Both sides are claiming victory in a new court ruling that has at least temporarily put a hold on six-year-old plans to rezone Clatskanie-area farmland for industrial uses.
The Oregon Court of Appeals has upheld the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) decision on the Port Westward rezone, but on much narrower legal grounds than environmental groups suggest.
Riverkeeper, a Hood River, Ore., environmental group, said the appeals court “upheld a finding that Columbia County ignored Oregon law when it doubled the size of Port Westward and opened high quality farmland to polluting industrial development.”
The Port of Columbia County wants to rezone 837 acres at Port Westward, and last year it got approval from the Columbia County commissioners. Riverkeeper challenged that approval on nine legal points. In December LUBA rejected eight of those arguments, but it agreed with Riverkeeper on one of them: That the county failed to demonstrate that the industrial uses would be compatible with adjacent uses such as farming (such a finding is required under state law).
Both sides appealed that decision to the Oregon Appeals Court. This week, the court upheld LUBA’s finding, which will force the port to go back to the drawing board to address that issue and resubmit its zoning change request to the county.
“The Port can now work with the county to address the one remaining question on compatibility” with other land uses, according to a port press release issued Wednesday.
The decision “provides a clear pathway to the last remaining question,” said Doug Hayes, executive director for the Port. “We continue to move in a positive direction for economic development in north Columbia County.”
Port Westward is a deepwater port with existing dock facilities and direct access to the 43-foot navigation channel in the Columbia River. The 837-acre expansion area will address the need, both at the local and state level, for industrial land, according to the port.
Without the rezone, there is no developable acreage at Port Westward not encumbered with wetlands, conservation easements, existing rural industrial facilities, transmission lines and long-term leases, according to the port press release.
Riverkeeper urged the port to reconsider its rezone effort, launched in 2013, and the group may have allies in two newly elected port commissioners who question the rezone application (see related story on this page).
“Oregonians value farms and strong salmon runs. The Port of Columbia County’s proposal to trade the county’s prime farmlands for dirty fossil fuel development ... ignores mounting concerns about health, safety and impact to farmland and water quality,” Dan Serres, Riverkeeper’s conservation director, said in a prepared statement.