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Lawmakers hear NASCAR pitch

From its inception, the work session designed to supply legislators with specifics about a NASCAR track in Kitsap County was intended to be neither fair nor balanced.

Rather, it sought to provide International Speedway Corp. (ISC) an opportunity to present its case to the legislators with the intention of getting a sponsor for the supporting bill.

“It wasn’t slanted,” said Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who chaired Wednesday’s Meeting of the Legislative Committee on Economic Development and International Relations in Seattle. “I favor the project.”

Still, Owen scheduled an anti-track panel in the midst of 10 pro-track presentations and included a document listing the track’s negative aspects in the information kit.

“We won‘t be making any decisions today,” he said. “Our intent is to educate the Legislature. This is the first time they will be able to look at the proposal. This is informational rather than legislative, and the public will have plenty of chances to comment if this moves ahead.”

“The hearing was slanted, but it was set up that way,” said anti-track panelist Ray McGovern after testifying. “I’m not going to say we got a raw deal because we did get a chance to speak. But I did get the feeling that we were speaking out against motherhood and apple pie.”

A draft of a proposed legislative bill was distributed, and it included four elements:

-- the creation of a racetrack authority;

-- securing the funding through bonds;

-- development of the facility; and,

-- leasing/operations.

ISC was unable to find a sponsor for the bill during the 2006 legislative session and is now aiming for next year.

ISC vice president Grant Lynch predicted such sponsorship would be forthcoming.

Legislators from all over the state heard about the track for the first time at the meeting. Owen chaired the session, with 35th District Rep. Bill Eickmeyer and 26th District Rep. Derek Kilmer joining the panel.

While Kilmer said he didn’t learn anything new from the presentation, he welcomed the chance for his colleagues to share the information.

“It was a good opportunity for them to hear what was being proposed,” he said. “This was the first opportunity for them to hear about it. The general consensus was that it has some real potential, but there are issues and concerns.”

Kilmer said he is still neutral on the project and is not ready to sponsor any legislation.

“I had a negative feeling before I came in,” said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler. “Now, I feel have more positive. I’m not ready to make a decision, but I’m glad I had an opportunity to see this presentation.”

“I support the concept of building a Kitsap Speedway,” said South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel. “I urge the governor and the Legislature to approve a sales tax financing option that meets the needs of all the parties and allows the successful completion of the project.”

One new voice came from U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Tacoma).

“The economic activity generated by NASCAR is amazing,” he said. “Frankly, it’s beyond my imagination. The people who come out to witness these events and the money they spend is an amazing thing to witness. This will give us a tremendous economic benefit. With cooperation from local leaders, we can minimize the challenges of a burden on transportation and land-use issues to a point where it will not be a significant detriment.”

Smith said the track would move along the development of a new antique car museum near the Tacoma Dome. This supports Angel’s characterization of the track as an “anchor and a catalyst for new businesses.”

Track opponents focused on the financing, and even questioned the meeting itself. Earlier this week they attempted to reschedule the hearing in a larger venue (the 120-seat auditorium was at capacity with a slight overflow for most of the afternoon).

Track opponent Tom Donnelly took issue with the location, saying that Kitsap, Pierce and Mason counties will feel the greatest effect and should have hosted the meeting.

As it turned out, the Seattle waterfront location had a more practical impetus. Owen had a long-standing speaking engagement in Everett that morning, and Seattle was more convenient for his schedule. A member of his staff said public hearings would take place in Kitsap County if the project proceeds.

Port Orchard resident Mary Colborn, representing the Sierra Club, invoked Kilmer’s 2-month-old daughter in order to make her point.

“What if Rep. Kilmer and his wife were to receive a proposal for Baby Sophie?” she asked. “That is, to forget the breast milk and the nutritional food and just feed her with desserts. You won’t have to pay very much, and she can eat what she wants. She will grow, and she will grow, but pretty soon Rep. Kilmer will wonder if this is the way they want Baby Sophie to grow.

“I don’t think we want this racetrack,” Colborn said. “We need to be a lot more far-sighted about the health of Sophie and the health of the community.”

In a statement a few minutes later, consultant Tim Thompson said “ISC wants Baby Sophie to have a very healthy diet.”

But Kilmer was not amused.

“I wasn’t keen on it,” he said of the exchange. “Both sides should be able ot take a position without discussing my daughter.”

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