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2000 - A year in review
"The year 2000 began with nothing happening.That was good news for everyone who worried about power plants shutting down, banks locking their doors and governments falling to chaos. After all, there was plenty of doomsaying going on in the name of Y2K - the acronym given to the changeover from 1999 to 2000 and how it might cause computers and equipment around the world to seize up, melt down or drop out. Whether it was great planning or just luck, the transition of decades took place with no significant disruption and, if nothing else, it left many people with a new awareness of their daily reliance on technology. Not to mention a few extra canned goods and water jugs in the cupboard.For the most part, 2000 came and went about the same as other years. There was good news about the preservation of hundreds of acres of Ebey's Prairie bluff and farmland; and there was bad news about a former Oak Harbor graduate's confession as a serial killer.There was joyous news about love, lifelong friendships and patriotic celebrations. But there was also tragic news about a young Navy officer senselessly murdered along Highway 20.The year 2000 probably won't go down as a remarkably historic year for Whidbey Island but it had moments, good and bad, that deserve a second look. Here are just a few:Many local people were shocked when 1970 Oak Harbor High School graduate Robert Yates turned out to be one of the nation's most prolific serial killers of all times. The man who was remembered locally as a nice, quiet boy and a star pitcher on the school baseball team pleaded guilty in Spokane County Court to 13 murders and one attempted murder to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to over 400 years in prison. Yates still faces two murder charges in Tacoma, where he could face the death penalty. Investigators are also looking into many other murders, including one on Whidbey Island, that may relate to Yates.It cost less to own a car in Washington in 2000. The state's highly unpopular motor vehicle excise tax, which annually hammered drivers to the tune of hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, disappeared.The loss of the excise tax revenue, however, sent waves of concern through every branch of government as officials from city councils to transit agencies tried to figure out how to make do without it. As a result of two tax-cutting initiatives, 695 and 722, the city of Oak Harbor had to drastically cut its budget and is still looking at the prospects of laying off a half dozen employees.One of the year's tragic events was the so-called thrill kill murder of 23-year-old Navy junior officer Scott Kinkele. Three complete strangers in a car pulled up behind him on Highway 20 in Skagit County as he was heading back to Whidbey Island. One of the men killed Kinkele with a shot to the head. Two Anacortes half-brothers, Eben Berriault and Seth Anderson, later pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and their friend, Adam Moore, pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Berriault and Anderson received lengthy sentences after a marathon sentencing hearing in which Kinkele's many friends and family members spoke of the young man's accomplishments and strong moral character.Island Transit, which faced severe cuts, sought relief by asking voters for an increase in local sales tax in order to keep buses on the road. Voters in turn gave the agency an overwhelming thumbs up. In September countywide voters agreed to continue a $5 million bond for the expansion and remodeling of Whidbey General Hospital.On the other hand, the Oak Harbor School District failed yet again to pass a maintenance and operations levy in May. Levy-backers will try again in 2001.A 12-year-old boy named Jonathan Camacho was never found after the Utah boy disappeared last June while hiking at Deception Pass with his mother, twin brother and a cousin. Despite a massive search effort involving a dozen local groups and agencies, searchers only found clues to what happened to him. After the search was called off, investigators concluded that he slipped and fell on a rocky cliff into the dangerous water of the pass and was swept away.The business landscape of Oak Harbor got some changes. Kow Korner, the hamburger joint that fed generations of Oak Harbor residents, was torn down to make way for a new Alaska Federal Credit Union building on Midway. The school district bought the credit union's old building. Not far from Kow Korner, another Oak Harbor institution in food, Dairy Valley, went up for sale. Big-5 Sporting Goods is moving into a building across Highway 20 from Kmart. Whidbey Island Bank built a new banking center on Highway 20. InterWest Bank, one of Oak Harbor's biggest businesses, got a new name - Pacific Northwest Bank - and moved its administrative address to Seattle.Controversial City Councilman Rex Hankins, remembered as a champion of growth planning, died. Finding a replacement turned into a controversy as councilors deadlocked over two candidates and new Mayor Patty Cohen refused to break the tie. Eventually the council members gave up on their top picks and chose Nora O'Connell-Balda, a long-time member of the Board of Adjustments. Later, a proposal to name a city park after Hankins started controversy anew. It eventually failed after the city's volunteer parks board, chaired by Hankin's former political opponent, refused the idea.November's general election set high marks for voter turnout with about 80 percent of registered voters casting a ballot in Island County. The big winners were mainly incumbents, including Island County commissioners Mac McDowell and Mike Shelton, state Senator Mary Margaret Haugen and state Representative Kelly Barlean. Oak Harbor Republican Barry Sehlin upset incumbent Democrat Dave Anderson for the 10th District's other spot in the state House.The year 2000 proved to be a good year for land preservation on Ebey's Prairie. More than $3 million in federal funding secured development rights on hundreds of acres of land within the Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve. In addition, Coupeville residents Fran Einterz and Joyce Peterson purchased the 138-acre Jenne Farm located on the southeast corner of the prairie in hopes of preserving it, and the non-profit Nature Conservancy bought more than 500 acres of some of the reserve's most-picturesque property, including the bluff overlooking Ebey's Landing.In February, Oak Harbor's on-again-off-again radio station returned under new ownership and a renewed commitment to succeed where others had failed. Under the new call sign of KWDB, the A.M. station signed on just in time to avoid a permanent loss of Whidbey's only foothold on the radio dial.After years of study, the Washington Department of Transportation announced in March that a new bridge linking North Whidbey to the mainland was not going to work. Three bridge concepts and one new ferry proposal failed to pass a technical feasibility study because of potential environmental damage, endangered salmon, threats to archeological sites, earthquake faults, federal regulation, public opinion and high cost.As a result, the proposals will be shelved for the time being. Other options are now being considered but officials predict that traffic to and from North Whidbey will certainly get worse before it gets better.Money, or the lack of it, was a central theme in county government as well. The county's Sheriff and Prosecuting Attorney refused to submit hold-the-line budgets as requested by the Island County commissioners. Instead they told the commissioners that their departments were severely understaffed. Sheriff Mike Hawley went so far as to say the safety of his deputies was a stake.In the end, the commissioners granted some requests but held their general fund budget to just a 2 percent increase.Just how the commissioners were spending some of their money caught the attention of local judges in February. Superior Court Judges Vickie Churchill and Alan Hancock pulled the plug on county contracts with Seattle attorney Keith Dearborn after noting that the commissioners had paid Dearborn and his firm $722,000 for outside legal consulting work on the county's Comprehensive Plan. The judges called the figure astonishing and said they would not sign off on another contract. The commissioners defended Dearborn and eventually rehired him under a planning-consultant contract rather than as a legal advisor. "