Opinion

SKIA debate should include Port Orchard

On the bright side, the Bremerton City Council last week demonstrated a most welcome insight into what the region should be doing if it truly aims to promote economic development.

By voting unanimously to waive business-and-occupation taxes for any employers choosing to locate in the South Kitsap Industrial Area, the council revealed an understanding that the overall benefit to the region of bringing more jobs to Kitsap County outweighs whatever marginal gains might have been realized by imposing the tax.

Moreover, the move is based on the undeniable fact that the surest way to encourage positive outcomes is by rewarding rather than penalizing those in a position to effect them.

Would that Kitsap County’s commissioners had embraced that simple philosophy a year ago when the prospect of building a NASCAR raceway was being discussed in entirely different terms. And perhaps having seen that opportunity squandered is what’s driving the current effort to breathe new life into SKIA.

If so, that too is a positive development.

Of course the whole exercise is predicated on the idea of Bremerton annexing SKIA, which currently sits in unincorporated South Kitsap County. As such, the city has no authority to either tax or not tax anything at SKIA.

But that could soon change.

The Port of Bremerton, which along with several private individuals owns the 3,400-acre site, will next month consider Bremerton’s proposal to enter into a marriage of convenience in order to expedite the development of infrastructure needed to make the site economically viable.

And while we’re generally in favor of anything that would generate employment and economic diversity in these challenging times, we’re also somewhat suspicious of an arrangement that could leave Port Orchard on the outside looking in — particularly since this city has already made a hefty investment in SKIA’s infrastructure.

Mayor Lary Coppola, who has been critical of Bremerton’s annexation scheme, notes, “The Gorst/SKIA Sewer Feasibility Study found having Port Orchard provide sewer service rather than Bremerton saved taxpayers nearly $2 million. The city of Port Orchard has demonstrated its commitment to the development of SKIA by already providing capital funding and constructing infrastructure to achieve that goal.

“As part of our joint obligation,” he added, “Port Orchard and the Westsound Utility District (formerly Karcher Creek Sewer District) have completed a $21 million expansion of its Joint Wastewater Treatment Facility. The upgrades were sized specifically to satisfy the increased sewer capacity required to service the entire SKIA urban growth area.”

Then, too, there’s the small matter of Bremerton honoring its commitment work with Port Orchard in any development plan. Coppola explains, “The existing inter-local agreement Memorandum of Understanding for Joint Planning between Kitsap County, Bremerton and Port Orchard, which was signed in 1998, mandates a joint process for planning, annexation, growth assumptions, infrastructure, future agreements of responsibility and governance. The city of Port Orchard and the Westsound Utility District have operated in good faith within that agreement.”

Supporters of the Bremerton annexation argue that precious little has been done with SKIA to this point, and anything that kick-starts the development is better than nothing. And there’s something to that reasoning.

The annexation backers also say any development in SKIA will benefit Port Orchard at least indirectly, since the development actually sits in South Kitsap — and that’s also true.

But since this community has at least as much to gain or lose by SKIA’s future as its neighbors across Sinclair Inlet, it seems there’s no good reason why Port Orchard shouldn’t be a partner in the discussions — and several reasons why it arguably must be.

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