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Contract snafu could extend group’s management of Greenbank Farm

A discrepancy with two different contracts could extend the Greenbank Farm Management Group’s agreement with the Port of Coupeville to oversee the publicly owned farm by more than one year.

At issue is the management group’s lease with the port — which expires March 31, 2014 — and the management group’s contract with the then-known state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development — which is fulfilled at the earliest June 2015.

The state agency, which eventually became the state Department of Commerce, gave the management group a $1.5 million grant in 2003 that funded construction of a new building at the Greenbank Farm. One of the contract clauses states that any buildings constructed using state funds have to be “held and used” by the Greenbank Farm Management Group for a period of at least 10 years from the date the building is occupied, which took place in June 2005.

If the management group doesn’t comply with the contract, then it would have to repay the $1.5 million principal plus interest going back to when the contract was signed.

Michael Stansbury, in a letter to the Port of Coupeville, described the difference in contract dates as a “mutual mistake.”

“It’s not reasonable that both parties would intentionally adopt a provision in their lease that directly and immediately violates the grant contract that is the source of $1.5 million of improvements to the farm, benefiting both parties, where the direct result of that violation is the loss of those benefits,” Stansbury said in the letter.

Port commissioner Laura Blankenship, who was the manager of the Greenbank Farm at the time of the contract, agreed. Everybody involved in negotiating the contract was working in good faith.

“I don’t think anyone at the time thought there was a discrepancy,” Blankenship said Thursday afternoon.

The discrepancy in the two contracts was discovered by the Executive Planning Group, which is an eight-member volunteer group appointed by the Port of Coupeville, that spent the past six months researching and writing recommendations about how the farm should operate after the management group’s contract ends. That group recommended that the management group’s contract shouldn’t be extended and the Port of Coupeville should look for requests for proposal for an entity to manage the farm after the current agreement expires.

The volunteer group stated in the report that if the management group’s lease were extended, then the recommendations in the report will be less relevant if not outdated.

“The transition planning process will be considered by many to have been a waste of time and effort,” the report stated.

It looks like, however, that the management group’s current agreement with the port will have to be extended by at least 14 months. In an email to the News-Times, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Commerce, confirmed that the management group must remain in its current position until June 2015. Further, if the group was displaced for any reason, then the department of commerce would consult with the state attorney general’s office to determine whether or not to recapture money under terms of the contract.

Patton said the port’s attorney is going to examine the contract as well. He noted that the Greenbank Farm Management Group offered a solution of simply extending the current contract through June of 2015. He said he owes a debt of gratitude to the planning group for discovering the discrepancy and he doesn’t want to see the management group get into any “hot water” with the state.

While attorneys review the contracts and discover how best to proceed, work developing a transition plan is on hold for now. He wants the issue resolved soon. If the management group’s contract ends in 2014, then he would like to advertise requests for proposals this summer.

 

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