West End county commissioner candidates gather at forum in Forks

EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the first of a two-part series on a candidates forum in Forks this week.

FORKS — Perhaps the best illustration of the differences among the three candidates for the Clallam County commissioner seat for the West End are their answers to the question:

What do they see as “new and better” in the West End four years from now?

Commissioner and community development director candidates addressed a crowd of about 75 people at the Forks Community Center on Monday night, answering pre-provided questions — many of which dealt with timber land use and private property regulations.

The forum, sponsored by the Forks Chamber of Commerce and the Forks Forum, the weekly newspaper, will be followed by another in October, after the Aug. 17 primary narrows the candidates to two in each race.

In Washington state’s top two primary, the candidates who receive the most votes will, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the Nov. 2 general election. Primary ballots were mailed last Wednesday.

The commissioner District 3 extends from Port Angeles’ west side through the West End. It will pay $61,000 beginning in January.

Incumbent Mike Doherty, seeking a fourth term as county commissioner, said he envisions the West End as an “energy hub,” with a recovering timber economy producing biomass for energy production, and tidal and wind sources also developed.

The 67-year-old Democrat from Port Angeles foresaw four years from now “tourism getting beyond Twilight,” referring to the four-novel series that now draws tourists to Forks.

Instead, he said visitors would be drawn to the beauty of the beaches and forests, the opportunities for recreation, and Native American art.

One of his challengers, Bill Peach — a 54-year-old Republican and Forks resident who became the executive director of the Quileute tribe after retiring from Rayonier Inc. after 26 years — said he foresaw West End residents telling him: “Thanks, Bill, for getting rid of Mike.”

Peach, who earlier had talked of the importance of having a representative who shared the values of the West End, said, “You will see clear representation of what’s important to you.”

Peach, who was a member of a committee that oversaw the biomass boiler project at Forks High School, said “biomass needs logging. . . . I will be a representative for the timber industry.”

Robin Poole, a 61-year-old Republican and UPS driver from Beaver, talked of West End concerns about expansion of Olympic National Park, regulations of septic tanks seen as onerous and unnecessary and a worry that wells will be metered.

“People don’t care if the regulation” is state or federal, “they want to know what you will do about it,” he said.

“I will speak for the working class.”

In his introduction, Doherty, who serves as the county commissioners’ chairman, spoke of his fiscal management ability, saying he was one of 32 people statewide who was appointed to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Committee on Transforming Washington’s Budget because he can bring “a hard look at state budget issues.”

Doherty said Clallam County is among the few that have survived the recession without serious bonded indebtedness.

He said that he usually visits the West End at least twice weekly — on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and is available to all during the rest of the week.

Peach urged voters to choose a candidate who lives in Forks.

“You want to vote for somebody who represents your values. That’s me,” he said.

He said he had the “leadership and business experience to deal with issues . . . that are destroying our quality of life.”

Among those issues, he said were erosion of property rights and a need for both job retention and creation of new jobs.

Poole said he would be a “conduit for you, the people.”

Issues brought up at the forum included:

Candidates were asked if they would favor county government taking over management of state-managed trust forests, the questioner saying that Grays Harbor does so.

Doherty said that over the years, Clallam County commissioners have decided against it.

“You’d be setting up an entire new bureaucracy,” he said, adding that “I do not favor handing over public lands to private management” or having it bid out by commissioners.

Peach did not specifically endorse county control, but said, “We need to take a look at a better system,” adding that some timber sales have no bidders.

“This is some of the best timberland on Earth, a renewable resource. . . . What’s going on with your taxpayers’ dollars? Nobody’s paying attention.”

Poole deferred to others, saying he did not know how money was appropriated.

Candidates were asked how they justified countywide solutions to problems that might not exist everywhere, the questioner saying that septic system and stormwater regulations don’t take into account different situations between, say, rainy Forks and relatively dry Sequim.

Poole said the septic system regulations became his “pet peeve” after he was forced him to pay for two tests of his system that provided different results.

Upgraded inspections of septic systems are intended to protect Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, while the rivers around Forks “go into the ocean,” he said.

“It’s a solution to a non-existent problem.”

Peach said he challenges “the notion that one size fits all.

“Anything we do needs to have a provision for site-specific applications,” he added.

Doherty pointed out that the county commissioners had set up a clean water district on the East End of the county, where pollution from septic tanks was found to be infiltrating the Strait.

“Those standards don’t apply in the West End,” he said, adding that, while state laws must be applied equally, the county’s clean water district “is appropriate to the area.”

Peach promised the audience that if they voted for him, “in four years, you’ll find out that things weren’t hidden from you.”

That comment, he said later, referred to a letter dated Feb. 17 and signed by all three county commissioners, including Doherty, that asked Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, to support the Wild Olympics Campaign.

Copies of the letter were included in packets that Peach campaign workers distributed at the forum.

Peach said he felt the action was taken without public input. It didn’t appear on a commissioners’ agenda until several months later.

In the Wild Olympics Campaign, a consortium of environmental groups are developing a draft proposal that, among other things, would add selected acreage to that which Olympic National Park could buy if the lands had willing sellers.

The “willing seller” aspect was particular important to the three commissioners, Doherty said after the forum, adding that timber companies at times choose to sell land that is not optimal for harvest.

Any change in acreage that the park could buy must be approved by Congress.

“It’s a long way away,” Doherty said, adding that before he threw his support behind any particular piece of land being part of a final proposal, he would have to investigate it.

“If it were good timber-growing soils and in a good management area,” he said he might argue against taking it out of production.

On Friday: Four of five candidates for Clallam County Community Development Director speak at the forum.

________

Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or leah.leach@peninsula dailynews.com.

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