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Mayor Coppola grills Port of Bremerton candidates
Few people were gathered at Bayview Deli and Java Wednesday morning to hear the Port of Bremerton Commissioner candidates speak, but since Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola was one of them, plenty of tough questions were still asked.
“The port’s job is economic development, and in the past few years it has spent $22 million on downtown Bremerton, but hasn’t spent a nickel on Port Orchard,” Coppola said, asking both candidates, “If elected, what do you plan to do for Port Orchard?”
Chico resident Roger Zabinski said he supported the “Port Orchard Revitalization Project” and improving pedestrian access to the waterfront, adding that the port does invest in Port Orchard now by investing in the Port Orchard Marina.
“But it hasn’t spent anywhere near the $22 million it spent on the Bremerton Marina,” Coppola countered. “The people of South Kitsap pay more taxes to the port than anywhere else.”
Zabinski said he was “definitely interested in helping Port Orchard,” and that he would like to see a parking garage and a “seafood market pavilion on the waterfront” that would become a draw for the region.
Lynn Horton, a former Bremerton City Councilwoman and mayor, said she hoped to help Port Orchard establish a partnership with the port.
“We can be great allies with Port Orchard, and help it actually do the concrete things it wants done in the downtown area,” Horton said. “I have the expertise to do that, and can be of great assistance to the city of Port Orchard.”
Coppola then asked Zabinski why his support of the port’s Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Project seemed to have waned in the past few months.
“(In the past), you tried to convince me that SEED is the best thing since sliced bread,” Coppola said. “Now you seem to have changed your mind. What changed?”
When Zabinski resisted Coppola’s description of their conversation, Coppola insisted “Roger, that is what you did,” and Zabinski responded, “As we’ve gained more information (on SEED), I’ve changed my point of view on the project, and that was before the port did.”
To Horton, Coppola asked, “A lot of the (economic development) in Bremerton happened because you actually laid the groundwork when you were mayor, (but) Bozeman came in and got a lot of the credit. How do you feel your relationship will work?”
“Cary and I get along fine; I don’t think we will have any issues, and I will only be one of his three bosses,” Horton said. “The others on the board are strong personalities, but I’m pretty good at getting unanimous decisions. We won’t always need unanimous decisions, but it is important for the port to have a strong board.”
Clark Coulter, a South Kitsap resident and frequent attendee of the Port of Bremerton Board of Commissioners’ meetings, then asked Horton why he never saw her at any of the meetings.
“I’ve attended virtually every meeting since 2001 up until this year, and I know more about how the port got where it is than anyone, and I’ve never seen you there,” Coulter said. “Why did you decide to run?”
“I was always interested in what (the port) did, and I do watch the port meetings on TV now,” Horton said, explaining that her job has made it difficult for her to attend the meetings in the past, but “it is easier for me to attend now. I am keenly aware of what is facing the port.”
Following the meeting, Coppola and Port Orchard City Councilwoman Carolyn Powers asked Horton if she felt the Inter-Local Agreement signed by Port Orchard and the port in 2003 that stated Port Orchard would provide sewer service to the South Kitsap Industrial Area should be honored.
“I believe in honoring agreements, especially if I have no reason to negate that agreement,” Horton said.
“We feel we have a $20 million investment in the port, and made it specifically due to the agreement,” Coppola said, adding that he was trying to meet with the port and “move forward,” but had not been successful in those efforts.
“We would like to sit down and talk with them , but we can’t do that,” Powers said, and Coppola added, “You can’t negotiate with yourself.”
“I think when you fight, everybody loses,” Horton said. “I think your existing agreement would prevail.”
The Sept. 9 forum was hosted by the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce. Zabinski and Horton will face off in November for Cheryl Kincer’s District 1 commissioner seat.