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Port set to vote on SEED grant Tuesday

The Port of Bremerton Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on whether it will accept a $2.58 million grant from the Economic Development Administration, a crucial building block in its Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project.

However, Port Chief Operating Officer Tim Thomson said the board is not scheduled to vote on how it will come up with a dollar-to-dollar match in funds, which would be necessary if it were to accept the grant.

“That would likely come out of the budget discussions, which will be later this month,” Thomson said, adding that the need for matching funds and how they might be provided could likely be discussed at the meeting.

Either way, Thomson said he expected the meeting — which begins at 7 p.m. — to be well-attended by the public, which has been decidedly vocal about the SEED project of late.

In fact, the board delayed voting on acceptance of the grant, which it was offered last month, to give members of the public more time to read a third-party review of both the project and the region’s capacity to support the fledgling clean-tech businesses it hopes to nurture.

If accepted, the grant would help construct a 17,000-square-foot building within SEED, which the port envisions as a business incubator for startup companies in clean-tech.

The success of such an incubator is far from guaranteed, however, according to Seattle firm Berk & Associates, which recently completed a draft version of its evaluation of both the project and Kitsap County when it comes to sparking a new clean-tech hub.

“There are real risks and challenges to be overcome,” the report states, “and without a clear and unanimous commitment to the project, we recommend it not be undertaken.”

Among the drawbacks, according to the report, is the lack of both a director to steer the project and a research university nearby for participants to partner with.

However, the report also suggests that with the right actions and strong commitment, the project could succeed.

“We cannot say whether the port should or should not go ahead with the plan in absolute terms,” the study concludes, “as we find the plan to be ambitious, not unreasonable, and not without risk.”

Thomson said he was not surprised by the report’s conclusion, and instead it confirmed what he already believed about the project’s potential.

“The clean-tech industry has a tremendous amount of potential, even in these difficult economic times, which is significant,” he said. “However, (such a project is also) ambitious and requires a risk, and requires a resolve to take on such an undertaking.”

If the commissioners decide not to accept the grant, Thomson said it won’t necessarily spell the end of the project, but “it would have an impact on the project as it is now designed.”

Tuesday’s meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the commissioner’s meeting room at the Bremerton National Airport, 8850 State Route 3.

To read the firm’s report and other documents regarding SEED, visit the port’s Web site at: www.portofbremerton.org/

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