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Outgoing port commissioner sounds off on the port’s future

Lynae Slinden - Jeff VanDerford
Lynae Slinden
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

Now that Lynae Slinden has resigned her position as commissioner with the Port of South Whidbey, she has a few things on her mind.

Especially about the two men running for commissioner to fill the vacant seat being given up by Langley’s Rolf Seitle.

“No question, economic development is important, but candidates and South End residents need to remember that the port’s function is a three-legged stool,” she said Monday.

“Recreation and being a good environmental steward are just as important. They are what makes South Whidbey different, a special place.”

She’s concerned that those running for the office will get too caught up in the financial aspects, especially the desire to make the boat-launching ramps revenue-neutral. Ramps and public-access parks have been the core of the port’s activities for years.

Some candidates have said the port should charge user fees.

“How are they going to do that, exactly?” Slinden asked.

“How much would you charge to put a boat in the water, who would collect it and how would it be enforced? I’m not even sure it’s legal. It could be a case of charging people twice for the same service, since many of the small parks were bought with government grants.”

Slinden said that nickel-and-diming the public is not the best way to find funds for port functions.

“You’re just alienating people, taking away one more small pleasure; it’s a real insult when government agencies do that,” she said.

Slinden gave up the final four years in her second six-year term on Aug. 12 to concentrate on work beyond Whidbey, possibly as a member of the Peace Corps. She may travel, but she’s not moving anywhere. In June, she received her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington.

“I wore my spiffy black robes and marched in with my fellow grads at the ceremony,” she recalled. “It was very cool.”

But her final port meeting last week was not without controversy.

It was all about picnic tables.

When Slinden and fellow commissioner Seitle approved $2,400 to Greenbank’s Mark Fessler for two heavy 48-inch-square tables with attached benches for improvements at Phil Simon Park, Port Commissioner Geoff Tapert voted no, citing the cost.

“Mark will build us durable, beautiful and usable tables that will last a very long time,” she said. “The material is a plastic/wood composite and the fittings are marine-grade steel.”

She said that when shipping costs are included, off-the-shelf tables of similar quality would not have saved the port money.

“And the work is being done locally; the money stays here,” she added.

She added that quality is important, noting she fought hard to prevent others from picking cheaper materials for the Clinton Beach park project.

She said the park was in response to the desires of the community, and she hopes future commissioners will bear that in mind.

“Public guidance is very important; there should be no unilateral decisions by the port,” she said.

The kerfuffle over picnic tables is small potatoes compared to the controversy over the port’s once-talked-about takeover of the Whidbey Airpark.

Slinden said that, although comprehensive plan guidelines were followed in having a consultant do a study on the airstrip on Crawford Road last year, no one really wanted to build such a facility.

“What we hoped was that there would be a way to finance land and buildings that could be leased to small incubator businesses,” she said. “But the FAA isn’t in the economic development business and we don’t know anything about airports.”

When it became clear no federal money was forthcoming, the matter should have been dropped. It wasn’t.

“Commissioner Tapert kept bringing it up, even after the county said it would take

$7 million and two years just to build a road out there,” she said. “There’s really no constituency for an airport.”

She believes acquiring small parcels of land throughout South Whidbey is a good idea, however.

“We should be looking for places in Freeland and Clinton, even Bayview, that already have an infrastructure in place — power, public transit, water and sewer. Provide the chance to create and improve job opportunities where people live, not down a dirt road.”

During her tenure, Slinden was a strong proponent of the local arts community. She favors an innovative partnership zone encompassing enterprises close to the marina that would complement each other.

“How about a marine school, a green construction business and some art-related businesses housed in Langley Middle School, turning the property into a thriving campus that is totally connected to the city and the whole South End?” she asked.

“Something for the new commissioners to think about, but I strongly recommend they concentrate on the marina until it’s done, then go from there,” she said.

To fill her slot on the port board, a special three-day filing period took place this week.

If more than two candidates filed, there will be no primary and the person with the greatest number of votes in November will win the election and will serve out the remaining four years of Slinden’s six-year term.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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