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Sewage plant reveals divide: Oak Harbor City Council candidates speak at voters’ forum

Lucas Yonkman, a City Council candidate, speaks during a forum last Thursday put on by the League of Women Voters of Whidbey Island. - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Lucas Yonkman, a City Council candidate, speaks during a forum last Thursday put on by the League of Women Voters of Whidbey Island.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Candidates for Oak Harbor City Council are divided in their opinions about plans for a new wastewater treatment.

The plant, estimated at $93.5 million, will be the city’s biggest project ever.

The eight candidates answered a series of questions during a voters’ forum Thursday night at the Elks Club.

The League of Women Voters of Whidbey Island hosted the event.

The candidates generally agree on most of the issues, but a question about the sewage treatment plant drew out some differences.

Michael Piccone, who’s running against Councilman Danny Paggao, was the most outspoken about his concerns. He said he’s heard from a great number of Oak Harbor residents who said they don’t want the treatment plant in or around Windjammer Park.

“We see what happens when we rush things,” he said, referring to the Pioneer Way construction project that resulted in the unearthing of a Native American burial ground.

He suggested that the city should partner with the Navy and build it on Navy property.

“Maybe we don’t have to put it in Windjammer Park,” he said.

Lucas Yonkman, who’s challenging Councilman Bob Severns, said he’s concerned about building the plant in the park and about plans for the outfall.

“If we have a chance to relocate it so it’s not in the gem of the city and it’s financially responsible, that’s what I would do,” he said.

Sandi Peterson, who’s running against Councilman Joel Servatius, said she’s unsure whether it is cost effective to delay the project so that officials have time to reconsider the siting.

“If you delay something to get it right, then maybe you’re saving money in the long run,” she said.

Severns emphasized that the current plan isn’t to locate the plant in Windjammer Park, but outside the park on Pioneer Way. In fact, he said the city could end up with more park space — as well as “wonderful enhancements” to downtown — when the project is complete.

Paggao pointed out that Mayor Scott Dudley cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of building the plant in the “Windjammer vicinity.” He said he agrees with the placement decision.

Servatius said a delay in the project would certainly increase the costs. He said it’s still possible that the Navy will partner with the city on the project.

Councilman Jim Campbell said the council and city staff are working on ways to keep the costs down. He said phasing the project will spread the costs out over time.

Skip Pohtilla, Campbell’s opponent, said he thinks the Navy will come through and work with the city on the project.

 

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