Revisiting the top stories of a remarkable 2021
At the close of 2021, it is time to look back at a remarkable year.
The year brought unprecedented awareness and focus on San Juan County. These are our top stories of the year.
The worldwide pandemic triggered by COVID-19 continues to impact the lives of San Juan County residents. COVID-19 caused havoc in 2020, which continued through 2021, and threatens 2022.
The death toll of the virus sits at 46 local residents, with hundreds hospitalized, and thousands infected.
It has also caused havoc throughout society, triggering closed schools, a devastated economy, social upheaval, and more. Our hope is that this story is about to end!
2- Bears Ears
Bears Ears National Monument continues to be an enormous story in San Juan County.
The year began with a 201,876-acre national monument and ended with a 1.35-million acre national monument that covers nearly 28 percent of the landmass of San Juan County.
Deb Haaland, the first Native American Secretary of the Interior, visited San Juan County in May while developing a recommendation for President Joe Biden.
The expansion of the monument boundaries – back to the scope initially designated by President Barack Obama – was met with celebration by advocates in the environmental and tribal communities. Other local residents fought against the expansion.
An interim management plan has been released while a new plan is being developed.
The expansion by President Joe Biden effectively stopped a multi-year legal challenge designed to determine if a President can change a designation by a previous president.
3- Fire and rain
Drought threatened devastation in many areas of San Juan County, with the massive Pack Creek Fire burning homes and destroying forest lands in the La Sal Mountains in June.
A remarkable monsoons season brought months of wetter than normal weather to the area after the months of drought.
The drought resulted in significant access problems for boaters at Lake Powell, with water levels falling below ramps in many area.
4- Voting districts
New voting districts for the San Juan County Commission and San Juan School Board were approved by the San Juan County Commission. The new districts followed closely the boundaries created by Federal Judge Robert Shelby in 2018 after two lawsuits were filed by the Navajo Nation.
The City of Blanding fought the new district boundaries, arguing the Blanding community is disenfranchised by the boundaries.
5- Education news
The six schools in the “River Region” of the San Juan School District were closed to in-school instruction for the 2020-21 school year, with students returning to the classroom in August. Students in the “Mountain Region” of the district had a mask mandate for most of the school year.
In December, school was canceled for a day after a social media TikTok challenge threatened violence in the schools. Incidents at two separate schools triggered the closure.
The school district developed a massive project to bring wireless technology into the isolated homes of students across the northen Navajo Nation.
In higher education, Utah State University is making progress on construction of a permanent home for the satellite campus in Monument Valley.
6- Property taxes rise dramatically
Residential property taxes rose in 2021 due to a re-factoring order by the State Tax Commission and the continued collapse of the industrial tax base. Property taxes rose by hundreds of dollars for many homeowners.
7- High school sport
Monticello and San Juan high schools move to smaller classifications, with the Broncos dropping from 3A to 2A and the Buckaroos dropping from 2A to 1A.
San Juan brought home the 2A state championship football trophy eight months after the basketball team finished second in the 3A state tournament.
The Buckaroo boys brought home a second-place trophy in the 2A state track meet.
After taking a year off due to the COVID pandemic, the sports teams at Whitehorse and Monument Valley High schools return to competition.
The COVID pandemic contributed to a severe shortage of employees in businesses and organizations throughout the area. Many businesses were eager to hire employees that were in short supply.
In San Juan County, there are new faces in Economic Development, Public Health, Human Resources, and a new county clerk, Lyman Duncan.
9- Death in custody
Gino LaGiglia, a San Juan County resident, died while in police custody at the San Juan County jail. After an investigation by the state medical examiner, the death was ruled as due to natural causes.
10- San Juan Record writers
It was a great year for our writers, with statewide journalism awards for David Boyle, Gary Torres, Walter and Becky Bird, Rhett Sifford, Bill Boyle, and Andrea Montgomery.
Among the top stories for our columnists include Spending Money to Make Money by Steve Simpson, Cookies for Gino by Gary Torres, Time to Change the Change by Terri Winder, Chile or chili: It’s still green by Mary Cokenour, Taking Some Time to Be Present by Merry Palmer, and La Sal family loses all in early morning fire by Maxine Deeter.
Additional stories include the new Spanish Valley Health Clinic, development of power and water infrastructure for the Westwater community, developments at the Energy Fuels White Mesa Mill, reopening the Lisbon Valley copper mine and mill, the Town of Bluff and Utah Diné Bikéyah purchasing the old Bluff Elementary School building, and bridge work over Cottonwood Wash.