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EDITORIAL | Whidbey's interesting effort to boost economy
The South Whidbey Fire/EMS board took an interesting gamble in approving the bid for its new fire boat. The choice wasn’t between two or more closely matched bids by proven boat builders. Instead it was whether or not to accept the only bid made, submitted by a newly formed Freeland company that has never built a complete vessel — North Cross Aluminum, owned by Tim Leonard.
Leonard, who will work with a few longtime friends, including Justin Nichols of the Freeland boat building dynasty, promised to bring the fire boat in on time and on budget, “no matter how many hours we have to work.”
That and the association with the Nichols family was enough for commissioners Kenon Simmons and Mike Helland. Commissioner Bob Elliot expressed some obvious concerns about boat building experience and shop capabilities, but made the vote unanimous. Chief Rusty Palmer was not anxious to jump on board, as the prior week he argued the bid should not be accepted. But he’ll follow orders and work out details on the construction contract.
The money making the job possible was acquired by the Port of South Whidbey thorough the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The fire district will have to pay only a quarter of the cost.
The port commissioners were careful not to interfere with the fire district’s own process, but must be cheering the outcome. The port, under the leadership of President Curt Gordon, has been gung-ho on promoting economic development on South Whidbey for several years, doling out thousands of dollars to business boosters. The FEMA grant amounts to seed money to help a local business grow. Tim Leonard knows that if he builds a quality fire boat on time and on budget, he’ll have an example of success to show other clients. The relatively small fire boat, a maneuverable catamaran that measures 35 feet by 12 feet, will be the bait that attracts other boat purchasers to his business.
Contracting with an untested company is a gamble, but both the fire commissioners and port commissioners know and trust the people involved with North Cross Aluminum. As long as the public gets its fire boat as designed, it’s a win-win situation for everyone. We’ll get a fire boat and help a new company create new jobs as a bonus.
There’s a lot of pressure on Tim Leonard. Good luck.