Whatcom candidates Weimer, Luke at odds over growth

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 14, 2013 

MCT

Incumbent Carl Weimer said you seek election to public office because you have "a bee in your bonnet" about a specific issue. Eight years ago, water quality was the issue buzzing in the aspiring Whatcom County Council member's head.

Now seeking his third term, Weimer wants to continue to work on cleaning up Lake Whatcom. He also wants to decide how to build a new county jail, rein in urban sprawl and vote on permits for a coal export terminal at Cherry Point.

If there's a bee in Michelle Luke's bonnet, it's the lack of respect, in her view, rural residents get from county leaders.

Luke, chairwoman of the county Planning Commission, lost to Weimer by 11/2 percentage points in 2009 and is challenging him again in the Nov. 5 election.

A Lummi Island resident, Luke got involved around 2004 in a county planning group for the island. It was her first experience with civic action. As the planning group progressed, the work by residents to build a community on the island after the canneries closed was being undermined by county government, Luke said.

"Rural communities have a history here," Luke said. "They're legitimate communities." Government planning should leave a community intact, she said, not "sanitize that away" and then re-create it from scratch.

Council members such as Weimer work against rural communities by taking properties out of commercial zoning, Luke said.

Council has been doing this systematically over the past few years in response to legal challenges by groups such as Futurewise and corresponding rulings by the state Growth Management Hearings Board.

Weimer said he's not opposed to commercial development in rural areas. It's allowed under state law as long as it doesn't expand beyond the level of development in place in 1990.

"We're trying to prevent strip sprawl" between Bellingham and Lynden, along with other areas at risk of excessive growth, Weimer said.

Luke said the Growth Management Act, which governs growth in rural areas and elsewhere, works well if its goals are balanced. The law seeks to encourage economic development while maintaining rural character. The act as it's invoked in Whatcom County is out of balance to the detriment of economic growth, she said. The council, Luke said, is paying attention not to the law but to lawsuits and rulings from the hearings board.

"At times the interpretation (of the law) goes out of our local county and does a lot of damage," Luke said on Thursday, Oct. 10, at a candidate forum.

When it comes to the coal terminal, Weimer would appear to be an attractive candidate to voters who oppose it. He is a steadfast conservationist on the council. He - or his dog Buddy - has been championed by the anti-coal contingent for discovering illegal land-clearing on the terminal site during a walk in 2011.

Just like all county candidates, Weimer hasn't expressed an opinion on the terminal. Council members might decide on two permits for the terminal and can't appear to be prejudiced.

"I think it's a high bar for them to meet all the mitigations they need to meet, but it's possible," Weimer said in an interview.

At Thursday's forum, he outlined some of the issues the terminal's proponent, SSA Marine, must address: global warming, ocean acidification, regional train traffic and herring habitat.

"I have that education and background in those issues," Weimer said.

Coal proponents and some Republicans disagreed with the state's decision this summer to include such a broad scope of environmental concerns in its review. Luke, endorsed by Republicans, agreed with the broad scope.

"The public process is working on this issue. Expanding (the scope) was appropriate," she said. "That's what the public wanted to see happen."

Luke, always with an eye on land-use regulation, also noted that Cherry Point has been zoned industrial for decades. She also has an eye on jobs, and for Luke, Cherry Point is not just about herring and other wildlife.

"That's where the family-wage jobs are," she said.

TOP DONORS

As of Thursday, Oct. 10.

Carl Weimer ($59,121 total*)

-- Eileen and Paul Growald - $1,800.

-- Sheila and Martin Nickerson - $1,150.

-- Maureen Ryan and Pete Trenham - $1,000.

-- 11 donors - $900.

*Does not include $38,227 in independent expenditures from Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund.

Michelle Luke ($29,751)

-- Whatcom County Republican Party - $1,800.

-- Mary and John Ferlin - $1,000.

-- Nicholas Kaiser - $900.

-- Kathy and Guy Jansen - $800.

-- Jo Ann and Jack Bowman - $661.

-- Sexton Construction - $610.

-- 4 donors - $500.

MORE CANDIDATE ANSWERS

To see answers to more questions from these candidates plus their biographical information, go to our online Voter Guide and look for the Election '13 Voter Guide. You'll also find information about other candidates on the November ballot.

This is one in a series of articles on races in the November general election. Read other articles at our Local Elections webpage. Ballots are scheduled to arrive in mailboxes by Oct. 21.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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