Washington County Board candidates talk transportation, 3M settlement

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Candidates for the 2018 Washington County Board of Commissioners District 2 seat Julie Ohs and Stan Karwoski answered questions from voters centering on transportation and water quality at a public forum Thursday night, Sept. 6.

About 25 people attended the League of Women Voters forum at the Cottage Grove City Hall. The nonpartisan, non-profit organization will also host forums for city council and state representative races this month.

Ohs is challenging incumbent Karwoski in November for the D2 seat, which covers portions of Woodbury, White Bear Lake and Mahtomedi, as well as the entireties of Oakdale, Landfall, Pine Springs, Birchwood and Willernie.

Karwoski served on the Oakdale City Council for 13 years before being elected mayor in 2015. He resigned from the job in 2016 when he won the special election for the D2 seat, following former Commissioner Ted Bearth's death. Ohs is a third-term Woodbury City Council member. She has also held positions on the Board of Directors for Listening House, the Woodbury Economic Development Commission and the Woodbury Business Development Committee. In addition, she has served on committees and work groups for the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.

Homelessness, county program funding, changing demographics and each candidate's experience collaborating with other government entities were also discussed. RiverTown Multimedia has provided highlights indicative of the main points below.

The South Washington County Telecommunications Commission has video of the full event available here.

What do you see to be the top two issues facing the constituents of District 2 moving into 2019? How do you propose addressing these top two issues?

Ohs: A survey was done by the county and the residents have said that transportation is the number one concern. And i agree, it is a concern. I Would fully support and attend all goldline meetings. I've been involved with the goldine since the beginning in my duties as a city councilperson. And i think transportation is so important, to get people to the jobs, to get people to recreation. And in washington county, it's just not a great system so far. We need to work on getting funding from the FTA ... and then another thing—the circulator busses, people are asking for that. The proposed transportation and the current transportation doesn't allow you to move throughout the city . and i've also had constituents ask about metro transit and the mobility busses. They end whenever the last bus ends. So currently for woodbury, it's roughly 6:30 at night, they can't get in, get out, do anything with metro mobility. So It'd be great to somehow get that funded for the whole country to be able to enjoy.

Karwoski: The top two priorities and issues i believe in washington county are transportation and transit, and water quality. Currently, I really think, in the transit, they are complementary to each other. We need them both ... I am for the flyover interchange at 494-694-94. Everyone knows that's a nuisance ... I also lead and chair the Gold Line rapid transit. That's how we're going to get people to work, attract good jobs. Right now, private businesses will not come to your county unless you have transit ... Water quality. We have the 3m chemical pollutants. I have experience as the mayor of Oakdale and as a member of city council addressing that. ... And with my past two years serving as your commissioner, i am prepared now to act on the 3m water settlement ...

Ohs: I agree with everything Stan said on water. I forgot to list my second priority, but that is a big priority and I also have experience dealing with it because woodbury's water is affected as well.

Karwoski: regarding transportation, it's really the economic engine. So i really want to bring better jobs, and better transportation will bring better companies ... more people will be able to live here and work here. Also, commercial tax revenue will keep our property taxes low. That's a key to our future.

What are the priorities for using the settlement funds designated for contaminated water?

Ohs: The priorities are to ensure that we have safe drinking water for all the affected communities. And they're also different, in that Oakdale has a system for their water, and Woodbury does not. Cottage Grove has a temporary system that will last for a while, but will not work forever. So we need to do whatever is best for each community, make sure that money is spent in those communities to solve the problem. It's a long, long-term thing before the (chemicals) are all out of the bedrock, if ever. Woodbury is able to do some blending with their wells, so they don't need a treatment facility, but as Woodbury continues to grow, that's not going to be an option. We have some working groups that are working on this to make sure the money is actually used for what it is meant to be for, and to secure a safe and abundant system for residents in our future.

Karwoski: The use of the 850 million dollars, we have citizen groups that are really looking at that closely ... Community groups are in the process of determining that and determining their use. Really the path they are going down, is making sure the dollars most spent directly towards cleaning the water permanently.

In Oakdale, my experiences, we were taking thousands of public, big wells that served thousands of people. We put new wells in safe areas where there was less charcoal filtering... Wherever there was public wells, we could do that same technique, but we had — a lot of people were not on public water and had personal wells. So all those personal wells, in the county, will have to get on that filtered or safe water. So the goal is to clean as much water with the money and not use it on administrative things. And we also need to do it in a way to make sure we have permanent water resources in years to come.

Please tell us about the transportation available to the public in Washington County. What do we currently have, what is the in the planning process, and what is truly needed?

Karwoski: ... The state is not properly funding (the county roads) and I've gone down to get legislation. I want to correct that. For example, we need that flyover modern day interchange so that people can get freely to all their conveniences, and I'm working on that. To get to jobs, and the frustration, that's really holding up the deservability to live in our area ...

We desperately need transit, again we have hundreds of acres of developable land, through Oakdale and through Woodbury, it'll get people to jobs such as 3M campus, it'll get people downtown, it'll connect people to the other transit lines, such as the Green Line. It'll bring workers, we've got a real worker shortage, and one of the reasons is the younger people have a priority to not have a car ... So the modern day workers will move to where there is transit.

Ohs: As far as road conditions, it is very important and unfortunately the state does not see it as a priority for us and the same with the city for Woodbury, we have a lot of roads and we want to stick with a certain PCI index to keep the roads safe. I would also be at the Capital to continue improving road services. And as far as transit, yes, the Gold Line is very important to bring jobs, to bring people. I also spoke about the Metro Mobility, to get those people around with some expanded hours. And the circulator bus issue, because some of the stops just really don't go anywhere, but I don't think the county needs to fund that. I think metro transit should fund that. And also the funding for the 494-694 bridges is very important. That is the second busiest interchange in the state and the accidents that happen there are horrible. And federal funding to finish the Gold Line.