Port Westward

Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) voted unanimously to approve the sale of nine fuel storage tanks out at Port Westward in June of 2017. Environmentalists were concerned that the sale could reopen the transloading of crude oil via rail in Columbia County.

Columbia County commissioners want to hear the public's thoughts on the idea of a Port Westward expansion.

The Columbia County Board of Commissioners is hosting a public hearing on rezoning 786 acres of agricultural land at Port Westward to industrial uses. The hearing is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, August 2 at the Clatskanie Middle High School Auditorium, 471 SW Bel Air Dr.

The hearing will focus on a modified application originally submitted in 2012 by the Port of St. Helens and the Thompson family on land they own at Port Westward, according to a news release from the county.

The original proposal to the County Board of Commissioners included zoning 957 acres to a Rural Industrial Planned District (RIPD) and amending the county’s Comprehensive Plan to reflect the changes. The RIDP zone allows a broad spectrum of industrial uses. The change requires an exception to Oregon Land Use Goal 3, which is intended to preserve and maintain agricultural lands for farm use consistent with existing and future needs for agricultural products, forest and open space.

The Port Westward industrial area currently hosts three tenants. Clatskanie People’s Utility District has a three-acre electrical substation. PGE’s Beaver Power Plant and two other natural gas power generation plants take up the remainder of the approximately 900 acre area, according to the release.

The Board voted to approve the zone change for 837 acres in January 2014 and to amend the county’s comprehensive plan. The approval contained 15 conditions for which an applicant wanting to site an industrial use must meet before the proposed development could be approved.

After the County Board’s unanimous decision, appeals were filed with the Land Use Board of Appeals by local mint farmer and business owner Mike Seeley and Columbia Riverkeeper. Their appeal listed ten grounds on which they contended the county erred in its decision.

After reviewing the appeal, LUBA agreed with the appellants on four of the ten errors, and remanded the decision to the county. The appeal board determined that the county did not supply sufficient evidence to analyze and explain why current land at Port Westward as well as other industrial zoned areas can’t accommodate new rural industrial uses. LUBA also suggested the county narrow its reasons for expanding the site.

The Port modified its proposal to include, among other items, allowing only those industrial uses that require access to a deep-water port, and a more thorough examination of the unused lands already zoned for industrial use in the area.

The new proposal was submitted to the county in April, after which the county notified all individuals who previously commented on the proposal, as well as neighbors within 500 feet of the proposed rezoned lands. The county has been accepting public comment from that group to submit for commissioners’ review.

Those who wish to comment should limit remarks to items specifically noted in the remand. In addition to speaking at the August 2 hearing, comments can be submitted to the County Board of Commissioners before the hearing by mailing them to the Board at the County Courthouse: 230 Strand St. St. Helens, OR 97051.

The Board of Commissioners may vote on the Port’s application on August 2, extend the hearing if needed, or set a date to deliberate at additional meetings before voting.

Editor's note: A previous online version of this article stated that Global Partners "exports crude oil on 43 acres" at the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery. Global has not exported crude oil at the site since November of 2015.

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