Candidates field questions from public during forums

Council candidates from Orcas: Rick Hughes, Lisa Byers and Greg Ayers. - Colleen Smith Armstrong/Staff Photo
Council candidates from Orcas: Rick Hughes, Lisa Byers and Greg Ayers.
— image credit: Colleen Smith Armstrong/Staff Photo

It was standing room only at the Orcas Island election forum, with audience members spilling into the lobby. They kept the questions firing at the District 1 and District 2 council candidates, covering everything from the Critical Areas Ordinance to ferry service during the Jan. 16 meeting.

Orcas councilman Rick Hughes, Lisa Byers and Greg Ayers are vying for two spots in April’s general election. Councilmen Marc Forlenza and Bob Jarman and former councilwoman Lovel Pratt are the three San Juan Islanders facing off in the Feb. 12 primary.

Hughes, Byers and Ayers agreed that the recently approved Critical Areas Ordinance needs some minor tweaking, which will likely take place before the Growth Management Hearings Board.

“I am pleased it passed,” said Byers, who is director of OPAL Community Land Trust. “I applied some of the CAO rules in an OPAL project, and it wasn’t that hard or scary … but we need to refine it so it’s easy to understand and make sure it’s flexible.”

Pratt recommended “moving on” from the CAO because there are “so many other important county issues.” Jarman and Forlenza were adamant that the ordinance still needs a lot of work.

Many in the audience brought up inadequacies and inconsistency with the planning department, particularly in regards to code enforcement.

Hughes said he has three major goals: localization (a code enforcer on each island), simplification (simplify the code), and communication (an independent hearing board that could hear community grievances).

Ayers said the planning department needs “a goal and vision” while Byers wants to see more leadership for the department.

“We also need to compile case law that could help explain how the code is interpreted,” she said.

When asked about how they could help generate revenue, Hughes stressed the importance of job growth. It was a sentiment that Jarman echoed later in the evening.

“Who wouldn’t want to work from home in the San Juans?” Hughes said. “We need to support things like OPALCO’s broadband initiative and approach companies like Boeing and Microsoft.”

Ayers had a similar plan, but on the export side of things. He said local craftsmen should be selling their work off island and farmers can sell seeds for “10-fold greater than the finished product.”

Byers said if additional revenue is needed for the county budget, then she would go before the community and seek additional sources like grant funding.

Former state transportation commissioner Bob Distler asked the District 1 candidates what they planned to do about Washington State Ferries not planning for any growth in the San Juans’ service.

“Advocating for ferry issues was a priority for me,” Pratt said. “We need to have DOT recognize the ferries as our marine highway and incorporate it into legislative packages.”

She also said the state’s stipulation that all ferry construction take place in Washington eliminates the state from receiving federal funding or getting more competitive bids.

Forlenza agreed and said WSF is “the toughest nut to crack.”

“How much does ‘Build Washington’ really help the state?” he said.

For coverage of the forum on San Juan, go to

The next steps

After the Feb. 12 primary election, all voters in the county will vote for three council members – one from San Juan, Orcas and Lopez – in the general election in April. Because only two candidates are competing for the District 3 council seat, which comprises of Lopez, Shaw and surrounding outer islands, both Jamie Stephens and Brian McClerren move on to the general election.

Each member of the three-person council will be paid an annual salary of $75,000 plus benefits.


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