An unprecedented four of the five four-year terms on the Port of Orcas Commission are up for grabs this year. All contests will decide who will complete unexpired terms. Steve Hopkins’ term as Port Commissioner 4 doesn’t expire for another two years, and he is uncontested in November’s election.
An Aug. 6 primary election will decide the two challengers for port commissioner 1; the general election is Nov. 5. Next week the Sounder will profile the candidates for commissioner positions 3 and 5. The following answers have been edited for space.
Port Commissioner 1, two-year unexpired term (Dec. 31, 2019 – Dec. 31, 2021)
Clyde Duke of Eastsound has been an islander for nearly 35 years. Pierette Guimond, who makes her home in Olga, has lived on the island for 28 years. Both candidates have a history of volunteerism on the island. Heidi Lapuzza of Eastsound has decided against actively seeking the position. Due to timing issues, however, her name remains on the ballot.
Port Commissioner 2, two-year unexpired term (Dec. 31, 2019 – Dec. 31, 2021)
Poke Haffner has been an islander for the past three and a half years. She was recently appointed to the position after the previous commissioner resigned. Michael Triplett has lived on Orcas for 24 years and currently owns a dental practice in Eastsound.
Why are you running for commissioner?
Clyde Duke: I was asked by several members of the community to run. As a volunteer firefighter and a (former) two-term fire commissioner, I know how important and vital the airport is to the island. I want to be part of the discussion about what comes next. I also recognize the importance of due process; it’s what protects us. Additionally, I’m a quick study; I’m no stranger to processes; and I want to ensure we’re always cognizant of the community’s needs and wants.
Pierette Guimond: I care a lot about the Orcas community and I have many concerns about the proposals for the future and the master plan. I’m concerned about the suggestion to change Mt. Baker Road and to extend the runway. Just because it’s in the master plan doesn’t mean it has to happen. We need to keep the airport a rural airport. I moved to the island 28 years ago because of the beauty, beauty I am trying to protect as much as possible.
Poke Haffner: I was asked if I’d consider being appointed and stepped up. I figured with my background in law in Alaska where, for four years I represented the state’s Department of Transportation, I might be able to be of use to the commission. Alaska has 282 airports, and I have wrangled with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], and locked horns with the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Game; I have learned how to navigate the process and understand how the pieces fit together.
Michael Triplett: I’m running to give voice to the opinions of a lot of people on the island who believe the commission is not representing their concerns. I want to make sure that the will of the people is represented. If I have it wrong – if the current commissioners do represent the opinions of a majority of islanders – then I’m not the person for the job.
What would you like to accomplish as a commissioner?
Duke: It’s pretty simple: I’m about consensus – I don’t want to abuse that word – and balance. The port encompasses the character and scope of the island. What works is realizing how important the community’s voice is, that it’s heard and that consensus is established before we move forward on anything. If we do nothing, however, the state and feds will step in, and we don’t want to lose what’s special about this place. Our community has a genuine voice, and united it can move mountains, it’s that eloquent.
Guimond: I will work to maintain the rural aspect of our airport. There are plans to make it bigger, to grow the size of the terminal, and alter access. Bigger is not always better, and taking money from the FAA to do certain things keeps us in the claws of the FAA. I will focus on what is best for the community.
Haffner: I want to remind everyone that not everything in a master plan is guaranteed of becoming a reality. I like to say there’s a “master plan” and a “fantasy” plan. Nothing happens quickly with the feds, and there are ways to slow down the process. Further, I want to make better use of electronic media as a way of keeping the community better informed. It’s important that the public knows what we’re doing and how we define our roles.
Triplett: After the November election, I’d like to see a referendum on the May 2019 Master Plan so that we know for sure whether we should explore expansion. Too many of us seem to go after federal monies without much thought to strings that may be attached. I’d also like to see the meeting times changed to a later start time to allow working people to attend. And I’d encourage younger people to get involved – people who will actually benefit from a 20-year plan.
How important is the airport to the island’s future and growth?
Duke: As important as the port is, I don’t see it growing that much. Mind you, our island population is aging so we need to continue being able to provide emergency access to off-island care. The port also contributes to the flow of commerce on the island. As more visitors get frustrated with the ferry schedules, however, we may see greater demand for larger planes being able to land here. Should that happen, I would hope that the commission could reach a consensus as well as meeting the needs of islanders.
Guimond: It’s incredibly important to be able to maintain arrivals by Amazon and FedEx and continue to fly people off island for emergencies. I am strongly in favor of improvement as needed, and would like to see more focus on a ‘needs’ list rather than a ‘wish’ list.
Haffner: The airport and the services it provides will continue to be an important service to the island. Its growth, however, will be determined by the community’s response to potential changes. Experience has taught me that, when dealing with the feds, change comes incrementally and go through several channels along the way. At any time in the process decisions can be reversed. As an example: any specific project will require an environmental impact statement (EIP). Often, the outcome of an EIP can determine whether the project goes forward or not. Sometimes, the bigger the picture, the easier it is to thwart change as the process winds down.
Triplett: Does the airport really need to change a lot to meet the island’s future needs? I believe we can keep it relatively the same and still provide essential services to Orcas residents and visitors. Obviously, emergency services must be maintained. Actually, the ferries are more important because they can carry much more than anything that lands at the airport. Again, it’s important to involve a younger demographic so that those who will be the future of the island are involved with the future of the port.