Ag, conservation groups offer growth proposal that protects more farmland

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

PORTLAND -- A coalition of agriculture and conservation organizations wants the Portland area's elected officials to beef up farmland protections in their plan to manage growth.

At a press conference Monday, Jan. 11, the coalition aired a proposal to cut in half the number of acres being considered for urban uses near Portland in the plan and to increase by more than 10 percent the number of acres proposed for rural uses.

The coalition said it came forward with its proposal after failing to see a reasonable plan emerge from a year-long, multi-county effort to designate lands for urban and rural uses for the next 40 to 50 years.

"Our proposal achieves a balance of protection for agriculture and natural resources while providing for common sense future growth in the region," said Dave Vanasche, Washington County Farm Bureau president.

Coalition members said the current proposal puts at risk some of the nation's best farmland and threatens the infrastructure necessary to keep farming viable in parts of the Portland Metro area.

"We're at a point of critical mass," said Vanasche, who farms near Hillsboro. "We can't afford to lose any more land in the metropolitan area or our critical mass will disappear and we will lose our suppliers and our infrastructure.

"We're at a point of no return here," he said.

Vanasche said Washington County already has lost 140,000 acres of farmland to urbanization since 1960.

"The region's livability depends upon strong protection for our unsurpassed natural resources and world-class farmlands," said Sue Marshall of the Tualatin Riverkeepers. "It is our responsibility to protect our water, land and natural landscape for future generations."

The coalition wants Metro councilors and commissioners from Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties to scale back urban designations from the nearly 29,000 acres currently proposed to 14,786 acres. And the coalition is seeking rural reserve designations for 270,000 acres, 30,000 acres more than the current proposal.

The coalition's proposal also calls for setting aside 6,000 additional acres for urban reserve considerations.

Designating land an urban reserve puts it first in line to be urbanized as cities expand.

Designating land a rural reserve under the process puts it off-limits to urban development for the next 40 to 50 years.

The urban and rural reserves process was set in motion by Senate Bill 1011 in the 2007 Legislature. The idea was to provide clarity and stability for city and county planners and for farmers who operate near urban growth boundaries.

Metro councilors and county commissioners are taking public comments on their proposal.

The elected officials hope to have a final plan in place by the end of next month.

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