Whatcom County Council at-large candidates share their perspectives


With less than a week until ballots are mailed October 13, The Northern Light reached out to general election candidates for the Whatcom County Council at-large position to learn what their biggest priorities are for residents. The candidates are listed in the same order as they appear in the final general election ballot order. Interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Barry Buchanan
Barry Buchanan is chair of Whatcom County Council and has served on council since 2013. He is a former Bellingham city councilmember and former chair of Whatcom County Democrats. He is a fourth-generation Whatcom County resident.
Q: What issues facing Blaine, Birch Bay and Custer residents are most important to you?
A: The Cherry Point issue is very important and now we have a resolution to the code amendments – that were worked on in a compromise from both the industry, labor and environmental organizations – that really helped that area get security on jobs and revenues, especially for the
The ongoing discussion about water is important to residents. We’ve started the adjudication process and we do have a parallel effort going on for a negotiated settlement approach.
Q: How have you addressed those already and if re-elected, how would you continue to address them?
A: On the water side, we still have a long way to go. That’s going to take a lot of continued work and many, many years until that’s resolved. We have to be patient with the process and make sure it’s fair. Cherry Point really was a miracle to come together after all of these years and have an agreement as we did. Right now that’s sitting in a good place. Working with industry on how they move forward, especially with their environmental upgrades, is going to be really important and the county has to be supportive of those efforts.
Q: What do you envision for the future of the Cherry Point industrial urban growth area?
A: Energy in general is shifting toward more sustainable and renewable sources. We’ll start to look at what we could do out there as far as clean energy jobs and having clean energy companies come in and develop solar and other products. A business park might be in order that could facilitate some of those clean businesses to make sure we keep Cherry Point as pristine as possible. Clean energy is the future and I think the economy and workforce out there can move into that.
Q: What made you run for the position?
A: One of the big things I want to focus on this next term is behavioral and mental health. It’s so important because it’s at the intersection of so many issues we deal with – homelessness, economic equity and criminal justice reform. I’m really looking at how to keep behavioral health folks out of the jail and into treatment because we know by the listening tour the county did in 2018 that county residents also prefer treatment over punishment. We need to rise to that occasion and look at getting a more robust behavioral health system in Whatcom County.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Behavioral health is tied into homelessness and we have a lot of work to do on the homeless issues here, especially in Bellingham, but Whatcom County has got to help with that and partner with the city to make sure that we are doing as much as we can to shelter folks and to find ways to provide that continuum of housing.
Kamal Bhachu
Kamal Bhachu, a Blaine resident, is a first-time candidate and works as a senior maintenance engineer at St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham. He has called Whatcom County home since his family immigrated from Punjab, India in 1996.
Q: What issues facing Blaine, Birch Bay and Custer residents are most important to you?
A: I’m going to speak more broadly because our community safety is more important to me. The legislation that recently passed, and [State v. Blake] being one of them, means that law enforcement can’t arrest people with drug possessions under a certain amount. People who were convicted with felonies, those felonies will get reduced to gross misdemeanors. If those people don’t have other felonies, it will allow them to purchase firearms legally.To me, that’s problematic and can put our community at risk and now criminals aren’t being put into jail. Our police officers are unable to do their jobs correctly and that’s going to put our community at risk. Those things were done at the state level, but they’re affecting everybody.
Q: How have you addressed those already and if elected, how would you continue to address them?
A: We have to create awareness and work with local legislators that have voted on these issues. Let’s talk with them and see if we can amend them somehow and still make arrests of people who are committing crimes.
Q: What do you envision for the future of the Cherry Point industrial urban growth area?
A: I’m still learning a lot about it but Cherry Point provides a lot of high-paying, family-wage jobs. We can use that area to utilize next generation type of energy, like green energy. We can start a new industry there and bring a different type of energy that has to do with energy sector or any type of manufacturing jobs.
I was talking to our farmers and we are the hub of producing raspberries and blueberries and we still don’t have an area where we can ship our berries to other parts of the world. We can bring in more industry, create more jobs and have our farmers be able to utilize that area.
Q: What made you run for the position?
A: Four months ago I didn’t have any plan. I hate politics, but we are at the point where everyday people can’t sit at the sidelines anymore. In our current county council, there are people who have been in local politics for 30 years. Where are things right now? Has our homeless problem gotten better? No, it hasn’t. How about our housing crisis? Still up there. All of those things are affecting me every day; our safety, that’s also at risk.
I may not be a polished politician but I live in this community. It’s time for us to step in versus someone who has been in politics and gives ‘pie in sky’ answers but never offers any real solutions.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Let’s work together. There is a huge divide in our community over politics. What goes on at our federal level, that’s big, but what goes on at our local level, that’s more important.


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