bob Lupo and Doug Urquidi in municipal elections held April 5. In the same election, incumbent Pat Higgins returned to the School Board after a close vote against challenger Bob Griffin for Seat C.


Cathy Bussey, a former St. Andrew Catholic Church employee who pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $40,000 from the Eagle River church, was jailed for three months after pleading guilty to first-degree theft on April 14.


Eagle River assemblywoman Debbie Ossiander was named the Anchorage Assembly’s chair by a vote of her colleagues on April 19, replacing Dick Traini.


Two Chugiak High employees were being investigated for theft after police discovered thousands of dollars in student activity and other fees had been stolen. Former office worker Gayle White was charged with felony charges of second-degree theft and falsifying business records. A second suspect in the case was not named at the time, though she was later revealed to be clerk Brenda Burge. White later pled guilty to theft and was sentenced to a year’s suspended sentence. Charges against Burge were still pending as of the new year.



Sam Spinella, principal at Benny Benson Secondary School, was named by Anchorage School District superintendent Carol Comeau to replace the retiring Rick Volk as Chugiak High’s new principal beginning in the 2011-12 school year. Later in May, the district announced Eagle River High principal Natalie Burnett would move from Eagle River to Benny Benson to replace Spinella after six years on Yosemite Drive. Former Eagle River English teacher Marty Lang, who had spent the past two years as an assistant principal at Dimond, was later named as Burnett’s replacement.



The year’s biggest tragedy struck on May 27, when Eagle River pilot Lonn Greiner, 46, crashed his Cessna 180 just after takeoff from the Birchwood Airport with four family members aboard. Also lost in the crash were Greiner’s mother, Carolyn, 69, and three of his children, Glory, 13, Nathan, 11, and Grace, 10.

According to witnesses, Greiner’s plane struggled to gain altitude, veered hard to the left and plunged to the ground, erupting in flames on Alaska Railroad tracks adjacent to the airport.



The 30th annual Highland Games were celebrated at Lions Park in Eagle River, with about 5,000 fans of the Scottish festival turning out on June 25. Reigning World Champion Daniel McKim manged to turn the 20-foot, 127-pound challenge caber to earn a $1,000 bonus for the second consecutive year.



Fun and festivities were on tap as the 41st annual Chugiak Fourth of July Parade and the 26th annual Bear Paw festival went off under sunny skies. Kody Trombley and Johna Rutz were crowned this year’s Mr. and Miss Bear Paw.


The Anchorage Assembly approved the Beach Lake Master Plan, setting forth rules and regulations for the 1,750-acre park.


Work was completed on the $12.7 million Old Glenn Highway construction project, including the installation of a new bridge across Peters Creek.



An infestation of inchworms was being blamed for unusually brown hillsides in the Hiland Road area.


Local residents applauded the addition of a separate Chapter 10 to the municipality’s planned Title 21 code revisions. The Chugiak-Eagle River-specific chapter would set out different land use rules than in the muni as a whole.



A summer’s worth of vandalism culminated in the theft of several brass art pieces from downtown. Municipal officials said the brass pieces alone were valued at more than $7,000, brining the summer’s vandalism total to more than $10,000 in damages in the Chugiak-Eagle River area.


Former Chugiak High student Michael Christensen made his debut on the NBC televsion show “The Sing Off” as a member of the a capella group Vocal Point.



Chugiak High activities principal Kevin Theonnes was reassigned to South High for his role in an eligibility scandal that cost the Mustang football team three victories. ASD superintendent Carol Comeau said Theonnes was being disciplined because an ineligible player was allowed to play on his watch.


Cook Inlet Housing Authority announced plans for a new four-story senior housing facility in Eagle River. The structure would be the area’s tallest building.


Former Rep. Pete Kott field a motion to plead guilty to a single count of bribery in his corruption case. On Oct. 21, Kott pled guilty in federal court and was sentenced to time served — about 17 months — and a $10,00 fine.



State Rep. Anna Fairclough announced plans to run for the state senate. Fairclough, who currently represents District 17, said she planned to run for the District M seat against Bettye Davis.


Members of the Chugiak/Birchwood/Eagle River Rural Road Board voted unanimously to recommend the muni shut down the Eklutna River bridge, which the Alaska Department of Transportation said was in disrepair. Instead of closing the bridge, the muni imposed weight restrictions and said it planned further public meetings on the issue in January of 2012.

Former Chugiak High clerk Brenda Burge was arrested and charged with theft, scheme to defraud and falsifying business records at her Wasilla home on Nov. 17. Burge was alleged to have stolen more than $74,000 over a four-year period while at the school. She was terminated in May after police and school administrators uncovered theft from the school.


A send-off was held at Sullivan Arena for the 3,500-member 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, which began deploying to Afghanistan in November. Also deploying to Afghanistan were 120 members of the National Guard’s B Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry (Airborne) Regiment.



Several large winter storms caused widespread power outages, knocked down trees and left several feet of snow at higher elevations around town.


The Anchorage Assembly announced that its fireworks ordinance would be amended to keep fireworks at least 200 feet from residential structures on New Year’s Eve.


A new “Welcome to Eagle River” sign, featuring a hand-sculpted eagle soaring over town, was unveiled on Dec. 22 in Chief Alex Park.

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