Conservation grant program process is undergoing changes

The Board of Island County Commissioners decided to change the scoring process of applications for the conservation futures program at a recent work session meeting. This grant can be used to purchase land for preservation of threatened areas of open space, such as timberlands, wetlands, habitat areas, agricultural farmlands and more.

With the current process, the Citizens Advisory Board ranks applications based on numerical scores from each member. The new process will eliminate numerical scoring and the advisory board will only submit a narrative evaluation to the commissioners. The commissioners would also receive separate evaluations from the Department of Natural Resources and the county’s planning department.

“The reality is that people are using subjective opinions to get to their indisputable numbers, so that’s where I’m more supportive of the narrative,” said Commissioner Jill Johnson during the meeting. “I’d rather have the thought process shown than just the number, where I can’t see how they reached it.”

Commissioner Rick Hannold agreed, but Commissioner Helen Price Johnson felt the numbers made the process more simple.

The commissioners also opted to remove the funding priorities from the application. These priorities were originally given to serve as a communication tool for applicants to help them understand which projects the commissioners would consider most important, said Elaine Marlow, director of the county General Services Administration, which oversees the program.

During the meeting, commissioners Hannold and Johnson pointed out the importance of being clear about their priorities.

“In my mind, it feels only fair to say what these priorities are upfront,” said Johnson.

However, Price Johnson said the criteria given in the application makes it clear enough what the goals of the program are. Hannold and Johnson said they would give precedence to sites for stormwater drainage and shoreline access and Price Johnson included resource lands and farmland in her list of priorities.

“I would suggest that if people are considering applying that they do outreach to individual commissioners to make sure they know what we’re thinking, so that they know,” said Johnson.

These changes will be in effect for the upcoming 2018 application process.

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