December 31, 2021
2021: A look back at some stories from the first full year of Salish Current
Salish Current editors
2021 was a year like no other, with themes such as public health vis-à-vis COVID-19 and opioid addiction; social justice in the courts, the arts, housing and policing; and climate change and natural resources including water rights management. A photo from iDiOM Theater’s 2019 production of “Orlando” which illustrated an article on an examination of appropriateness of play content sums up a common reaction to the times. (Image courtesy Sylvia Center for the Arts)
December 31, 2021
2021: A look back at some stories from the first full year of Salish Current
Salish Current editors

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An advisor to Salish Current at its inception said the problem wouldn’t be deciding what stories to report, but which stories not to pursue. Wise words, as Salish Current doesn’t have the resources to report breaking news. Our effort has been to report local news in context and with continuity so that readers can understand the “why” of what’s going on.

Take a look, and see where we’ve been.

COVID, COVID and more COVID

Masked teens at the ocean
Early in the year, high school seniors Cameron Morrow, left, and Casey McEvoy mask up to stay healthy and help stop the spread of COVID-19. (Krista Morrow photo © 2021)

Masked young adults key to beating COVID in the long term
Young adults are the target audience for a new mask-wearing awareness campaign being launched by Whatcom County.

Business has been good — if not better — for some local enterprises, despite pandemic
Pet supply stores are among businesses that are seeing increased online sales during the pandemic.

Vaccine mandate becoming latest COVID ‘new normal’ for work or play
The pandemic rages on, with a death toll in the United States exceeding 660,000 … and climbing. Vaccine mandates are being widely employed, as hospitals around the country overflow with patients, many unvaccinated.

Not taking it: the hows and whys of religious exemption from the COVID-19 vaccination requirement
The decision whether to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is simple for some but soul-searching for others. State employers and workers are among those who have been adapting over the past month to accommodating exemptions in classrooms, health care facilities and elsewhere. 

There’s more to public health than COVID

As gun death rates rise in Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties, state refocuses to public health approach
A rise in the number of suicides involving firearms is moving policy and law makers toward a public health emphasis for prevention.

Pandemic job loss, quarantine, anxieties fuel opioid use surge
The physical and emotional toll wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures has been accompanied by an increase in opioid use and related deaths over the past year — after five years of decline — in Washington state. At the same time, use of even more dangerous synthetic opioids is becoming more prevalent, making the increased use even more hazardous..

In country, town and city, treatment for drug addiction is urgently needed
Addiction treatment programs work when patients are treated as individuals and treatment aligns with the patient, professionals have found. The recent Ralph Munro Seminar convened policy makers and law enforcement and behavioral health experts to share insights on addiction treatment.

Justice: social, economic, legal

An eagle in the House of Tears Carvers totem pole delivered to the Biden administration in Washington, D.C., this summer represents a particular style of leadership: led by the people. Inlays of copper, a potlatch symbol, from Canada demonstrate cross-border relationships. (Amy Nelson photo © 2021)

Summer of rallies, marches sparks multiple approaches toward social justice in Whatcom
Calls from the streets of Whatcom County last year for social justice have inspired new groups to form and older ones to revitalize, as each takes its own approach to creating a more equitable community.

Continuing case backlog slows wheels of justice for Whatcom public defenders — and their clients
Public defenders report having hard conversations about what they see as “completely unfair” options with in-custody clients, as the pandemic-driven halt to jury trials keeps people who are denied or unable to afford bail incarcerated and unsure of when their days in court will arrive. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented backlog of pending cases, delaying both trials and settlements and presenting some defendants with difficult choices or extended stays in custody.

Search for new police chief surfaces questions about transparency and the public’s role
While the City of Bellingham continues its search for a new police chief, questions about the level of transparency in the process have arisen for some in the community.

Police, mental health workers face challenge, confusion with new use-of-force law
Laws governing use of force followed last summer’s marches and rallies calling for reforms in police practices. As laws aiming to do that begin to take effect this year, challenges and even confusion have followed among law enforcement officers, social services workers, legal authorities and community members.

In an age of social controversy, the show goes on
Theater producers, actors and audiences are bringing new perspectives to the question of what play content may be inappropriate, offensive or even harmful. Responses to a recent choice of productions by Western Washington University’s theater department prompted a debate of those questions among the local theater community.

House of Tears Carvers visit Bellingham with totem pole bound for DC
Several hundred people in Bellingham visited a totem pole created by Lummi carvers from a 400-year-old cedar log — the latest stop in the Red Road to D.C. tour of the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere across the U.S. toward its final destination in Washington, D.C. The carved images carry messages calling for protection of rivers and salmon runs, celebrating Native religious practices and kinship among humans and other animals, calling attention to treatment of children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border and evoking the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women

This place we call ‘home’

Today’s Lummi Island in Whatcom County is home to permanent and vacationing residents, local businesses — and a historic resort known for more than 100 years as The Willows. (Photo courtesy Victoria Flynn)

Sumas, border town of boom and bust, stays hopeful
“Closed” signs, empty storefronts, sparse traffic and a mostly shut-down border crossing give downtown Sumas a look of decline — for now. The town has seen both boom and bust over the last 130 years.

Water supply on Guemes: an island paradise faces challenges
Guemes Island lies a short ferry ride away from Anacortes yet a world apart in some ways. Residents are facing the challenge of ensuring a supply of water for their island paradise, even as demands for water increase along with the numbers of residents and visitors.

Have enough water? San Juan prepares to find out, with USGS study
Lopez Island aquifers logged some of the highest recharge rates in the county when water supply was last studied. A new study next year will provide important data for managing supply as well as planning for the future as the population continues to grow.

Lummi Island’s original Willows Inn was a local-food hotspot — 100 years before ‘locavore’ was trending
Tennessee-style fried chicken dinners at the family-run Willows drew diners by the hundreds to Lummi Island on Sundays during the 1940s and ’50s. Nearly all ingredients used in The Willows kitchen were raised on the island, with many produced on site.

‘Where’s the ferry?’ islanders ask as crew shortages stymie scheduled sailings
Part of the state highway system but not taken for granted these days: Recent substantial crew shortages have resulted in cancellations of more than 50 Washington State Ferries sailings in a week in the San Juan Islands. State officials are looking for long-term solutions to serve commuters and other residents and visitors.

In Whatcom’s 42nd Legislative District, a series of changes is turning election tides
Gains in voter support made by Democrats in the 42nd Legislative District in recent years may be due to demographic shifts caused by a wide variety of trends in who lives here, how they work and how each political party gets its messages out.

Talkin’ about the weather

Hotter-than-usual weather — including a heat dome incident — resulted in more extensive snow and glacier melt than usual on Mount Baker this summer. A hike up Heliotrope Ridge Trail yielded dramatic close-up views of how much the mountain has changed over the last several decades. (Alan Fritzberg photo © 2021)

Prepared for the worst, local agencies plan wildfire-fighting strategies while hoping for the best
Whatcom County’s emergency management teams focus this year’s training on fighting wildfires, and step up reminders to the community that most such fires are caused by human actions — and therefore preventable.

Devastated after flooding, north Whatcom County moves into recovery mode
Well over 700 homes have been reported damaged in Whatcom County after the area endured three atmospheric rivers in less than three weeks. While cleanup is underway, the impacts on lives and livelihoods will continue for some time in especially hard-hit areas in Sumas, Ferndale, Nooksack, Everson and Lynden.

Community Voices / How farmers can fight climate change
Farmers are in a powerful position to help curb climate change, and many locally already are taking steps to do so, note dairy farmer Katherine Steensma and author Stevan Harrell. While this bodes well for the future, there is more to be done.

Clock starts on Nooksack basin water rights inventory; stakeholders yet to discuss solutions
A process to establish water rights among various users in the river’s 786-square-mile basin began on July 1.

Nooksack Tribe and partners face up to climate change challenge on South Fork Nooksack River
The Nooksack Indian Tribe is partnering with nonprofits, universities, government agencies and others in stepping up to challenges created by climate change to habitat and species in the South Fork Nooksack River. A die-off of more than 2,000 chinook salmon on their way to spawn this summer provided a dramatic example of what the area is facing.

Community Voices / End-of-summer hike brings home climate effects on Mount Baker
Substantial glacier loss on Mount Baker over the past several decades and high meltwater streamflow bear witness to effects of climate change including this summer’s extreme hot weather.

The basics: food, shelter, communications

The growing presence of unhoused individuals and their expanding footprint into residential neighborhoods has shocked and bewildered others in the community, while the urgency of the problem threatens to distract from understanding the underlying realities perpetuating this crisis. (Rowan Forsythe photo © 2021)

Caught in a web of causes: homelessness hits harder than ever
Advocates for people living in a tent encampment on the front lawn at Bellingham City Hall earlier this year rallied for housing as social justice.

Housing and growth issues surround Skagit County consideration of ‘fully contained community’ proposal
Fully contained communities, or FCCs, are meant to create urban villages and increase housing supply, including affordable options. Skagit County planners are considering a proposed amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan that would allow for such developments in rural areas of the county.

Eldercare crisis inspires ‘life-changing’ innovation on San Juan Island
A new model for eldercare is envisioned for the Village at the Harbor when its new owner, San Juan County Hospital District 1, takes over in February. The plan calls for an assisted-living facility with Medicaid beds. It aims to keep island residents — in the community.

Gardenview Village tiny homes open avenues of hope for those experiencing homelessness
Cost-effective tiny house villages have a high success rate as a means of helping to move unhoused people into permanent housing, experts say; residents at Gardenview Village in Bellingham and other sites report how the housing has helped them progress toward goals for stability and community.

‘Food hub plus’ part of ambitious collaboration to meet housing and food needs
Project leaders look forward to a proposal for a community food campus planned for the Bellingham waterfront as an opportunity to provide even more assistance. 

Major funding, new policies aim to provide ‘basic necessity’ of broadband
State legislators approved a record $411 million in the capital budget this session to expand high-speed internet across the state, in particular in communities with limited or zero connectivity.

One Earth to preserve and protect

A cargo ship — one of several thousand transiting local waters each year — shares a narrow Salish Sea passage with a pod of orcas. (Monika Wieland Shields photo © 2015)

Years in the making, amendments ban new coal or oil industries, new shipping terminals at Cherry Point
Along with a ban on new fossil fuel-based industries and shipping terminals at the waterfront Cherry Point industrial site, significant changes sought by industries already operating there will also require more intensive permitting. The changes are the result of amendments to the county’s Comprehensive Plan approved unanimously by the Whatcom County Council.

Rescue tug stationed in islands is best bet to avoid oil spills in San Juan – Gulf waters, study says
With increased vessel traffic around the San Juan Islands, some worry that the risk of oil spills may be rising as well. A new study makes the case that an emergency response tug stationed in the islands would be money well-spent.

Little estuary to see big restoration investment
Restoration plans call for establishing a fish-friendly estuary at Little Squalicum Park on Bellingham Bay, where currently the stream is routed through the confines of a concrete culvert.

Author of ‘Orca’ has a message for the Northwest: hope has a price tag
Science reporter Lynda Mapes’ work takes her to locales such as the Elwha River, where she reported on the science of dam removal. In her new book, Mapes says she came to understand that orcas are “the key to what’s going on in this place … If the whales can’t survive, what does that say about us?”

Second phase of fish passage work underway on Padden Creek
Padden Creek’s passage under 30th Street and Old Fairhaven Parkway in Bellingham is on its way to being better salmon habitat as well as less prone to flooding yards and homes, as culverts will be replaced with a fish-passage bridge.

And last — but certainly not least:

Growth in local cannabis business amplifies challenges as well as revenues
With spikes in demand, keeping up with a turbulent supply chain is difficult for local dispensaries — one of many challenges faced by cannabis businesses, including smaller local shops such as West Coast Wellness at Nugent’s Corner.

We welcome letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in the Salish Current. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.

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