Alan Wetzstein and Steve Kerigan, the candidates for Port St. Joe city commissioner for Group 2, find plenty to agree on.
Both envision a future for Port St. Joe including the introduction of “clean” or “green” industry. Both emphasize the need for infrastructural improvements in order to keep up with growing population. Both want to see workforce housing developments in town.
So, when voters go to the ballot box next month, what will most distinguish one candidate from another is their backgrounds.
Kerrigan is a lifelong Port St. Joe resident, only leaving the city for about ten years to attend college, but returning with his wife to raise their family.
Kerrigan owns a successful printing business in town. He claims that his lifelong knowledge of Port St. Joe has well prepared him to represent the city’s changing needs and interests.
“Having lived here most of my life, I have witnessed immense growth as our little slice of paradise has attracted new visitors and residents who have fallen in love with the area just as I did as a young child,” he said in his candidate announcement.
Wetzstein moved to Port St. Joe in 2016 after retiring from the United States Army. He holds multiple positions with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars auxiliary post.
But while he does not offer lifelong knowledge of the town, he says that his background allows him to approach the city and its issues with a fresh perspective.
“To make decisions, you have to either stick with what you’ve got, or you have to change,” he said. “Somebody new might take you in a different direction, and it might be the direction you want to go in.”
This week, The Star asked both candidates to discuss their platforms on areas of concern according to submissions from our readers.
Candidates foresee economic development away from heavy industry
About a year ago, news broke of a proposed LNG facility that was planned for St. Joe Company owned land within city limits. The facility, a small LNG terminal which would be operated by Miami-based Nopetro LNG, has been the frequent topic of often heated discussions in city and county meetings.
The project’s proponents tout increased jobs and tax base, which the facility would bring in some capacity to the area, as well as the project’s ability to diversify the local economy.
But neither Wetzstein or Kerigan envision this type of facility for the city’s future.
Instead, the candidates say that they would choose to pursue businesses and projects that were able to ensure a greater deal of safety for the local environment and community.
“I do not support building a LNG facility on our shoreline,” said Kerigan. “Our bay is our greatest asset, and we need to concentrate on aligning our ordinances with strategic planning and zoning that brings the desired types of development and industry that doesn’t present a threat to it.”
But neither Kerigan nor his opponent were opposed to the introduction of other industrial facilities, so long as they did not pose a significant threat to the city’s landscape or citizens.
Wetzstein, who has made opposing the LNG facility central to his platform, said that if elected, he planned to actively recruit “green industry” to the area.
“Really, it’s time for the community of Port St. Joe to make a choice,” he said. “Do we want to be industrialized and controlled to a certain extent by a big corporation, or do we as a community want to maintain our identity as a small seaside town that controls its own destiny.”
Wetzstein says he plans to reintroduce some of the plans for the city’s waterfront that originated with the Port St. Joe Waterfront Partnership, which was drafted in 2006.
Both Kerigan and Wetzstein said they anticipated continued growth in the area’s tourism industry, which they both said they strongly supported, so long as infrastructure is able to keep up.
‘Strategic planning’ will be key to handling continued growth
When asked how they planned to address the area’s growing population and tourism needs, both candidates emphasized the need for what they called a “strategic plan,” addressing community goals for economic, infrastructural and housing needs.
For Kerigan, this looks like collaborating on a long-term plan that includes measures for what he says are some of the city’s most pressing needs.
“We need to embrace this growth and meet it with strategic planning that benefits our entire community and visitors,” he said. “This means we need to implement a fiscally responsible long-term plan that addresses our aging infrastructure – our utilities, roads, sidewalks, traffic flow and parking, and our downtown areas; encourages workforce housing development; and supplements our public safety departments – our police force, fire departments and emergency management.”
Wetzstein said that in his vision of the city’s “strategic planning,” long-term goals would be broken up into three plans at specific intervals designed so that the city could measure progress.
“Just looking at the community as a whole and seeing the possibilities that we have, I feel three, five and ten year plans will help us get there,” he said. “You see what your end goal is, and then you work out from there and see what needs to be done earlier to get you where you want to go.”
Candidates: affordable housing to remain on the front burner
The city has already been working to address the lack of workforce housing in the area, with planning processes for a new complex of homes nearing completion, according to City Manager Jim Anderson.
Wetzstein said that the city should take these efforts a step farther.
“Online, if you go to the city website, it outlines the housing element, and that’s just the goals and policies of the city regarding current and future housing,” he said. “… It basically said what we will accept and what we will tolerate as a community as far as housing, but it doesn’t provide any vision.”
“My goal is to develop an affordable housing plan that lays out a step-by-step process that the community can follow.”
Kerigan said that as a father of eight, he has firsthand experience with the city’s lacking affordable housing.
“Our children should not be forced to leave the home they know and love because they cannot afford to live here,” he said.
Addressing the issue, he continued, will require active engagement.
“We must proactively explore and follow through on solutions like identifying grants, creating public-private partnerships, reviewing and offering our publicly owned land for potential residential development, considering upzoning of certain areas to allow for increased development and engaging local employers to provide incentives or participate in employer-assisted housing programs,” he said.
City should maintain partnerships in redevelopment of North Port St. Joe, candidates say
“Plans to revitalize North Port St. Joe that were long on hold are now moving back in action thanks to motivated citizens and the city should be a large supporter of this redevelopment,” Kerigan said, referencing work in recent years done by community organizations that aim to jump start the redevelopment of the city’s historically segregated neighborhood.
These efforts have included securing grant funding and strategic partnerships to cover items from job training programs to environmental assessments. The candidates for Group 2 agree that the city now has a role to play in helping these organizations move their goals forward.
“I believe that any improvements and investments made in North Port St. Joe benefit our entire community,” said Kerigan.
Wetzstein, speaking much along the same lines as Kerigan, said that one means by which the city could provide assistance is in helping to recruit businesses for Martin Luther King Boulevard.
“Bringing in business that fulfill community needs, not just for North Port St. Joe, but for the whole community could help to reestablish that economic district,” he said. “We’d also need to look into housing concerns in the area.”