Weather, Bucks highlight 2008

The South Kitsap High School swim team rallied to suport Buck
The South Kitsap High School swim team rallied to suport Buck's A&W during December.
— image credit: Denise Mandeville/Staff Photo

While Christmas 2008 may go down in South Kitsap history as the “one with so much snow even Santa’s packages were late,” most Port Orchard residents will likely remember this past year more for the closing and reopening of one of its beloved restaurants.

Opened 49 years ago by Glennys Gehring and her late husband Robert “Buck,” Buck’s A&W quickly became more than just a place to grab a burger as the owners supported countless sports teams, held numerous fundraisers and gave many local teens their first jobs.

In early December, however, current owner Rick Gehring announced that he and his wife Karin were filing bankruptcy due to mounting legal fees stemming from a lawsuit filed by two former employees in 2004.

The case began in 2003 when James D. Border, a former manager at the restaurant, was arrested and later convicted of sexually assaulting two teen-aged girls he supervised. Border eventually pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with a minor and was released from prison in 2004 as a Level III sex offender.

By November of this year, Gehring said his business owed $1 million to creditors and that it would “take a miracle” to keep the restaurant open. The business then closed it doors on Dec. 14, after being flooded with community members wanting to show their support and gratitude to the Gehrings while enjoying one last burger.

However, four days later, what Gehring called the “Miracle on Mile Hill” did occur as he was able to reach a settlement with his creditors and reopen the restaurant Dec. 18.

“You couldn’t have described what happened to anyone that wasn’t here,” Gehring said after seeing the community rally around his family and the business. “This has really comforted my family and lifted our spirits. You don’t realize all the different layers and ways you have helped people until they come in and share their stories.”

Another story that grabbed the attention of many SK residents was the seemingly never-ending series of meetings, votes and discussions surrounding the Port of Bremerton’s SEED project, formally known as Kitsap’s Sustainable Energy and Economic Development project.

Launched in 2004, the project picked up steam and even more community attention last year, and the onslaught of questions and concerns led to the port’s Board of Commissioners putting the project on hold, or a “pause” early this year.

In the months that followed, the port heard from community members on both sides of the project — some deeply concerned about their tax bills and others deeply concerned about supporting green energy and creating well-paying jobs in Kitsap County.

The port commissioned a report from the Seattle firm Berk & Associates that determined SEED had significant potential but also significant risks, and in October the future of the project seemed to hinge on whether the board would accept a $2.5 million grant (and come up matching funds) from the federal government.

At two well-attended community meetings to discuss SEED, Commissioner Larry Stokes proposed putting the matter up to a vote of the public, but his fellow commissioners voted against the idea and the board eventually voted to accept the Economic Development Administration’s grant.

The controversy did not end there, however, as soon the port was holding a special meeting in November to discuss, then rescind, a contract it had only days before entered into with Godstream Technologies, LLC, an Arlington-based firm it planned to have oversee some of SEED’s construction.

Perhaps the only thing that seemed certain when it came to SEED this past year is that the public was paying close attention and speaking up every step of the way.

And, finally, while all the froth a few scantily clad Gorst baristas whipped up in February may seem a distant memory to many SK residents who have only recently dug themselves and their cars out of the deep blanket of snow Kitsap County was buried under for more than a week, many may look back fondly on when barely-there outfits were the watercooler topic instead of the United States’ barely-there economy.

Most likely helped rather than hurt by the storm of controversy, Espresso Gone Wild survived and even thrived, as evidenced by its opening another stand in Belfair.

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