The Port of Columbia County’s long-sought 837-acre rezone from agricultural to industrial land at Port Westward in Clatskanie is now more likely to happen, after the Oregon Supreme Court denied a petition for review from Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon on Nov. 14.
“There is now only one remaining question—for the Port of Columbia County to demonstrate that the five allowed uses for the rezone property can be reasonably compatible with neighboring farms. The port is working to bring this information to the Columbia County Commission for consideration,” a press release from the port states.
The petition rejected by the Oregon Supreme Court regarded the Oregon Court of Appeals’ decision, on May 22 of this year, which upheld the Land Use Board of Appeals’ (LUBA) original decision, made in December of 2018, to remand one part of the port’s application back to Columbia County for more information.
In 2013, the Port of Columbia County, then operating as the Port of St. Helens, submitted the original rezoning application to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners for 837 acres of agricultural-zoned land to Resource Industrial Planned Development (RIPD) use. In 2014, the commissioners approved the port’s application.
Shortly after, Columbia Riverkeeper and Clatskanie farmer Mike Seely appealed the decision to LUBA, which then reviewed the plans and remanded them to the county. LUBA required more detailed information from the port and Columbia County about compatibility with nearby agricultural land in order to go forward with the rezone, and also stated the county needed to provide further analysis on potential environmental impacts.
In 2017, the county approved a revised application, against which Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends filed an additional appeal. In the revised application, the port, at the direction of LUBA, limited the rezoned land to five uses, all significantly dependent on the dock.
LUBA again remanded the application to the county in December of 2018, this time siding with Riverkeeper on just one of nine arguments against the rezone. That argument was for more information demonstrating the five allowed uses can be compatible with neighboring farms.
In January of 2019, Riverkeeper appealed LUBA’s decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals, objecting to two points where LUBA sided with the county. At the same time, the port re-submitted the one remanded argument. The Court of Appeals upheld LUBA’s original decision, against which Riverkeeper then filed a petition for Judicial Review at the Oregon Supreme Court.
Riverkeeper and Port reactions
Dan Serres, Conservation Director for Columbia Riverkeeper said he believes the environmental group was successful in one aspect.
“We were successful in showing that the county and the port hadn’t demonstrated that rezoning that land would be compatible with farming habitat, and we’re going to continue to make that case,” Serres said.
Serres said Riverkeeper is trying to protect high-value farmland and salmon habitat at Port Westward.
In a statement released Friday, Nov. 15, Doug Hayes, Executive Director for the port said the port was pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision.
“This effectively brings the sole question of compatibility front and center and provides the port an opportunity to show that the balance between well-paying and responsible industry and historical agricultural opportunities can exist together as good neighbors,” Hayes said.
The port will have to submit another application to the county before rezoning can take place.