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EPA sets deadline for park purchase

The target has come into clear focus: come up with a minimum of $4.6 million by Dec. 31, 2004.

The prize: turning at least the western 18 acres of the former Wyckoff site into Pritchard Park, with roughly 2,000 feet of sandy beach, and the Japanese-American Exclusion Memorial.

The remainder of the 50-acre site is available for a total price of $8 million. And while the city could spread the purchase over an additional two years, it would run the risk of the price going up.

“The price is only good through 2004, so that gives us an incentive to raise all the money we can now,” said City Council member Christine Nasser Rolfes, who is spearheading the city’s efforts to bring the property on the south shore of Eagle Harbor into public ownership.

“But donors and granting agencies can be confident that even if we can’t raise the whole $8 million by then, we will be able to purchase part of the property. It is an ideal structure for fund-raising.”

The Trust for Public Lands, a national non-profit organization, has obtained an option from the trustee to buy the land for $8 million, and has agreed in turn to sell the property to the city for the purchase price.

The City Council will be asked to approve that deal with TPL at tonight’s meeting, Nasser Rolfes said.

Under the agreement, the city would have to pay TPL a $25,000 deposit by December 1 of this year, money that could be credited towards a future purchase but that could not be refunded.

The city will than have to decide by June 29 of 2004 whether to exercise its rights to purchase all or the first increment of the land, then come up with the cash by year-end.

Although TPL could buy the land itself, that won’t actually happen, said Kent Whitehead, the Seattle-based manager for the Wyckoff project.

“We will not, in fact, exercise our option to buy unless the city tells us that it will exercise its options,” Whitehead said.

The agreement lets TPL and the city buy the land in three phases, ending on the last day of 2004 and each of the next two years. But if the buyers fail to buy the land in each year, it forfeits any remaining rights.

The first phase, at $4.6 million, would buy the portion of the property that has been cleaned of contamination resulting from the Wyckoff Company’s creosote operation. It is available for immediate use.

That first phase abuts the Taylor Avenue road-end, site of the now-demolished Eagledale Dock where 227 islanders of Japanese descent were taken by armed escort to the ferry and sent to the Manzanar internment camp in 1942, at the outset of World War II.

The island’s Japanese-American Community and the Bainbridge/North Kitsap Interfaith Council have proposed a memorial at the Taylor Avenue site. But the memorial, being designed by island architect Johnpaul Jones, requires at least a portion of the Wyckoff property.

The National Park Service is studying the site for possible inclusion into the system in some capacity, probably as a National Memorial.

The land included in phases 2 and 3, and the prices, depend to a considerable extent on how much money is raised through the end of 2004, Whitehead said.

“It gets very complicated in the later phases,” he said. “We won’t really know what those phases might be until after the first phase is over.”

If the city doesn’t buy the whole site the first year, the purchase price for ensuing years isn’t locked in, Whitehead said. Instead, the land will be appraised each year, and the price renegotiated with the appraisal data in hand.

The site is currently being cleaned up under the federal Superfund program, and proceeds of any sale will reimburse the Environmental Protection Agency for its cleanup costs.

Because those costs are expected to exceed $50 million, and may be much higher – far more than can be recovered through the property’s sale – much of the cost will be borne by the public.

The city is trying to put the property into public ownership, creating a public value to offset that cost.

The original fund-raising plan put together by Nasser Rolfes’ committee and the TPL envisioned raising $4 million in federal grants, $1.5 million in state and county funds, $500,000 in city funds from the open-space bond issue and $2 million in private funds.

The city open-space money has been earmarked.

The state House and Senate capital budgets, currently being reconciled by a negotiating team, both include money for the park and memorial – $2 million in the House budget and $200,000 in the Senate.

TPL, which is handling the federal lobbying, has asked for $2 million in the 2004 budget, Whitehead said, and would ask for additional appropriations in later years if the full $8 million is not raised by the end of 2004.

“The more money we can raise privately, the less we will need to depend on government grants,” Whitehead said.

Private fund-raising efforts should kick off in the next month, Nasser Rolfes said, with the Bainbridge Island Land Trust leading the local efforts and TPL looking at regional and national sources.

Buoyed by the success of the community drive to acquire Blakely Harbor Park, where roughly $1 million was raised within months, Nasser Rolfes is optimistic about the outcome.

“This makes it very realistic that we will be able to acquire the property,” she said.

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While the acquisition of the uncontaminated portions of the Wyckoff property has a firm schedule, the fate of the clean-up is up in the air.

A steam-injection cleaning project that EPA began on an acre of the site last fall has run into problems, the agency reported in its quarterly update on the Superfund project.

Larger-than-expected amounts of the chemical naphthalene have been discovered in the groundwater in the treatment area, reacting with the rubber seals and clogging the equipment, said EPA project manager Mary Jane Nearman.

“We’re running into pretty nasty stuff coming out of the ground,” said Nearman, who was nevertheless optimistic that the equipment can be retooled for the task.

The steam cleaning, originally scheduled to be through the trial phase this year, has been been put on hold while EPA studies the early test results and refits equipment; it is expected to restart this fall.

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