Candidates debate at forum Tuesday
The Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce teamed up with the Fairfield Economic Development Association to orchestrate a Jefferson County Board of Supervisors candidate forum that commenced at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center’s Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts.
A crowd of around 70 attended the event.
Fairfield Ledger editor Andy Hallman moderated the forum, of which candidates who are incumbent republican Lee Dimmitt, republican candidate Dee Sandquist and democratic candidates Paul Gandy and Margaret Dwyer answered nearly a dozen audience member inquiries.
“On the stage to my right are the four candidates running for the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors. Sadly, there is only room on the board for two of the four candidates,” Hallman told audience members, before reminding them to either vote early now at the courthouse or on Election Day, which is Nov. 8.
Each candidate had three minutes to make opening statements, and spoke about their backgrounds, plans for the county if elected and the various reasons why they are running for a seat.
“What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing the county, and how will you address it?” Hallman asked.
“I think the most pressing issue that we have today, is there are a lot of people who feel they haven’t been heard,” Dwyer said, adding that she thought they had been heard, but the way that they felt was mostly from a misunderstanding among the population about how things work.
“[It’s] not that they haven’t been heard, they just don’t know what the process is for being heard,” she said. “We need to be able to discuss the things that are dividing us, such as [concentrated animal food operations], water quality and poverty—all of those things we need to be able to discuss openly and making sure that everyone feels comfortable to share what they feel.”
Dwyer also suggested taking the supervisors meetings “on the road” or providing “listening posts,” as well as explaining to people how county government works.
“We need to work together for greater understanding and cooperation,” Sandquist said, further explaining that Jefferson County is very diverse, which is both terrific and challenging.
Sandquist also suggested holding meetings at different times of the day and at different venues. She proposed providing online surveys and bringing the community together with focus groups.
She said people around the county wanted input, and to know the goals and how the process worked, and the rural issues were roads, economic growth, good use of tax dollars and that those funds are used within their limits.
Gandy said the biggest thing facing the county was a lack of transparency. However, he said anyone could attend the county supervisors meetings, request transcripts from the auditor’s office or read The Ledger or listen to the radio for detailed reports every Monday.
Gandy said he agreed with both Dwyer and Sandquist’s idea of having the meetings in other locations, such as the Packwood Fire Department, Maharishi University of Management or elsewhere in the county. However, he also felt that it was important to inform the public about what the supervisors can and cannot do.
“There’s been a lot of talk about transparency, and moving the board of supervisors around,” Dimmitt said, since the meetings could be held at different times of the day, or in different locations, but he wanted to “put it in context” that the reason the meetings are at the courthouse during a certain time is due to the accessibility of other county officials who are needed at the meetings.
Dimmitt said issues facing the county were mental health and infrastructure.
“We have some really grave concerns facing us regarding mental health and the needs of our citizens that are faced with those issues, and it’s extremely difficult to try and balance state requirements and the funding mechanism that we currently have in place,” he said.
Hallman said the most common topic receiving inquiries was the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and asked the candidates if the county needed additional insurance or emergency preparedness equipment in the event of an oil spill.
“Two of them [pipelines] run through the property that we farm on, they were put in in the 1960s when I was working in the field,” Sandquist said, adding that the supervisors had contracted French-Reneker-Associates to ensure that pipeline safety takes place.
Sandquist said community members had voiced concerns to her about the pipeline, and what to do in the event of a disaster.
Sandquist said, “[We] should expect the unexpected.”
She said the emergency management team in Jefferson County could simulate a training exercise centered on a pipeline disaster.
“You’ll want to have a plan A, B and C,” she said. “Insurance would need to be looked at to see if there is a viable option.”
Gandy said he thought applying for additional insurance would be a good decision. Gandy said the current coverage per spill is $250,000, and that another oil company had signed up to add its flow to the pipeline, bringing it to 50,000 gallons per day.
“That’s high pressure, if there is a spill,” he said, explaining that an attempt had already been made to increase the insurance amount, but it failed.
“That’s not a lot of money, in my mind,” he said, of the $250,000, adding that additional research should be conducted by the county’s engineering firm.
“The increased insurance would be helpful and protecting to our county,” he said.
Dimmitt said that federal law requires the pipeline company to take responsibility for cleanup in the event of a spill. He said the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors asked for an increase in insurance to $25 million. However, he said “the request never even made it to the floor of the senate or house.”
“From July of 2014 to July of 2015, 17,000 Bakken oil tank cars went through the city of Fairfield, and 12,000 residuals came back the other way—that is a tremendously unsafe way of transporting that volume of oil,” Dimmitt said.
Dimmitt said the pipeline is a safer way of transporting that amount of oil, due to shut-off safety valves. He encouraged the audience to consider the Canadian Provence of Quebec, where multiple casualties occurred due to an oil car train derailment.
Dimmitt said county emergency management officials conducted a tabletop exercise at the high school to see what might happen during a train derailment.
Dwyer agreed with the other candidates and said she didn’t think $250,000 would cover an oil spill. She said she felt the pipeline was probably safer than rail cars, but she wondered why people were spending so much energy and money on it when in 25 or 30 years it would likely be obsolete.
“If not, and we’re still dependent on oil, we [will] have much more serious problems that we [will] have to tackle,” Dwyer said.
Hallman asked the candidates about the aging population in Jefferson County, and what could be done to attract more young families to live here.
Dwyer said people over 65 own a lot of the farmland in Jefferson County. However, she said there were a number of agencies that would help recruit people who would be willing to work the land. Dwyer said it would take economic development to bring young families and new entrepreneurs. She said Fairfield had a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit and current businesses should receive expanded supported and that the county had to decide what types of businesses it wants to attract.
Gandy said it’s hard to attract and keep young people here and that they needed to have a reason to be here.
“Get them more involved,” Gandy said, explaining that youth could be engaged in the political process even while in high school to help them gain a clearer understanding of what’s going on in their community — inadvertently encouraging them to remain and give back.
Gandy proposed having a meet the supervisors forum at the high school, to help incite an early interest in county government.
Dimmitt said he agreed with Gandy about education and that the Fairfield Manufacturers Association had done a “tremendous” job with getting involved with the school system with Project Lead The Way.
“We have to encourage our children to understand that there are opportunities for them when they get out of college,” Dimmitt said. “The key to our success is bringing our children home.”
Dimmitt said that youth, who leave to work in larger more urban areas, sometimes return home between the ages of 27 and 35.
“[We] need to bring them back sooner,” he said.
Sandquist said economic development and workforce development were needed to provide a variety of jobs, such as trades or professions for young people in the county. She also suggested that when attracting people from other areas for jobs in the county, that it would be beneficial to have job opportunities for that person’s spouse.
Sandquist said adequate housing is also important. She said soon the aging population would be retiring, which will free up more jobs.
“Farming is challenging, difficult work. [We] need to find people willing to do that,” she said, adding that there would be opportunities in a few short years.