Port accepts $2.58 million for SEED

After nearly an hour of public testimony that was largely supportive of the controversial Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project, the Port of Bremerton Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday night to accept $2.58 million from the federal government to help launch the initiative.

Commissioners Cheryl Kincer and Bill Mahan voted yes, while Commissioner Larry Stokes, a vocal skeptic of the project, did not attend the meeting.

“I believe the SEED project at its core is a good one, and I vote in favor of accepting the grant to leave our options open,” said board President Kincer. “Then we can discuss, as a full board, what to do next and determine where the matching funds are coming from.”

The grant was offered by the federal Economic Development Administration to help build a 17,000-square-foot building within SEED, which is envisioned as a clean-tech business park and incubator.

To use the funds, however, the port must match them.

Tuesday’s vote did not address how the port will collect those funds, and that matter is expected to be taken up during budget talks later this year.

Prior to those discussions, however, Commissioner Mahan suggested the port hold a “town hall meeting” to gather public opinions on SEED.

“We need to meet face-to-face with as many people as we can ... to hear from the community about this project,” Mahan said.

Kincer called the suggestion “brilliant,” then both commissioners voted to have port staff arrange such a meeting for “the week of Nov. 10.”

In the meantime, nearly two dozen citizens gave the board their opinions Tuesday, testimony which largely boiled down to urging the port to proceed, but with caution and commitment.

“This is an excellent opportunity for the port to directly invest in the economic development of the county,” said South Kitsap resident Tom Donnelly, who admitted that while there was risk involved, “there are no sure things, and (SEED’s) enormous potential makes it worth the rather low risk.”

The risk was low, Donnelley explained, because even if SEED does not succeed, the port would still own the facility it built, and that “could still be a money-maker.”

Several other residents from across the county then voiced strong support for the project, describing it as a way to bring the “green economy” to Kitsap County and provide “meaningful, family-wage jobs” close to residents’ homes.

Pointing out that the port had already invested a considerable amount in the project, Port Orchard resident Carl Olson urged the port to accept the grant.

“As a taxpayer, I don’t want to throw that money (you’ve already spent) away,” Olson said.

Describing the county as being unable to “balance its budget” and the federal government as “ready to go bankrupt,” resident Kathleen Seamans urged the port to not accept the grant.

“I am very much in favor of green energy, just not on my dime,” Seamans said. “And you might lose the grant money, but that’s our money, too.”

Bremerton resident John Hanson agreed.

“Before we start getting excited about green energy, let’s start thinking about how much money it’s going to cost all of us,” Hanson said, turning to the packed meeting room as he spoke.

The strongest critic Tuesday was Olalla resident Rob Daugherty, who said he was “appalled and very disgusted.

“SEED is another plan that will fail, and is little more than a publicly financed scam,” Daugherty said, asking the board members if they had found any sources to help fund the needed $2.58 million match.

Former SEED project director Tim Botkin also spoke, warning the board that the port’s current staff “does not have the expertise nor the energy to (make SEED happen).

“You have to leadership,” he said, “and if you can’t do it right, don’t do it.”

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