Island County Conservation Futures decisions delayed

The Board of Island County Commissioners last week decided to continue deliberations on whether to award hundreds of thousands of dollars to several conservation projects on Central Whidbey Island.

The three-member board met Aug. 4 and decided to wait two weeks to better understand the three proposals pursuing funds from the Conservation Futures property tax.

The Greenbank Farm Management Group, the Pacific Rim Institute and the Whidbey Camano Land Trust are hoping to receive awards this year. The commissioners also want to find out if extra Conservation Futures money that became available could be used for other purposes.

“I think they are worthy of more due diligence on our part,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said during a Wednesday afternoon staff session in Coupeville.

Greenbank Farm Management Group officials originally asked for $400,000 to pay the Port of Coupeville for a conservation easement on the historic barn. That amount ballooned to $550,000 thanks to a recommendation of a community advisory board that evaluates Conservation Futures proposals.

Commissioner John Dean said he understood most aspects of the Greenbank Farm proposal except for the recommended increase in funding.

Michael Stansbury, representing the farm group, said the proposal was based on money available at the time and the group asked for an amount that would be dispersed over eight years, which would allow latitude for other projects to receive funding. If they had known more money was available, the management group would have adjusted its application.

The county received more money for the Conservation Futures funds when it received a $400,000 grant that offset a fund award in 2009 that paid for the purchase of shoreline access on Camano Island.

Price Johnson noted that the county has a property tax increase proposal on the Aug. 17 ballot and questioned whether the additional money could offset the county not collecting Conservation Futures dollars for a period of time. Conservation Futures is funded by a tax of 6.25 cents per $1,000 assessed property value.

Commissioner Angie Homola added that the grant money could be used to pay off debts for previous Conservation Futures projects.

The commissioners decided to bring the subject up again during the staff session that takes place Aug. 18 in the Commissioners Hearing Room.

The Pacific Rim Institute is in line to receive $500,000 to purchase the former Au Sable Institute property nestled between Coupeville and Outlying Field. Pacific Rim Institute officials originally sought $400,000 but that amount was raised to $500,000, which would cover the entire purchase price of the property.

The Whidbey Camano Land Trust is asking for $250,000 to pay for conservation easements on farmland on Central Whidbey Island.

Stansbury said he understood the commissioners’ wish to take more time to deliberate and better understand each application currently under consideration.

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