West Hayden Island would be maintained as farm land Recommendations seem to favor environmental concerns over jobs

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - The view from West Hayden Island past the Railroad Bridge towards North Portland.Politicians often say that it's possible to find a balance between jobs and nature — that we can have both a strong economy and a good environment.

Nonetheless, the Planning and Sustainability Commission chose the environment over jobs as part of the 2035 Comprehensive Plan Update it recommended to the City Council on July 28.

The recommended update would eliminate the option of developing 300 acres of West Hayden Island as a marine terminal by the Port of Portland. It would instead continue to designate that portion of the island as Rural Farm Forest outside the city limits for the next 20 years.

The commission did not say the jobs will be created at a different terminal or another location. Instead, it reduced the estimate of the number of commodities that will flow though the port, which reduces the need for new marine industrial jobs in Portland.

In the past, the commission would not have had to publicly reduce its future employment estimate. But state land use rules now require cities to match their available industrial land and job growth estimates.

The port has said developing West Hayden Island would create 1,000 direct jobs and even more indirect jobs, figures disputed by development opponents. The political significance of the commission's recommendation may be even larger, however. The island has emerged as the most visible symbol of the clash between business and environmentalists in recent years.

Marine terminal, jobs and the environment

The Port of Portland bought West Hayden Island from Portland General Electric in 1994 specifically to develop its as a marine terminal. That plan is backed by many Portland businesses — especially those in the Portland Harbor. But environmentalists argue the property should be preserved as habitat. They are supported by many residents in the area.

Corky Collier, executive director of the Columbia Corridor Association that represents many harbor businesses, laments the West Hayden Island recommendation. He says the jobs created there would have paid middle wage incomes, which are hard to find in underserved parts of town like East Portland.

"What makes the issue interesting to me is the connection to family wage jobs to east Portlanders," Collier says.

But Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland, see things differently.

"Of course industrial interests want cheap greenfields to develop, but the city has taken the most responsible path forward protecting critical natural areas and forcing industry to make better use of the land they already have," says Salliger, whose organization opposed development of the island.

Less industrial land

The Planning and Sustainability Commission had previously recommended the port be allowed to develop the property on the condition that it restore other land in and around the harbor, a requirement the port rejected as too expensive. The draft Comp Plan Update recommended maintaining the property's designation as a potential industrial site, suggesting it could still be developed over the next two or so decades. The commission rejected that option in favor of preserving it, however.

The final decision is up to the City Council, which is scheduled to hold hearings on the recommended Comp Plan Update and vote on it by the end of the year. Many in the business community are expected to testify in support maintaining the option of developing West Hayden Island.

"We will definately be talking to the council," says Susie Lahsene, regional transportation and land use manager for the Port of Portland.

The upcoming fight over West Hayden Island will happen after a highly-publicized win by enviromentalists over another harbor-related project. Many businesses had supported a plan by the Pembina Pipeline Corporation to build a propane export terminal at the port. The commission recommended the council allow the project — provided Pembina pay a carbon tax on the propane it exports.

But Mayor Charlie Hales, who had originally supported the project, pulled the item off the agenda, saying it did not comply with Portland's "environmental values." None of the council members publicly asked to reschedule it.

Jobs for 20 years?

The Planning and Sustainability Commission was forced to make the choice between jobs and the environment because of an unprecedented requirement of the Comp Plan Update. For the first time, the plan must identify enough employment land to accommodate the additional jobs expected to be created over the next 20 years. In the past, the city only had to identify enough residential land to house predicted future residents.

State land use planning laws require all cities to adopt comprehensive plans to guide development over the following 20 years. They must be approved by the state Land Conservation and Development Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the land use policies first adopted by the 1973 Oregon Legislature in Senate Bill 100. They include 19 Statewide Planning Goals covering such areas as housing, transportation, recreation lands and natural resources.

At first, LCDC did not specifically require cities to include Goal 9 — economic development — in their plans. But since Portland adopted its last one, LCDC adopted new rules making it clear that Goal 9 must also be followed.

The process has not been easy. The law requires job projections and land availability to be reconciled in an Economic Opportunity Analysis prepared by experts. The first draft EOA identified a shortfall of more than 635 acres of employment land, including 365 industrial acres in the Portland Harbor. to the council in 2011.

Although it has been revised several times since then, the most EOA still identified a 335-acre shortfall. But the recommended update also includes several proposals for increasing employment lands over time, including accelerating the cleanup and redevelopment of polluted industrial brownfields. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has also launched an Employment Zoning Project to increase the amount of employment land over time.

Not everyone is sure such changes will create enough new employment land, however.

"We have some serious questions with some of their assumptions," Lahsene says.

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