Stokes a SEED skeptic

Returning Port of Bremerton Commissioner Larry Stokes was sworn in Jan. 8. - Courtesy of the Port of Bremerton
Returning Port of Bremerton Commissioner Larry Stokes was sworn in Jan. 8.
— image credit: Courtesy of the Port of Bremerton

At least two firsts occurred at Tuesday’s meeting of the Port of Bremerton’s Board of Commissioners.

South Kitsap resident Larry Stokes returned for his first meeting as a commissioner in 18 years, then promptly cast the first “nay” vote for a resolution marking progress in the port’s multi-million dollar Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project.

“I want to make it clear — I am not opposed to SEED,” said Stokes as the commissioners discussed Resolution 2008-11 amending the port’s comprehensive scheme to include the work on SEED, officially termed as “improvement plans” for Olympic View Business and Industrial Park.

The SEED concept is a 75-acre campus in the South Kitsap Industrial Area (SKIA) that the port expects to ultimately house 2,000 jobs in the new energy/clean technology industry sector and bring in more than $200 million in private investment over the next decade.

“I think SEED is a good thing,” Stokes continued. “But there needs to be more people involved. It is too big an endeavor for the port to shoulder alone.”

Stokes said he was particularly concerned about not being able to get straight answers to his questions about how much construction was going to cost and how the port would get money to pay for it.

“If I was going to build a house with the taxpayers’ money, I would want to know the reason for it and how much it is going to cost,” he said, explaining that the price tag of $7.2 million which Commissioner Bill Mahan gave him for Pod 1, the first SEED building, during Tuesday’s meeting was the first dollar amount he had been given so far.

As for where the port would be getting the money to pay for the building, Stokes said, “I hear, ‘Oh, we’ll get the money. The money is coming.’ Then I hear that, down the road, the port wants to issue (General Obligation) bonds. I want it understood that if the port tries to float GO bonds and mortgage my property and others taxpayers’ property – because that’s what GO bonds are, a mortgage against your real estate — I will oppose it. I will fight it any way I can.”

In response to Stokes, Mahan said planning for SEED has been under way since 2004, and during that time he and the rest of the commissioners have heard numerous declarations supporting and praising the project from lawmakers and other officials.

“This an investment by the port, and a phenomenal accomplishment,” said Mahan, explaining that so far the total cost of the project was estimated at $9.5 million, 66 percent of which the port had leveraged from other sources. “We’ve only paid 34 percent from our pocket, which is a tremendous accomplishment.”

As for the resolution the board approved Tuesday, Mahan said it “does not put the final stamp on the plan. It lets us proceed with grant applications, and gives us the best-case opportunity to make our case to our legislators.”

Newly appointed Board President Cheryl Kincer reiterated that the move was just a “small step,” which she described as a legal necessity for applying for grants.

Kincer admitted that she also had a list of questions that she wanted answered.

“And I would like staff and the board to sit together and discuss it at the study session at the next board meeting,” she said.

The board then approved the resolution with Stokes as the only dissenting vote. All previous votes for SEED have been unanimous.

“This moves us out of the planning phase,” said port Chief Executive Officer Ken Attebery.

Before the vote, four members of the audience addressed the board, all expressing solid support for SEED and praise for the port for continuing with the plan.

In contrast, at the port’s previous meeting Dec. 11, members of the audience spoke out against the project.

“How is SEED going to benefit me directly, and everyone else in Kitsap County?” asked Port Orchard resident Robert Daugherty. “I think this program is being forced on the citizens.”

In response, Mahan said that it was the port’s job to encourage and create economic and business development in the county, and that SEED was an important part of that endeavor.

“For the past 35 years, the county has had a serious reliance on federal jobs, (such as at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Naval Base Kitsap), and it has always been a desire of the port to find a new way to create jobs that do not rely on the federal government,” he said.

“As a generic answer, new business benefits everyone,” responded Attebery, explaining that SEED not only has the potential to create jobs for local residents, but will generate revenue for the local government and infrastructure such as schools, roads and parks, which also benefit residents.

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