While no one can deny COVID-19 overtook 2020, there were other stories of note during this most unusual year that bear mention.
Here are our Top 10 non-COVID stories in no particular order:
Stanwood High School
The largest construction job in city history is nearly complete. The $147.5 million Stanwood High School campus project remained on schedule and on budget in 2020. The 44,000-square-foot Church Creek Campus building opened in early September — home of Lincoln Hill High School, Lincoln Academy and Saratoga School, a parent partnership homeschool program. To the east, crews are working on the new artificial turf baseball and softball fields. Continuing east, the new Stanwood High School is largely complete. Crews began the move-in process in December, and the building is ready to host students when allowed. Next is demolition of the old high school to make way for a parking lot and a new practice field.
New mayor, police chief
In January, Rob Martin became Stanwood’s new police chief, as Chief Norm Link became bureau chief of administration services for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. Then in July, longtime Stanwood Mayor Leonard Kelley abruptly resigned due to health reasons. The council chose councilwoman Elizabeth Callaghan to replace him. Kelley, who had served as mayor since 2013, wrote in his resignation letter: "This decision comes with a heavy heart, but I am grateful for the time I got to serve the city of Stanwood.” Callaghan, 33, became the youngest mayor in city history and Stanwood’s second woman to be mayor. Current council member Dianne White was the first.
Our coverage of the area’s steady growth ranks among our most-read articles of the year at SCnews.com. The area has seen signs of new development for several years running, but in 2020 many large housing developments started construction. Housing tracts of 91 homes and 97 homes are underway, featuring a mix of single-family detached, duplex and multifamily housing. Additionally, a smattering of smaller housing development plans dot the Stanwood area, collectively adding up to more than 100 new homes. It isn't just houses being built. At least 126 apartment units are going into the Stanwood Camano Village shopping uptown complex at 72nd Avenue and Highway 532. More are planned in years to come. The city progressed on many infrastructure projects to support exponential growth. A new water tower was installed, and the wastewater treatment facility got a monitoring system. The city has worked on overall sewer improvements, including a large sewer main down 72nd Avenue that reroutes effluent using gravity and removes a lift station. Recreation and flood protection double up as Irvine Slough Stormwater Separation project protects downtown with a berm and water controls with Port Susan Trail on top.
Park plans moved from design into contracts and construction this year with drainage and field improvements for Heritage Park. Church Creek Park got new playground equipment. Hamilton Park plans are underway, although the boat launch was postponed for 2021. Viking Way adds a new east-west route between business centers. Snohomish County PUD is building a new, updated electrical substation with increased capacity out of the floodplain southwest of Pioneer Highway and 72nd Avenue. On Camano, officials recently cut the ribbon on the new $5.6 million Island County Administration Building. Meanwhile, the real estate market in the area remains hot with low inventory, high demand and rising prices.
Some of the worst flooding in several years happened in January 2020. The Stillaguamish River crested above flood stage several times in winter, cutting off parts of the lower valley for a few days. The Stillaguamish spilled its banks three separate times in January — cresting at 17 feet, 14.5 feet and 19.44 feet. Flood stage in Arlington, the nearest flood gauge, is 14 feet. By Feb. 1, after the river reached 19.44 feet — the 10th highest mark on record, according to the National Weather Service — flood waters slowly crept through the lower valley, covering farmland from Silvana to the mouth of the river. Many roads were submerged and a few cars were swept off the road. FEMA had threatened to put all of Island County on probation because out of 130 property owners cited, 14 remained out of compliance with National Flood Insurance program standards. The county got an extension and helped more residents comply. Separately, the Washington Coastal Resilience Project and a Sea Level Rise Strategy Study have worked with Island County on new strategic planning tools to help shoreline property owners manage rising sea levels. Just a few weeks ago, king tides surged around seaside homes in several areas on Camano Island, littering yards with logs and seaweed. Seawater covered parts of Maple Grove Road and made its way into several homes.
Black Lives Matter
The national movement to push for racial justice and equality, spurred by killings of Black men and women by police, spread to Stanwood in late spring. Similar demonstrations popped up in all 50 states. In Stanwood, the movement started with one person: Mercedes Gonzales, a high school student who wanted to speak out against inequality. “We’re such a small town; we could make a difference and inspire other small towns to do so,” Gonzales said in early June. “When I first moved here, I was afraid of backlash. Now I see that there are a lot of good people in this town.”
Soon, about 30 to 50 peaceful protesters gathered regularly at the corner of Highway 532 and 92nd Avenue in Stanwood to wave signs. In late June, about 240 people quietly walked through downtown Stanwood as part of a statewide day of action. “I’m thankful for everyone who played a part and came out to show that we could do something to make Stanwood a safe place for people of color. I had no idea it would get so big, but I’m grateful,” Gonzales said after the march.
Stanwood athletes win state awards
Stanwood High School wrestlers brought home state hardware. Chanel Siva, who also advanced to the state wrestling tournament all four years, won her second consecutive state title in February. “She is always mentally prepared, physically prepared,” Spartan girls wrestling coach Todd Freeman said. “She has within her that drive that desire that she’s not going to let anyone beat her.” The Spartan boys wrestling team placed fourth in state as a team — the highest placing in school history. Siva was the second Spartan to win back-to-back state titles during last school year; swimmer Jetlynn Hau had claimed a second consecutive state title in the 100 yard breaststroke in November 2019. Both Siva and Hau shared the Spartan Female Athlete of the Year award, given in a virtual ceremony in June.
Several acres of land around the Stanwood-Camano area were preserved and restored in 2020, many with the goal of helping endangered wild salmon species. In Port Susan Bay, the mouth of Martha Creek was transformed into a more habitable area for young salmon. The Nature Conservancy plans to invest $450,000 to continue its restoration efforts on 150 acres of its 4,122 acre Port Susan Bay Preserve at the mouth of the Stillaguamish River. In October, Leque Island restoration celebrated one year since breaching its aging dikes. The preliminary results show native grasses are returning, many more bird species are visiting and new channels are being formed, helping to unlock more fish habitat.
On Camano, Elger Bay Preserve grew by 20 acres after the Whidbey Camano Land Trust bought lots containing pristine tidal estuary, expanding the 38-acre preserve to 58 acres. Inland, the iconic 231-acre Kristoferson Farm on Camano Island is partnering with Whidbey Camano Land Trust, Island County and others to put this historic farm into a conservation easement, protecting it from development. Camano Islander Bonnie MacPhail planted a 10-acre grove of Garry oaks, a native species that used to thrive here.
Twin City Foods
A new tenant moved into Stanwood’s largest empty building, bringing a handful of jobs with a potential for many more. Bellingham Cold Storage leased the 200,000-square-foot warehouse and packaging facility with plans to store millions of pounds of frozen and refrigerated food, company officials announced. While BCS already employs a few warehouse workers in Stanwood, the company plans to lease up to three spaces in the building to separate food-processing businesses, which could employ between 20 and 200 workers depending on the product. The facility had been shuttered since Twin City Foods closed in June 2018.
Camano Islander Brigan Coard was jogging on Lawson Road when a barred owl whacked her in the back of the head. Days later, Greg Cooper was attacked by a barred owl as he stood near his garage less than a mile away.
Meanwhile, scientists say that oceans are rising and shoreline homes are threatened with more storms pushing waves further inland, beaches disappearing and bluffs eroding. On the anniversary of the Mount St. Helens May 1980 eruption, filmmaker Michael Lienau of Camano Island described how he was on the mountain immediately after the eruption when it blew a second time. He survived and made a living of documenting disasters. He said our biggest threat here is the 700-mile Cascadia Subduction Zone, where the oceanic plate is forced with great pressure under the continental plate just off the coast from Vancouver Island, B.C., to northern California. Scientists found evidence that giant earthquakes have ripped along the entire subduction zone simultaneously, from one end to the other, causing land to buckle and sink or rise every few hundred years. The last one in 1700 sent a huge tidal wave to Japan. “We are in the window of a time when a major earthquake could be unleashed at any minute,” he said. “It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.”
Lots and lots and lots of people cast ballots in the 2020 General Election. In total, 54,289 of Island County’s 63,212 registered voters participated, setting record voter turnout at 85.88%. In Snohomish County, 441,921 of the 518,878 registered voters cast a ballot — second only to the 2016 general election. Despite the massive turnout, several area races had extremely close finishes. All of the state 10th Legislative District races and an Island County Commissioner race were decided by just a few hundred votes.