Port candidates answer questions at election forum

  • Tue Oct 22nd, 2019 10:57am
  • News

League of Women Voters Candidate Forum

Orcas Island

Attendees at the Oct. 12 League of Women Voters Candidates Forum heard candidates for the Port of Orcas field questions about the area’s wetlands, the effect of increased tourism on the growth of the island’s airport, mitigating climate change and ways to encourage greater community involvement with the port’s activities.

Port of Orcas candidates Clyde Duke and Pierette Guimond (#1); Michael Triplett and Poke Haffner (#2); Gary Abood and Bea von Tobel (#3); and Mia Kartinger and Greg Ayers (#5) all agreed that protecting the wetlands near the airport is a priority.

Greg Ayers believes the wetlands are “critical to the culture of the community and must be protected.” His opponent, Mia Kartinger, agrees suggesting that “the more people onboard with protecting the wetlands, the better the chance of success.” Abood added that damage to the wetlands has turned the area “into a runway for geese,” while his opponent, incumbent commissioner Bea von Tobel, said she was concerned whether the restoration efforts completed to date “actually enhance the environment.” Poke Haffner argued that any changes must take into account the “various kinds of wetlands,” while Michael Triplett admitted that “wetlands was perhaps one of his weakest areas” and he encouraged residents to stay engaged. Pierette Guimond said the idea that wetland preservation is even an issue is a “perfect example of why we need different people on the [port] commission.” Her opponent, Clyde Duke who was, along with von Tobel and Haffner, recently appointed to fill an empty position on the Port of Orcas, offered that the wetlands issue is a reoccurring one. “It will be an agenda item again at the Oct. 28 meeting,” he said. [Editor’s note: The meeting date has been changed to Nov. 13.]

Whether the island’s increased status as a tourist destination (and an increase in vacation rentals) could influence the port’s future, the candidates offered a variety of responses. Reactions ranged from a suggestion that ferries, not the airport, would feel the weight of increased island traffic (Haffner) to deriding the use of scare tactics that suggest growing the airfield is vital to future flight demands (Triplett). Guimond reminded attendees the airport is a rural one, adding that “sometimes, it just might be prudent to wait a few extra days for a package.” Abood argued that issues around vacation rentals will be driven by sewer and water permits, not whether the runway is extended. “The commissioners are not in favor of breaking up Mt. Baker Road,” von Tobel assured the attendees while Kartinger reminded the audience that years ago the number of visitors to the island was based on the availability of accommodations. “We can set a limit,” she said. Ayers doubts the [port] commission can do anything to determine the number of vacation rentals on the island, or limit the number of Lear jets that want to land here. “We can continue to focus on how to best to run the port,” he said, adding that everything is a community concern.

The issue of climate change prompted a question about ways to reduce the airport’s carbon footprint. Given the critical need for air travel on and off the island, Ayers wondered whether it was possible to balance plane travel with reducing carbon emissions. Kartinger suggested that encouraging economic development through incubators in green technology and green-based products could lead to greater energy efficiency. Abood agreed with Ayers on whether the commissioners could affect the airport’s carbon footprint, while von Tobel thought consideration should be given to how rising sea levels would impact the island. Haffner agreed with Kartinger’s idea of encouraging economic incubators and Triplett wondered about the commission’s stewardship of the island’s resources as it considers allowing larger planes to land. Guimond suggested it would be better to reconsider the basics of how we get around on the island rather than encourage more air travel here, and Duke stressed the importance of protecting the island’s water shed. “Doing what we can is a start,” he said.

All the candidates offered their ideas of how to encourage greater community involvement in the port’s activities. Abood holds to the idea that “when the public speaks, the commission should listen,” while von Tobel lamented years of meetings where “no one came to the meetings.” Kartinger suggested that previous decisions were made around what visitors wanted. “We need to control the dialogue,” she said, “and pay more attention to the community’s wants and needs.” Ayers suggested utilizing the larger world of social media to keep the community informed about pending concerns. Duke offered that “transparency is everything” and encouraged the community to ensure their needs get heard. Guimond said she’s been encouraging the acting airport manager to get meeting information in front of the public to stimulate more input. Haffner argued that to be heard “you have to show up at meetings,” and suggested that work sessions could be in the port’s future. Triplett suggested that “voting out the old and voting in new commissioners” is one way to ensure greater community involvement.

In addition to contested races for Port of Orcas, the Eastsound Sewer and Water District – Comm. 1 is a race between Terrence Mullen and incumbent, Edwin Sutton. Since LWV rules don’t allow for a candidate to take questions when their opponent is not in attendance, Sutton was only able to make a general statement. In it, he encouraged the community to get involved with the commission’s work and advocated for greater dialogue with the community. “ Years ago, Doug Bechtel wrote the “Opalcogram” in which he summarized the workings of Orcas Power and Light Co-op, then he’d share that with the local paper. We need more things like that,” Sutton offered. Sutton has served on the ESWD since Jan. 2014; his term expires at the end of this year.

The Orcas School District #137 is a rare contested race between incumbent Greg White of Eastsound and Lili Hein of Orcas.

White, an island resident whose term expires next month, has been on the board for six years and believes with incumbency comes experience. “It takes at least two years to learn the ropes,” he said. Hein, who has lived on the island since 2001, is running because she feels strongly that “community engagement is most important when it comes to educating our children,” and expressed alarm at what she sees as the lack of public participation in the school district.

Sen. Liz Lovelett, incumbent – 40th District (D) from Anacortes who is running against Daniel Miller (R) gave a statement since Miller was unable to attend. Lovelett listed her credentials and current endorsements and, calling herself a “policy wonk,” pledged support for (among other things) electric ferries and affordable living.

Ballots have been mailed and must be cast by midnight Nov. 4.

An abbreviated version of this article was published in the Islands’ Sounder, Oct. 23, 2019.