No contract for Greenbank Farm

The Greenbank Farm Management Group is close to an agreement with the Port of Coupeville, but instead of celebrating, a special meeting Thursday ended with one farm board member resigning, and another deeply uncomfortable with plans for the farm.

Negotiators Tom Baenen and Clarke Harvey said both negotiating teams felt the agreements they had reached on the management and lease contracts were reasonable. Port attorney Dale Roundy has drafted documents based on that agreement, but there is still some fine tuning to do before the Port commissioners look at the contracts at their monthly meeting March 10. At that time they could approve it, setting in motion plans for a $1.5 million state funded capitol projects renovation at the farm.

The farm board said they may want to have a final look at the contracts after the Port meeting before giving it their stamp of approval. After more than six months of negotiations, they are now hoping for an April 1 project start date.

Under the terms of the tentative agreements, the farm would secure a 10 year lease and management contract. Leased properties would include all the barns and area cited for improvement. In addition, the farm group would manage the rest of the farm on behalf of the Port, but not receive any lease payments. The farm group would take over the leases granted to the Alf Christiansen Seed Farm and Whidbey Island Alpacas.

“The Port understands there will not be much lease money (for the farm) until the improvements are done,” Baenen said. Under the agreement the Port would accept the improvements to the farm in lieu of lease payments.

While the two sides have come a long way since last August, when the Port commissioners questioned whether they or the farm group should get the state funding, the farm group still has several significant hurdles to overcome.

Member quits, issues warning

Board member Bud Spengler, who said he had not been a very good board member and has missed many meetings, tendered his resignation, citing grave concerns about the board’s ability to handle a project of this size.

“You’re in for mayhem,” he said.

Directly addressing Laura Blankenship, Greenbank Farm executive director, Spengler continued, “It’s a scary, scary thing you’re into. You’re operating on trust, and there’s no basis for trust here.”

Spengler said he has overseen “Taj Mahal” school projects back east, and has his name on brass plaques at those schools to prove it.

Blankenship presented the board with a rough budget outline for what projects would be included in the plan and a timeline for completion, and reminded the board they are racing against the clock at this point.

“The (state) money has to be spent by the end of the biennium, period,” she said. “After that it goes away.”

Because it is a state grant, legislators will start looking in November at capital projects money that is not spent, in order to determine what might be reappropriated for the next budget.

“We will be on that (cut) list if the money is not expended,” she said. The current biennium ends in June 2005.

Project faces timing problem

Because of the time crunch, Blankenship listed projects to be done more by order of how soon they could be accomplished, rather than in order of need.

Treasurer Gordon Sears questioned that rationale, and the volatility of the funding. He also felt the board should be able to approve the scope of the project, rather than leaving it to Blankenship.

She said the board had already done that by approving the capital projects proposal in the first place, more than a year ago.

Blankenship said her budget was based on talking with local construction professionals, and that she had built in a healthy contingency buffer for each project.

“This is the budget we will use for building,” she said. “I will bring better numbers when I get them.” Those numbers would come after architect Richard Wright can draw up firm plans for contractors to bid on.

The plan was broken into four parts, plus a $100,250 general contingency. An addition to the deli kitchen in the main barn was estimated at $39,000; construction of a tractor barn at $95,000; site work, including parking, sidewalk construction and water, septic and storm drainage at $242,000; and reconstruction of barn number three at $1,005,000.

Blankenship’s timeline listed getting started as soon as possible on the design and permitting process for all projects, with construction beginning first on the projects that would take the least design and permit time, in order to begin accessing the state money.

Biggest project waits the longest

While barn number three is the biggest project, Blankenship said they couldn’t afford to wait to start that project first, as it might take until December before construction could begin.

The board agreed to appoint President Greg Osenbach as the liaison between Blankenship and the board.

Ossenbach, who has an engineering and construction background, was not overly concerned with the scope of the project that the non-profit group and volunteer board was about to take on.

“It’s not that big a project,” he said. “All we can do with the timeline is take it as it comes.”

Former board president Marcia Comer defended the proposed timeline, saying the deli kitchen and tractor barn were needed.

“It’s scary to approach the biggest project last, but I don’t see that we have a choice,” she said. “This is what we’re dealt, I think we have to go for it.”

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

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