Two square off for commissioner's seat

It's a rematch years in the making.

Everell “Duke” LeBaron of Langley is running for a seat on the board of directors for the Whidbey Island Conservation District against Leonard C. "Len" Engle of Coupeville.

LeBaron challenged Engle, now an incumbent with 21 years on the district board, as a write-in candidate in the late 1990s and won. Now, LeBaron is hoping voters will return him to the board.

With four of the board's five members living on the north end, LeBaron said voters could help balance the board by adding another commissioner from the South End.

"I also want to see more citizen involvement in the conservation district elections through finding a way for the district to offer mail-in (absentee) ballots, or even have their elections appear on the regular ballots in November or February," he said. "The present system is awkward and makes it so 'low key' that most citizens don’t even know it’s happening."

Engle, however, says he is the only board member who represents commercial agriculture.

"Everybody else is a part-time farmer," he said.

Engle owns Engle Family Farms, which raises holstein replacement heifers and seed crops. He also helps manage Sherhill Vista Farms, and also runs Central Whidbey Farms.

He comes from a pioneer farm family on Whidbey that dates back to the 1850s. He is a product of Coupeville schools, but has had six-plus years of junior college, including courses in business and labor management.

"And 50 years of school-of-hard-knocks farming experience," Engle said.

LeBaron has a bachelor's degree in business administration and later received a master's degree in ecosystem management.

And LeBaron points to his history of farming on Whidbey Island and his background on agriculture issues as major plusses.

"If elected, I can hit the floor running," LeBaron said.

“I have lived on the island since 1986 on five acres and have raised farm animals during those 20 years including, pigs, sheep, poultry and rabbits," he said. "I have worked in a feed store for 15 years selling animal feed, equipment, etc. I have gone through the WSU Livestock Advisors class and at one time had a 4-H Club, 'Island Junior Ranchers.'"

LeBaron served on the board from 1998 to 2001.

"Under new management the Whidbey Island Conservation District has been revitalized and has great potential to help our island environment," LeBaron said. "I want to help WICD continue to strengthen and become ever more helpful to island landowners."

The conservation district assists farmers, rural landowners and others with technical advice and assistance on issues relating to natural resource management and water quality.

Lately, though, the district has found itself pulled into the ongoing squabble over growth management issues between Island County government and environmental activists, who asked the district to turn over farm plans the district had helped farmers prepare for their agriculture operations.

Engle voiced his strong support for farm plans, adding that they are a management tool that can be used to help the environment.

"They are a voluntary thing; they should not be regulated by the county," he said.

Engle said keeping farm plans for the purpose they are intended is a big priority, and that means "that we don't get into the regulatory side of things. We wear the white hats and not the black hats."

LeBaron, too, said he wants the district to continue in its original role.

"I believe that there are ways to use the expertise and funds available through the conservation district to help land owners develop their property in the most environmentally benign way while remaining a non-regulatory agency and while maintaining confidentiality of citizens property," he said.

The election is from 4 to 8 p.m. March 7; polling locations are at Trinity Lutheran Church Community Building in Freeland and Heller Road Fire Station in Oak Harbor.

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