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Local conservation groups appeal Port Westward rezone again

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Port Westward

Port Westward near Clatskanie.

CLATSKANIE — Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon filed another legal challenge to Columbia County’s September decision to rezone more than 830 acres along the Columbia River.

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 in September after signaling support for the change during a meeting in July.

The conservations groups at the time said they planned to appeal the decision. This marks the third rezone attempt, and it likely will take the appeals board several months to make a decision.

Columbia County Commissioners formally approve Port Westward rezone

The question of rezoning first came up in 2013. 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. 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.

More than 1,000 people submitted comments to the commission. Some local farmers, business owners and people who live along the rail lines that would service the rezoned site urged the board to reject the rezone.

Columbia County commission, environmentalists again debate rezone at Port Westward

Deputy Director of 1000 Friends of Oregon Mary Kyle McCurdy said in a press release the uses are not compatible, and “is at odds with protecting Oregon’s working lands and mitigating climate change.”

“Over 830 acres of valuable farmland that produce high-value crops like mint and blueberries are at risk with this rezoning effort,” McCurdy said. “Once farmland is gone, it’s nearly impossible to get back.”

The port has previously said more industrial land is needed to attract businesses to the area. 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 rezone area in 2019.

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.

Opponents argue the rezone actually would destroy several existing businesses and harm salmon habitat.

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A website petition against the rezone launched by local farmers said the rezone would “shut down one of Oregon’s last remaining mint farmers, two of Oregon’s beloved local blueberry farmers and one woman-owned grass-fed cattle ranch, among the almost 40 farms affected.”

“Columbia County Port Commissioners plan to turn hundreds of acres of high-value farmland into an industrial plant that will pollute the air, pollute the Columbia River, and destroy successful businesses,” the petition said. “The land they seek to utilize and take has been farmed for generations.”

Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon are represented by Crag Law Center, a non-profit environmental law center serving Pacific Northwest communities.

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