The second pandemic year has come to a close, and despite the widespread availability of vaccines prompting the world to feel as though it had reached the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, new variants of COVID-19 continue to emerge, and the pandemic rages on.
Still, 2021 felt a little more normal as businesses, schools and community events tentatively re-opened, and an exciting round of local elections yielded high voter turnout in Island County.
The following are the top news stories from the front pages of the Whidbey News-Times in 2021.
The Island County Marine Resources Committee presented Oak Harbor City Council with several options for environmental restoration work on the shoreline. The council unanimously decided to pursue the middle-of-the-road option, which included reduction of the footprint for the boat ramp, restacking of the shoreline armor — rocks and driftwood — and the addition of bio-retention cells.
The Island County Board of Health considered appointing Dr. Scott Lindquist to be the county’s public health officer after the predecessor for the role quit. The board later picked Dr. Howard Leibrand, who is also Skagit County’s public health officer, to fill the position in the interim.
About 40 people participated in a pro-Trump rally in Oak Harbor after rioters protesting the presidential election results stormed the U.S. Capitol, forcing members of Congress to flee in the midst of certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s win. Elected officials of both parties who represent Whidbey residents condemned the violent attempt to overturn the election.
Island County joined San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties as part of a regional grouping in a new statewide COVID-19 reopening plan. This grouping was controversial and irked county officials and city leaders on Whidbey, who went on to petition the governor to reconsider the decision. The plan was eventually abandoned and counties were evaluated on an individual basis.
Kids began returning to Oak Harbor and Coupeville classrooms as the districts’ school boards approved plans for phased returns to in-person learning. Plans drew criticism from some members of the public who questioned whether the benefits outweighed the risks of resuming in-person school while the pandemic continued to pose a serious threat.
The first powerful storm of the year knocked out power to Whidbey residents for multiple days, tipped a truck over atop the Deception Pass Bridge and limited drinking water access to Langley residents.
Island County commissioners sent the governor and the state Department of Health a letter complaining about the placement of disabled people living in group homes in the vaccination distribution phases, saying those folks should be granted earlier access than the distribution plan allowed.
A large Pacific madrone tree was slated to be cut down to accommodate the planned McDonald’s expansion.
The Oak Harbor City Council approved changes to the city’s comprehensive plan, including a land-use change to a 75-acre property at the end of Gun Club Road that would allow the city to develop the property as a park.
Washington State Park Commissioners voted to approve the U.S. Navy’s proposal to use state parks as training sites for SEALs. The decision drew opposition from Whidbey residents, including the Whidbey Environmental Action Network and the Coupeville Town Council. WEAN would later file a petition for judicial review against the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.
After more than 20 years, the Oak Harbor Farmers Market permanently closed after struggling to attract vendors and customers, especially during COVID-19 restrictions.
Voters passed Oak Harbor School District’s $48.4 million levy, which would pay for sports, arts programs, advanced classes and most of the district’s school nurses, with 55% of the vote.
Island County officials, city leaders and business owners were upset that the state’s reopening plan allowed Seattle and Everett to move to Phase 2, but not Whidbey Island.
A dozen friends shaved their heads in support of local real estate agent and blogger, Annie Cash, who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Island County officials continued to petition for the county to receive more COVID-19 vaccines to satisfy the growing demand for vaccination in its older population. Rep. Rick Larsen would later send the White House a letter advocating for the county to be allocated more vaccines.
The county’s unemployment rate reached a dismal high of 7.2%.
The City of Oak Harbor was offered a gift of the “Angel de la Creatividad,” a 37-foot-tall sculpture created by a famous Mexican artist, but some people expressed concerns about it. Oak Harbor arts commissioners would later respond to criticism and discuss potentially bringing back a windmill to a city park.
By Feb. 15, Island County restaurants were able to start serving food indoors again, with some restrictions in place.
Eighty people signed a letter alleging that Oak Harbor students were being “indoctrinated” by teachers and criticizing COVID-19 restrictions in schools.
David A. Goodman, a former firearms instructor who accidentally shot and seriously injured an 82-year-old woman at Frasers Gourmet Hideaway in Oak Harbor a year ago, was sentenced to 12 months in jail.
WhidbeyHealth CEO Ron Telles told the hospital’s board of commissioners that the district was in a “cash poor situation.” The district had negative 1.7 days of cash on hand for operating expenses.
The “U. K. strain” COVID-19 variant was found in Island County.
More than 2,000 people signed an online petition to shut down an anti-abortion club at Oak Harbor High School.
Island County’s assessor, Mary Engle, was picked to be the county’s planning director.
Rescuers pulled a 10-year-old girl out of waist-deep mud at Dugualla State Park while the tide was rising.
Coupeville Town Council passed an ordinance banning the feeding of all wildlife, except birds, within town limits after many residents complained about the local deer herd wreaking havoc.
The leaders of the WhidbeyHealth Public Hospital District decided to move forward with a hospital renovation project estimated to cost $22.5 million, despite the pandemic hurting the district’s finances.
Whidbey Island teachers began to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
A federal judge denied Citizens of Ebey’s Reserve’s request for an injunction that would have required the Navy to decrease EA-18G Growler aircraft operations at the Outlying Field Coupeville.
First Lady Jill Biden visited Naval Air Station Whidbey Island to discuss with Oak Harbor military families how the U.S. government can better support them.
Oak Harbor Public School Board’s first in-person meeting since the pandemic began drew a small gaggle of protestors asking for school leaders to let students return to full time, in-person instruction, despite state requirements preventing them from doing so.
Island County and the three municipalities on Whidbey were projected to receive an estimated total of nearly $23 million through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
More than 300 people signed a petition against a proposed emergency overnight shelter near Coupeville.
Whidbey Island school districts received millions of dollars of federal funding from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act.
Oak Harbor Superintendent Lance Gibbon left the school district after eight years, prompting school board members to search for an interim replacement.
The County Health Rankings & Roadmap ranked Island County as among the healthiest counties in the state.
COVID cases trended downward while vaccination rates exceeded the state average.
Officials at the WhidbeyHealth Public Hospital District made plans to sell a piece of property near Bayview with an odd history.
Staffing shortages forced the Coupeville-Port Townsend ferry route to remain on a one boat schedule.
An early morning fire destroyed the kitchen at Currents Bistro in Coupeville.
The Whidbey Island Hospital District discontinued its Home Health Care program after 32 years, and Eden Health took over the service.
More than 100 people signed a letter asking Oak Harbor Public School administrators to drop the mask mandate despite the state’s requirement.
A Whidbey Island woman filed a request for an injunction to prevent several governmental entities from denying her service because she wouldn’t wear a mask.
Island County received state funds for a jail renovation, body cameras on deputies and a youth mental health pilot program.
The Whidbey parking lot at the Deception Pass bridge closed to visitors for construction.
Oak Harbor High School prepared to break ground on a new 3,300 square-foot building to house technical electives.
The Oak Harbor school board appointed Karst Brandsma as interim superintendent.
Windjammer Park board members recommended the park to be the location of a Prowler crash memorial.
An attorney’s investigation into the Coupeville school superintendent for alleged bias and retaliation largely exonerated him, but the Coupeville School Board may have violated the state Open Public Meetings Act when the majority took action on a press release outside of public meetings.
Douglas Upchurch was named as the county’s new assessor.
The state legislature allotted the Coupeville Boys and Girls Club more than $1 million in the capital budget to construct a new building.
An influx of new businesses opened in downtown Oak Harbor.
Despite public survey results, Oak Harbor city staff changed the access to a future 75-acre park from Gun Club Road to an alternative that residents argued would be more disruptive to their neighborhood.
WhidbeyHealth announced it will no longer accept Amerigroup Washington insurance at its primary care clinics or walk-in clinics.
Oak Harbor City Council members awarded $9,576 total to three groups from the city’s lodging tax funds.
Only 41% of county residents were fully vaccinated despite widespread availability of vaccines. These data did not include the Navy’s vaccination rates.
Oak Harbor council members rejected staff’s recommendation to pay for a traffic study comparing entry points for the park that had already been completed.
A new farmers market opened in Oak Harbor.
The average value of homes in the county increased by about 9.83%.
The Seaside Spa and Salon in Coupeville allowed patrons to remove masks if they could provide proof of vaccination.
The Port of Coupeville received a $100,000 broadband grant from Island County.
An indie crew filmed a movie in Coupeville and at other Whidbey Island locations.
North Whidbey residents were asked to reduce water usage when a regional chlorine shortage threatened the water supply.
Capt. Eric Hanks replaced Capt. Matthew Arny as the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island after Arny retired.
Computer problems at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island resulted in the loss of years of public records and the inadvertent disabling of an email address for citizens to register aircraft noise complaints.
The results of a public survey about the “Angel de la Creatividad” sculpture revealed Oak Harbor residents did not want the city to accept the gift.
Whidbey residents got creative to beat the heat during a record-shattering heat wave across the Pacific Northwest.
Island County entered a burn ban.
Oak Harbor’s stabilization center for people struggling with mental health issues or substance use opened after a six-month delay.
Helen Price Johnson was named interim Ebey’s Reserve manager after Kristen Griffin retired from the role.
A few weeks after they approved COVID bonuses for county employees, the county commissioners rescinded the bonuses because of a legal issue. Instead, the commissioners adopted a pandemic-related pay bump related to work employees will do in the future.
Oak Harbor City Council member Joel Servatius, who was running for re-election, may have violated campaign laws by handing out campaign signs at the Oak Harbor Fourth of July parade, in which he was given a free spot. He resolved the issue by paying the entrance fee after the fact.
The Island County Child Care Partnership Task Force identified high costs of child care and a lack of availability as significant public health and economic challenges for the workforce.
Two men performed CPR on a man who collapsed in Saar’s Super Saver Foods in Oak Harbor.
The owner of an Oak Harbor brewing company was killed in a motorcycle accident in Yakima County.
The emergence of the delta variant strain of COVID-19 and a continued low vaccination rate caused a spike in COVID cases.
A vegetation fire started near the end of the runway at Outlying Field Coupeville and spanned 10 acres.
A proposal for a staff survey that caught Oak Harbor leadership off guard disappeared.
State archeologists worked with Native American tribes to repatriate the remains of a man found at an Oak Harbor construction site.
An oversized truck pulled down Comcast’s fiber line, knocking out internet, cable and cell phone services.
Residents of a Central Whidbey road asked county officials for a no-passing zone after a fatal motorcycle accident.
Coupeville police officers began patrolling on an e-bike.
Many commissioned officers left the Oak Harbor Police Department and the Island County Sheriff’s Office.
Whidbey firefighters responded to six fires in one day.
The Oak Harbor School Board president cleared the room during a public meeting after several audience members began shouting over board members while they were discussing COVID-19 guidance.
A bartender at a downtown Oak Harbor bar was thrown into the street and run over by a truck.
Six candidates filed during the county’s special filing period, and six positions had no one file for them.
Whidbey Island tourism saw a big spike.
An auditor issued two findings against the Whidbey Island Hospital District.
Thirty-four people signed a letter asking the city of Oak Harbor to address their concerns about the massive woodpiles and dry grass left on a property in Oak Harbor.
Island County took action to curb visitors from camping at Ebey’s Landing.
The North Whidbey Pool, Park and Recreation District commissioners voted to replace the boiler at the pool for $152,460.
Some Whidbey residents rallied in Oak Harbor against school mask mandates in Washington state.
The Washington State Department of Ecology issued a draft general permit for wastewater treatment plants that could end up raising utility rates across Whidbey Island.
COVID-19 cases rose steeply among those without vaccines.
A North Whidbey par 3 golf course went on the market for $975,000.
A deadly deer disease spread on Whidbey Island.
The Oak Harbor school board decided to hold meetings virtually after anti-mask protestors interrupted another public meeting.
Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns broke his leg in a boating accident.
Oak Harbor City Council members accepted the “Angel de la Creatividad” despite a lack of public support.
Two brothers got in a physical altercation over COVID-19 vaccinations in Oak Harbor, and one of them wound up in jail.
The Oak Harbor school board reviewed options to reduce the price tag on capital projects for which they were seeking a bond. The board eventually approved a $184 million bond which will appear on the ballot in February. If passed, it will fund construction of three new elementary schools, a new transportation center and a new HomeConnection/Hand-in-Hand Early Childhood Learning Center.
COVID cases began to trend downward.
A year-old mastiff mix was put up for adoption after being abandoned in a field off Highway 20. A Navy man was charged with animal cruelty for the abandonment.
Two Central Whidbey firefighters leapt to safety from a boat that lost steering during a wind storm.
Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns endorsed political newcomer Shane Hoffmire over city council incumbent Joel Servatius in the November general election.
The two key people in Oak Harbor’s legal department resigned from their positions on the same day, citing a “compromised working relationship” with members of city administration.
The WhidbeyHealth hospital district opened a new pharmacy in Coupeville.
WhidbeyHealth asked for its first levy lid lift for operations in its history.
Coupeville School Board President Kathleen Anderson passed away peacefully Sept. 22, after four decades of service in local and state education systems.
Oak Harbor’s Hand-in-Hand Early Learning Center closed temporarily following a COVID-19 outbreak.
The Port of Coupeville eyed the A.J. Eisenberg Airport, which went up for sale in August, at the behest of locals affiliated with the airport. Port commissioners later encouraged Island County to purchase the airport.
Oak Harbor City Council members issued a vote of no confidence in city administrator Blaine Oborn. Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns later defended Oborn before the council.
A number of local public agencies lost staff members who did not comply with the state vaccine mandate.
The northern lights were visible from Whidbey Island.
Coupeville town council members voted to spend some of their American Rescue Plan Act funds on premium pay for town employees.
A survey revealed that Oak Harbor employees agreed that morale is low, with some characterizing the work environment as toxic or describing a culture of fear.
Shane Hoffmire won an Oak Harbor city council seat in a landslide over incumbent Joel Servatius. Bryan Stucky and Dan Evans also won seats on the council.
Incumbent Oak Harbor school board members John Diamond and Erik Mann were successful in their race against two candidates who espoused anti-mask views and believed students were being politically indoctrinated in schools.
Non-union Oak Harbor employees got a retroactive cost-of-living salary increase.
The city of Oak Harbor and a development corporation entered into a unique agreement.
The body of a man was discovered on a Cornet Bay beach on North Whidbey.
Port of Coupeville commissioners passed an industrial development tax levy that will generate about $1.25 million in its first year.
An RV became engulfed in flames after being dragged down the road on its wheel rims.
Local farmers advocated for Island County commissioners to support Whidbey farmstands.
A major wind storm knocked out power, felled trees, caused flooding and toppled a semi truck on Deception Pass Bridge. The Coupeville Wharf and other structures sustained damage.
Oak Harbor officials expressed interest in a public-private partnership to rebuild the large windmill-shaped structure that used to sit in Windjammer Park.
Data showed that more than 90% of employees in all Whidbey school districts were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Coupeville school board approved three levies that will appear on the ballot in February.
A woman and her teenage daughter attacked an employee at the Oak Harbor Walmart.
A student-led group encouraged Island Transit to steer away from fossil fuels, something the agency was already exploring.
Members of Oak Harbor City Council questioned why the city planned to pay an estimated $700,000 to construct a road that would benefit a large national corporation instead of the developer.
The Port of Coupeville was awarded almost $5 million from the Washington State Public Works Board to expand broadband internet access in Central Whidbey.
A federal magistrate judge ruled in favor of the state Attorney General’s Office and a Whidbey anti-noise group on several critical issues in a lawsuit over EA-18G Growler aircraft stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
Former rocket scientist Connie Bowers replaced Bill Oakes as the country public works director.
After redistricting, Whidbey Island remained in the state’s most politically competitive legislative district.
Island County commissioners proposed a sales tax increase that would raise about $1.2 million a year for affordable housing.
Port of Coupeville commissioners voted to pursue an emergency permit to initiate the first phase of a long-planned series of wharf repair projects.
A $1.9 million study of aircraft noise at two Navy bases drew criticism from anti-noise activists.