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Port awards Greenbank Farm remodel

In a move that surprised Greenbank Farm Management Group board, the Port of Coupeville awarded a contract for the first phase of remodeling barn number two at the farm. The move left the Greenbank board wondering, whose farm is it, anyway?

While the board wanted to start the bid process last month, it was willing to wait until it was sure the state Legislature was going to allot $1.5 million in capital projects funds to the farm before awarding a contract. By locking in a bid now, the Port appears have set itself up to pay for the project out of its own pocket.

The low bidder for the project was Gemkow Construction of Langley, at a bid of $151,938. That is a little less than half the Port’s total reserve fund. Three contractors bid on the project, based on a design by Whidbey Island Architects.

The move reverses the board’s formerly cautious approach.

In March, Port commissioners Benye Weber and Ed Van Patten disagreed on whether or not to start the bidding process before funding was secured from the state capital budget. Van Patten was uncomfortable with accepting bids for a project which the port was unwilling to fund from their limited budget. Weber felt they should move ahead to get a jump on construction season. Without a third vote to break the stalemate, the motion died.

At the April 9 commissioners’ meeting held at the farm, Weber and Commissioner Mike Canfield voted in favor of going out to bid in phases, with Van Patten holding firm on his no vote.

In accepting the bid at a special meeting April 30, Port consultant John Coyne said “nothing was now known about the feasibility of the Port being compensated for any monies expended on work that we may initiate now,” according to the meeting minutes.

Laura Blankenship, Greenbank Farm director, responded that as far as the farm board is concerned, the Port has agreed to contribute the $151,000 as matching funds for the barn remodel. The capital funds proposal calls for $300,000 in “community contributions,” and that any conditions on the award would be developed after the final vote on allocation of funds. She said the Port’s funding could come under that “community contribution” category.

Port Commissioner Weber agrees with that view.

“All of these people have worked so hard for the farm,” she said this week. “Not a dime (of the state money) should go into the coffers of the Port of Coupeville.”

Weber said if Greenbank Farm is given the $1.5 million, the Port will be sailing “uncharted waters.”

“There is no other deal like this,” Weber said.

While the state capital projects money must go to a non-profit organization, which Greenbank Farm is, the actual farm property and buildings belong to the Port of Coupeville.

Weber said this could give the Port control over what the farm’s management group does with the state money. This was cause for concern at the group’s board meeting last week.

“We want to build a building that will be a showcase for the next 100 years, not just functional,” Marcia Comer, Greenbank Farm president, told the board.

Alpaca flock owner Dick Whittick is prepared to sign a lease to use the barn as a fiber processing mill which he said will employ local people and draw visitors from around the world.

The Port has consulted its lawyer, Dale Roundy, about the distribution of funds for the farm, but Coyne said he didn’t provide any information that cleared things up.

“If we get money from the state, then the matter of how to handle the management of those funds in conjunction with the GFMG can be dealt with at that time,” Coyne said at the special meeting.

Commissioner Mike Canfield remarked at the meeting that with an anticipated $30,000 per year rental rate for the barn, the Port would make back its money in as little over five years, making it a good investment. Still, his yes vote came with reservations. He noted that with his term ending in December the other two commissioners and his successor will have to live with the effects of his action in this matter.

Canfield and Weber voted to accept the bid, while Commissioner Ed Van Patten voted against it. Van Patten held to his view that the Port should not proceed with a contract at this time because of the many unanswered questions, and a reluctance to spend the Port’s money.

“I’d rather spend someone else’s money than my own,” he said.

Van Patten expressed surprise that Canfield would vote in favor of awarding the contract, given his reservations.

“He must have had his reasons,” Van Patten said. He added that if the state money did not come through, he would be willing to have the Port provide more funding for the farm.

While the capital funding proposal which Greenbank Farm Management Group submitted to the legislature listed the refurbishing of barn number two as part of the capital project, Canfield said he voted in favor of awarding the contract because to wait would have delayed the project by many months.

"We have no idea if (the farm) will get the state money," he said. He noted the Port has already spent "a fantastic amount" of money on the Greenbank Farm revitalization, and this seemed like a way to reverse the cash flow.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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