SEED deserves skepticism, not applause

We range from skeptical to outright critical of the Port of Bremerton’s 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 wasn’t 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.

We’ll believe that when we see it. For the moment, however, we’re 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 ISC’s financing plan actually constituted “public financing,” there’s 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, Endresen’s 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 that’s an inadequate enough explanation for laymen; it’s 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 doesn’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with NASCAR.

Whatever your opinion of stock car racing, it’s hard to look around the country at what has become the nation’s second-most-popular spectator sport and make the case that it isn’t thriving economically — not that track opponents didn’t 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 they’re 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 they’re 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 don’t share it. Maybe we’re 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 you’re using taxpayer money, you look for a proposition with a proven track record, so to speak.

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