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Environmental advocacy groups appeal Port of Columbia County rezone, again.

COURTESY PHOTO: COLUMBIA COUNTY LAND DEVELOPMENT SERVICES - A staff report prepared by the Columbia County Land Development Services department includes photos taken within the proposed rezone area and neighboring lands. Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon have once again filed to appeal the rezone of 837 acres at Port Westward from agricultural to rural industrial uses.

Columbia County commissioners approved the rezone in September, determining that the port had adequately addressed the compatibility question that was still up for debate.

The county first approved the rezone of 837 acres in 2014, but Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends appealed to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, which said the county's approval wasn't backed up by enough evidence.

The county approved a revised rezone application in 2018, which was again appealed. Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends made nine arguments, but the appeals board only agreed with one: that there was not enough evidence shown to support that the proposed industrial land uses would be compatible with neighboring land uses, particularly sensitive agricultural products.

It took about nine months for LUBA to issue a decision after the environmental groups filed a notice of intent to appeal in 2018.

"Paving over some of the highest-quality farm lands in Oregon for dirty fossil fuel development undermines communities' hard work to tackle the climate crisis and protect family farms," Columbia Riverkeeper conservation director Dan Serres stated in an Oct. 19 press release.

Port Westward has been a point of contention between environmental activists and those pushing for more businesses and more jobs in north Columbia County.

Before approving nearly doubling the size of Port Westward through the rezone, the county received more than 1,600 pages of public comments.

The county staff report recommended approving the rezone, though representatives of the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development argued against the port's proposal, writing that the port still hadn't addressed the specific agricultural practices on nearby properties.

The port signed two agricultural leases on the 837 acres last year — one with members of the Seely mint farming family, to grow mint and graze cattle, and one with Columbia River Ranch to graze cattle, according to Gina Sisco, a port spokesperson.

"Both leases anticipate possible future industrial development, and agricultural tenants will have the ability to continue to farm in the buffer areas between any future industrial tenants," Sisco said.

The port also has an option to lease agreement with Northwest Innovation Works, which means the company is essentially reserving the land for potential future use.

Northwest Innovation Works would be allowed to produce methanol on a roughly 100-acre portion of the rezoned land.

The company previously had a lease option on a different piece of port property that was already zoned for use, but it switched the option to a piece of the rezone land in 2019 under the condition that it would not make any monthly payments until the rezone was completed.

"NWIW has given no indication to the Port that they are pursuing the agreement, and according to their statement to the Port, NWIW has temporized all business activity in the Pacific Northwest," Sisco said.

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