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Ebey's Landing could land $1 million grant

Ebey's Landing manager Rob Harbour recently received a potential good news-bad news scenario regarding funding for the 17,400 acres of National Historical Reserve land he oversees.

The good news is the likely passage of a 2003 House Appropriations Bill containing $1.1 million in federal funding for the reserve, with money earmarked by Harbour for land preservation. The bill is expected to pass the Senate and receive the signature of President Bush, who originally proposed the funding.

"On all three counts we're on good ground," Harbour said Tuesday. "It's not a done deal yet, but it's looking real good."

On the downside, however, is a recent, unrelated budget-cutting measure proposed by the Island County Board of Commissioners, which would remove all county funding for Ebey's Landing in 2003, a total of $10,000. Though this is far from carved in stone, Harbour said he's disappointed that the board, in trying to overcome a nearly $1 million shortfall in next year's budget, is considering yanking funding for the reserve.

"It's kind of a grim thing," Harbour said, noting that any county funding is "very generously matched" by the national parks service at a ratio of about 10 to 1.

Ebey's Landing has an annual operations budget of about $112,000, Harbour said, which is separate from any federal money the reserve receives.

The $1.1 million Ebey's is set to receive is generated from revenues of offshore oil leases on federal land, and is to be used for land and water conservation.

Such funding is granted on a case-by-case basis, with Ebey's Landing competing with 380 other national parks. Last year, the reserve was awarded $1.25 million.

"The past few years, we've been doing really well," Harbour said.

Harbour said the current chunk of funding is earmarked for two key pieces of land protection. First, some of the money will go toward purchasing development rights for the Jenne Farm, an old farm located in the heart of Ebey's Prairie. Harbour said buying these rights ensures that the property will "remain a farm forever."

The second major allotment of funding would go to the Au Sable Institute, which Harbour said he was "particularly excited about." The nonprofit institute, which teaches land stewardship and conservation, would use the money for facility upgrades and, in general, to "get their feet on the ground," Harbour said.

Such funding follows according to the Ebey's Land Protection Plan which, according to Harbour, "outlines a big list of parcels that we feel needs to be protected." He said that any remaining money from the $1.1 million likely would go toward purchasing a couple of parcels on the northern edge of the reserve. For now, however, buying off the development rights for the farm and helping out Au Sable remain top priorities.

"In both of those cases, what we try to do is buy scenic easements," Harbour said. "We don't buy the land itself, we just buy the right to development."

He said such purchases follow the intent of the reserve, which is to use any tools necessary to protect the historic and environmental quality of Ebey's Landing.

Such protection benefits not only the landing, but the town of Coupeville within its limits, as well as the county.

"Look at all the farmland protection that we're doing," Harbour said. "We're taking that load off the county."

He expressed his concern over the board of commissioners' proposal to cut funding to Ebey's Landing.

"I'm a little disappointed," Harbour said. "Hopefully, they'll do the right thing."

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