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Town candidates have much in common

It would seem that only subtle differences separate the candidates vying for the Position 2 seat on Coupville’s Town Council.

At first glance, there appears little political friction between the opinions of incumbent Philip Williamson and those of Roxallanne Kelley Medley concerning any long-term goals for the city. Both candidates have expressed concern about the issues of water conservation and availability, managed and sustainable growth and the far-reaching preservation of Coupeville as an attractive historic district with a viable business core.

What differences do arise are more a matter of emphasis than outright conflict.

On the subject of water, Williamson, a Coupeville resident of 11 years, said that the city as a whole should be taking the “long view” by not overtaxing an already limited resource.

“Everybody is having water problems,” said Williamson. “I think the writing’s on the wall.”

Williamson said that he supports reducing the total number of available water rights by 85, which represents the amount of lots currently without hook-up rights. That number would then be “banked as a safety measure” and held in reserve. Any new building starts would come out of the 60 or so remaining water rights, and “when they’re gone, they’re gone.” At this point, Williamson added, people who have purchased water rights can sell them on the open market.

Williamson also pointed out that Island County is currently formulating a water conservation program that would involve the use of rain barrels as well as such “common sense” measures as conservation toilet flushing, and that he wants Coupeville to join in on the plan.

“I’m concerned about water,” said Williamson. “I’m concerned about running out.”

Medley, a 5-year Coupeville resident, said that the elimination of a portion of the city’s currently available water rights “makes good sense,” though she added that it must be done fairly.

“It’s an ethical issue,” Medley said.

She said that in her recent conversations with many of the city’s residents, folks have expressed worries above and beyond the issue of availability.

“They’re concerned about the water, how awful it is, the cost of water, and the fact that they can’t afford it or they feel guilty using it,” said Medley.

Medley said that one of the components that is too often overlooked in discussions about resource availability is the impact and responsibility of the “human resource.” She said that everyone needs to take a hard look at the issue of future growth, in so far as it doesn’t “deplete or take away” from limited resources such as water.

“One of the issues for me about water rights,” said Medley, “is how much this human community can support increased demands for improvement of the water system, or just the cost of utilizing what we already have.”

One of the solutions that Medley emphasized is implementing a plan of conservation that involves the entire community.

“We need to pull together all these small groups and organizations that are trying to do conservation,” Medley said. “There are lots of good ideas out there, but it’s piecemeal.”

As with any problem facing the city, Medley said that everyone needs to “come together as a unit, a single body to figure out some of these things.”

Both Medley and Williamson said that they do support the selling of water rights to property owners regardless of whether they have a building permit.

Williamson said that such an arrangement is “fair and equitable,” and that he supports it “one hundred percent.”

In this regard, Williamson said that “tax payers are just as important as conserving water.”

Medley said that, in her view, those individuals currently owning property “need to be informed and given an opportunity to purchase their water rights or to decline them.”

On the issue of economic growth versus preserving the current quaint and quasi-historic quality of life in Coupeville, both candidates vote a definite “no” to bringing in mega-chains like Wal-Mart to stimulate the local economy.

Williamson said that allowing any sort of chain store into Coupeville is a big “no-no.” He said that he would like to see new businesses brought to Coupeville to increase the tax base, but only in so far as they aren’t “high water use” outfits. Williamson said that he likes the idea of encouraging “low impact” businesses such as software companies and work-at-home outfits to locate in the city.

Medley said that she would like to generate “greater support for the businesses that are already here.” She said that she finds the current commercial atmosphere to be “very divided,” and that one solution to this would be to form an alliance of local independent businesses.

“I don’t think we have a shared vision about what’s here,” said Medley.

“I think that Coupeville is at a crossroads here,” she added. “We don’t have a very healthy economic base for local citizens.”

Medley said that there seems to be a general “lack of understanding” about whether there are indeed poor people living in Coupeville. For this reason, she described the city’s economic situation as a sort of catch-22, in that many folks either can’t find or can’t afford the things they need right in town, and are forced therefore to shop at Walmart in Oak Harbor.

“I’m not sure we have a realistic view of what kind of population comprises this little town,” Medley said. “It shouldn’t be an elitist, touristy place for us to come and live.”

She added that “there are only so many places selling candles and soaps that we can actually support as a community.”

While Medley admits that local businesses would need to “get real creative” in order to compete with the volume and variety offered by the larger chain stores, she said that such a thing might come to pass through incentives and “some support monetarily from town government.”

Medley added that, if people were made aware of how chains such as Wal-Mart drain money out of the local community, they might be more willing to spend their dollars in town, even if they have to pay a bit more.

Both candidates unequivocally support the current preservation of Coupeville’s historic structures.

“Part of our image is our historical buildings,” Williamson said. “They must be preserved. Must be. That’s in capital letters.”

Williamson said that he also supports preserving the local environment. “I don’t like clear cutting at all,” he said. He said that the city currently has an ordinance in place that limits the number of trees that can be cut down, and that he would like the ordinance “to be adhered to, or even strengthened.”

Medley, for her part, said that “it’s not an option” to demolish any of the historically-designated buildings around Coupeville. She said that she is disappointed by the recent construction going on in and around the county courthouse on Main Street, saying that the new buildings “completely dwarf the surrounding neighborhood.

“I think they’ve devalued the homes and the properties,” she said of the county’s ongoing construction. “For me, it’s like setting down Wal-Mart in the middle of Coupeville.”

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