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Port pushes pause button on SEED plan

The Port of Bremerton Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to “pause” progress on its Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project until a third-party review can be completed on both its business plan and financial scheme.

“I am absolutely bombarded with inquiries from people in calls, e-mails and in public regarding SEED,” Chair Cheryl Kincer said during the board’s study session devoted to the project. “It is so obvious that not everyone has all the answers to their questions.”

And it’s not just private citizens asking for more information.

Kincer said Kitsap County officials, who are still considering contributing $1 million to SEED, wrote a letter to the port requesting a third-party review of the project.

To obtain the necessary answers, Kincer suggested, “It was the perfect time for the port to pause” the project until four tasks have been completed:

• a third-party review of SEED’s business plan;

• a third-party review of SEED’s financial scheme;

• a partnership established with a research institution; and,

• meetings conducted with private industrial developers.

“I believe SEED at its core is a good project,” she said, “but we all need to be marching to the same drummer, and that is not happening now.”

Kincer then made a motion proposing the board vote on taking a pause, which Commissioner Larry Stokes quickly seconded.

“We owe answers to the public,” said Stokes, who before Kincer’s motion had reiterated his concerns about what money the port would use to construct the first SEED building and who it would recruit as tenants. “And I am being told ‘If we build it, they will come.’ But I am not ready to gamble with the taxpayers’ money. I see absolutely no way (of paying for this) without issuing (general obligation) bonds, and I will fight against the port going further into debt.”

He also expressed concern that, by his calculations, the port had already paid $400,000 in consulting fees over the life of the project, and is currently paying SEED Director Tim Botkin $10,000 a month.

“As a commissioner, I treat the taxpayers’ money the same way I treat my own, and I think the taxpayers are entitled to a fair turn on our investment,” Stokes said, explaining that as the project has progressed so far, “47 percent of the taxpayers are getting — no, I can’t say that. Forty-seven percent of the taxpayers are not being treated fairly.”

Commissioner Bill Mahan defended the project, arguing that rather than picking out selected statistics or items with regard to SEED, one needs to “look at the whole picture to see the value” of the project.

Using the example of the Fram oil filter slogan of “pay me now or pay me later,” Mahan countered that the project was a “good investment for the public and would pay back the taxpayers in savings (from the use of green technology) and in creation of jobs.”

Mahan also resisted Kincer’s motion and said “I’m a little concerned about what taking a pause means. We have grant requests pending — do we stop motion on those?”

After Port Chief Executive Officer Ken Attebery also asked for clarification on what exactly “pause” meant, Kincer suggested scheduling an emergency meeting to hash those details out.

That meeting was held this morning.

Stokes then reminded the board that a motion had been made and seconded, and a vote was needed on the motion. Kincer and Stokes voted “yes” to pause the SEED project to complete a third-party review and other tasks, while Mahan voted “no.”

Other items discussed at the meeting included:

• Stokes disclosed that he had recently undergone quadruple bypass surgery, but he was recovering and had suffered “no damage to his heart.”

• A resolution adjusting the annual compensation of both port CEO and port attorney Gordon Walgren was tabled by suggestion of Stokes, who said he had only been on the board a month and he didn’t “feel qualified to vote on pay raises.”

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