Port bids on farmland lot near Port Westward
Update: On Friday, after this story published, the Oregon Supreme Court denied a petition requesting review of the Port's rezone application.
More than 3,000 acres of farmland near Port Westward were up for auction this week.
The poplar tree farmland is part of what was originally a 31,000-acre operation managed by Greenwood Resources Capital Management, also known as Lower Columbia Tree Farm LLC.
The Port of Columbia County bid on one of the lots up for auction, a 194-acre parcel that runs along portions of the Clatskanie River and Beaver Slough just north of the Stimson Lumber Mill.
Port staff declined to comment on the amount of the bid, which is now closed.
The parcel currently contains roughly 155 acres of poplar trees that are nearing harvest.
If the port's bid is accepted, the parcel would be used for wetland mitigation, which would be necessary if other farmland owned by the port is converted to industrial use.
"The property at Port Westward including the future rezoned property contains large quantities of potential wetlands where any impacts must be mitigated for development," a port staff report explained. "One strategy for mitigation is mitigation banking. Banking occurs off-site as a means of long-term preservation and habitat success and is more efficiently managed than multiple smaller mitigation measures."
According to the staff report, there are no mitigation banks in Columbia County.
Port staff only found out about the auction a few weeks in advance of the Nov. 13 deadline for bids, requiring staff to work quickly to decide if the port would bid.
On Tuesday, the port received notice that soil tests had confirmed the parcel's viability for wetland mitigation, said Doug Hayes, the port's executive director.
Port commissioners authorized Hayes to bid on the land at a special meeting last week.
Hayes said that purchasing the parcel for wetland mitigation makes more sense than using the port's current property for mitigation because the port's current property is already in the process of being rezoned for other uses.
The port is still working to rezone acres near Port Westward from farmland to industrial use. The rezone application has been contested by the environmental group, Columbia Riverkeeper, and could go in front of the Oregon Supreme Court.
Earlier this year, the port commission approved up to $70,000 for ongoing legal work on the rezone. Attorneys are preparing a supplement to the port's past rezone application to answer the one remaining issue the court saw with the application: whether the proposed uses were compatible with surrounding land use.
"It's entirely possible we'll be completely ready with a compatibility supplement to our application before the Supreme Court makes its decision," Scott Jensen, a port planner, told commissioners at an Oct. 9 commission meeting.
The outcome of the auction, both for the parcel the port bid on and the other parcels near the port's property, could impact the port's rezone effort.
The property owners have five business days to select buyers for the 3,000 acres.
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