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Island County Conservation Futures action delayed again

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson speaks with Port of Coupeville Commissioner Marshall Bronson following a recent work session addressing the allotment of conservation futures funds. - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson speaks with Port of Coupeville Commissioner Marshall Bronson following a recent work session addressing the allotment of conservation futures funds.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

Local entities pining for a slice of this year’s Island County Conservation Futures Fund pie will once again have to wait another two weeks before knowing whether their applications will be approved.

The county commissioners, the last and final body charged with reviewing and awarding conservation funds, discussed the three application finalists for 2009 disbursements at its Aug. 18 work session. But, for the second time in as many weeks, it deferred making a decision. Like they did at their Aug. 4 meeting, the commissioners agreed to review the issue again in another two weeks, this time on Sept. 1.

According to Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, board members want to review financial information, such as cash flow, possible grants, and future projections of incoming Conservation Futures funds before making a final decision.

“We just want a full financial accounting before going forward on any of the proposals,” Johnson said.

The county annually collects through property taxes funds for purchasing open space land, farmland, agricultural land, and timber land for conservation purposes. That can include buying property outright or just its development rights.

Any application for such funds undergoes an extensive examination process by two review bodies, the Technical Advisory Group and the Community Advisory Board. Those deemed appropriate and the best are forwarded to the board for final approval.

This year’s finalists include the Greenbank Farm Management Group, the Pacific Rim Institute, and the Whidbey Camano Land Trust. If each receives the review group’s recommended allotment, a total of $1.3 million would be awarded.

The management group is hoping for $550,000 to protect the farm with a conservation easement and help the Port of Coupeville reduce its bond debt. The institute is hoping for $500,000, also for a conservation easement, and the land trust wants $250,000 to protect farmland in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Port of Coupeville Commissioner Marshall Bronson, who attended Wednesday’s work session, said he is not losing hope that the commissioners will eventually sign off on the review groups’ recommendation. As the final review authority, the board should practice due diligence when evaluating applications that would benefit from public funds.

However, the delay is somewhat frustrating, especially considering that each application has already been subject to extensive review.

“Unless you feel there is an oversight ... you really should be taking the advice of these groups,” Bronson said.

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