Opinion

Port way off the mark with SEED scheme

Sound Off is a public forum. Articles are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. Today, Port Orchard resident Bill Bambrick questions the viability of the SEED project — and why the Port of Bremerton is involved with it in the first place.

Traditionally, ports were created to look after matters concerned with the coming and going of ships — and in modern times, airplanes. But recently I discovered that modern ports, and the Port of Bremerton, in particular, have their tentacles into a vast array of enterprises, some — but not all — of which still have something to do with ships and planes.

Thus it was not surprising to me when I learned about the Port of Bremerton’s new Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project.

It seems to be part of a broader enterprise taken on by the port — the South Kitsap Industrial Area (SKIA).

I suppose they got into this latter effort because it involved property adjacent to the Bremerton National Airport, which, if stretched far enough, could be seen as part of the business of an airport.

And if you look hard enough at the SKIA, you’ll discover that one of the tenants in the industrial park does, indeed, manufacture boats. Safe Boats International builds some very fine craft they sell to our Coast Guard, Navy and other customers all over the world.

But no matter how beneficial all these projects are, I’m still puzzled by what the Port of Bremerton is doing in these enterprises.

The question becomes much more interesting when we learn that they are not self-sustaining. The port requires very large infusions of public money, which, as you’re well aware, come from you, in the form of property taxes.

I was made acutely aware of this when I opened my 2007 tax assessment this year. I discovered that the port would be taking a whopping increase of 171 percent from me to sustain its operations.

When I asked Port Commissioner Bill Mahan about this, his explanation was most articulate, but it amounted to an admission that the port’s new marina over in Bremerton was not producing much revenue, so the shortfall had to be made up with a tax increase.

But now I’m wondering if part of that increase went into the SEED project.

According to newspaper accounts, the total cost of just the “Pod 1” portion of this project will be more than $35 million, of which 60 percent will be paid by you, the taxpayers.

It may come from several government sources, but they get it from you. Governments don’t have any other source of income.

SEED is the port’s idea of how to find solutions to our energy crisis, and in the process create 2,000 new jobs for Kitsap workers. This involves finding “renewable” energy sources to replace the gasoline and diesel fuel we need for transportation, and other alternatives for the dams, nuclear reactors, and fossil fuel plants we need to generate our electricity.

Undoubtedly motivated by concerns for our “fragile” environment, they are focusing on such exotic methods as alcohol from grain, solar energy, windmills, and so on.

The key to weaning us off the oil nipple is not going to be found in renewable sources. Gasohol doesn’t work too well in gasoline engines. It will reduce your mileage by about 10 percent because of the lower heating capacity of alcohol and, since alcohol loves water, you will discover it does undesirable things to your engine, which does not love water.

And it won’t be 10 percent cheaper, by any means. Most of the service stations are selling it now, and you don’t see any price reduction do you?

Using corn to produce alcohol for fuel will have a destructive impact on the food market, as has already become apparent down in Mexico.

It’s simple economics. When a much-needed commodity such as corn becomes scarce because it’s being used for some other product that is also in huge demand, the price has to go up.

Since corn is used to feed most of our livestock, you know what increasing the price of it will do to the price of meat. Want to start paying $10 a pound for pork chops?

What about the other energy sources being pursued by SEED? None of these will succeed in solving our energy problems. Their hopes are based on junk science.

Solar energy plants are extremely dangerous. They involve gathering solar energy with a reflector to focus it on a boiler to produce steam for a turbine. A worker would be burned to a cinder if his body happened to get in the way of that beam.

Solar cells are very inefficient, practical mainly for powering remote electronic equipment and space vehicles.

Windmills, meanwhile, are extremely dangerous to flying birds, are inefficient, and are very noisy.

Geothermal sources are attractive, if you happen to be living near one. We don’t.

There are only three practical energy sources at present — hydroelectricity from our dams, nuclear energy from reactors and fossil fuel-powered generators, which use coal or petroleum fuels.

But the environmentalists aren’t about to reverse their decades of work to block these sources. So what you see is what you get, energy-wise.

There is, however, one ray of hope — hydrogen. It comes from water, which is a fairly abundant source on earth. The problem has been how to get the hydrogen from the water.

Previously the chief methods were electrolysis, which requires a lot of cheap electricity, or chemical processes that liberate it from natural gas and other compounds.

Cheap electricity means nuclear reactors or more dams on our rivers, both of which ruffle the feathers of the environmentalists.

However, Dr. Jerry Woodall, at Purdue University, has developed a new chemical method for extracting hydrogen directly from water using a compound of aluminum and gallium.

Since this compound is used as a catalyst, it is not consumed in the process. The only products are hydrogen and oxygen, both extremely valuable. Now this is a goal worth pursuing.

I suggested this to Mahan, but have gotten no response. Perhaps he is beginning to wonder whether SEED project manager Tim Botkin was the right choice to lead this effort.

He should be. Botkin was the author of the Smart Growth concept, aimed at herding low-income folks into dense urban housing units while preserving the suburban beauty for the wealthy.

It failed in Portland, and will fail here, just as SEED will fail.

There was a time not so long ago when the Port of Bremerton stood for progress. Mahan was a key member of a group to which I belonged, which was trying to spearhead development of an expanded seaport at Gray’s Harbor, with new road and rail infrastructures that would connect it directly, via a new submerged floating tunnel across the Sound, to SeaTac airport.

What a concept.

Somewhere in the dustbin of recent history the port has swept away that vision and now seems bent on solving our energy and economic problems with the SEED program.

Wouldn’t it be better if they were to go back to developing the Mullenix Corridor and the Grays Harbor seaport? It would cut a whole day off the transit time of ships to and from the Orient, and incidentally, provide a lot of jobs for our work force.

At least that would have something to do with ships and planes, which is what I thought ports were supposed to be in business for.

Perhaps SEED needs to be renamed: Worthless Energy and Economic Development. WEED.

Pull it out by the roots.

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