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Commissioners vote to pull the plug on SEED project

Following the recommendation of CEO Cary Bozeman, the Port of Bremerton commissioners on Tuesday morning voted to pull the plug on the contentious Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) project.

“I believe that Kitsap SEED, as a bricks-and-mortar building project funded by local tax dollars, should not go forward,” he said.

After Bozeman’s announcement, the board voted to approve his recommendations by a 2-1 margin, with Commissioners Larry Stokes and Cheryl Kincer in the majority and Bill Mahan dissenting.

Bozeman’s announcement, at the Norm Dicks Govenment Center in Bremerton, was the culmination of a 30-day period of analysis following a report on June 30 from port Chief Financial Officer Becky Swanson that the project would require millions more in public financing before it could ever hope to start earning money — assuming it ever did.

Even using a conservative estimate of nearly $9.5 million for SEED’s first building, Swanson estimated the port faces a $4.3-million shortfall after a $2.5-million federal Economic Development Administration grant and the required matching funds from the port — already accounted for in the budget — are subtracted.

“We need to find some funds out there to finish the project,” she said at the time.

Bozeman then asked for a month in which to study SEED in order to make up his own mind whether it would ever pencil out.

“We’ve been doing what any good business has to do,” he said on Monday. “We’ve been re-evaluating our business model to see if it’s still viable.”

Envisioned as an incubator for so-called “green” technology businesses on a 60-acre tract within the port’s Olympic View Business Park, SEED was launched in 2004 as the brainchild of former Central Kitsap Commissioner Tim Botkin, who served as the project’s manager in its early stages.

His contract was canceled in 2008, however, when SEED still had no tenants lined up despite having invested millions in public money.

Last fall the commissioners voted to accept a $2.58 million federal grant to fund the project, even though the money came with a proviso that the port had to come up with a matching amount by selling general obligation bonds.

SEED was also put on hold last year pending an analysis by Seattle-based Berk and Associates to determine the project’s viability.

That report, released last September, described SEED as having the potential for success but emphasized that the concept came at a risk and would require considerable public funding in order to make it work.

That became the sticking point for the cash-strapped agency.

“I believe it’s time for the Port of Bremerton to chart a new course toward achieving positive outcomes in all aspects of our operations,” Bozeman told the commissioners on Tuesday. “And I am confident that with continued public involvement along the way, we can find a new path to success in creating good jobs and building a stronger community.”

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