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2013 review: Amid controversy, Port Westward expansion OK'd

One of the year’s biggest controversies in Columbia County lasted through much of the year, as the Port of St. Helens attempted to have 957 acres of agricultural and forestry land rezoned for industrial use to expand its Port Westward industrial park north of Clatskanie.

After a series of rocky public hearings in the spring on the port’s proposal, the Columbia County Planning Commission voted to recommend that the application be denied (“Port Westward expansion dealt setback,” June 21). But the commission’s say was not final, and the Board of County Commissioners made it clear that they wanted to consider the request on its own merits.

In the fall, another set of public hearings was held in Clatskanie, which touched off yet more controversy over whether it was appropriate to divert testimony on a matter that opponents argued could affect rail traffic through all of Columbia County’s river communities to a setting some 45 minutes’ drive from the county seat (“Commissioners don’t plan to move Clatskanie hearing,” Sept. 6). The series of hearings saw testimony split almost evenly between arguments for the rezone and arguments against it (“County concludes port rezone hearing,” Oct. 11).

The county commissioners decided unanimously to approve the port’s request, with conditions (“County approves Port Westward rezone applications,” Nov. 15). About 120 acres of land the port had sought to rezone was excluded, and the remaining 837 acres were declared off-limits to coal facilities, a concession to county residents and environmental groups.

Even still, the book might not be shut altogether on the rezoning. A local farmer and an environmentalist group have vowed to appeal the board’s decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, which could overturn the application’s approval.