Candidates debate local issues at Birch Bay forum

by Steve Guntli

 

Six candidates for Washington state legislature answered questions from locals at this year’s Blaine/Birch Bay/Lummi Island Candidates Forum.

Vincent Buys, Joy Monjure, Satpal Sidhu, Luanne Van Werven, Doug Ericksen and Seth Fleetwood came to the Birch Bay Bible Community Church on October 9 to address a large audience of locals and debate topical issues in anticipation of the November general election.

This year marked the first time that state legislative candidates came out to the forum, which has traditionally only been attended by local candidates. Moderator Terry Terry, a Lummi Island resident, read prepared questions, and candidates also fielded additional questions from the audience. Candidates_SG-9

The forum followed a different format than usual. In the past, each candidate in attendance would answer the same questions, but this year, in the interest of time, Terry divided up questions between two candidates for each position, alternating questions between candidates and giving their opponent 30 seconds to respond.

Each candidate made his or her priorities clear throughout the course of the evening. Buys, the incumbent state representative in position 2 for district 42, emphasized his belief in protecting small businesses and reducing government regulation. Monjure, Buys’ opponent, put a strong focus on protecting the environment.

Sidhu, a candidate for position 1 state legislator, is putting his focus towards the future, and emphasized that Whatcom County needs to be prepared for the next 20 years. Van Werven, Sidhu’s opponent, wants to prioritize spending in Olympia to benefit small business owners.

The two state senatorial candidates, Fleetwood and the incumbent Ericksen, each stressed the importance of bipartisanship in the capital and ending government gridlock.

The tone of the evening was largely respectful, with a few heated comments exchanged between Ericksen and Fleetwood, who accused the state senator of perpetuating the partisanship in the capital by only working with conservative interests. Ericksen countered that as a member of the Majority Coalition Caucus, which has members from both sides of the political spectrum, he has worked across the aisle for common causes.

The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project was foremost on the audience’s mind. Terry received more than a dozen inquiries from the crowd about the GPT, which she condensed into one question: “Do you have a position on the Gateway Terminal, and do the environmental impacts of the project concern you?”

All candidates were in agreement that the future of the project should rest on the findings of the environmental impact study currently being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“I understand the impacts on the communities of Blaine and Birch Bay would be extraordinary, and while I understand that the robust industrial facility is to the benefit of the county, I think we need to look at ways to mitigate impact on these local communities,” Van Werven said. “I have complete confidence in the environmental inspection process. I know the state has high standards and I am certain that a thorough review will take place.”

Monjure expressed concerns about the impact the facility could have on not just the environment but the economy as well.

“I think there’s potential to damage our fishing community and especially our tourist community,” she said. “This community and its natural environment are what really drive tourism in the area. I believe the facility would provide jobs, I just believe that we should be extremely careful with anything that could damage human health or the environment.”

Sidhu, a former engineer, also emphasized the importance of a thorough investigation.

“I think when it comes to this project, we tend to respond to emotions more than facts,” he said. “Once the facts are out, only then can we make the decision.”

Birch Bay locals were concerned about the Birch Bay shoreline restoration project, and the importance of getting utilities installed before the restoration project gets underway. Each candidate was supportive of Birch Bay’s desire to gain more funding for infrastructure projects.

“I’m disturbed to find that the funds have not been allocated to the entire project at one time,” Van Werven said. “Birch Bay would be torn up for a much longer time, and it would be detrimental for the community. It makes more sense to me to prioritize funds and get the project finished all at one time.”

The candidates also fielded questions about education, health care and job creation. The candidate’s forum was filmed, and Terry said the video will soon be posted on YouTube in its entirety.

Mail-in ballots for the election were sent out on October 15. The general election will take place Tuesday, November 4.

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