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Columbia County Commissioners formally approve Port Westward rezone

Port Westward

CLATSKANIE — The Columbia County Board of Commissioners officially approved the Port of Columbia County’s application to rezone 837 acres at Port Westward from farmland to industrial, after signaling support for the change during a meeting in July.

The board gave tentative approval July 14 to the Port of Columbia County’s request. Northwest Innovation Works, which recently canceled its plans to build a methanol refinery at the Port of Kalama, signed an option to lease agreement with the port for the rezoned area in 2019.

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Local environmental groups have said adding industrial plants to sensitive wetland and farmland would harm the area, and Columbia Riverkeeper plans to appeal the decision to the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals. The appeal deadline is Oct. 13.

Columbia Riverkeeper Legal and Program Director Lauren Goldberg said Friday that “Columbia County’s plans to pave over some of the region’s highest quality farmland runs afoul of Oregonian’s values and the law.”

The question of rezoning first came up in 2013, and in 2018 the board of commissioners again approved it. Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon argued the rezone doesn’t match Oregon’s statewide planning goal to protect farmland and challenged it on nine legal points, bringing it to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

In 2019, the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the Board of Appeals decision that dismissed eight of those points, leaving the question would the planned industrial uses of the land be compatible with adjacent uses such as farming. The Board of Appeals told the port to address the question, and the port submitted a compatibility report in July 2020 finding the uses were, or could be, made compatible. County land use staff reviewed it and recommended approval at the July 2021 meeting.

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Port Executive Director Doug Hayes said in a press release it’s “worth noting that LUBA has never denied the port’s rezone application.”

“The application was remanded by LUBA, which means they sent it back for additional information, analysis and consideration at the local level,” he said. “This is a common process for significant land use decisions.”

Port Westward is a deep-water port with existing dock facilities and direct access to the federal navigation channel in the Columbia River. According to a port press release, the 837-acre rezone will “address the need, both at the local and state level, for industrial land.”

“Prior to the rezone, there was no developable acreage at Port Westward that was not encumbered with wetlands, conservation easements, existing rural industrial facilities, transmission lines or long-term leases,” the press release said.

The rezoned property would be limited to five allowable uses, the port said: forestry and wood products processing, production, storage and transportation; dry bulk commodities transfer, storage, production and processing; liquid bulk commodities processing, storage and transportation; natural gas and derivative products, processing, storage and transportation; and breakbulk storage, transportation and processing.

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Hayes said he was pleased “the Columbia County Commissioners continue to agree with the Port’s assessment that responsible industrial and agricultural uses can exist together as good neighbors as they have historically.”

“The Port has effectively answered the question of compatibility and now looks forward to moving in a positive direction for economic development in north Columbia County,” Hayes said.

Columbia Riverkeeper’s Goldberg said it’s “unfortunate elected officials and the Port of Columbia County continue to waste time and energy on a short-sighted proposal that ignores the input of farmers and community members impacted by pollution and traffic from Port Westward.”

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