Friday, July 12, 2013
Anacortes mayor’s debate focuses on jobs, Tethys
By MARK STAYTON
ANACORTES — The four candidates for Anacortes’ mayoral seat offered their views on strategic planning, economic development and the Tethys water bottling plant proposal Thursday afternoon during their second debate leading up to the Aug. 6 primary election.
Hosted by the Anacortes Chamber of Commerce, the debate focused largely on how candidates Brian Geer, Mitch Everton, Laurie Gere and Mayor Dean Maxwell plan to bolster the local economy and bring living‑wage jobs to Anacortes.
A rift emerged between candidates on what has become the largest issue of the election: The proposal by Tethys Enterprises to build a 1-million-square-foot beverage bottling plant south of March Point.
Maxwell has received some criticism of how he handled the Tethys proposal.
Without public input, the Anacortes City Council in 2010 agreed to a contract with the company to provide it 5 million gallons of water per day from the Skagit River through 2050. Anacortes has rights to 55 million gallons of water per day and currently uses approximately 21 million gallons per day.
“Tethys was terrible policy,” candidate Mitch Everton said when asked about the proposal during the debate.
“To tell the community that their input is inappropriate to me is just wrong,” Everton said. Everton said his support for the Tethys proposal rests on how many living‑wage jobs the plant can support.
He said Tethys hasn’t yet provided enough information on the plant to make an informed judgment about whether it will benefit the community. But he said the process is likely past the stage where citizens will have any meaningful effect on its outcome.
“Our mayor unilaterally thought Tethys was a good idea for Anacortes, and that’s why it’s coming here,” Everton said.
At an Anacortes Chamber of Commerce meeting last September, Tethys CEO Steve Winter said the plant would provide at least 540 jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the national average salary for beverage manufacturing workers at $40,250 annually, though Winter said that salary would be slightly higher in the Pacific Northwest.
Gere said one of the city’s failures regarding the Tethys proposal was that no strategic plan existed to determine whether the plant would provide what the community wanted or needed before it came to Anacortes.
Like Everton, she raised concerns about the plant’s possible environmental effects and how additional trains could affect traffic. She said the lack of communication between City Hall and citizens also is problematic.
“It’s not that it’s a good or bad idea; it’s that we were never asked,” Gere said.
Maxwell defended his actions in helping bring the Tethys proposal to Anacortes by saying that the city’s municipal utility has an obligation to provide water to businesses that locate there. He said the contract was put in place to make sure the company sets up a local manufacturing facility instead of transporting the water elsewhere.
Maxwell acts as mayor, city administrator and head of the city’s water utility.
He said he took the opportunity when it was presented and is looking toward further environmental and project reviews for the company to make more specific plans about the plant known.
“It’s six miles out of town. It’s in the perfect place. You’ll never see it … ” Maxwell said. “It is our future.”
Geer, who has served as an Anacortes city councilman for eight years, said he has supported the Tethys proposal since the beginning because it would provide living-wage jobs.
“If we want to move forward and have family-wage jobs, we have to have facilities to support it. And those facilities require truck and rail traffic,” Geer said.
He agreed with Maxwell that the city has an obligation to provide water to businesses that locate there.
Geer said he voted to move the process forward to get a better idea of what was being proposed.
Economic development plans
Other questions at the debate focused on how candidates will support the creation of family-wage jobs in Anacortes and how larger economic development plans would be structured.
Everton said the first step is to develop a strategic plan that includes the community’s vision for desired industries and development, a road map and goals and strategies needed to achieve a successful outcome. He said his focus is to target entrepreneurial CEOs in those industries, streamline the business approval processes and consider forming an economic development organization.
Gere said she wants to form a two-part marketing strategy for the city; one is an individual or firm actively seeking new businesses to locate there, while another is installed in City Hall, making the transition to Anacortes as easy as possible.
She said she wants to emphasize Anacortes strengths by expanding development in health care, information technology and marine manufacturing.
Like the other challengers, Geer said a strategic vision for the city is needed first.
The Port of Anacortes already is working in economic development, and the Chamber of Commerce is doing a good job bringing business to the city, he said. Broader community development would help leverage the city’s current assets.
Maxwell said over the past 19 years he’s been mayor, incremental improvements to infrastructure — including a new library, police station and water treatment plant — have provided a good basis for economic development. He said taxes from the refineries have supported schools and police and fire departments, while extremely low property taxes have provided incentive for businesses to locate here.
Ballots for the primary election go out to voters on July 17, and the primary election is held Aug. 6. The two top candidates will then square off in the general election Nov. 5.