2010: Jolts, economy, election and Hyer highlight another news-packed year

Then-council members Jeff Kingsbury, left, and Joe Hyer attend a 2009 Olympia City Council retreat. Kingsbury said Tuesday that he was the informant who twice bought marijuana from Hyer, resulting in Hyer's arrest. (Olympian File Photo)
Then-council members Jeff Kingsbury, left, and Joe Hyer attend a 2009 Olympia City Council retreat. Kingsbury said Tuesday that he was the informant who twice bought marijuana from Hyer, resulting in Hyer's arrest. (Olympian File Photo) The Olympian

In Thurston County, 2010 was a year of conclusions. Some were happy -- such as the end of the long-simmering feud between the City of Lacey and Fire District 3 - and some, such as the stunning end of Olympia City Councilman Joe Hyer's political career, were more solemn.

Naturally, there were hundreds of notable stories in the county in 2010, and choosing the 10 biggest is an inexact science. Among the stories we considered that deserve honorable mention were the law that made holding a cell phone to one's ear while driving a primary offense; the opening of not one, but two off-leash dog parks in the county after years of waiting; the Army's refusal to release results of its investigation into alleged spying on the anti-war group Olympia Port Militarization Resistance; the arrests of 31 demonstrators during an anti-police rally in early April in downtown Olympia; and the sentencing of a Lacey-area soldier who killed his wife and stored her body in his garage.

Following are The Olympian's top-10 picks, chosen by staff members with input from readers. Share your thoughts on what we got wrong -- or, better yet, right -- by commenting on this story. It will be featured prominently on this site all day today.

No. 10: Two pairs of loud blasts rattle residents

Many South Sound residents were jolted awake at 7:51 a.m. Nov. 16 by two blasts that they mistook for explosions.

They actually were feeling a magnitude-4.2 earthquake, the largest in the Mount St. Helens zone in 10 to 15 years, according to state Department of Natural Resources geologist Tim Walsh. The quake did minimal damage, but it rattled nerves after a windy night riddled with power outages.

Exactly three months earlier, on Aug. 16, two booms of a very different nature rattled South Sound. Two F-15 jets broke the sound barrier while flying from Portland to Seattle to intercept a float plane that had created safety concerns during President Barack Obama's visit to Washington state.

The booms came at 1:38 p.m., about 10 seconds apart. Car alarms blared and people scrambled outside to survey potential damage, but there was none.

No. 9: Tumwater T-birds win state football title

When the Tumwater High School football team last won a state title, in 1993, many of the current players hadn't yet been born.

The team changed that in dominating fashion Dec. 4 at the Tacoma Dome, crushing top-ranked Archbishop Murphy High School of Everett 34-14. At one point, Tumwater led 27-0.

The Thunderbirds finished 12-1 and won the school's fifth football title overall. The school is undefeated in title games, having won in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1993 and this year.

Tumwater's title also was ranked The Olympian's top sports story of 2010. To view that list, click here.

No. 8: Few clues as Moyer, Baum remain missing

Despite searches that included volunteers, the Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Office, the FBI and inmates from the Cedar Creek Corrections Center, no substantial clues about the whereabouts of Lindsey Baum were found in 2010.

Over the summer, the investigation ramped up in and around McCleary, with law enforcement officers re-canvassing neighborhoods and re-searching areas. In July, the Sheriff's Office and FBI searched a home and a storage facility in McCleary, seizing items belonging to someone then deemed a person of interest. No arrests have been made.

Lindsey was 10 when she disappeared while walking along Maple Street about 9:15 p.m. June 26, 2009.

Despite numerous searches, even fewer clues have been found in the disappearance of Nancy Moyer, a mother of two who disappeared from her Tenino home in March 2009. Moyer was 36 when she vanished.

No. 7: Tenino man pulled over with body in pickup

In perhaps the grisliest local story of the year, a Tenino man was pulled over while toting a body wrapped in a sleeping bag in his passenger seat.

A Thurston County sheriff's deputy had been flagged down Aug. 8 by a man who said he'd been approached by the driver of a pickup, who asked for help moving a body. The deputy then pulled over Bernard Keith Howell, who told police that he "just wanted to save the family of this woman the $5,000 it would cost to bury her." He had brought "plastic bags, a sleeping bag, zip ties, bungee-type elastic cords and a 10-pound weight with him," court papers state.

After initially denying involvement in the death of the woman, Vanda Boone, he admitted after his arrest that he'd had sex with her body.

Howell was charged with murder in August and was found incompetent to stand trial after a 15-day evaluation at Western State Hospital. He remains there, where doctors were to administer medications in an effort to render him competent.

No. 6: Ugly battle pitting Lacey, Fire District 3 ends

In April, voters overwhelmingly approved annexing the City of Lacey into rural Fire District 3, effectively ending an ugly political dispute.

For decades, Lacey had contracted with the fire district to provide services in the city. That relationship splintered as the two sides sparred over the deployment of firefighters and equipment, cost sharing and whether they could continue to work together.

The city sued for breach of contract when fire district commissioners voted to close a fire station in Hawks Prairie because of budget cuts. When a judge rejected the city's request to force the district to reopen the station, the city voted to end its relationship with the district after the current contract expired and start its own fire department.

The city's decision was a major campaign issue in the subsequent City Council elections. After the unprecedented ouster of three longtime council members to political newcomers, the council changed course and initiated the process to be annexed into the district.

No. 5: Planned Mason County biomass plant stirs anger

A power plant that would burn woodwaste from the forest floor to generate electricity has spurred protests and court action from activists who say it endangers public health and the environment.

It was unveiled in February as a job-producing, green-energy project tailored to the Mason County wood-products industry that would generate enough electricity to power about 40,000 homes. Not long thereafter, critics of the project unveiled an inflammatory website at www.nobiomassburn.org and initiated a recall-petition drive against two initial supporters of the project, Mason County commissioners Tim Sheldon and Lynda Ring Erickson.

In a county suffering from double-digit unemployment, the hundreds of construction and operating jobs associated with the $250 million power plant proposed by Maryland-based Adage would be more than welcome, Sheldon said.

A group called Concerned Citizens of Mason County is legally challenging a decision earlier in the year by the Port of Shelton to sign a lease option that would allow Adage to build the biomass plant on 87 acres of port property. Protesters have gathered outside the Olympia headquarters of the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency, which reviewed the Adage application. The building also has been vandalized multiple times.

In December, ORCAA recommended approval of Adage's application, clearing the way for a 40-day public-comment period on the project. The public can submit comments by using the electronic comment form at www.orcaa.org or by mailing them to ORCAA, 2940-B Limited Lane N.W., Olympia, WA 98502.

Public hearings on the Adage permit are set for 1 and 6 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Shelton Civic Center, 525 W. Cota St.

No. 4: Elections change face of local, state politics

In the state's highest-profile race, Democratic U.S. Sen Patty Murray survived a challenge from Republican Dino Rossi, winning with 52.7 percent of the vote. In the 3rd Congressional District, which includes most of Thurston County, Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler beat Democrat Denny Heck of Olympia with 53 percent of the vote in the race to replace retiring Rep. Brian Baird, giving a district long held by Democrats to the GOP. Her win was part of a nationwide upswing for Republicans that gave them control of the U.S. House.

In the Thurston County sheriff's race, independent John Snaza defeated Democrat Debbie Mealy with 54.5 percent of the vote.

Voter turnout was high for the Nov. 2 election, at 72 percent in Thurston County and 71.2 percent statewide.

No. 3: Isthmus height limit lowered; City Hall nearly ready

The statuses of two planned projects on opposite sides of downtown Olympia -- the new City Hall and planned condominiums on the isthmus -- headed in divergent directions in 2010.

CITY HALL: Employees were supposed to move into the new City Hall on Fourth Avenue in January, and it was set to open to the public Feb. 1.

That changed in July, when an arsonist set a fire at the site that did more than $2 million in damage and delayed the facility's opening. Transient sex offender Joshua Stacy, then 22, was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison for his conviction on one count of second-degree arson and two counts of second-degree burglary.

Officials now estimate that employees will begin moving into the building in March.

ISTHMUS: Still, that's much more progress than was made in 2010 on the controversial condo project planned on the strip of land between Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet. On Jan. 5, the Olympia City Council -- with three new members -- directed city staffers to bring it an ordinance creating interim zoning that would restore 35-foot height limits on buildings on the isthmus. Previously, the council had approved allowing buildings as tall as 90 feet there.

The council voted unanimously Jan. 12 to restore the 35-foot limit on a temporary basis. Some legislators sought to do them one better, crafting House Bill 2082 and Senate Bill 5800 to create a "height district" on part of the isthmus that would have made the 35-foot limit permanent. The bill died in the Legislature.

On Dec. 8, the council voted to make the 35-foot limit permanent as part of a new zone that bans other uses, such as hotels and light industry.

Developer Tri Vo's company claims that the condo project is immune to the height limits because it was established before they were changed, but his recent financial woes have put the status of several of his projects in doubt.

No. 2: Marijuana sale torpedoes Joe Hyer's political career

Former Olympia Mayor Pro Tem Joe Hyer was a rising political star in February, when Thurston County commissioners chose him to succeed outgoing Treasurer Robin Hunt until the November election. Hyer, who earned $18,304 a year for his council duties, stood to earn $105,276 a year as treasurer, and he planned to keep both jobs -- at least until the November election.

Hyer's appointment came during the commission's Feb. 16 meeting. Less than 48 hours later, perhaps the most stunning local story of 2010 began unfolding.

At 5:20 p.m. Feb. 18, Hyer was arrested after the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force executed a search warrant at his Legion Way home and found small amounts of packaged marijuana. Then-Sheriff Dan Kimball said the arrest was the culmination of an investigation in which a confidential informant bought marijuana from Hyer during controlled buys.

The arrest was a shocker, but the identity of the confidential informant was equally surprising.

When Hyer pleaded not guilty March 9 to three drug-related felonies, his attorney suggested in a court filing that a "trusted political mentor" had entrapped Hyer.

Former Olympia City Councilman Jeff Kingsbury confirmed in late April that he was the informant, and he suggested there were details the public doesn't know.

"It is unfortunate that this did not go to trial because there are details of this case that will never be publicly disclosed and I cannot discuss them. I will simply say this: A reasonable person does not plead to a felony if they sold only a small amount of pot once or twice," he said.

Asked what Kingsbury meant by that, Hyer said, "I have no idea." Hyer maintains he is not a drug dealer.

Kingsbury was referring to Hyer's guilty plea April 26 to one felony charge of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance. He made the plea as part of a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to 10 days in jail with work release and 240 hours of community service.

1. Region's economic struggles deepen as shortfalls balloon

The 2011 Legislature soon will begin tackling an estimated $4.6 billion budget shortfall, one of many painful legacies of an economy that went from worse to awful this year.

State workers felt pocketbook pain from furloughs that closed state agencies, eliminating services to the public on some Mondays. Gov. Chris Gregoire announced a $32 billion budget for 2011-13 that cripples social services. Job growth remained sluggish.

The economic malaise was reflected in the fortunes of South Sound developer Tri Vo, who lost a proposed project in Tumwater, filed for bankruptcy on property set for development in Hawks Prairie and watched West Coast Bank repossess a former equestrian center near Olympia Regional Airport. A Vo project proposed on downtown's isthmus also fell into foreclosure.

It was that kind of year for the slower commercial real estate market, with high-profile projects throughout South Sound falling into foreclosure and being repossessed by area banks.

It's tough to find a silver lining amid such stormy skies, but there were some economic bright spots in 2010, including an improving community banking sector. Also, a portion of the former Olympia brewery sold, perhaps injecting life into an aging structure that had sat unwanted for seven years. New retailers also opened in 2010 or announced plans for new stores.

Also, Thurston County's unemployment rate remained one of the lowest in Western Washington. The Port of Olympia also saw ship traffic improve in 2010 as it sent more logs to Japan and China, likely because of the weaker U.S. dollar.

Sales of residential real estate slowed in 2010, but prices stabilized.

Meanwhile, community banks rebounded in 2010, none more dramatically than Heritage Bank of Olympia. It acquired two banks this year -- Cowlitz Bank in Longview and Pierce Commercial Bank in Tacoma -- and its parent, Heritage Financial, raised new money through stock sales.

Staff writers Rolf Boone and Christian Hill contributed to this report.

Brian Sandford: 253-597-8354bsandford@theolympian.com

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