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State Court of Appeals echoes finding by LUBA regarding rezone of Port Westward farmland for industrial use

PMG FILE PHOTO - Port of Columbia County officials are seeking to rezone 837 acres of farmland at Port Westward to be used as industrial property. Environmental groups have opposed the plan. The Oregon Court of Appeals this week upheld the Land Use Board of Appeals earlier ruling on the potential rezone of 837 acres of Columbia County farmland to industrial use.

Both the Port of Columbia County and Columbia Riverkeeper have framed the decision as a positive for their sides.

Columbia Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy nonprofit, had made nine arguments to LUBA, but the board sided with them on just one of those arguments. Riverkeeper's appeal to the state Court of Appeals aimed to strengthen more of those arguments, but the court ultimately made the same ruling as LUBA.

"Quite honestly, we're down to one question," said port Executive Director Doug Hayes.

Columbia County commissioners initially approved the rezone more than five years ago, but Columbia Riverkeeper appealed the decision to LUBA.

In 2014, LUBA determined that the Port of Columbia County had not shown that the rezone proposal would be compatible with farms that neighbor the contested land. LUBA sent the decision back to the county, which approved a revised rezone application in February 2018. Again, Columbia Riverkeeper, along with 1000 Friends of Oregon, appealed the decision.

In December 2018, LUBA barely found in favor of Columbia Riverkeeper, rejecting eight out of the environmental group's nine arguments. Columbia Riverkeeper appealed the decision to the state Court of Appeals.

On March 15, the Oregon Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on an appeal of LUBA's decision on the proposed rezone.

Now, with the appeals court decision in place, port officials will review their rezone application to strengthen the remaining argument regard-

ing the proposed land use compatibility with surrounding land.

The port has spent an estimated $280,000 on the process to rezone the land neighboring Port Westward since 2013, according to Hayes.

Hayes said he'll sit down with the port's legal counsel and plans to bring a recommendation to the port commissioners in mid-June. On July 1, newly elected port commissioners will take their seats on the board.

"We just want to make sure we do this very methodically," Hayes said. "I'm just really happy we're down to one question."

The port and Riverkeeper could both request that the Oregon Supreme Court review the Court of Appeals' decision.


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