LACEY - Port of Olympia District 3 commission candidates Dave Peeler and Jeff Davis met the South Sound business community Wednesday, participating in a lunch forum organized by the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce.
The hour-long forum at Saint Martin’s University’s Worthington Center gave the candidates a chance to restate some campaign themes, but it also highlighted the Capitol Lake vs. Estuary issue in Olympia, and each candidate shared his thoughts on getting the local economy moving again.
Peeler, 58, works for the nonprofit People for Puget Sound, and also retired from the state Department of Ecology last year after 33 years. Davis, 41, is a longshoreman with the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union Local 21 in Longview.
The forum was moderated by Dick Pust, the general manager of KGY radio and a longtime on-air personality at the station. Peeler and Davis also shared the stage with Thurston County District 3 commission candidate Pat Beehler and incumbent Karen Valenzuela.
Before the forum began, Pust told the audience of about 200 that some candidate questions had been submitted by the chamber, while others had been picked up at tables.
Pust started by asking each port candidate a different question. He asked Davis about how he would ensure the continued success at the port’s marine terminal, and asked Peeler about the port’s greatest challenges.
Davis said the port needs to do a better job of advertising itself in trade publications that cater to the cargo industry and also counter a perception that the port is anti-trade.
Peeler said the port will never be able to attract large cargo ships because the marine terminal berths are too shallow, and although he would like to see a small commuter airline operate at the airport, it will have to be large enough to sustain losses for a couple of years while it waits to turn a profit. Olympia Regional Airport hasn’t had commercial air service since Big Sky Airlines left in 2004.
The candidates also were asked their opinion on whether downtown’s Capitol Lake should remain a lake or be turned into an estuary by removing the lake dam. Davis said he supports the lake as is, while Peeler acknowledged both sides of the issue.
“I love Capitol Lake but I also know it’s very unhealthy and it would be much healthier as an estuary,” Peeler said. “The problem the port has is what could be done if the lake was to come out so that it can stay competitive and stay in business, and I don’t think the port has had an opportunity to work with the state yet to figure out what the future would look like.”
The forum ended with closing remarks from both candidates.
Davis: “I know this (port) industry and I’ve been around for a long time. I’ve got the knowledge and history to make this port work and make it work efficiently.”
Peeler: “I want to get back to the place that I have enjoyed living in so much and I think part of that can be helping the port look to a positive, healthy and constructive future.”
The general election is Nov. 3. Incumbent port commissioner Bill McGregor is running unopposed in the District 2 race.
Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403