Meeting to answer queries about Port Townsend takeover of Fort Worden park

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority is preparing for its second public meeting to discuss the possibility of its taking over the management of Fort Worden State Park, with the hope it will answer recurring questions about the possible transfer.

The meeting begins at
7 p.m. today at Fort Worden Commons.

A Discover Pass is not necessary for attendance.

The meeting will include progress reports from State Parks Assistant Director Larry Fairleigh and officials with the public development authority, and will be followed by a public comment period.

The state Parks and Recreation Commission is expected to consider a proposal for a takeover of the park later this month

A public hearing is set for 7 p.m. March 28 at Wheeler Theater in Fort Worden State Park. Possible action is planned at 9 a.m.
March 29.

A proposal for the public development authority to take over the state park was discussed at a state parks commission meeting Feb. 9.

The commission tabled it until the meeting later this month.

Tonight's meeting will attempt to provide some answers to frequently asked questions, according to Dave Robison, public development authority executive director.

Answers to about 40 of the questions asked at a Feb. 17 meeting attended by more than 200 people have been posted on the public development website and are accessible at www.fwpda.org/archive.html (select “Responses to questions at meetings”).

Among these answers:

■   If the PDA fails or does not comply with the terms of the transfer agreement or cannot meet its financial obligations, the park will revert back to State Parks, which is why the state parks commission is insistent on the preparation of an updated and credible business plan prior to any transfer.

■   Each park tenant, current or future, is its own profit center and is responsible for the costs associated with developing and implementing its programs.

■   The PDA will not have taxing authority but does have the power to issue tax-exempt municipal bonds for capital projects, which must be repaid through the revenue streams generated by the enterprise.

“We've given presentations around the community and have heard a lot of support for the establishment of the lifelong learning center and the PDA,” Robison said.

“Where we are getting the most questions are what will happen to the current employees of the park and their benefits.”

The park employs 32 people for maintenance and operations.

If the PDA takes over the entire park, as is proposed in one of the options, the transition could cause them to lose seniority and benefits.

“A lot of people feel this is a snow job,” said Ted Shoulberg about the PDA proposal.

“The PDA are positioning themselves as white knights who will ride in and save everyone, but there are a lot of questions about transferring ownership of a state park to an entity whose intent is development.”

Taking a cue from a published quote by Fairleigh that the reach of the park goes beyond Port Townsend, Shoulberg suggested that groups like the National Historic Trust and the Washington Environmental Council should be considered and that a State Parks representative also should sit on the board.

“The current PDA board and staff are locally based and locally biased; therefore, a closed, parochial, structural loop,” Shoulberg wrote in an email to the PDA.

“By making this change, you will make a public statement about inclusion, perspective and the importance of bringing balance to the board.”

“Transparency and representation of the general statewide public interest is of great concern,” said Jim Buckley, who opposes the transfer.

“Yet control of the park by the PDA seems to mean the development of a closed self-serving elite of Port Townsend city officials and not-for-profit agencies who, while probably well-intentioned, have fairly narrow and parochial self-interested objectives.”

He said: “The whole idea of privatization and development of a business plan is not particularly welcome or impressive. Fort Worden should remain an asset for all the people of the state of Washington for a long time.

“How better to accomplish that than to ensure that Fort Worden remains a state park, owned and managed by the state of Washington?”

________

Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 15. 2012 4:53AM
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