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Plan to reopen Freeland golf course hits snag

A fast-tracked effort to reopen Holmes Harbor Golf Course in Freeland may have landed in the rough, although backers of the plan remain optimistic.

The Holmes Harbor Sewer District’s proposal to buy the dormant 18-hole course and turn over its operation to a newly formed nonprofit community organization may go against state regulations, Stan Walker, president of the district board, acknowledged Thursday.

The result may be an unanticipated delay in the district’s plan to buy the course, and in the interim, to reopen it shortly after Memorial Day.

“There apparently are some legal issues associated with a sewer district contracting with a third party to operate a golf course on public property,” Walker said.

“Bankers, lawyers and others are mulling the ramifications,” he continued. “There are legal technicalities being examined, options to be considered and decisions to be made. It’s never quick and easy.

“We still are convinced that the sewer district will end up owning it,” Walker added. “The issue is how to structure it as a golf-course operation.”

He said the issue may require a legal determination by the state Attorney General’s office, which would lead to further delay in reopening the course.

The public, par-64 executive facility north of Freeland closed two months ago for financial reasons. But the 54-acre golf course is vital to the sewer district; water from its treatment plant is distributed through the course’s 400 sprinklers.

The course, owned by Holmes Harbor Community Partners, an independent component of the Schuster Group development firm, has been for sale for more than a year.

According to the Island County Assessor’s Office, the course and nearby parcels have an assessed value of more than $2.6 million.

The likelihood of a private-party sale is hampered by the easement on the property held by the sewer district, which the state required to ensure proper water distribution from the district’s treatment plant.

A soft recreation market related to the sour economy also makes the property less attractive to investors.

This past week, the sewer district made an offer to buy the golf course proper, setting in motion the legal scrutiny that turned up the potential glitch.

The course would be purchased with sewer district reserves and would not affect sewer rates, district officials said earlier.

The intent is to turn over golf-course operations to the newly formed Holmes Harbor Recreation Association, made up of residents of the sewer district and governed by a volunteer board.

The arrangement would be similar to Greenbank Farm, which is owned by the Port of Coupeville and managed by an independent nonprofit organization.

The plan is to reduce the cost of play to a break-even point, and promote increased public participation.

The association would secure an agreement with the current owners to use the pro-shop segment of the clubhouse and the restrooms, which would not be included in a sale to the sewer district.

Freeland Realtor Todd Bitts, interim chairman of the recreation association, said his organization is on hold pending a signed agreement with the owners of the course.

“We’re just hanging here,” Bitts said Thursday. “We’re having more time to think these days than we planned.”

Donations toward start-up costs have continued to flow in, Bitts said.

“Everything is safe,” he said. “No checks have been cashed, no bank account has been opened.”

Walker said the situation is unique in the state, contributing to the delay in its resolution.

“There’s no comparable golf course or sewer system or operating arrangement,” Walker said. “We are in unusual territory.”

He said if the course doesn’t reopen within the next few weeks, revenue would be lost that would help cover expenses through the winter, when play drops off sharply.

Bitts agreed.

“We’re not going to open in September,” he said.

Walker said the district would continue to finance maintenance of the course until the issue is resolved. He said he hopes to get some answers in the next few days.

“We intend to figure out a way to make this happen,” Walker said. “Do I know it will happen? No, not at this point in time.”

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