One Port of Coupeville candidate opposes farm easement
By NATHAN WHALEN
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
August 1, 2011 · Updated 8:17 AM
A single major difference seems to separate one of the three candidates competing for the open seat on the Port of Coupeville: Whether to support the pending conservation easement for the port’s Greenbank Farm property.
Three people, Richard Turner, Mike Diamanti and Laura Blankenship, are vying for the seat being vacated by Ann McDonald. They spoke at a League of Women Voters candidates forum Tuesday night at the Coupeville Public Library. It attracted about 17 people.
Turner, who farms a small portion of the Greenbank Farm, said the wording of the easement would put too many restrictions on the agricultural uses at the farm.
“I’m not entirely convinced that a conservation easement is best,” Turner said during the forum. He argued the port is trying to work out a deal with Island County to surrender the development rights to most of the property that comprises the Greenbank Farm. While it is meant to preserve farmland, Turner worried that it might be too restrictive.
The easement if adopted will add another layer of protection for the agriculture, recreational and environmentally sensitive lands on top of its current zoning. In return the port is set to receive $50,000 a year for eight years from the county’s Conservation Futures Fund as payment for the development rights. That money would provide revenue for the cash-strapped port that has exhausted its reserves over the years making hefty payments for bonds on the farm purchase.
On the other side of the issue, both Blankenship and Diamanti seemed supportive of the easement.
Blankenship noted that the conservation easement tends to get “short changed” because of the complex language involved in the document, so she took time during the forum to explain the process.
Diamanti said he is frustrated because of the slow pace of government in approving the easement, noting the proposal still remains in the hands of the county.
All three candidates are personally familiar with the port’s operations. Blankenship is a former manager of the Greenbank Farm. Diamanti helped analyze fuel usage and moorage rates to come up with pricing that is competitive with nearby ports. Turner farms a piece of property at the farm.
Blankenship wants to be directly involved as a review of the Greenbank Farm Management Group takes place next year. She said that will be a good time to examine the port’s operations as a whole. Most of its business revolves around the Greenbank Farm and Coupeville Wharf.
Diamanti wants to continue with and expand upon work he’s performed for the port in recent years, while Turner described himself as an advocate for small business enterprise who wants to see more of the farmland leased to growers.
The three candidates are squaring off in the Aug. 16 primary. The top two candidates move on to the November general election.
Election ballots were mailed out this week. Election day is Aug. 16, which is the last day return ballots can be postmarked.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Nathan Whalen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-675-6611 ext. 5058.