Here’s what we’ve seen so far this year in Northeast Michigan

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena Clerk Anna Soik, left, issues the oath of office to Cindy Johnson who became mayor of Alpena on Tuesday. Johnson will be mayor for the balance of this year, but said she intends to run for the seat in November.

ALPENA — Northeast Michigan has seen lots of changes, advances, celebrations, challenges, and more since the start of 2024.

January kicked off with expectations of big stories and events, and Northeast Michigan did not disappoint. Many awaited stories included murder trials, economic development, elections, and more.

The APlex hosted an event that saw the return of many unique animals at the Northern Michigan Exotic Animal Expo. Vendors arrived to show off their displays consisting of geckos, snakes, tortoises, hedgehogs, crocodiles, alligators, and other fascinating animals you wouldn’t see otherwise when in Northeast Michigan.

Taken by surprise, much of the area saw a large winter storm pass in mid-January. Snow accumulated 12 to 15 inches over a weekend and caused power outages for more than 4,500 customers.

In Alpena, Cindy Johnson was selected the new mayor of Alpena after former mayor Matt Waligora stepped down at the end of last year. Johnson has since made great advancements in Alpena and said in January that she intends to run for mayor in November. Erinn Kane was appointed later in the month to serve on the Alpena Municipal Council in place of Johnson.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A pair of security guards stand guard at the entrance of Decorative Panels International in Alpena on Thursday. Early Thursday morning, employees were sent home and other staff were told not to come to work. Eventually, the company issued a statement about its intent to close the plant. More than 150 people are losing their jobs.

In court, a jury found Aaron Trout guilty of second-degree murder on Jan. 17. He was then sentenced to 90 years on Feb. 7. Adrienne Pavelka, the mother of the toddler Trout murdered, also received her sentence of 15 to 40 years after pleading guilty to one count of first-degree child abuse.

Also in court, the trial of Brad Srebnik began on Jan. 29, more than two years after the deaths of Brynn Bills and Abby Hill. A jury found Srebnik guilty of two counts of premeditated murder, weapons charges, and disinterment and mutilation of a body and a judge on March 14 sentenced him to life in prison. Josh Wirgau, after pleading guilty to charges related to the deaths of Bills and Hill, was sentenced to up to 30 years.

Alpena attorney Michelle Elowski was charged with embezzlement on Feb. 2 and continues to appear in court to fight her charges. On April 3, she was barred from practicing law.

In early February, The News hosted its annual Business Expo and saw success at its Newspapers in Education Book Sale, with nearly $4,000 donated to provide newspapers to local schools.

At the annual Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Dinner, Joyce McCoy, career and technical education director at Alpena Public Schools, was named Outstanding Citizen of the Year for 2023 — one of the most prestigious local awards given each year.

News Photo by Mike Gonzalez People look around the Newspaper in Education Book Sale at The News’ Business Expo on Saturday at the APlex.

Schools have also seen great advancements, including Pied Piper’s launch of a new adaptive gym class in February and the start of an esports team in March. More recently, Alpena Public Schools decided on a new math curriculum to be started in the fall. Alpena Community College also rebooted its esports team.

Northeast Michigan was also stunned by the closure of Decorative Panels International on Feb. 22. More than 150 employees were laid off.

Patrons braved the winter cold in February to attend the Alpena Ice Festival.

On Feb. 27, Northeast Michigan took to the polls for the primary election. The election resulted in the passing of Alpena and Hillman school millage proposals. It also reflected the area’s votes in favor of former President Donald Trump over President Joe Biden.

Sturgeons have also been popular in Northeast Michigan this year since the season was planned to kick off in February but was later canceled. The species also nearly made it onto the list of endangered species this year but the feds decided not to list it. More recently, local elementary students released their class-raised sturgeon into Black River near Onaway.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A voter in Alpena checks in with election workers at the APlex before voting in Tuesday’s presidential primary election. As of about 10:30 a.m., turnout was light in the city.

In downtown Alpena, the Fresh Palate was officially closed on its 15th anniversary on March 30, and Sanctuary Cinema celebrated its first year of operations on May 19.

The decade-long battle between Alpena and Alpena Township for water and sewer services went to trial on April 3. Judge Ed Black sent both parties back to bargaining on April 10.

A rare phenomenon occurred on April 8 when residents in Northeast Michigan gathered to view a solar eclipse.

In May, Viking cruise ships increased the number of times vessels will port in Alpena, and tourists have already been spotted exploring downtown.

The annual Alpena County Cleanup Day on May 4 helped residents do their spring cleaning and recycle larger items.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Rotary Club of Alpena holds its 70th Annual Rotary Auction Brew on the Bay on Thursday at the APlex. Attendees walked around the venue tasting an assortment of beverages and participating in raffles and auctions. The Alpena Craft Beer and Wine Fest proceeds will fund Rotary Club Projects including the expansion of the Alpena Splash Park.

The year is sure to see more as the summer kicks off.

Upcoming elections will present area voters with choices to make as they head back to the polls in August and again in November. Summer events, like Fourth of July fireworks, the Alpena County Fair, the Michigan Brown Trout Festival, high school graduations, and other activities are sure to keep residents busy and entertained.

Development in the area will continue, as well, as Aldi plans to open its doors soon and the addition of an Ollie’s Bargain Outlet to the Thunder Bay Shopping Center was confirmed recently. Culligan Plaza will see reconstruction soon as it was announced in early March that plans were to begin in the spring, though may be pushed to the fall.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Josh Binkley, left, takes a photo of his son Bryce Binkley in front of an NFL Draft-themed shuttle bus in Alpena on Wednesday. A special event promoting the draft in Detroit next month was held near the Yacht Club at the harbor.

News Photo by Temi Fadayomi From left to right, Northern Michigan Exotic Animal co-host Kate Minnaar of Lethal Exotics with a Morelet’s crocodile named Fleetwood, Northern Michigan Exotic Animal co-host Michael Wilson, and his nephew Hunter Favoth with an American alligator named Gatorade pose at the Northern Michigan Exotic Animal Expo APlex on Saturday.

News Photo by Mike Gonzalez Austin Shepherd and Erica Woodbury shovel the entryway of their house on Saturday morning on the corner of West Oldfield Street and Commercial Street.


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