BELLINGHAM - A Whatcom County Council election forum with a focus on growth and the environment will include none of the four Republican-endorsed candidates.
RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and Futurewise invited the four council incumbents and their challengers to the forum, which runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1, at Bellingham High School, 2020 Cornwall Ave. Doors to the forum open and an informational fair begins at 5 p.m.
The free public forum is the first in more than a decade in the county to focus on development and the environment, organizers said.
Despite the unusual opportunity, the event is not likely to be an airing of all perspectives on the issues. Sitting council members Ken Mann and Carl Weimer will be there, as will like-minded, progressive candidates Rud Browne and Barry Buchanan, who are challenging Bill Knutzen and Kathy Kershner, respectively.
Mann's opponent, Ben Elenbaas, who owns and operates a farm near Lynden, said he won't participate in the forum because of the tactics used by its organizers to further their causes.
Futurewise has filed sweeping challenges to the county's rules for rural land use. Elenbaas, as a planning commissioner, helped shape those rules, which Futurewise says have been too permissive toward commercial interests and not sufficient for limiting sprawl.
"I think there's some great people involved with these organizations, and I support some of their stated goals," including farmland preservation, Elenbaas said. But the Futurewise land-use challenges subvert the public process on these decisions, he said.
RE Sources patrols in kayaks or on bicycles, looking for farmers or other property owners who are violating water-pollution laws - a practice that rankles Elenbaas.
"A little education, training and trust go a long way to solving these problems," Elenbaas said. "I don't think (patrolling) goes very far for building community."
Crina Hoyer, executive director of RE Sources, said that's more reason for Elenbaas to take part in the forum.
"Our No. 1 goal is clean water. If Mr. Elenbaas or any of the county council members have an idea of how to reduce pollution and clean up our local waters, the growth and environment forum is a great opportunity to share those ideas," Hoyer said.
Knutzen said he won't participate because of the dispute with Futurewise.
"What's the first thing that an officer or anyone will tell you in a legal struggle? 'You have the right to remain silent because anything can be used against you,'" Knutzen said.
Michelle Luke, a conservative planning commissioner who opposes Weimer, is in Las Vegas this week for the semi-annual Furniture Market. She and her husband run a home-furnishings business.
Kershner said she will attend a meeting Thursday night led by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which will outline its plans to push in the Legislature for stricter rules protecting water bodies from invasive species.
Because of the council's future role in deciding whether to approve the Gateway Pacific coal terminal, candidates at the forum will not be asked directly about their positions on the facility.