The time has come to ante up support for the Kitsap Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project if the venture is to proceed smoothly, according to material presented by the project director to the Port of Bremerton on Tuesday.
“It is time that we get this under construction and show people tangible results,” SEED Director Tim Botkin said after the meeting.
Botkin acknowledges the “Catch-22” facing the project: Many people won’t support SEED until companies commit to participating, while companies will not participate until construction begins.
However, Botkin maintains that the optimum time for commitment is six months before the facility opens. And he presented data that 12 to 15 companies will commit within a year of the projected spring 2009 opening — the expected capacity for the proposed business park.
SEED has received previous pledges of funding support from the Port of Bremerton and the Kitsap County commissioners. Both boards have new members and are facing economic challenges, which has put the support in question.
Newly elected Port Commission-er Larry Stokes criticized the money spent on a consultant’s report, which was the basis of Botkin’s estimate of company interest.
“If I give a consultant $50,000, they will say anything I want in their report,” Stokes said. “I am concerned about taxpayer expense, and we’ve already spent $650,000 of the port’s money on this.”
Botkin disagreed with this assessment, saying the consultant in question was discerning about the projects it supports. Further, the consultant fee was paid for through a grant and did not require any port funds.
Stokes suggested that SEED tenants occupy space in another building already under construction as part of the incubation process, saying, “If they succeed, we can then move them into the building that you have planned.” While not shooting the idea down completely, Botkin said the proposal had a “bait-and-switch” aspect that may not be acceptable to the tenants.
“Sooner or later, we need to produce what we’ve been promising,” Botkin said.
The Kitsap County commissioners approved a $1 million allocation for SEED in late 2006, but South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel is the only board member still serving.
In recent months, Angel has questioned the value of the investment.
However, North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer reinforced the county’s commitment to SEED during a recent visit from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, saying it was ready to contribute “a significant amount of money” to support SEED.
He added, “I have not seen anything catch fire like this across the county.”
The county’s support is conditional. In a Jan. 7 letter to the Port of Bremerton, the county commissioners said they would allocate the funds if two conditions were met — affiliation with the University of Washington and Washington State University research programs and an independent review of the SEED’s business plan by the Washington Clean Technology Alliance.
Botkin said on Thursday that SEED would have no problem meeting these conditions, that “we can do all this and more.”
In order to meet the proposed 2009 opening, the project needs to break ground this spring.