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Will it be fiber on the farm?

The Port of Coupeville commissioners have decided to wade, not dive, into remodeling a barn for commercial use at the Greenbank Farm.

After rejecting a proposal last month by the Greenbank Farm Management Group to solicit bids for remodeling Barn Number 2, the Port commissioners were convinced to put the job out for bid in phases, starting with remodeling the inside.

Dick Whittick, who owns a herd of 70 alpacas at the farm, had approached the Greenbank group about refitting the publicly owned barn to use as an alpaca fiber processing mill. Whittick said in addition to paying the Port $30,000 a year in rent, the mill would employ local people and contribute to the island's economy, a principal mandate of the Port.

"A private landowner would leap at the opportunity to lease out the barn," Whittick said.

At Wednesday's Port Commission meeting, held at the farm, commissioners Mike Canfield and Ed Van Patten were reluctant to commit any of the Port's $260,000 budget to the project, saying they would prefer to wait until they see how much money the farm is getting from the state.

Van Patten said he felt it was ethically wrong to accept bids from contractors for work they might never actually do.

"Implicit in going out to bid is the feeling that we would go ahead with the project," he said.

Greenbank Farm is in the running for $1.5 million from the state capitol projects fund, but that is not a done deal yet. That money could be used for the remodeling project.

Gov. Gary Locke's proposed budget includes the full amount, as does the state Senate budget unveiled Thursday. The House budget is not yet out.

Greenbank Farm wants to use the monies for renovating barn number two, replacing the smaller barn number three, and improving roads and parking lots in the area of the barns.

Architect Richard Rhydes of Whidbey Island Architects had given the farm group a preliminary estimate of $190,000 to refurbish Barn Number 2.

Port secretary John Coyne then suggested doing the remodel and bidding in two phases.

The board was more amenable to that suggestion, which passed on a 2-1 vote.

Tom Clendenin, the first Greenbank Farm president, thought the decision was right on target.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," he said. "'No' is not the answer."

Whittick also said the fiber mill would be a showpiece for the alpaca fiber processing industry. As such, he expects people to come from all over the world to tour the mill and learn how to develop similar mills in their areas.

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