Standingroom only crowd listens to candidates

Published on Thu, Nov 3, 2005 by ack Kintner & Tara Nelson

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Standing room only crowd listens to candidates

By Jack Kintner & Tara Nelson

Blaine residents engaged in a heated debate over the future of the Blaine Municipal Airport Tuesday at the Blaine Senior Center.
The discussion was part of a forum sponsored by The Northern Light that gave Blaine City Council and Whatcom County Council candidates as well as candidates for Northwest Parks and Recreation District, Birch Bay Water and Sewer District and the Port of Bellingham a chance to present their views on a variety of topics.
Doug Fenton, chairman of Blaine Airport Commission, a commission appointed by the city council, represented airport proponents. Fenton said even if the airport does not operate at maximum capacity, does not make a case to abolish it.

“The airport is just one more amenity the city of Blaine provides to its citizens,” he said. “There is a small group of people who would like to sell it off to the highest bidder so a developer can get rich off it, but the airport provides a lot more to the city than is obvious to the naked eye.”

Fenton added that a local member of Angel Flight, a national organization of pilots that volunteer their time and resources to transport individuals in need of special medical attention, makes several trips each month.

Dennis Hill, a real estate agent who and founder of the Revitalize Blaine Now group, represented airport opponents and disagreed with Fenton. Hill accused three city council members of having a conflict of interest in the decision to strike down his initiative and said the council’s projected economic advantages of an airport expansion are exaggerated. He also disputed the claim that he would try to turn the 40 acres of land the airport occupies into a giant truck stop.

“There’s no doubt (a truck stop) would be the highest and best use of that property,” he said. “But I personally would like to see it be used as sports stadium with possible hotel accommodations and athletic fields such as the complex in Issaquah.”

Fenton, however, said even if the city closed the airport, it wouldn’t be able to afford the closing costs or environmental clean-up costs and would be forced to sell to the highest bidder.

“If the airport closes, it’s going to be sold to a developer and then you’re going to get what you’re going to get,” he said.
Hill said he thinks the land could sell for as much as $6 per square foot, possibly offsetting much of those costs.

During the question and answer period, Mike Kent, speaking from the audience, told Fenton that Martin Ranck, president of the local Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) chapter, had called him last month and asked whether he was a supporter of the airport.

Kent said Ranck threatened to advise members of the EAA to vote for his opponent if Kent would not answer his question. Kent accused Fenton of persuading Ranck to call him and accused him of extortion.
“It was a pretty disturbing call,” Kent said. “The president called me and told me if I don’t give him an answer he would tell his members not to vote for me. I thought that was ill conceived and I think it’s a disservice to the EAA.”

Fenton said, however, he had no involvement in the phone call between Ranck and Kent.

“I’m certainly not powerful enough to extort any candidate,” Fenton said.

Whatcom County resident Scott Dodd asked Fenton why the council had not commissioned a study on the economic feasibility of closing the airport.

“Are you saying you’re afraid of someone coming in from the outside and doing a study?” he said.

Fenton said the council had been in the process of forming a committee to study the alternative uses to the airport but that was halted by Hill’s petition.

“Bonnie Onyon wanted to see what the alternatives were, then along came Dennis Hill and his crowd that said they wanted to close the airport, the city got into a legal hassle and then a political hassle deciding what to do with the issue,” he said.

The council then put the committee on hold pending the results of the election.

“If the vote is yes, the committee will be formed and will go ahead with it’s task,” Fenton said. “But if the answer is no, we don’t need to study it anyway.”

Fenton acknowledged that decision probably would displease members of the airport opposition because many of them want to hire their own analyst.

Another audience member asked Fenton about trees that were cut down adjacent to the airport on land the airport purchased from the Carruthers family. She accused the council of making a decision to acquire land in executive session without time for public comment.

“The council just went ahead and did it,” the unidentified woman said. Fenton said the FAA had determined that the trees were unsafe and that the owner refused to cut them unless the city bought the property. He added that while all decisions are to be made in open session, the council is allowed to discuss land-use matters in executive session to avoid tipping off owners of the speculative property.

“If they blab about it in open session, it potentially drives the price of the land up and that’s bad for the public,” Fenton said. “It’s essential the city be able to keep its deliberations private until they are ready to make a final decision. At that point, they go into open session, which they did.”

Blaine City Council
With all four candidates on stage at the same time introductory remarks were reasonably brief before the four began answering questions from the audience and each other.

Charlie Hawkins, a candidate for a position currently held by his wife, has been a commercial fisherman and a bus driver for the Blaine school district.

His opponent is Blaine native Jason Burke, a 33-year-old, 1991 graduate of Blaine high school and Bellevue community college who works in the construction trade. Burke said the current city council is not currently representing the wishes of the citizens.

“We’ve strayed from that and right now the council is running the citizens rather than the other way around,” Burke said.

Incumbent Bob Brunkow, a graduate of Washington State University, spent most of his career as president and CEO of ICOM America in Bellevue. He also served on the Blaine airport commission for four years before joining the council. He emphasized his experience running a company that had operating revenue of $50 million, and said this helps when helping to find ways to meet Blaine’s budget, which currently is around $39 million.

Jason Overstreet described himself as a family man and a business owner. He is was nominated for his campaign to reduce signage height limits in an attempt to help local businesses attract customers and said Blaine needs more of a business representation in the city council.

“I want to address the gap between city hall and local businesses,” he said.

Overstreet is a Seattle firefighter working from eight to 11, 24-hour shifts per month.

Several audience members asked about his time commitment and if it would create a time conflict if he was elected. Overstreet, however, said his commitments equal out to about two days per week.

“I’m actually very blessed to have that job,” he said. “It actually affords me more time to spend in Blaine and with my family in business than a normal nine to five job.”

Brunkow asked Overstreet what experience he could bring to the council with respect to budgets.

Overstreet answered that he has no experience in public office, but that he is an avid reader and a team player and would go out of his way to learn the process.

“I’m not a 60-year-old with 35 years of financial and management experience but what I do bring is a willingness to learn,” he said. “I’m also a life long student, I own two businesses, and I obviously run my own finances with those businesses.

And I’ll be the first one to raise my hand and ask if I don’t understand something. That’s the beauty of a council – if you don’t know something there are six other people there to ask. I don’t see it as a shortcoming of mine at all.”

Port of Bellingham
Tip Johnson, a candidate for the Port of Bellingham commission, and former Bellingham city council member, who operated the Fairhaven Boat Works, said he would like to see the former GP land that was recently purchased by the port, be kept public to ensure public use of the waterfront in the future.

“The policy of continually seeking the highest market rates is driving people away,” he said. “We’d be better off if the port acted more like a port, holding lands and facilities in trust for public uses and less like a private company, trying to maximize profit.”

In addition, Johnson said the port’s current practices are driving up rents and pushing out marine-related businesses and fishers. He said to promote job growth, the port should not close the shipping terminal as planned or convert the old GP treatment lagoon into a marina.

“I believe the port’s role is to cultivate economic development and to support jobs with things like shipping terminals, airports, not pricing them out of the waterfront,” he said.

Incumbent Scott Walker said that part of his motivation to run in 1991 were Blaine supporters who wanted to upgrade the harbor.

“We’ve done that,” Walker said, “expanding the marina, putting in the boardwalk and the public fishing pier. We added the largest eelgrass mitigation zone in the country, and during my tenure we’ve reduced the tax load on citizens of Whatcom County by 90 percent.”

Whatcom County Council
Laurie Caskey-Schreiber and challenger Craig Mayberry, both of Lynden, were the first two candidates for county council to speak. Mayberry is working on his Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia and teaches economics at Whatcom Community College and finances at another school near Seattle.

A fiscal conservative, Mayberry said he’s interested in growth issues, budgeting and government responsibility. When asked his opinion of impact fees for developers, Mayberry was slightly evasive.
“The process needs to be fair for everyone,” he said. “We need a level playing field.”

Caskey-Schreiber, however, disagreed.
“We need to get on board with impact fees so our schools, for example, don’t have to pay the costs themselves,” she said. She then turned to Mayberry and asked him directly if he favored impact fees, yes or no, to which he replied, “Well, yes, if the process itself is worked on, too.”

He later said that much of the expenses that impact fees are designed to mitigate can be recovered from more efficient operation of county offices.

“Right now we’re building everywhere because we can’t build anywhere,” Mayberry said, later saying he was referring to a lack of infrastructure already in place to support growth.

He added that a moratorium on growth at the county level had spurred a recent surge of building proposals. That, too, causes problems, he said.

Carl Weimer and Mike Kent were next, both men vying for Sharon Roy’s seat that she is vacating. Kent, who garnered significant campaign contributions from local developers such as Fred Bovenkamp, said he wants to work with developers to encourage them to help with infrastructure. Kent cited Bovenkamp’s voluntarily building a road for one of his Semiahmoo developments.

“That’s a whole road, not just a fee,” Kent said.

Carl Weimer related his long history both in helping start businesses that support ecological concerns, such as the Bellingham and Seattle ReStores that recycle building materials.

Weimer also is a member of the Pipeline Safety Commission after the 1999 Olympic natural gas pipeline explosion in Bellingham that killed three children and has been involved with land use issues and was one of the first to question the Ferndale “mega mall.”

“I think it’s a problem when growth impacts our drinking water and makes it difficult for the farmers to farm because it’s more profitable to have cul de sacs,” he said.

Weimer said he favored mandatory impact fees whereas Kent said he favors voluntary fees, relying on the good nature of developers to be mindful of the well-being of citizens.

Weimer asked Kent about the emphasis Kent has placed on methamphetamine in his campaign, saying it was overshadowing more important issues.

“There’s no disagreement that speed is a problem, everybody thinks that it’s a scourge,” he said. “I’m not sure why Mike’s making an issue out of it.”

Kent responded by saying that he worked with Sheriff Bill Elfo on the new jail initiative, one effective way of getting this problem under control.

Incumbent Seth Fleetwood and challenger Gary Lysne appeared next. Fleetwood said he’d been active in the Greenways projects in Bellingham and is running again because he wants to preserve the rural character of the county.

Lysne, a retired Seattle policeman, said the difference between himself and his opponent is that he judges things based on results, not intentions.

Lincoln Rutter of Blaine asked both candidates about impact fees.

“I’m amazed that Fred Bovenkamp was congratulated for building a road. Shouldn’t these fees be mandatory?”

Both candidates said that the growth management act should be followed, but Fleetwood added that “you’re referencing impact fees as not being mandatory, but if I along with Laurie and Carl, am elected you’ll see mandatory impact fees within the next four years.”