PORT ANGELES — While all four candidates in contested races for Port Angeles City Council agreed on the importance of being good stewards of the environment in a forum last week, Travis Berglund, Kate Dexter, Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin and Artur Wojnowski disagreed on the City Council’s role.
“I would support a plastic bag ban,” Dexter said at a League of Woman Voters forum at the Clallam County Courthouse on Wednesday night.
“I think we live in one of the most beautiful places in the country, right on a rather large body of water filled with marine life that can be very negatively impacted by the amount of plastics in our water.”
Berglund, Dexter’s opponent in the race for City Council Position 4, said he would not seek a ban on plastic bags if elected Nov. 7.
“The only way I think I would be convinced to ban plastic bags is if our local mill was making the paper bags,” Berglund said.
“Outside of that, I think it’s something to do with personal freedom here.”
The Position 4 seat is now held by Dan Gase, who is not running for re-election in the general election.
Ballots will be mailed to registered votes Wednesday.
Schromen-Wawrin and Wojnowski are vying for City Council Position 3, which is being vacated by retiring Mayor Patrick Downie.
The question of whether to support a citywide ban on plastic bags was posed by former Peninsula College Vice President Paula Doherty, one of 36 attendees of the 90-minute forum.
“As long as we all do the environmentally right thing and recycle as opposed to throwing plastics away,” Wojnowski said.
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t be looking for other options.”
Schromen-Wawrin said cloth and paper bags were the norm when he visited Germany 16 years ago.
“Many counties around the world are recognizing that plastic bags in particular are a nefarious form of trash,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“I don’t see a reason why the city couldn’t help to encourage cleaning up that form of pollution.”
While opposed to an outright ban on plastic bags, Berglund and Wojnowski said they supported a transition to more sustainable products.
“We have a whole bunch of huge totes in the back off our car that we use,” Berglund said.
“And I think there’s a lot of peer pressure and things going that way, and that’s fine, but I wouldn’t implement that [ban] from city government, no.”
Later in the meeting, former Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty asked the candidates whether they would support a climate action plan for Port Angeles with adaptation strategies.
“My answer to the question is no,” Berglund said.
“When I look at the facts out there, when I look at the science on all sides of this, one thing I always come back to is that this climate has changed forever.
“It has always been changing, and so I am not convinced that we can take a role in changing that,” Berglund added. “And I’ll leave it at that.”
Dexter countered that the City Council would be remiss if it didn’t try to address global warming on the local level.
“I think just because it’s a big thing doesn’t mean that as a small town, we couldn’t take some small steps, just thinking about a plastic bag ordinance, a bag ban,” Dexter said.
“That’s one small step that can have an impact. And so I guess I would certainly be open to having a conversation and thinking about what that [climate action plan] might look like.”
Schromen-Wawrin said planning policies for long-term sea level rise and short-term impacts of a tsunami are similar.
He added that it was “short-sighted” for the Navy to build new infrastructure on Ediz Hook, which is expected to experience more flooding as global temperatures rise.
“I do think we need to plan ahead, because it’s going to come back and bite us and we’re going to end up paying more later by failing to plan,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
Wojnowski said he would support conversations on climate change and a proactive approach to environmental issues.
“But I don’t think that [climate change] is something that we, locally, would be able to tackle ourselves,” Wojnowski said.
“Some of it actually is probably more of a state and a federal issue than it is a local issue.
“But definitely having a communication to discuss things that we could do for residents in town to prepare for some of these things is definitely a good conversation to have, for council to discuss,” Wojnowski added.
“But I don’t think that we will be the ones to solve the problem.”
The forum was postponed when timer Tom Montgomery fell ill and was taken out on a stretcher by firefighter-paramedics.
Montgomery, a long-serving member of the Clallam County Planning Commission, regained consciousness and remained alert during the 11-minute ordeal.
Wojnowski left the dais to help stabilize Montgomery with his wife, former William Shore Memorial Pool Manager Christi Wojnowski, and others.
Moderator Vicci Rudin reconvened the forum after the medical emergency.
On Saturday, Micki Vail of the League of Woman Voters said Montgomery was “doing fine.” Montgomery could be not reached by press time Saturday.
Berglund is a licensed financial adviser and a Port Angeles native.
Dexter is a special projects coordinator who holds a master’s degree in public administration.
Schromen-Wawrin is a constitutional law attorney and Port Angeles native.
Wojnowski is a maintenance manager for a homeowners association and a general contractor.
While the candidates agreed on most of the issues raised — including gun control, emergency planning and city budgets — Schromen-Wawrin highlighted differences between his and Wojnowski’s positions on the opioid epidemic.
“It’s far more effective to deal with substance abuse with prevention than going after the supply chain,” Schromen-Wawrin said, citing the example of Portugal, which decriminalized drugs.
“It’s far more effective to address people who are dealing with addictions than going after the supply, particularly when the supply is provided by licensed medical providers.”
Since taxpayers are already paying for law enforcement, Wojnowski said, police have a role in reducing the supply of heroin and opioid-based pills.
“It’s not going to be a battle that we win, but it’s one that is already paid for though our tax dollars,” Wojnowski said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].