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Port Westward

Environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper Tuesday challenged a recent Columbia County decision to rezone 837 acres of Clatskanie-area farmland along the Columbia River for industrial development.

On a 2-1 vote last month, the Columbia County’s board of commissioners approved the rezone for five different types of industrial uses. The land is in the Port Westward area and is owned by the Port of St. Helens.

Riverkeeper is arguing that the farmland should not be converted for new development because the port already has available industrial land on its land base.

The port bought the acreage in 2009 and has been trying to get the farmland rezoned for years despite local opposition from neighbors, farmers and conservation groups.

In 2014 the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals remanded the port’s application to rezone the land back to local decision-makers, siding with Columbia Riverkeeper attorneys who argued the port failed to prove there is a need there for more industrial-zoned property.

However, the port maintains that it purchased the farmland with a general understanding that it would eventually be added to the Port Westward Industrial Park in Clatskanie.

Most of Port Westward is already leased to Portland General Electric and the Columbia Pacific Bio-refinery. Port commissioners also agreed last month to renew a lease with Northwest Innovation Works for a proposed $1 billion methanol plant that would sit on 80 acres of land at Port Westward already zoned for industry.

(The lease reauthorization has no bearing on the county’s land zoning decision.)

“We really don’t have any more property available for folks that have been coming to us for years looking for access to a deepwater terminal,” Paula Miranda, the port’s deputy executive director, said Wednesday in an interview.

Miranda said the port has been working with an attorney since 2016 to ensure the port’s application complies with recommendations from the board appeals.

The port is proposing to use the land for forestry and wood products processing; dry bulk commodities; liquid bulk commodities; natural gas and derivative products; and breakbulk storage.

But Scott Hilgenberg, an attorney who represented Columbia Riverkeeper in its appeal, said the county has also failed to address compatibility issues with adjacent agricultural land, as required by state law.

“Hopville Farms remains disappointed with Columbia County’s decision to open farmland up to industrial polluters,” Jim Hoffmann, owner of Hopville Farms, said in a statement Wednesday. “Our priority is to protect area water quality, which is vital to our blueberry farm and essential to the entire community, both now and in the future.”

Columbia Riverkeeper said it submitted nearly 100 pages of comments from local residents opposing the county’s decision.

The county now has 21 days to compile a record of its rezoning decision, which the state board of appeals will then use to evaluate whether the county acted appropriately.

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