Here are the top stories of the year, compiled by Olympian staff, taking into consideration reader nominations:
Seahawks win Super Bowl: 2014 kicked off with a spectaular win at the Super Bowl for the Cinderella Seahawks. And, not to jinx it, but it looks like they’re on the road to repeating.
Marijuana is legalized: In July, licensed, public retail marijuana stores opened for the first time ever in Washington, and the second time ever in the United States. The recreational pot industry was thanks to Initiative 502, which was approved by voters in November 2012. On July 11, about 100 people waited in a line for the grand opening of Thurston County’s first legal marijuana retailer, 420 Carpenter. “The price is fair,” one customer told The Olympian. “On the street, you don’t know what you’re getting.”
Downtown Olympia series: A three-week series by reporter Andy Hobbs took a deep look at how people felt about downtown as they shopped, conducted business, or came downtown for services. Businesses, law enforcement, social services, residents and members of the homeless community talked about their experiences downtown. The stories prompted a vigorous response from readers, who had many questions and observations about their personal experiences. The Olympian also hosted a community forum to continue the discussion.
McCleary decision affects state budgeting: The state Supreme Court decision in a case brought in 2012 by the McCleary family said Washington was failing to meet its paramount constitutional duty: to fully fund basic education. . In response, the Legislature invested more than $1 billion in new education spending, but it has been reluctant to introduce new taxes to raise the estimated $4 billion needed. Instead, lawmakers have relied on a slowly recovering economy, spending restraints, and one-time gimmicks to keep books balanced. The court has wanted more — in particular a long-term plan to show where the additional funds will come from — and this failing led the court to find the Legislature in contempt in 2014.
Bud Blake ousts Karen Valenzuela: Thurston County voters decided they had enough with an all-female, all-Democrat Board of County Commissioners. In November, they elected Walter "Bud" Blake over incumbent Karen Valenzuela. Blake, 50, ran as an Independent, and promised to bring more representation for rural Thurston County to the board. The Army veteran, who had little political experience, promised to help make Thurston County more business friendly, as well.
Mold at Black Hills High School: What did you do over your summer vacation? For maintenance crews in the Tumwater School District, the answer was remove black mold and make extensive repairs at Black Hills High School. By the time school resumed in the fall, the cost of the project had already exceeded $1.4 million.
Littlerock Bridge: The Jan. 27 closure of a two-lane bridge over Salmon Creek on Littlerock Road Southwest turned out to be a big headache for south county commuters and business owners. Crews found scour under the center pier — that's when water washes away rock or footing around a bridge's foundation. Temporary repairs were made, and the bridge reopened on Feb. 19 for passenger vehicles and pickup trucks without trailers. However, the 1950s-era structure was closed less than 24 hours later due to safety concerns. The eventually county borrowed a bailey bridge from the state for a few months, and later replaced the structure with an emergency grant from the federal government.
Billy Frank Jr. dies: Billy Frank Jr., an iconic tribal leader who championed treaty fishing rights, clean water and healthy salmon for Washington tribes, died May 5 at his home near Olympia. He was 83. Frank was a Nisqually tribal member and key player in the Indian fish-ins of the 1960s and 1970 that led to the landmark federal court ruling in 1974 that affirmed the rights of 20 coastal and Western Washington treaty tribes to half of the harvestable salmon and steelhead. The Boldt decision also named the tribes as co-managers of the fisheries. As longtime chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Frank presided for 40 years over a new era in natural resource management, using his charisma and political connections to make sure tribal treaty rights were recognized.
Olympia’s first strip club: Olympia’s first strip club, Desire Gentleman’s Club, opened at 3200 Pacific Avenue in April. An adult video store operated at that site since 2001. But the club, which wasn’t allowed to serve alcohol due to city code, was shut down in November due to unpaid state taxes.
Downsizing at JBLM: After a dozen years of growth, Joint Base Lewis-McChord started shedding thousands of positions for soldiers as it closed whole units while carrying out its part of a massive Army drawdown. In 2014, JBLM said goodbye to a 4,500-soldier Stryker brigade, a 400-soldier artillery battalion and a 400-soldier helicopter squadron. As the year closed, the Air Force also announced a plan to shut a 400-member C-17 squadron at JBLM. More defense cuts are on the horizon, and no one can say how deep they will go at the South Sound installation.