The biggest local stories of the last 10 years

News File Photo A lone Michigan State Police trooper stands guard near the urn containing the remains of former state Rep. Peter Pettalia during his funeral in 2016. Pettalia was killed in a motorcycle crash in Montmorency County on his way from Alpena to Lansing.

ALPENA — Another decade is about to be recorded in the history books and the last 10 years have seen no shortage of big news stories in Northeast Michigan.

The decade since 2010 was controversial, promising, sad, joyous, and shocking. Each event left a mark on the communities where they occurred.

Today, we look back at some of the events, projects, and good and bad moments that grabbed people’s attention and created headlines for local news agencies.



News File Photo In 2011, Alpena welcomed Lady Michigan to the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center to provide shipwreck tours. The boat helped bolster Alpena’s tourism, as hundreds of thousands of people have taken the tour since.


In 2012, the Alpena Municipal Council voted to terminate city manager Thad Taylor “without cause.”

The firing led to a pair of councilmen, Dave Karschnick and Mike Nunneley, being recalled.

Mayor Matt Waligora, who was only months into his first term, avoided recall.


News File Photo Robert Westenbarger and Jan Stepanski reeled in a fish worth $25,000 during the 2017 Michigan Brown Trout Festival. The pair netted the tagged, 3.7-pound, 20-inch brown trout that ended up being confirmed to be Big Brownie. It was the first time The tagged fish was caught in the history of the tournament.

On April 1, 2016, what was then called the Alpena Regional Medical Center joined Midland-based hospital network MidMichigan Health, making it the fifth medical center in the system.

Alpena County sold the facility, which was renamed MidMichigan Health Medical Center-Alpena, for $125 million.

Negotiations on the transaction began in 2015 after MidMichigan was selected from several proposals. The county paid off more than $17 million in bond debt from the sale and also was able to eliminate 100% of employee retirement obligations.

The commissioners voted 7-1 for the sale, with Commissioner Ron McDonald, who is still on the board, being the lone nay vote.

McDonald believed the fate of the hospital should be left up to voters in the county.


Over the last decade, many development projects helped grow Alpena.

Two of the largest were the addition of a Meijer on M-32, which opened in 2015, and the Holiday Inn Express and Suites, which was constructed on the Thunder Bay River downtown the same year.

Austin Brothers Beer Co. also opened on the city’s north side that year, and Dean Arbor Ford on U.S.-23 South in 2013. Many other small business developments sprouted up, primarily in the city and Alpena Township.

A local group of residents also formed what is today called South Bay, a group dedicated to re-energizing the U.S.-23 South corridor to make it more attractive and spur more development along the southern entrance to the city.

The group has already created a park and is in the process of acquiring property near the 45th Parallel and adding to the Alpena Bi-Path.


Northeast Michigan lost a champion of the region on the evening of Sept. 12, 2016, when three-term state Rep. Peter Pettalia crashed while driving his motorcycle and died.

He was returning to Lansing from Alpena on M-33 in Motmorency County.

Before being elected to the state House, Pettalia served as township supervisor in Presque Isle Township and was a volunteer firefighter for many years.

Hundreds of people attended a large funeral on Sept. 16, 2016, including Gov. Rick Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, as well as local, state, and federal politicians from both sides of the aisle.

Snyder said Pettalia will be remembered for much more than his accomplishments in Lansing and local government.

“The greatest legacy, I would say, of Peter’s is how he touched our hearts, and that’s going to stay with us,” Snyder said. “Whether it be his kids or his grandkids, my heart, your heart, but we’re all better off because of Peter.”

A section of U.S.-23 near the border of Alpena and Presque Isle counties was dedicated to Pettalia in 2018.

Sue Allor, a Republican from Wolverine, was elected to represent the 106th state House District shortly after Pettalia’s death.


In the 43 years leading up to the 2017 Michigan Brown Trout Tournament in Alpena, the tagged trout known as Big Brownie had never been caught during the event.

That changed on July 18, 2017, when Robert Westenbarger and Jan Stepanski hooked, fought, and netted the 3.7-pound, 20-inch fish and hauled him aboard their boat, the Rusty Hook.

The prize for bringing the fish to shore was $25,000. The fish and the tale of how it was caught quickly circulated around the Alpena community and on social media.


After being declared a national marine sanctuary by the federal government in 2000 and the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center was built along the Thunder Bay River, there was another welcome addition to town.

A glass-bottom boat named Lady Michigan started to call Alpena and Thunder Bay home, offering tours of the dozens of shipwrecks preserved in the marine sanctuary, still the nation’s only freshwater protected area.

The tours give a close-up view of the famous wrecks in Lake Huron, as well as a narrated history lesson about them and their ultimate demise.

According to Maritime Heritage Center Maritime Archaeologist and Media Coordinator Stephanie Gandulla, about 50,000 people a year take the tour. Gandulla said hundreds of thousands of visitors have also toured the Heritage Center museum over the years.


In October 2017, the community learned perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS, were detected during water testing at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center. The chemical compounds were a popular component of firefighting foams used during training and other incidents at the base for many years.

The state, the U.S. Military, and local health officials held several public meetings for residents and started testing wells within one mile of the base. Results showed 91 wells had no detection of the chemicals and 31 showed traces of PFOS and PFOA below the 70 parts per trillion health standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A new round of testing is currently underway and results will be announced once the testing and samples analyzed.


The 2010s saw several high-profile murder investigations, arrests, and prison sentences in the area. Here are only a few of note:

∫ Alpena’s Chris Tank was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Robert Arch in May 2015. Tank shot and killed Arch from his automobile and was later apprehended by police near Fairview, the murder weapon found in the glovebox.

∫ Brenton Walker, 55, was sentenced to 45 to 70 years in prison for killing and dismembering Heather Young in July 2016. Walker and Young were seen together at a bar in Onaway. Later, the woman was reported missing and her remains were later found in a wooded area near Walker’s home. He admitted in court that he shot Young twice, dismembered her body with a chainsaw, burned it, and buried the remains. Before being sentenced, Walker said he killed Young because she reminded him of his ex-wife and other women and he was unapologetic for his actions, saying: “Now, when I was given the opportunity to follow through with something that I’ve known for a long time that I’m capable of doing, it felt great.”

∫ Former Presque Isle Township supervisor Pat Pokorski and his son, Ross Pokorski, perished in June 2017 in a fire on U.S.-23 in an incident that is considered a murder-suicide. Pokorski was under investigation at the time of the fire, said Michigan State Police Commander John Grimshaw. Police believe Pokorski stabbed his son to death, started the house on fire, and died from smoke inhalation. Grimshaw said at a press conference no motive was discovered: “At this time, we don’t know what the motive was, and, in this instance, it is likely we never will.” The knife used in the killing was never recovered.

∫ A Hillman man named Kyle Boldrey was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the murder of two people in August 2016. Police say Boldrey was under the influence of a hallucinogen known as 25-I when he stabbed his friend Trevor Hubbard to death and went to a house across the street, brutally beating three people and killing Keith Atkinson. Debra Wells, Atkinson’s widow, survived the attack.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today