Coupeville port OKs lease at Greenbank Farm

The commissioners for the Port of Coupeville will provide some legal cover for the Greenbank Farm Management Group.

The elected board of commissioners will extend the lease the port has with the private organization for the commercial properties at the publicly owned farm until June 3, 2015. The lease is one of two agreements the port has with the management group to operate the farm.

Greenbank Farm Management Group officials found themselves in a difficult situation recently when volunteers discovered a discrepancy between the lease the group has with the Port of Coupeville and a contract it has with the Washington Department of Commerce outlining the requirements for $1.5 million in funding that was used years ago to construct a new building at the farm.

The lease the management group has with the port originally ran until March 31, 2014; however, in order to meet the requirements for the state dollars, the management group was required to hold and occupy the property until June, 2015 or run the risk of having to pay the money back to the state. The money was awarded by the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, which eventually became the department of commerce.

Management Group officials worked with the port for months to come up with a way to meet the state requirements.

Michael Stansbury, president of the Greenbank Farm Management Group, said the extension will “dispel some of the uncertainty at the farm we’ve been laboring under for the past year.”

Greenbank Farm Manager Judy Feldman said the lease extension is a good first step.

The uncertainty surrounding the lease days created more of a challenge fundraising, she said. While staff maintained the current number of donors, it has been difficult to find new donors.

While the lease amendment provides legal cover for the management group, it is separate from a different agreement with the port to manage the other land at the farm. The Port of Coupeville currently pays the management group nearly $50,000 a year to manage the non-commercial land at the farm. That agreement is still scheduled to terminate March 31, 2014.

Feldman said that having the two agreements terminate at the same time would be better for the group’s fundraising efforts.

She said potential donors find the group’s efforts balancing the agricultural, environmental, recreational and commercial aspects of the farm attractive. If they don’t have the management services agreement, then they would just oversee the commercial property.

Officials for the Port of Coupeville are planning the future of the farm after the services agreement expires next year. A volunteer group spent months coming up with recommendations for the future management of the farm. They recommended that the current agreement expire and develop a new agreement and send out requests for proposals for operating the farm. The current management group could submit a proposal to continue its oversight of the farm.

Patton said the port would be open to negotiate the end of the management services agreement, but any decision would be made by the elected board which currently is comprised by Marshall Bronson and Benye Weber.