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Seely farm, Columbia Riverkeeper notify LUBA of intent to challenge approval

SeelyA Clatskanie farmer and an environmentalist group announced Tuesday, Feb. 18, that they have filed a notice to appeal the Columbia County Board of Commissioners’ decision to approve the rezoning of forestry and agricultural land owned by the Port of St. Helens for industrial use.

Mike Seely, owner of Seely Mint, and Hood River-based Columbia Riverkeeper made good on their vow to appeal to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals in a bid to overturn the zone change for 837 acres of land adjacent to the Port Westward industrial park north of Clatskanie.

Seely said he is concerned further development at Port Westward could damage his crops and impede transportation to and from his farm.

“We own property on the wrong side of the railroad track,” Seely said. “And we just cannot be stopped, as I have in the past, for 30 minutes.”

Seely continued, “I have a semi-truck on Hermo Road every five minutes right now when we’re at harvest time. ... We constantly have trucks out there, and if I’ve got everybody stacked up ... because they can’t go anywhere, you know, that quickly increases my costs.”

Seely said he is worried “that they’ll bring in a coal plant or some other idiotic thing that directly impacts us” if the zoning decision stands.

In approving the Port of St. Helens’ application to have the land rezoned, the Board of Commissioners imposed certain conditions, including a ban on the use of the land for coal facilities.

But Seely and Columbia Riverkeeper are also concerned about crude oil, a fossil fuel that is already being freighted to Port Westward along the Portland and Western Railroad, as well as on the port-owned railroad spur that serves the industrial park.

“The same stretch of Columbia River the Port is eyeing for fossil fuel development is home to some of the Northwest’s highest quality salmon habitat,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Columbia Riverkeeper’s executive director, in a written statement. “An oil spill here could devastate the Columbia River’s sportfishing and commercial salmon fishery.”

County commissioners voted unanimously to approve the rezoning of 837 acres — about 120 acres fewer than what the port had originally sought — in November. They approved an ordinance finalizing that decision late last month, beginning a three-week period within which appeals had to be filed with the state.

Kelly Burgess, staff to the Land Use Board of Appeals, confirmed Wednesday the board has received two notices of intent to appeal — one from Seely, his wife Candy and Seely Family Farm Inc., and the other from Columbia Riverkeeper.

“Normally, the board would consolidate them, so they would be put together,” Burgess said of the two appeals.

The board is likely to rule on the matter within the next few months, barring any delays in the appeal process. Whatever it decides can then be appealed in turn to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Seely said if the state does not overturn the county’s decision, he may be forced to relocate.

“If we lose, I just can’t see us staying,” Seely said. “The risk is too great for me.”

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