Farm, port split over state funding, control

A $1.5 million state grant to Greenbank Farm could be in jeopardy unless differences are ironed out between the farm's management and the Port of Coupeville.

Before the money is handed over by the state, a revised lease may be needed, future control of the facilities must be agreed upon, and the Port may have to come up with more money to complete capital construction plans largely funded by the state.

Greenbank Farm Management Group has worked for the last year to secure $1.5 million in capital projects funding from the state to renovate historic Greenbank Farm. Laura Blankenship, executive director of the non-profit group, has made numerous treks to Olympia to lobby the lawmakers with homemade loganberry pies from Whidbey Pies. Farm supporters have written dozens of letters encouraging the state to fund the capital project proposal which would create economic development at the farm. Three local state politicians have been vocally supportive from the start.

In spite of the tight economic times the funding proposal was approved by the governor and both branches of the Legislature. It seemed like a done deal. Money in the bank. Champagne on ice.

Not so fast, says the Port of Coupeville, which owns the farm and is the management group's landlord.

"We thought the money was for the Port of Coupeville," Port consultant John Coyne said Thursday, speaking at the request of Port President Mike Canfield.

The state could have started disbursing the funds for farm renovation projects as early as mid August. But now it's uncertain when, or even if, the management group will get the money unless it can work out a few glitches with the Port.

According to state guidelines, the group that gets the money must have control of the project site, either by ownership or a long-term lease.

Greenbank Farm Management Group currently has a two-year contract with the Port, with an automatic three-year extension after Feb. 28, 2004; not enough to satisfy the state requirement.

Coyne said the Port commissioners are unsure about leasing the farm to the group for 10 years.

"We have no problem with them getting the money," he said. "We are uncomfortable with the site control issue."

During the months of lobbying, the Port commissioners wrote only one official letter in support of the management group's capital project proposal, Blankenship said.

The lease agreement currently covers only the Jim Davis House, the caretaker's cottage, the main barn and associated common areas including the parking lot and surrounding areas within the Port property. Not mentioned in the lease are Barns Two and Three, which are listed in the proposal as the major components of the farm's capital project.

Another stipulation of the state for disbursal is that Greenbank Farm must come up with the rest of the funding for the proposed $1.8 million in renovations.

Whether the Port will pitch in that "match money" is murky, as it has already spent $160,000 renovating barn number two, before getting the state funding. There is some disagreement among the commissioners about their responsibility for the matching money, but Canfield speculated that if the farm needs the match money, they would "make it happen."

Greenbank Farm Management Group director Laura Blankenship said the farm board didn't know about stipulations such as the 10-year lease until this summer, and they didn't know site control would be an issue. Still, she remains cautiously optimistic.

"I know it will come together," she said.

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