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Commission candidates speak out

The four men seeking the unpaid, six-year position of Commissioner for the Port of South Whidbey met with 25 voters and interested onlookers Thursday night at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.

Under the auspices of the League of Women Voters, each had three minutes to state their case for the job. Lawrence Dobrin, 73, set the tone by thanking fellow candidate and incumbent Gene Sears for his 12-year service, then proceeded to delineate just why Sears should be kicked out of office.

“We need to escalate the rate at which the Port gets things done,” Dobrin said.

“We need to be much more pro-active,” he said. “If elected I promise to get the job done as regards the Langley marina while actively supporting community involvement at all levels.”

Wally Russell, 64, noted he became interested in the Port through his involvement in Puget Sound Anglers “who were pushing to get a boat launch ramp at Bush Point.

“There’s been lots of engineering done but, after five years, there’s still no quality ramp there,” Russell said.

Sears, 75, devoted his three minutes on the defensive over Russell’s comments. “I’m a little unhappy about Bush Point.”

“Years ago anglers and the Port talked the Department of Fisheries into building a ramp but they took their time,” Sears said. “It’s somewhat of a disservice to current and former commissioners to blame them for the delay.”

For his part Geoff Tapert, 39, emphasized his belief that the Port should focus more on the future, not the past.

After a brief review of his career — Army service, Everett City Planning Commission — Tapert said, “The island is seeing more retired people move here while school enrollment is down indicating a lower tax base. I think the Port can help with revenue streams leading to affordable housing, good jobs and a sustainable economy.”

“The Port’s primary goal should be economic development, not simply recreation,” Tapert said.

Langley issues

Not surprisingly, the audience had questions about the Langley marina renovation.

“Expanding the harbor is impossible from engineering and cost considerations,” Sears said. “A well-thought out buoy system with ferry service to the dock may be the answer.”

Sears continued with a “brief” history of Port-City of Langley relations forcing the moderator to ring the bell.

Tapert thinks commissioners should examine what other communities have done, citing a coastal town in Canada with tourist potential and a small tax base. “Nanaimo has a vibrant waterfront and it’s a destination for boaters. Clearly there are infrastructure problems between the Port and Langley and we need to find ways to share responsibilities,” he said.

“Access to fuel is an essential component,” Tapert said.

Currently there are no public fueling docks on Whidbey south of Oak Harbor.

Russell is against using a mediator to solve the impasse between the two government bodies. “It’s unclear to me why we’ve spent as much on planners and architects as actual renovation.”

And Dobrin added: “We should consolidate what all South Whidbey citizens are after. We need a team to work toward a common goal. let’s think in terms of getting the job done.”

And the money?

Discussing funding for the work needed at the marina, Sears pointed out that Langley has ownership and control, while the Port has the money and construction expertise but warned, “We’d have to bond ourselves up to our eyeballs if we took financial responsibility for the marina. The City changes their plans frequently without consulting anyone.”

The Port has voted to provide $100,000 of the estimated $340,000 renovation cost and is spearheading construction of a steeper ramp for a “better launch experience,” according to Port Manager Ed Field.

Tapert returned to his theme of economic development as a funding source. “Depending solely on grants over the long term may not be the wisest course. If we had more revenue anything is possible. The Port can find it’s own projects down the road.”

After Sears noted the Port’s success in getting grant money for the Clinton Beach improvement project, Dobrin related his experiences raising government dollars through grants.

“I just told you we got a $585,000 grant,” (actually $576,177) Sears told Dobrin.

“That’s peanuts, there’s a lot of money out there,” Dobrin responded.

Top two priorities

Finally, each candidate addressed their top two priorities over the next six years if elected.

“Resolving the marina situation and a change in direction toward more direct involvement in development,” Russell said.

Dobrin cited the marina and “changing the culture and outlook of the Port so it can reach consensus.”

Tapert reiterated the need for more revenue streams reflected in the Port’s next comprehensive plan, due in 2007.

Sears had the final word.

“I want to see the Clinton beach project finished plus start, and finish, Langley. But we must recognize Langley hasn’t spent a nickel on their harbor for 10 years,” Sears said.

For information on voting and the primary election, call the Auditor’s Office at 360-679-7366. South Whidbey residents can call toll-free at 321-5111.

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