Photos: LOREN BENOIT/Press file Mandere Construction employees Jesse Carey, left, and Mike Bristol situate a gable roof support for a new apartment building off Charleville Road on April 26 in Post Falls.
Challenges and triumphs make communities grow stronger, and 2018 has had its share of victories and defeats throughout Kootenai County.
Here are the top 10 local stories of the year, as selected by Press reporters and editors:
1. Growing pains
With the economy in continued full swing, no signs of letting up in sight and more eyes on moving here, growth had a ripple effect on many fronts.
Highway improvement projects, the Rathdrum Prairie, drivers’ license office madness, a new public transit center, school districts looking for land and Kootenai Health outgrowing its corridor are just some examples of how local leaders are grappling with growth.
Improvement projects on Interstate 90 and Government Way wrapped up this fall after testing motorists’ patience during most of the year. Among the next busy stretch that will be improved will be Highway 41 from Post Falls to Rathdrum in 2020 and 2021.
A technology park and regional shopping center are planned in the Highway 41 corridor in Post Falls to complement the rapid housing growth in that area.
The Idaho Transportation Department will fund a one-year study that’s expected to start in March on the possibility of a regional traffic management center that would involve areawide coordination of traffic signals across all jurisdictions and additional cameras to monitor traffic congestion.
2. Isenberg case
Twists, turns and suspense on the fraud case involving Laurcene "Lori" Isenberg, the former director of the North Idaho Housing Coalition, kept residents guessing most of the year.
Isenberg last month agreed to plead guilty to three counts of wire fraud and one count of federal program theft.
She is accused of embezzling between $500,000 and $1.5 million from the coalition.
The money was meant to be used to help low-income families attain affordable housing.
Isenberg, who was originally charged in Coeur d’Alene’s First District Court after a Coeur d’Alene Police Department investigation, skipped bail and was arrested in July. Her case was taken over by federal prosecutors this fall because the money she allegedly stole belonged to the federal government.
Two of Isenberg’s daughters, Amber Annette Hosking, 39, and Jessica Fay Barnes, 36, pleaded guilty in federal court in October to conspiracy to commit federal program theft.
In a separate matter, Isenberg is a person of interest in the death of her husband, Larry Isenberg, who went missing during an early morning boat ride with Lori in February, prior to her arrest.
Isenberg claimed that her husband fell off the couple’s boat early in the morning in February and that he likely drowned in Lake Coeur d’Alene. However, in July, a coroner’s report showed that Larry Isenberg was killed by a massive overdose of an antihistamine that in small doses can cause drowsiness.
Isenberg remains in custody at the Bonner County Jail and is awaiting sentencing on the wire fraud and program theft charges. The charges can carry a combined sentence of 30 years behind bars.
3. Suicides rock schools
Reports of the deaths of at least four young students in the region, as well as Coeur d’Alene High Principal Troy Schueller and former Coeur d’Alene High teacher and boys’ basketball coach Dean Lundblad Sr., made alarming suicide statistics painfully real.
Idaho ranks fifth in the nation in suicides, and Kootenai County consistently has one of the highest suicide rates in the state.
Suicide tragedy struck as recently as Dec. 21 with an eighth-grade girl at Timberlake Junior High High in Spirit Lake.
"It is extremely important that we wrap around our kids and our community at this time," said Becky Meyer, Lakeland superintendent of schools, in a message to families.
School districts and other organizations continue to collaborate on suicide awareness efforts.
4. Little Leaguers on biggest stage
The entire community — make that the entire state — rooted on the Coeur d’Alene Little League team as a North Idaho team made its first-ever appearance in the Little League World Series in August.
Coeur d’Alene lost a heartbreaker in its opener at Williamsport, PA, losing 5-4 to Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., after taking a three-run lead into the bottom of the sixth inning. Coeur d’Alene then lost to Peachtree City, Ga., 3-0 before defeating Spain 5-0.
The memories of Coeur d’Alene playing on the international stage and making history will last a lifetime for the boys and remain in the hearts of area baseball fans for years to come.
5. A real election
Kootenai County voters showed up in record droves for the Nov. 6 mid-term general election.
Tantalizing races including a young Native American woman running for governor, as well as two hot-item propositions, spurred the heavy vote.
A record percentage of votes were cast by Kootenai County voters for a midterm general election.
The final voter turnout was 68 percent with a total of 57,232 ballots cast.
That percentage shattered the previous midterm mark of 58 percent in 2010. It even rivaled those of the two most-recent presidential elections when 77 percent voted in 2016 and 76 percent in 2012.
Voters approved the proposition that expands Medicaid and shot down the one that authorized historical horse racing at certain locations where live or simulcast horse racing occurs.
Local and national media coverage on politics was another factor for the strong turnout, according to elections officials.
6. In (for now) with opt-out
An anti-regulation move on building permits that was approved by the majority of the Kootenai County Commission was approved early in the year. However, the board members who supported it, Bob Bingham and Marc Eberlein, were then defeated in the May primary.
The move gave homeowners the option of opting out of the county’s building permit process.
The decision does not impact the building permit processes within city limits.
Proponents believe the opt-out program cuts bureaucracy. Opponents say it opens the door to substandard construction.
Property owners who apply to opt out still must meet state requirements for electrical, plumbing and mechanical permits. Panhandle Health District and fire district requirements still apply as well.
Now, with two-thirds of the board who will be in office starting Jan. 14 having stated that they’re against the opt-out option, the decision is expected to be reversed early in the year.
7. Atlas Mill purchase
In May, Coeur d’Alene purchased a 48-acre former mill site on the Spokane River for $7.85 million, with plans to open the ground for commercial and residential development and public access to the Spokane River.
It may take years before the real impact will be felt, but supporters say the project will be similar to Tubbs Hill in terms of public access to priceless property.
Annexation of the site was approved in October.
Meanwhile, the city’s planning commission on Dec. 11 denied a special-use proposal for the 870-unit River’s Edge apartment complex along Seltice Way near the site.
8. Smoky summer
Global warming? Careless humans? Whatever, North Idaho skies were clogged with smoke much of the summer from the region’s wildfires.
The fires may have had something to do with unusually high reports of wild animals showing up in urban areas.
At one point in August, the air quality reached the "hazardous" mark and this area had the worst air in the country. Some residents wore face masks for protection.
The Panhandle once again dodged a bullet in terms of fire devastating a highly populated area. May observers believe it’s not a matter of if but when that occurs.
9. Avisa merger shock
The proposed merger between Avista Utilities and Hydro One of Canada drew a lot of concern from Idaho residents before Washington state regulators stopped the proposed $5.3 billion sale dead in its tracks on Dec. 5.
Both companies are determining the next, if any, steps.
In its order, the Washington utility commission noted that a change of political winds in Ontario, which controls 47 percent of Hydro One stock, "undermined more or less completely assurances we had been given earlier concerning political risks associated with the large ownership interest in Hydro One retained by the Province of Ontario."
The mass resignation of Hydro One’s CEO and board of directors, at the urging of new Ontario Premier Doug Ford, "unquestionably harmed Hydro One and Avista," wrote regulators.
Avista needed approval from all affected jurisdictions in order to close the sale.
10. Parking paradise
Downtown parking is at a premium, especially during popular summer events, and Coeur d’Alene has taken steps to address the problem.
The city completed a four- story, $7.3 million parking structure with 350 spaces between Third and Fourth streets.
Meanwhile, the city and county collaborated on a shared-use parking lot at Four Corners across Northwest Boulevard from the county’s downtown campus.