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Council candidates list water as election's main issue

Both candidates vying for the Position 4 seat on Coupeville’s Town Council say that water – its availability, serviceability and quality (or perhaps lack thereof) – is by far the most important issue confronting the future of this historic city.

However, when it comes to proposing solutions to such problems as quantity and quality, Bob Clay and E.M. “Ed” Spromberg would appear to part ways.

Clay, the incumbent candidate who was appointed to the seat vacated by Kermit Chamberlin early last July, said that “it’s obvious that water is one of the limiting factors on growth in Coupeville.” He added that, with such an antiquated system, town residents are going to have to face up to financing some needed overhauls.

“Nobody has spent any money on (water systems) is a long, long time,” said Clay. “The town resident have to spend some money to upgrade those systems.”

Despite this, Clay said that he feels “the town has done a fairly decent job in providing water to the residents so far.”

While admitting that he’s not completely up-to-date on the water situation, Spromberg said that “the quality hasn’t improved in the last 20 years,” and that if the town doesn’t rectify this potentially expensive situation soon, “we’re going to get wiped out.”

“We’ve got a lot of lip service and not much action in the past,” said Spromberg of the water situation. And, he added, “the quality still leaves a lot to be desired.”

Clay seemed to disagree with this assessment. He said that “the water was worse” four or five years ago.

“The water taste now,” said Clay, “is better than it was.” He said that he equates this improvement to the money that was recently spent for the upgrade of the city’s water treatment plant.

Clay added, however, that “there’s still more that can be done,” so long as the money is “spent wisely… within the existing tax structure.” In other words, Clay says “absolutely not” to a tax hike any time soon.

“Sometime in the future we may have to (raise taxes),” said Clay, “but I think we can manage with what we have right now.”

It’s possible that the platforms of the two candidates are even more divergent when it comes to the issue of water rights versus sustainable growth in Coupeville.

Spromberg, for his part, said that until more quantity becomes available, “water rights should be, unfortunately, stopped.” He added that, while he realizes this was “never a popular opinion” among town residents, “it’s a fact of life,” and that folks are going to have to “tighten their belts” for a while.

“When I see a bunch of new housing,” said Spromberg, “I immediately wonder where in the hell the water’s coming from.” He said that he’s not against growth, per se, but that until the problem of water quantity is solved, “growth better be pretty much terminated.”

Clay, on the other hand, said that he supports the city ordinance currently being drafted that would allow property owners to purchase water rights regardless of whether they had a building permit.

“I think the majority of people also support that,” he said.

Clay said that the remaining 144 or so of Coupeville’s existing water rights should be sold on a “first come, first serve” basis. He added that he doesn’t quite understand the concept of removing a portion of available water rights and “banking” them, as proposed by Position 5 incumbent Philip Williamson.

“I think you’re just playing games doing that,” said Clay. “I don’t think realistically we have a way of doing it, and I don’t think we should.”

Clay stressed both conservation and cooperation between city and county as ways of preserving and sustaining current water systems. He pointed out that Coupeville proper encompasses only about 740 acres, and that the parameters of the city’s aquifer are much larger than that.

“I think that the town and the county need to work very, very closely together to make sure that we manage this water resource,” said Clay. He added that resident “could do a lot of things” in the way of conservation, such as using cisterns and rain barrels to collect water.

Spromberg emphasized a more technological approach to solving the problem of water quantity throughout Coupeville. “I think the biggest issue would be to find some other alternative source of water,” he said, adding that perhaps the city should even consider the process of “desalinization” as a means of improving existing supplies.

“It’s about all that’s left,” said Spromberg. “There may be other technical methods that are now available that I’m not aware of. Definite research needs to be done, and immediately.”

If the candidates differ on how they propose to confront the complex issue of water, they can be further distinguished by their individual takes on another important issue: the preservation of Coupeville as a quaint historic district – ever-attractive to tourist – versus future growth and economic health.

Clay said that it is the “small, friendly” atmosphere of Coupeville that most appeals to its residents, and that, “if you compare us to other areas, we have a pretty smooth running place to live.” He added that he believes there is ample room to accommodate the current rate of growth, and for that reason he is against enlarging the town through further annexation.

“We need to manage the area that we have,” said Clay.

Clay added that, while the importance of Coupeville’s history is “uppermost in everybody’s mind,” it’s “a real challenge” to maintain that concept. He pointed out that, without much outside help, it’s an expensive proposition to maintain many of the town’s historically-designated buildings.

Despite this, Clay said that such preservation is important, especially since much of Coupeville’s revenue comes from it’s status as “a residential tourist center.”

Spromberg, though, said that he thinks the tourist industry is “overdone.” He said that too many residents are being ignored by local businesses, which in turn forces folks to shop outside Coupeville at places like the Wal-Mart in Oak Harbor. “Including myself, I’m sorry to say,” Spromberg added.

He said that he would like to see “some more practical-type businesses” in town that address the needs of local property owners and taxpayers, or, as Spromberg characterized them, “the ones that eventually wind up paying the bill and keeping things going.”

“You can’t have both,” said Clay about sustaining Coupeville’s tourist economy versus competing with value-type stores in Oak Harbor. It’s a trade-off, said Clay, and furthermore an “acceptable” one. He added that “most residents want to maintain it that way.”

Clay added that this “doesn’t mean we can’t find room for non-polluting small businesses that could fit within our commercial zone.”

And as for preserving Coupeville’s historic buildings, Spromberg said that he’d actually be for “tearing down” some of them.

“Many of these abodes are pretty old,” he said, pointing out that the construction of some more “up-to-date houses to replace some of these ancient, inefficient buildings would be in order.” He added that many of the current historically-designated houses have become too commercialized.

“I think some in this historical group have gone a little overboard in their designating,” Spromberg said. “Property rights are being stomped on a bit.

“We’ve only got so much space here,” Spromberg added. “You can’t start a museum around every historic nail that’s found.”

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