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Greenbank report explores port options

By NATHAN WHALEN
Whidbey Examiner Staff
January 10, 2013 · 3:27 PM
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Rick Abraham, chairman of the Greenbank Farm Executive Planning Group, highlights recommendations the group made concerning the future management of the Greenbank Farm. / Nathan Whalen photo

Among the recommendations concerning the future of the Greenbank Farm, a volunteer group said the Port of Coupeville should consider selling the publicly owned farm.

The eight-member volunteer group released its recommendations last week concerning the future operation of the Greenbank Farm. The group first recommended that the Port of Coupeville shouldn’t extend the current contract with the Greenbank Farm Management Group, which is set to expire March 31, 2014.

In addition, the group recommended that the port should solicit requests for proposals for the selection of future management for the group. The volunteers also stated that the port, as it currently functions, should not assume management of the Greenbank Farm without the assistance of a management entity, according to a report released last week during a special meeting of the commissioners of the Port of Coupeville.

“It’s disappointing to me that the group doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the port’s ability to manage the farm,” commissioner Laura Blankenship said during the Jan. 2 meeting. Years ago, she used to manage the Greenbank Farm.

As for considering an option to sell the property, Rick Abraham, chairman of the volunteer group, said the vote to consider that was expressing frustration over what members saw was a lack of financial oversight over the Greenbank Farm Management Group.

During a special meeting Jan. 2, Abraham said there has been a historic problem of transparency and oversight between the port and the management group.

“These issues continue to this day,” Abraham said, noting that public and private dollars were being “co-mingled.”

“There was no way to track how the money was being spent,” Abraham said during the meeting.

The Greenbank Farm comprises 47 percent of the Port of Coupeville’s expenses in recent years. From 2007 to 2011, the port’s expenses averaged about $208,000 a year. Of that amount the port pays a $49,950 annual fee to the Greenbank Farm Management Group, according to the report.

In an interview after the meeting, Port of Coupeville executive director Jim Patton said he is bound by contract with the management group that was negotiated in 2004 before he was executive director.

“I think they failed to give due weight to the port’s limitation on the lease,” Patton said, noting that there isn’t any language in the lease about auditing the management group’s finances.

Despite the concerns about the finances of the Greenbank Farm Management Group, the report stated that there isn’t any known financial management or reporting issue that should preclude the management group from consideration for a management role in the farm.

The report also included recommendations for the agriculture land at the farm. The report states that the goals of the Greenbank Farm master site plan hasn’t been achieved. The Port of Coupeville lost a significant revenue source by not leasing agricultural land at the farm.

The Port of Coupeville needs to take a greater role determining the uses for the agriculture areas, the report states.

“The port needs to step up and make these decisions,” said volunteer Fran Einterz.

The group recommended that the port negotiate leases for the agriculture land collect rent from those leases, which will represent fair market value. The Whidbey Conservation District should develop a viable farm plan and an agriculture advisory group should be established, according to the report.

Val Hillers, member of the planning group, said the port needs to revise the Special Review District zoning so more land can be used for agriculture uses.

The commissioners for the Port of Coupeville seemed grateful for the report.

“I’m absolutely impressed by the work this group has done,” Commissioner Benye Weber said during the meeting.

 


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