Port Angeles council candidates both opposed and unopposed appear at forum
Peter Ripley, candidate for Port Angeles City Council Position 2, answers a question from the audience during Monday’s Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting. From left are interim City Councilman Dan Gase, running unopposed for another council position, City Councilmen Patrick Downie and Brad Collins, running unopposed for their council positions, and Lee Wetham, who is running against Ripley for council Position 2. --Photo by Jeremy Schwartz/Peninsula Daily News
By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Candidates for both the unopposed and contested seats on the Port Angeles City Council fielded questions from an audience of about two dozen at the chamber of commerce luncheon meeting at the Red Lion Hotel.
Peter Ripley and Lee Whetham, both candidates for City Council Position 2 formerly held by Max Mania, where joined by current councilmen Brad Collins, Patrick Downie and Dan Gase during the candidate forum.
Gase was appointed in September to Mania’s seat, from which Mania resigned in August and will vacate the position once the Nov. 5 election results are certified.
Ripley is an online newspaper publisher and advocate for those with disabilities, while Whetham works as a plumber in Port Angeles and has held several local union leadership positions.
“I’m a lot more than a plumber,” Whetham told audience members during his opening remarks. “Most people who know me know me as a labor leader.”
When asked about the spectre of rising utility bills, Collins said this issue was one of the most important dealt with by the City Council.
“We have to do something to get this under control, and if we don’t, we’ll build a bad economic climate and make it worse,” Collins said.
Whetham said he sees increases in utility rates as an investment in the city’s future and continued reliability of the city’s utility infrastructure.
“The way I look at it, we haven’t invested enough in our infrastructure over the years,” Whetham said.
In response to a question about the idea removing certain trees in the city’s Lincoln Park because they obstruct full use of the William R. Fairchild International Airport, Ripley said he was against cutting down any trees.
Officials with the Port of Port Angeles, which owns the airport, have said certain tall trees need to be removed from Lincoln Park to return about 1,350 feet of the airport’s 6,350-foot runway to full use.
Whetham said he would support removing trees that pose a safety hazard to planes landing at the airport.
City Council members have approved a master plan for Lincoln Park that includes redevelopment and some tree removal with the replanting of smaller trees, though they have not committed to removal without an environmental assessment, funded by the port, on what impacts the removal would have.
“I think there is reason to be hopeful,” Collins said regarding talks between city and port officials over a way forward for Lincoln Park. “I think the city and the port are on the same page.”
John Calhoun, president of the port commission, said in a later interview that he was confident port commissioners and staff could bring a proposal satisfactory to City Council members within the year.
“I think we can resolve this issue and bring a proposition to the city in the next two to three months,” Calhoun said.
Gase agreed that certain trees do need to be removed, while Downie said the city wants to make sure both the airport and Lincoln Park are around for future generations.
“If we do this right and do this intelligently, we can retain both community assets,” Downie said, referring to the airport and the park.
After a question on the candidates’ stance on the city’s smart meters, Ripley said: “No on smart meters.”
The ongoing project, also called the advanced metering infrastructure or AMI program, would replace the city’s electric and water meters with remotely-read devices but has encountered delays.
The $5.4 million project has also encountered public opposition stemming from health and privacy concerns, among others.
“It is readily apparent that the AMI program is not working as it is intended to be,” Downie said.
“We’re clearly well behind schedule.”
Collins said smart meters would help city residents save energy by allowing them to more accurately track their energy use.
Downie said city staff are recommending hiring West Monroe Partners, an energy consultant, to evaluate the smart meter project and present options for moving forward.
City Council members will consider the contract, to be worth no more than $86,500, during their meeting tonight, which starts at 6 p.m. in the City Council chambers, 321 E. Fifth St.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: October 14. 2013 6:47PM