References to a failed sustainable development made by a Port of Coupeville candidate are raising 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 discovered Bowen was involved with Aspen Trails Ranch, a proposed 325-residence development just outside Helena, Mont, which Bowen mentioned publicly as an example of his experience with sustainable development.
After Montana courts voided the preliminary plat for the development, Bowen’s plans in the Big Sky state went under, according to the Helena Independent Record.
McDonald came to The Whidbey Examiner last week with his concerns. Neither Bowen nor his campaign manager Mary Jane Olson returned multiple requests for comment until after the paper had gone to press Wednesday morning. He did contact the paper Thursday with further explanation about his failed project.
“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.
Bowen said he started gathering investors in 2005, 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 disclose a reasonable expected annualized return on investment and failed to disclose there was no source to guarantee any repayment to investors, according to the order. The agency also found Bowen failed to disclose significant risks of the investment and failed to give investors any 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 go through what he said would’ve been a “long, hairy process” of fighting the results.
McDonald said he looked into Bowen’s past after a candidate forum at the Greenbank Farm where the port commissioner candidate mentioned his experience in sustainable development. After a search on the Internet, McDonald discovered the Aspen Trails Ranch project.
He said his research didn’t find any signs 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.
Bowen points out the sustainable aspects of the project. A group of graduate students from Cornell University in New York spent six months developing a design that included a 10-acre organic farm, solar panels and drought-tolerant plants, along with systems to capture gray water.
The Helena City Commission approved a preliminary plat for the project, which skirted the city’s boundaries, according to a review by the Public Land and Resources Law Review.
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.
A district court concluded that the information in the assessment regarding groundwater was inadequate to allow the commission to take a “hard look” at impacts on water quality, according to the review.
Bowen said 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.
“Here I am in 2007 and I’m basically back to ground zero,” Bowen said. Because the city didn’t annex the property, he said he would have needed to invest millions of dollars to install utilities and services.
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 referring to the project if it managed to move forward.
The original site for Aspen Trails was sold to the Prickly Pear Land Trust, which placed a conservation easement on the land that includes fishing access and a park, according to a newsletter from the Montana-based conservation group.
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 last week.
When asked if Bowen would be willing to work with McDonald if Bowen is elected to the port seat, he said “yes.” He added that he won’t bring personal feelings to the table and believes in consensus.
“I would like to take the opportunity to express my point of view,” Bowen said.
Prior to running for port commission, he had served on the Bainbridge City Council from 1988-1991.