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New Port of Coupeville director questions candidate record

By NATHAN WHALEN Whidbey News-Times Staff reporter
October 31, 2013 · 9:09 AM
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Coupeville resident and Port of Coupeville candidate Dick Bowen talks about a past business deal in Montana. / Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

A sustainable development mentioned by a Port of Coupeville candidate publicly is eliciting concerns from the port’s incoming executive director.

Those concerns arose after Tim McDonald, who will start as port director Dec. 1, wanted to find out more about candidate Dick Bowen’s experience.

He said he discovered Bowen was involved with Aspen Trails Ranch, a proposed 325-residence development just outside Helena, Mont, which was a project that spurred litigation and eventually fell through, according to news reports.

“It was really painful. My wife and I put a lot of financial resources on the line,” Bowen, who has been in development since 1979, said Thursday.

McDonald said the issue for him was Bowen using Aspen Trails Ranch as an example of his abilities, but the record seems to indicate the opposite.

“It’s important to me that the voters take a look at his record and inform their own opinions,” McDonald said.

In 2005, Bowen started gathering investors, most of whom had done business with him before.

After investors chipped in $850,000, Bowen received an order from Washington Department of Financial Institutions Securities Division.

It found he had failed to provide return estimates and failed to disclose that investment repayment was not guaranteed. The agency also found Bowen failed to disclose significant investment risks and failed to provide financial statements for Aspen Trails, according to the order.

The state agency ordered him to cease and desist, and fined him $2,000 for investigation costs, according to the order.

Bowen noted that he had the investors in 2005, but the order was issued in 2007.

“This was two years after the fact,” Bowen said. He paid the $2,000 rather than going through what he said would’ve been a “long, hairy process” of fighting the results.

McDonald said he looked into Bowen’s record after a candidate forum at the Greenbank Farm in which the port commission candidate mentioned his experience in sustainable development. McDonald said his research into Bown’s dealings didn’t reveal any sign of his engineering capabilities, sound business practices or sound stewardship.

“I think the record speaks for itself,” McDonald said.

Bowen is running against Mike Diamanti for District 3 for the Port of Coupeville.

Voters have received ballots for the mail-in election, which have to be postmarked by Nov. 5 in order to be counted.

The Helena City Commission approved a preliminary plat for the project, which skirted the city’s boundaries.

Bowen said, neighbors of the project filed suit and successfully argued in court the environmental assessment didn’t provide enough information about the project’s impacts to groundwater and the flood plain.

Bowen said that the lawsuit was filed against the City of Helena and he followed it closely.

He said he hired one of the largest engineering firms in Montana to put together the assessment.

A judge, however, voided the preliminary plat and the state Supreme Court eventually upheld the decision. He said he received a further setback when the city of Helena declined to annex the property.

When he realized Aspen Trails Ranch wasn’t going to happen, he said he negotiated an agreement with the bank, which took over the land.

“I’m not sure it would have survived the real estate bust,” Bowen said if the project managed to move forward.

He said the Aspen Trails Ranch was “an incredible learning experience.”

McDonald, who will replace Jim Patton as executive director for the Port of Coupeville, came forward with his research this week.

When asked if he would be willing to work with McDonald if elected to the port seat, Bowen said “yes,” adding he won’t bring personal feelings to the table.

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