Environmental advocacy groups say they plan to appeal the recent approval of a plan to rezone nearly 840 acres of farmland in Clatskanie for industrial use.
Columbia Riverkeeper announced Wednesday that the organization teamed up with 1,000 Friends of Oregon to appeal Columbia County's decision to allow the Port of St. Helens to expand its Port Westward Industrial Park. The industrial park expansion would rezone 837 acres of high-value agricultural land nearby to include in the existing industrial area, in hopes of attracting new businesses and tenants at Port Westward.
Commissioners voted 2-1 to approve the project Wednesday, Feb. 21.
This marks the second appeal to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals over the same project.
"We still believe that industrializing farmland is incompatible with the adjacent farms near Port Westward," Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, a lead organizer with Columbia Riverkeeper, said Wednesday. "We continue to have support from farmers in the region and community members throughout Columbia County to preserve this farmland."
In 2014, Columbia Riverkeeper teamed up with a farmer in Clatskanie to appeal the county's approval of the rezone. LUBA sided with the appellants, in part, and remanded the rezone application to the county, citing a lack of specificity about what types of projects would use the expanded industrial park and why they couldn't be located elsewhere.
In 2017, the Port of St. Helens submitted a revised application, calling out five types of uses for the expanded industrial park, including the production, storage or transport of dry bulk products; processing of liquid bulk products; processing and storage or transport of natural gas; breakbulk storage; and forestry and wood products processing and production.
Opponents of the industrial expansion say the Port of St. Helens and Columbia County commissioners are still failing to justify making an exception to state planning goals, which prioritize high value farmland.
Jim Hoffman of Hopville Farms, a blueberry farm not far from Port Westward, fears for the future of his crops and business if the rezone and expansion goes through.
"Hopville Farms remains disappointed with Columbia County's decision to open farmland up to industrial polluters," Hoffmann stated in a news release from Columbia Riverkeeper. "Our priority is to protect area water quality, which is vital to our blueberry farm and essential to the entire community, both now and in the future."
Columbia Riverkeeper raised about $10,000 from fundraising efforts and donations to pay for legal counsel associated with the appeal.
"This appeal is really a people-powered appeal because it was made possible by donations," Zimmer-Stucky said.
The Port of St. Helens also took action to secure funds.
Prior to Wednesday's announcement of a forthcoming appeal, Port of St. Helens commissioners approved an additional $40,000 to be used on funds for land use attorneys to help combat any appeal filed.
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