More legal discussion will delay efforts to rezone hundreds of acres of Port Westward in north Columbia County.
The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) has remanded the Port Westward rezone, sending it back to Columbia County for more information. Read the full LUBA decision below.
On Sept. 22, the county commission approved the Port of Columbia County’s application to rezone 837 acres at Port Westward from Primary Agriculture to Resource Industrial Planned Development.
“I am looking forward to agricultural and industry being able to work together because the entire bases of reclaiming was for the betterment of the economy in the lower Columbia and I think that this will improve the economy,” Commissioner Margaret Magruder said during the preliminary review and approval of the rezone application in July.
Port Westward is a deep-water port with existing dock facilities and direct access to the 43-foot navigation channel in the Columbia River. The 837-acre expansion at Port Westward will address the need, both at the local and state level, for additional industrial land, according to a statement from the Port of Columbia County.
Port of Columbia County Executive Director Sean Clark called LUBA’s decision “disappointing.”
“We remain hopeful and will continue to work to expand economic opportunity in this underserved part of the state,” he said.
The Port is one of very few deep-water ports on the Columbia River and is an incredibly unique asset adjacent to land developed and primed for additional development, according to Clark.
“The Port believes that we effectively demonstrated that responsible industrial and agricultural uses can coexist together as good neighbors, as they have for decades at Port Westward,” Clark said. “The Port Commission will consider how to best move forward for economic development in Columbia County.”
In its application to the county, The Port limited the rezone property to five allowable uses:
• 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
• Breakbulk storage, transportation, and processing
Columbia Riverkeeper, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and farmers at Port Westward also issued a statement following the LUBA decision, saying the decision maintains protections for 837 acres of high-value farmland in the midst of prime salmon habitat.
“Columbia County Commissioners erred badly in rezoning Port Westward. The land they seek to industrialize has been farmed for generations, providing unique and deep soils that sustain the production of food and other crops that go far beyond this community, from u-pick blueberries to high-quality mint and cattle,” Port Westward mint farmer Mike Seely said. “LUBA’s decision affirms that Oregon land use laws protect farmland, and that will improve our local economy.”
Local farmers, clean water advocates, and uprail communities concerned about long trains bisecting Columbia County cities and towns remain adamant that the Port Westward area is better suited to agriculture, forestry, and fisheries than industrialization, according to Columbia Riverkeeper conservation director Dan Serres.
“Again and again, community members have come together to protect the Lower Columbia River’s clean water, salmon and other fish, and sustainable jobs,” Serres said.
“The decision is a recognition of the importance of Oregon’s land use laws - to protect our irreplaceable farm lands, especially in the face of a changing climate,” 1000 Friends of Oregon Deputy Director Mary Kyle McCurdy said.
LUBA agreed with Columbia Riverkeeper, and 1000 Friends on all of the issues they raised, finding that the county failed to consider the important natural resources in the area, failed to adequately evaluate the sensitive agricultural uses (specifically, mint farming), and failed to analyze the scale of the potential adverse impacts of the proposed uses on the surrounding area, according to Serres.
“We hope that the Port and County will get the message. LUBA remanded the Port’s attempt to rezone high-value farmland for the third time,” Serres told The Chief. “The public Port of Columbia County should abandon its approach of trying to rezone these 837 acres, and the County Commission should listen to the valid concerns raised by the community at Port Westward.”
Follow this developing story at thechronicleonline.com and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.