Port hopefuls share ideas for marina, jobs

FREELAND — For the first time, all five candidates in the races for the two available seats at the Port of South Whidbey had their day — or evening — in the sun.

During a forum hosted by League of Women Voters on Thursday in Freeland, three Clinton residents and two from Langley attempted to separate themselves from their opponents.

For Position 3 from Clinton were Curt Gordon, Ed Jenkins and Mona Newbauer. The commissioner slot opened in August when Lynae Slinden resigned. She has since declared her support for Newbauer.

A fourth candidate, Callahan McVay, dropped out of the race on Wednesday, though his name still appears on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Fighting to be elected from Langley — current Port Commissioner Rolf Seitle is not running again when his six-year term expires in December — were Dean Enell and Chris Jerome.

The main issues for the candidates were the role of the Langley Marina in generating revenue and the degree to which that money would percolate through the South End, overall economic development, the future of Porter Field at Whidbey Airpark and whether an industrial development district (IDD) is a viable way for the port district to raise money.

Clinton port position

The Clinton candidates varied in their approach to each issue.

Jenkins, 55, who led the fight last year for a Whidbey-based public utility district, expressed doubts about the harbor.

“I’m not terribly impressed with the marina,” Jenkins said. “I want evidence that if boaters do come, and we won’t know that for a while, that the money they spend won’t go to just helping out Langley businesses.”

“As a retiree, I live on a fixed income, and as a former businessman, I know how to give taxpayers the biggest bang for their buck,” he added.

“I know how to get things done.”

Jenkins insisted the marina, and other port facilities, be set up to generate income with the goal of being self-supporting and reducing the tax burden on voters.

In response to a question about an airport, Jenkins said it has the potential for being a financial sinkhole.

“Long term, the port can explore float-plane access if necessary,” he said.

As for an industrial development district — a state-authorized way for port districts to raise money for projects without a public vote — he said he’d have to see a detailed business plan before committing to the idea.

Gordon, 52, is the owner of Island Asphalt and cited his 19 years on the parks district board as a measure of his ability to oversee maintenance and management issues and steer long-term projects to completion.

“Ports were set up to bring trade and commerce to the areas they serve,” Gordon said. “It’s my view that transportation — the reliable flow of goods, people and services — is the key to a strong economic future for South Whidbey. The marina is part of that, but not the whole picture.”

“The port should consider being the lead agency for a sewer system in Freeland,” he added.

“As commissioner, I’d want to work closely with the ferry system and county to encourage better transport options. We don’t need to attract new businesses, just make sure those we have are successful,” he said. “Anything we can do to encourage solid, family-wage jobs is fundamental.”

Newbauer, 48, has owned Island Angel Chocolates in Langley for four years.

“This is the first time I’ve ever run for office and if elected, I intend to be an employee of the people,” she said. “Running for office is new to me, but so was learning how to make chocolates. I believe in cooperative teamwork and a focused goal operating within a cooperative community.”

Newbauer said the marina has the potential to be a significant economic factor over the next 20 years, for Langley and all the South End. She wants the port to work more closely with the Economic Development Council to bring needed skills and tools to small businesses.

She noted that she personally doesn’t like to be told what to do, and suspects taxpayers don’t either.

“I’d be opposed to an IDD,” she said.

On the topic of the airport, Newbauer said the port should focus its energies on the marina.

“And I want to see the port step up efforts to help Clinton businesses succeed,” she added. “Bringing shops to Clinton that local people patronize, not just visitors, is crucial.”

Langley position

Since there is a good deal of similarity in Jerome and Enell’s vision of the port’s future — they both believe strongly in the marina and favor bringing living-wage jobs to Whidbey — Jerome attempted to delineate his differences with Enell.

“I’ve kept a boat in the marina for nine years and actually use many of the port’s facilities on a regular basis,” he told the 30 people attending the forum.

Jerome, 54, added that he was trained as a veterinarian and successfully ran several businesses, one of which attracted more than $8 million in investment capital.

“The business that I run right here has customers around the world, but rather than commute, I use the Internet and work from home,” he said. “I believe that my experience can help lead the port to develop programs and facilities that can grow existing island businesses and start new ones.”

Though noting the Whidbey Airpark is zoned for light industrial uses, he said it’s unlikely an airport would work.

“But if we want more industry here someday, that airpark will become more valuable over the years,” he said.

Jerome also said an industrial development district is not a tool the port can rule out using.

For his part, Enell, 61, noted that in his 20 years on South Whidbey, he has been involved in a number of progressive movements, including the Smart Growth Coalition and Freeland’s attempt to become a city.

Enell said he favors the port creating a community kitchen, allowing farmers to package and market the crops they raise for export to the mainland. As to an airport, Enell is opposed.

“I’m not convinced an airport is the right way to go, especially as there is no road available,” he said. “The cost to the port, the county and the taxpayers would be prohibitive.”

He added that, in a small community, he favors talking with voters rather than imposing something as drastic as an industrial development district.

“That said, if a timely project came up, it might be a necessary step for the port to take,” Enell said.

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