SEED deserves skepticism, not applause
June 12, 2008 · Updated 4:21 PM
We range from skeptical to outright critical of the Port of Bremertons much-vaunted SEED project. Which goes a long way toward explaining why the spectacle of Gov. Christine Gregoire sharing the stage last week with officials from the port, Kitsap County, SEED and local environmental interests applauding the fledgling development had us rolling our eyes.
Perhaps the irony of the occasion was lost on Gregoire, who earlier this spring politely but firmly encouraged International Speedway Corp. to take its business elsewhere, and North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen, who had the gall to couch her objections to the track in economic terms. But it wasnt lost on us, and we hope not on Kitsap County voters.
By way of explanation, SEED stands for Sustainable Energy Economic Development, and the project is envisioned as a themed office park/incubator for companies trying to market alternative energy sources. Or claiming to anyway.
As planned, SEED will be situated on 75 acres and its supporters including its mastermind, former Central Kitsap Commissioner Tim Botkin claim the project will generate up to 2,000 jobs upon its completion.
Well believe that when we see it. For the moment, however, were still digesting by the unbridled hypocrisy of people like Endresen, who steadfastly maintained her objection to ISC building a NASCAR track in Kitsap County was rooted in her reluctance to approve public financing for a private enterprise.
Leaving aside the now-moot point of whether or not ISCs financing plan actually constituted public financing, theres no getting around the fact that SEED, by definition, depends on heavy doses of taxpayer money funneled into the pockets of private companies and individuals to include Botkin, Endresens former colleague on the board of county commissioners.
Why are public subsidies so unpalatable in the one case but completely justified in the other? The most charitable explanation we can offer is that people who slavishly support the SEED concept but fought against NASCAR just prefer one to the other. But thats an inadequate enough explanation for laymen; its completely unacceptable for leaders like Endresen and, apparently, Gregoire.
Simply put, on those rare occasions when public-private partnerships do make sense, the determining factor ought always to be whether the investment of taxpayer monies figures to bring a financial reward. By that standard, SEED doesnt even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with NASCAR.
Whatever your opinion of stock car racing, its hard to look around the country at what has become the nations second-most-popular spectator sport and make the case that it isnt thriving economically not that track opponents didnt give it the old college try, though.
By contrast, if environmentally friendly energy technologies held similar prospects for profitable returns at the moment, entrepreneurs such as those envisioned for SEED would be refusing all offers for partnership. The fact that theyre willing eager, in fact to take public money should be a dead giveaway about what sort of a return Kitsap residents can expect on their investment in SEED.
In short, ISC asked for public money to help build the track because it was a strong enough bargaining position to make such a demand. Tenants in SEED, however, want public money because what theyre offering is in the minds of willing investors, at least too risky a proposition. So which opportunity did Kitsap County embrace, and which did it confound and harass until the opportunity eventually disappeared?
Whatever vision for Kitsap County Gov. Gregoire came here last week to celebrate, we dont share it. Maybe were just old-fashioned, but our view is that if you want to invest in shaky, unproven ideas, you should do so with your own money. But when youre using taxpayer money, you look for a proposition with a proven track record, so to speak.