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Desite LUBA remand of farmland rezone application, Columbia Riverkeeper seeks high court review

Despite calling a recent opinion issued by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals a win, an environmental group is challenging LUBA's ruling over the proposed expansion of Port Westward Industrial Park in Clatskanie. SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Environmental advocacy group Columbia Riverkeeper filed an appeal last week, challenging an opinion issued by the Land Use Board of Appeals regarding the proposed expansion of Port Westward Industrial Park, shown here.

Columbia Riverkeeper filed a petition for judicial review with Oregon's Court of Appeals on Jan. 17.

The environmental group opposes plans to convert 837 acres of high quality farmland near Clatskanie into industrial use land to be included in Port Westward.

The appeal seeks a higher court review of LUBA's ruling. In their initial arguments, the environmental petitioners argued that even though the port tried to narrow down the allowable industrial uses for the expanded site, the port "failed to identify how many acres it needs to accommodate the proposed five categories of uses, and to justify why 837 acres are necessary to accommodate those uses." Opponents also said the port failed to prove that the proposed array of industrial uses would be compatible with existing farm operations in the area.

The county, in its approval of the industrial park expansion plans, noted that recent inquiries from industrial companies to build new processing plants at Port Westward exceeded the amount of acres being requested for the rezone.

Representatives from Riverkeeper did not respond to request for comment on the appeal.

Doug Hayes, executive director of the Port of Columbia County, said his agency was slightly puzzled by the appeal, but said it notes that the port's most recent project application was largely successful.

"LUBA found in the port's favor," Hayes noted Wednesday. He noted that attorneys will likely submit oral arguments in writing. "We'll certainly send someone to defend [the port], but I don't have an exact date as to when that will happen."

Background

In 2014, LUBA reviewed the industrial park expansion plans after Riverkeeper appealed a decision by Columbia County to approve a rezone and major map amendment on behalf of the Port of St. Helens, now operating as the Port of Columbia County. LUBA remanded the plans to the county, citing, among other errors, a lack of specificity and lack of evidence to show why the rezone of so many acres was needed.

After a revised project application from the port was again approved by Columbia County in 2017, Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends filed a similar appeal. LUBA again remanded the rezone issue to the county in December 2018, but this time, finding fewer errors in the port's application. While port officials considered the LUBA review a good sign, noting far fewer errors found by LUBA, an official statement from the environmental groups echoed similar sentiments, but celebrated the few errors LUBA did find.

"Converting Oregon's best farmland and salmon habitat for fossil fuel development goes against Oregon's clean energy goals, and it is inconsistent with the state's land use laws, particularly where so much industrial land is

already available," Meriel Darzen, a staff attorney with 1000 Friends of Oregon, stated in a news release on Dec. 28. "We hope the Port of St. Helens will permanently shelve this

plan."


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