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Management group hopes to run Greenbank Farm until June 2015

Because of a leasing problem, the Greenbank Farm Management Group may be forced to pay back $1.5 million in state funds.

The group, which oversees day-to-day operations of the publicly owned Greenbank Farm, has a lease with the Port of Coupeville that expires March 31, 2014.

An agreement with the state Commerce Department that provided funding for new buildings, however, doesn’t expire until at least June 2015.

“We are at risk of having to pay the state back a million-and-a-half dollars,” Greenbank Farm Management Group President Michael Stansbury said during a special Port of Coupeville meeting Wednesday.

The meeting was held to continue discussions about how the farm will be operated after the current lease with the management group expires.

The contract with what was then known as the Department of Community Trade and Economic Development has clause that states the management group must hold and use the buildings funded by the grant for a period of 10 years.

That 10-year period started in June 2005.

Stansbury apologized to the crowd about the situation.

He said the lease problem isn’t something the management group sought, but something that came up months ago due to research a volunteer group conducted concerning future management of the Greenbank Farm.

“It’s not anything we sought out, it’s something that was thrust on us,” Stansbury said.

The lease issue caused port commissioners to pause in the work to determine how the farm will be managed after the current lease expires.

“We’re in no-man’s land. I don’t know how we can talk about transition models when we don’t know the end date,” Commissioner Laura Blankenship said during the meeting.

One thing is for sure, the port can simply let the current lease expire.

Port of Coupeville Executive Director Jim Patton said the port’s attorney researched the issue.

There isn’t any indication that there was any reason for the management group to vacate the farm at the conclusion of the lease.

In researching the issue, Patton said the port’s lawyer found communication between the Greenbank Farm and state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development —  the predecessor to the state Department of Commerce — that said in 2006 that the state agency has no objection to early termination.

Stansbury Wednesday morning produced documentation signed by a department of commerce official stating the agency won’t wave the hold and use requirement for the management group.

A spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Commerce is researching the apparent discrepancy, but couldn’t yet provide clarification.

Patton said after the meeting the commissioners will continue to discuss the issue and will likely make one of three choices.

They can let the current lease expire,  extend the current lease or approve a new one that allows the management group to meet legal requirements with the state contract.

“They have to decide whether to leave the Greenbank Farm Management Group twisting in the wind after 2014 or provide them legal cover,” Patton said about what the commissioners have to decide upon in the coming weeks.

 

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