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Port of Kingston Commission: Three candidates in first contested race since 2003
KINGSTON — The Port of Kingston is no sleepy marina.
The district is nearing the end of a successful string of waterfront construction projects. It launched a passenger ferry service to Seattle in spring. It’s eyeing the creation of a parking facility, and will begin work on a new master plan this fall.
The Port of Kingston is a district poised to make moves. The direction it chooses will depend in part on who is elected to the open seat on its three-member commission this year.
Longtime commissioner Tom Coultas is up for reelection. Challenging him are Walt Elliott, known for his work on Washington State Ferries advisory committees, and Jerry Kirschner, who leads the port’s volunteer passenger ferry committee.
The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 16 primary will continue on to the Nov. 8 general election. This is the first contested Port of Kingston commission race since Pete DeBoer defeated Evan Stoll in 2003. Commissioners serve six-year terms and are paid $2,400 a year.
Tom Coultas was elected to the commission in 1989 and stepped down in 1992. He ran again in 1999, topping three other candidates for the District 3 post.
The Bainbridge High School and Central Washington University graduate taught high school in Edmonds until 1992. He has lived in Kingston since 1968 and owns a Christmas tree farm.
Coultas said he’s most proud of the part he played in improving the port’s finances.
The port issued voter-approved revenue bonds to pay off a loan from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The port also took over operation of its marina and fended off an attempt by Washington State Ferries to buy the port property it leases for its Kingston terminal.
Coultas said the moves were an example of good stewardship of public money.
“That’s the pride I get out of this — government can work efficiently,” Coultas said. “We’re small enough we can stay on top of things.”
Moving into the future, Coultas is excited about the potential of the port adding a parking structure with space for businesses. The commission voted July 1 to pursue a grant to study the feasibility of building a parking garage on port property. A consultant put the rough cost of the structure at $3.2 million.
Coultas believes the garage and business space could help alleviate Kingston’s parking shortage while encouraging new businesses to open downtown.
“I think this is a bold step toward economic development that’s reasonable,” Coultas said. “I can’t help but imagine that if we have this first class facility setting the example, it raises everything else up.”
Coultas drew fire for his stance on SoundRunner, the port’s passenger ferry to Seattle, which relaunched this spring, after a failed start in fall 2010. Coultas voted in 2009 against launching SoundRunner, concerned the service couldn’t sustain itself. He again questioned the project in the lead-up to its relaunch in spring, as the commission considered subsidizing it with port money. Coultas proposed surveying property owners in the district to gauge support before dipping into port reserves. He joined his fellow commissioners in voting for the relaunch, after being assured the service would be reviewed regularly and be held to performance goals.
Coultas said his critique of SoundRunner was unpopular in the community, but he did what he felt was right and believes his record speaks for itself.
“All I can do is stand on what I’ve done,” Coultas said.
Walt Elliott has never been far from boats or water.
He was raised in Bay Shore, N.Y., on the south shore of Long Island. He spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Navy, serving on seven ships, including commands of two submarines. His varied Navy career included time as deputy of submarine operations at U.S. Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor, project manager in Washington D.C., and commander of an engineering lab in Keyport, R.I.
Elliott and wife Bobbie Moore have owned a home in Kingston for 20 years and keep a boat in the marina. He has served on the Kingston Citizens Advisory
Council and the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council’s Transportation Policy Committee, and was involved in growth planning for Kingston.
Elliott is chairman of Kingston’s Ferry Advisory Committee, and co-chairman of the Executive Committee of Ferry Advisory Committees, which represents riders from all state ferry routes.
He said a lifelong interest in building community around the water drew him to run for the port commission.
“I think the waterfront and the cove is the heart of Kingston and the port is really a steward of that,” he said.
Elliott said he’d like to see the port accommodate more water-based activities and businesses. Sailing clubs and kayak classes are a good way to get residents on the water and draw visitors to town, he said.
Elliott said the port should pursue additional parking, if it can be done unobtrusively. But the port can’t solve Kingston’s parking problems on its own.
“It’s going to need to be a lot more than the port,” he said.
Elliott sees SoundRunner as part of a larger movement toward a passenger ferry network on Puget Sound. SoundRunner can serve as a model for other agencies, as well as an integral service for North Kitsap.
“This is something that’s been long on the community wish list.”
Elliott said he’d bring a detail-oriented approach to the commission.
“I really like to dig into things,” Elliott said. “I’m not a generalist and I’m not a good politician. I like to be personally accountable.”
Jerry Kirschner has a hurdle to clear not faced by Coultas or Elliott.
“My challenge is to meet people and let them know who I am,” said Kirschner, who moved to Kingston a year and a half ago.
Kirschner and his wife, Nancy Langwith, are busy building a house in South Kingston. Though the other port commission candidates are longtime residents, he believes his newcomer status is a strength.
“I’d bring a different set of eyes, a different set of ears and business skills,” Kirschner said.
Kirschner moved into the port district following a long career in research and development for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. Nearing retirement, he and Langwith combed the country in search of a waterfront town to settle in. The level of community involvement in Kingston impressed them, Kirschner said, and they put down roots on Jefferson Point.
Kirschner’s name is well known around the port, since he became chairman of the Passenger Only Ferry Advisory Committee this winter. The 10-member, volunteer committee helped the port study the viability of SoundRunner and advised on its relaunch in May.
His experience getting to know the port on the committee inspired Kirschner to run for commissioner.
He’d like to see the port form more volunteer committees to help the port with planning and to help gather input from the community.
“Citizens need to be more involved in the port,” he said.
Kirschner believes the port could take a more active approach to its mission of aiding economic development. One idea, he said, could be for the port to “incubate” businesses. The port would provide low rent space for small startup businesses and help them connect with business mentors in the area. After a few years, the new businesses would move into their own space in the area and the port would bring in new startups.
“It’s an example of the kind of thing we need do,” he said. “What’s important is community growth, but doing it with good business fundamentals.”
The port needs both creative thinkers and business savvy, he said.
“That’s something I can definitely bring to the commission.”