May 2020: Pandemic's impact felt in a variety of ways

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | January 3, 2021 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — With May's arrival, the state began to open up as COVID-19 cases throughout Idaho stabilized. However, the pandemic's impact continued to be felt in a variety of ways.

Below are some of the stories that topped the news in May 2020.

• Sandpoint reopened its City Hall on May 1, with all public services being provided from the front desk on the first floor with the public encouraged to follow social distancing.

The news, announced it a release, followed a discussion on the city’s reopening at a council meeting in late April. At the meeting, Sandpoint officials said the city will follow closely the guidance from the state — in part because areas with fewer cases like Sandpoint would see increased vulnerability due to people looking for safe travel destinations, Mayor Shelby Rognstad said at the time.

The council voted unanimously to approve the amended declaration of state emergency which now authorizes council to meet in person during phases three and four, where public gatherings over 10 people with proper social distancing protocol will be acceptable.

• Also on May 1, the Idaho Supreme Court announced it would require visitors to the Bonner County Courthouse to wear face masks and practice social distancing due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Those who don’t have masks would be issued one.

• The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warned boaters to be on the lookout for bendway weirs in the Clark Fork Delta. The structures cause a widening of the navigation channel, mainly in bends or turns, by creating a favorable redistribution of velocities and sediments.

Twelve of the weirs were installed this spring on the north side of Derr Island to Johnson Point for bank stabilization as part of the Clark Fork Delta island-building project.

• The Sandpoint City Council rejected a plan to suspend the city's long-standing lifeguard program. Parks and Recreation officials had asked the council to suspend the program for a year due to the city not having enough certified lifeguard applicants to properly staff the beach.

• On the second, Cornel Rasor announced his candidacy for a District 7 seat in the Idaho House of Representatives. Rasor, a former Bonner County commissioner, will compete with Charlie Shepherd of Pollack for the GOP nomination for the Position B seat in the May 19 primary election.

• SHS officials announced May 2 that over 1,000 applications were collected at the end of April to be reviewed by 70-plus scholarships — ranging from $250 to $2,500 — for seniors in the Lake Pend Oreille School District.

• Three northern Idaho residents filed a federal lawsuit on April 30 challenging statewide restrictions ordered by Gov. Brad Little due to the coronavirus, saying it violates their religious freedoms, according to a May 3 story in the Bee.

Two religious leaders and a churchgoer sued Little and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen over the governor's stay-at-home order, claiming it was unconstitutional and specifically citing restrictions on religious gatherings. While the order, which expired April 30, was replaced by one that allowed church gatherings, it still required social distancing and remaining restrictions on churches, made the new order unconstitutional, according to the lawsuit.

• Sandpoint High School’s Grad Night 2020 was canceled earlier in the week, according to a May 3 story. The annual tradition was canceled due to local and state recommendations regarding COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines. The celebration, previously scheduled for June 5, would have exceeded Idaho’s current social distancing guidelines by over 200 people.

• For those in need, a story on May 3 detailed a program called The Help Shed. Located on the grounds of The Shed Dealer, the Ponderay business owned by Steve Johnson, keeps one shed is open wide for people in immediate need to pick up emergency meals and groceries.

• Festival at Sandpoint officials announced May 6 that the summer music series was taking a year off due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The decision was made following consultation with local health officials, music industry experts, and the Festival at Sandpoint’s board of directors. It would have been the Festival’s 38th summer concert series, which was postponed until August 2021.

“It is with heavy hearts that we have made a difficult, but what we feel to be the most responsible decision to postpone the 2020 Festival at Sandpoint season in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Festival at Sandpoint Executive Director Ali Baranski said at the time.

• Plans to construct a satellite Bonner County EMS station on Kootenai Cutoff Road near Highway 200 moved forward in early May as county commissioners unanimously awarded $339,000 bid to Onyx Construction Management to construct the new station.

• The Lake Pend Oreille School Board unanimously approved Superintendent Tom Albertson’s recommendation to continue distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year at the May 6 special meeting.

The last day of school has been rescheduled to May 29. Albertson said at the time that his recommendation to deny reentry was the hardest decision he’s made all year. “We were holding out hope that we could reconvene school a little bit at the end of this year,” he said. “I’ll say that I was one of the lone holdouts in our region because I was very hopeful.”

• The Sandpoint wrestling team announced its end of the season awards on May 6. Senior Brady Nelsen earned the team’s MVP Award and the Kluver Award, which is given to the most inspirational wrestler and is voted on by the team, and the Captain Award.

Fellow senior Isaiah Caralis earned a Captain Award as well. Junior Trevan Adam grabbed the Grinder Award, the Newcomer Award was given to Wyatt Marker, junior Tag Benefield earned the Coaches Award, and freshman Jacob Albany was also voted Most Improved by his teammates.

Earning a varsity letter for their efforts this season: Trevan Adam, Tag Benefield, Jordan Birkhimer, Jake Ryan, Blake Sherrill, Jake Suhr, Matt Thurlow, Heather Wallace, Jacob Albany, Forest Ambridge, Sam Becker, Raphael Eldridge, Calvin Hinds, Carson Laybourne, Carson Mavity, KJ Johansen, Darrian Resso, Christian Troumbley-Karkoski, Evan Twineham, Owen Wimmer, Isaiah Caralis and Brady Nelsen.

• Bonner General Health’s Laboratory Services department received approval on May 7 to add serology testing for SARSCoV-2 antibodies to its list of services The serology test looks for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) in the blood to determine if there has been a past infection, BGH officials said at the time.

• Due to the unprecedented negative impact due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bonner General Health officials announced on May 8 that they “made the difficult decision to restructure [the] organization and eliminate the hospital’s Cardiac Rehab, Diabetes Education, Home Health, and the Wound Care Clinic programs.

• Sandpoint-area residents are generous, as evidenced by the money contributed through Idaho Gives’ fundraising campaign for the many nonprofits in Bonner and Boundary counties, according to a May 10 story.

The campaign was completely online because of the pandemic, and had a record number of donors throughout the state — 18,185. This was up by nearly 7,000 donators from last year, making for a record-breaking figure of $3.9 million; last year’s was $2 million, according to Amy Little, chief executive officer of Idaho Nonprofit Center, and former director of the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce.

• Sandpoint's permit program for non-residential businesses was relaunched on May 7. The use permit program is in an effort to increase public safety and provide property owners proof that building code requirements have been met.

The program, originally started in March, was temporarily put on hold due to Gov. Brad Little’s stay home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

• The Sandpoint Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to approve The Ridge multi-family conditional use permit with six conditions was affirmed at last week’s May 6 council meeting in a vote of 5-1. Damien and Allison Turcotte appealed the March 3 decision and the council held a quasi-judicial hearing to determine whether or not the development was in direct conflict with the city’s comprehensive plan.

• On May 13, the Sandpoint Lions announced the canceling of its annual Fourth of July parade for the first time in decades, maybe even since a Fourth of July parade has been held in the city. The cancellation was due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and resultant local and state social distancing requirements.

• Lake Pend Oreille School District’s May 12 meeting led with a lengthy discussion on tentative plans for the three high school graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020.

The first slotted graduation for Clark Fork High School was set for June 3 with an outdoor graduation ceremony that will accommodate social distancing protocols. Sandpoint High School also planned to keep its original graduate date, June 5, and also hold an outdoor, drive-in style ceremony at the high school. Lake Pend Oreille High School moved its graduation date to June 15, which fell under Stage 4 of the state's reopening plan, allowing it to hold the ceremony indoors with 80-100 people.

• After what he called a strong response to combat the coronavirus, Gov. Brad Little announced May 14 that he was pushing ahead with reopening Idaho’s economy on Saturday, taking the state to Stage 4 of his Idaho Rebounds plan.

That stage provides for restaurants to open their dining areas, hair and nail salons and other close-contact businesses like tattoo shops and massage therapists to once again open, indoor gyms and rec centers to open and to allow public and private gatherings of fewer than 10 people.

• A project to designate Kootenai Bay Road a railroad quiet zone was place on the Bonner County commissioners May 19 agenda. The $11,337 contract would install a median and bollards in the at-grade railroad crossing, one of the final steps in attaining the designation from the Federal Railroad Administration. It would be the third quiet zone railroad crossing zone in the state. There is a quiet zone in Rathdrum and one in East Hope.

• Timberline Aerospaces' zone change request from Industrial Technology Park to Industrial General was unanimously approved May 5 by Sandpoint Planning and Zoning. The zone change will allow for more medium intensity uses, including helipads — cited by Timberline Aerospace as a key need in its zone change request.

• Bonner County Historical Society and Museum reopened its doors on May 19, but noted its past few months of digital work had only just begun. New additions to the website included the "Young Explorer" program for children ages 0-1, and "At Home Historians" for ages 11 and up.

• In mid-May, a social media campaign was launched to keep Independence Day festivities despite the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic. Following news that the Sandpoint Lions' celebration was being canceled, a public Facebook page called Save Independence Day took off with members working to hold the parade and fireworks shows as well as a host of children's activities.

• On May 18, Priest River approved change orders connected to Big Sky Construction’s 2018 Sewer Improvement Project, bringing the new project total is $422,339.87 and added 60 additional contract days.

• On May 20, firefighters from the Northside Fire District and Selkirk Fire Rescue & EMS put the brakes on a structure fire that damaged a home on Center Valley Road.

• On May 22, a front-page story announced Sandpoint’s lifeguard program at City Beach would continue for the 2020 summer season.

“Thanks to our network with Bonners Ferry we have been able to secure some resources and pool together to get some new lifeguards,” Parks and Recreation Director Kim Woodruff said in an update to an initial recommendation to suspend the program at the April 29 council meeting said. “Even though it’s been a trend nationwide and in our area, Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Hayden to drop programs, I see a bright future for us. We just have to stay on top of it. If we can keep six or seven coming in every year it’s a sustainable program.”

• Bonner County Sheriff’s Office Volunteer Search & Rescue was deployed in the area of Scotchman Peak on in mid-May to find a hiker who became lost after becoming separated from her companions.

Search-and-rescue volunteers were deployed to conduct a ground search for the lost hiker. In her wandering, the lost hiker encountered two other hikers who were also unsure of their location, sheriff officials said at the time. The three teamed up to try and self-rescue. While they were hiking in the drainage, they were overheard by members of the search team, which met the lost trio and guided them to safety.

• Rain and snow melt combined to cause some local creeks and rivers to swell, prompting the formation of a brigade of volunteers to form on May 21 to install sandbag fortifications to keep part of Trestle Creek from flooding a home on Freeman Lane near Hope.

• Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Bill Wilson called on a 1st District Court judge on May 22 to remove a common-law lien filed by a sovereign citizen who is seeking $45,000 for using his name in a notification letter.

Perlinger had filed the common-law lien which the Idaho Secretary of State, which the county was unaware of, court records indicated. Wilson argued the document filed by Perlinger was an “invalid, non-consensual common law lien based on ‘sovereign citizen’ gibberish and is without any legitimate basis in fact or law.

• Bonner County commissioners said in mid-May they were considering opting out of the National Flood Insurance Program.

Bonner County’s community rating was at an eight, which means homeowners with flood insurance receive a 10-percent discount. At the time, Bonner County Planning Director Milton Ollerton said there were 108 flood insurance policyholders in the county, which results in $10,453 in annual savings to homeowners.

However, changes FEMA is making to the program would shrink the insurance discount to 5 percent. However, the community rating was expected to slip from an eight to a nine.

• Bonner County residents paid tribute to those who gave their lives in service to their country in a host of Memorial Day tributes.

“Just as communion remembers the death and victory of our great battle captain of history, so Memorial Day is set aside to remember the veterans who died on U.S. battlefields around the world,” Bryan Hult, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general and Bonner County Veterans Services officer said at the time. “So thank you for remembering this day. Thank you for remembering their stay, their stay in the battle that took their life, their stay in the uniform that removed life’s strife.”

• The Sandpoint City Council voted May 20 to no longer require sidewalk cafes in the city to have separation barriers such as fencing on sidewalks, which will allow more space for pedestrians to walk.

The amended code was unanimously approved in the hopes of adequately addressing ADA concerns and allowing code flexibility in the permitting process.

• Nearly 60 years after the Victory Bell first stood tall at War Memorial Field in Sandpoint, it rose again on May 26. The bell, donated by the Sandpoint High School class of 1961 during the summer of their senior year, had sat on a platform about 40 feet up in the air until last summer when the bell and the pole that held it up were taken down due to safety concerns.

• Bonner County commissioners adopted a proclamation on May 28 saying the board will defy the state of Idaho’s Stage 2 Stay Healthy order. The proclamation passed 2-1, with commissioners Dan McDonald and Steven Bradshaw in favor and Commissioner Jeff Connolly opposed.

The proclamation contended significant and important steps were made in slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus and safeguarding public health and the order was a case of governmental overreach.

• Also on May 28, Panhandle Alliance for Education announced it had funded 42 out of 72 project proposals for Lake Pend Oreille School District’s 2020-2021 school year.

• Gov. Brad Little announced May 28 that Idaho was moving forward with its phased re-opening amid the coronavirus pandemic, continuing with a Stage 3 that would begin May 30.

The stage reopened bars and tourism sites while expanding gatherings to up to 50 people. The move will also no longer discourage vulnerable Idahoans — the elderly and residents with pre-existing health conditions — from venturing out into the world.

• FrancoAmerican aircraft manufacturer Daher announced in late May that it was conducting permanent layoffs due to significant financial impacts from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Employees at Daher’s Sandpoint Kodiak plant received a letter on May 27 from Daher Human Resources Director Russell Bowen informing them of the pandemic’s effect on the global economy and the company.

“Along with many of the Daher sites, we have made the difficult decision to reduce our workforce at the Sandpoint Idaho, work site. Because of the projected long-term economic impact of the virus and the known current impact to our company, we are conducting permanent layoffs," Bowen said in the letter.

• Due to Governor Brad Little’s 5-percent holdback on education funding, West Bonner County School District officials said in late May that the district looking at a shortfall of $139,000 for the 2020-2021 school year.

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(Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER) Bryan Hult, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general and Bonner County Veterans Services officer, speaks about the importance of Memorial Day at Pinecrest Cemetery in Sandpoint on Monday.