News

Farm's fiber mill at risk

Alpaca owner Dick Whittick would like to contribute to economic development of Island County by opening a fiber processing mill at Greenbank Farm, but after months of trying to work out a lease agreement with the Port of Coupeville, he’s about ready to pack up his alpacas and head for greener pastures.

If the Port gives him a take-it-or-leave-it lease choice, he said he will choose the latter.

“In a telephone call from (Port consultant) John Coyne this week, he told me that he was sure that the Port would insist on the lease as it is. If that is so, I will not lease the Gary Ando Barn at Greenbank Farm,” he said.

Whittick has been waiting for the Port or the Greenbank Farm Management Group to remodel barn number two, also known as the Gary Ando Barn, to be used as a mill and retail store site. He currently leases pasture at Greenbank Farm for his 70-plus alpaca herd. Situating a fiber mill at the farm is a natural choice, he has said previously.

Earlier this year several of the Port commissioners balked at the farm board’s suggestion to put the renovation of barn number two out for bids, and then wait for the state-allocated capital projects money before beginning the project. At the April board meeting the commissioners agreed to call for bids. Ed Van Patten voted against the move, saying he didn’t want the Port to have to pay for the renovations, and they shouldn’t be accepting bids for work they weren’t willing to pay for.

In a move that surprised the farm management group, the Port awarded a contract to Gemkow Construction at a special meeting April 30 and told them to start the $151,938 remodeling project. There was some debate at that time about whether the Port’s funding of the remodel would be considered part of the required $300,000 community contribution for the state capital projects funding, but nothing was settled.

Now the barn remodel is almost done, and it’s Whittick’s turn to balk, as the Port is requesting that he sign a lease that he calls “too stringent.”

The 13-page document for Mutiny Bay Enterprises Ltd., Whittick’s company, is twice as long as those used by other Port tenants, such as the businesses on Coupeville Wharf, and includes a requirement for $1 million in liability insurance. With the exception of the lease agreement with the Greenbank Farm Management Group, all other lessees have a $300,000 liability insurance requirement. Other lessees have security deposits ranging from zero, for dock space used by Liberty Call Voyages, to $500 for shops occupying a large portion of the Coupeville Wharf. Whittick’s lease calls for a $2,500 security deposit, and a monthly rent of $1,911.

Whittick said he had suggested revisions to the original lease, and, after a lengthy wait, what he got was the 13 page version.

“There was no written or verbal discussion of the items I suggested we change in the first draft lease agreement,” Whittick said. Instead it contains conditions that are not imposed on any other lessees.

Port consultant John Coyne declined to discuss the legal aspects of the lease, saying it was an area better left to their lawyer.

While he is frustrated with the Port, Whittick is more than willing to work with the farm management group.

“I have found this non-profit board to be extremely encouraging and enthusiastic for what I have brought to the farm and what I had hoped to bring to the farm,” he said. “I would be happy to sign a lease with the farm board.”

Greenbank Farm Management Group President Marcia Comer said the board is also looking forward to working with Whittick in making the fiber mill a reality. Such a business would serve the group’s mission of acting as a small business incubator for Whidbey Island, and providing jobs.

“When I first spoke with Dick Whittick I was very excited,” Comer said. “We felt really good about bringing him in and what it could mean for the farm.”

Now, with the future of barn number two tangled up in wranglings with the Port over state funding and property control, Comer is feeling more despair than excitement.

“I’m really disappointed we haven’t been able to establish a working relationship with the Port,” she said. “It’s what we’ve always wanted to do. I thought the Port would rise to a higher level.”

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

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