LUBA remands Port Westward expansion to county

The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals has sent back to Columbia County the rezoning of 837 acres of high-value farmland for industrial use at Port Westward near Clatskanie.

CLATSKANIE, Ore. — The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals has once again turned back a decision by Columbia County in northwest Oregon to rezone 837 acres of high-value farmland for industrial development and expansion at Port Westward Industrial Park along the lower Columbia River.

It is the latest twist in an ongoing legal battle between the Port of Columbia County — which owns Port Westward — and environmental groups working with local farms to stop what they see as potentially harmful fossil fuel projects.

Port Westward is already home to three Portland General Electric power plants and the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery. The port applied in 2017 to rezone 837 acres of adjacent farmland to attract new businesses and nearly double the size of the property. County commissioners voted 2-1 to approve the request.

Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon appealed to LUBA, which remanded the decision to the county on Dec. 27 after finding the port did not demonstrate how the proposal would be compatible with neighboring mint, blueberry, cattle and poplar tree farms.

In its application, the port did not mention any specific business developments in the works, but did list five broad categories of approved uses, including forestry and wood products, dry bulk commodities, liquid bulk commodities, break bulk cargo and natural gas.

Maura Fahey, staff attorney with the pro-environment Crag Law Center in Portland, represented Columbia Riverkeeper in the case. She said the five categories listed by the port do not provide enough detail to thoroughly analyze impacts on farms and fish.

The biggest risks, Fahey said, are air and water pollution, especially if there is an oil or natural gas spill on site.

“Without knowing the specific uses, there is quite a broad range of potential impacts,” she said.

Rezoning agricultural land in Oregon requires an exception under statewide planning goals intended to protect farms and ranches. Specifically, Statewide Planning Goal 3 established the “exclusive farm use” zone, and places restrictions on development unrelated to agriculture.

To secure a Goal 3 exception, the rezone must be compatible with adjacent land uses. Ultimately, LUBA agreed the port needs to provide more detail.

“They’re trying to get a pretty broad-based goal exception, and the way the rule is written, they require specifics,” Fahey said.

This is the second time LUBA has remanded the county’s vote on rezoning farmland at Port Westward. The county first approved the port’s application in 2014, when it was appealed by Columbia Riverkeeper and a local mint grower.

“{span class=”m_-604604650106684983c21” style=”color: #222222;”}Converting Oregon’s best farmland and salmon habitat for fossil fuel development goes against Oregon’s clean energy goals, and it is inconsistent with the state’s land use laws,” said Meriel Darzen, staff attorney for 1000 Friends of Oregon. “We hope the Port of (Columbia County) will permanently shelve this plan.”{/span}

{span class=”m_-604604650106684983c21” style=”color: #222222;”}That does not appear likely, according to Douglas Hayes, the port’s executive director. Hayes said he does not believe port commissioners will abandon their effort to rezone the land, and is confident they can provide the information needed to comply with a Goal 3 exception.{/span}

{span class=”m_-604604650106684983c21” style=”color: #222222;”}Hayes said the port is currently working with their attorneys to consider their options moving forward.{/span} The deadline to appeal the LUBA ruling is Jan. 17.

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