Port Westward rezone decision is a mistake, and it will more than likely again be appealed to LUBA.

FILE PHOTO - Port Westward, north of Clatskanie. The Columbia County Board of Commissioners by a 2-1 vote on Wednesday, Nov. 29, approved an application to rezone 837 acres of high-value farmland for industrial use. I had a friend of mine ask me if I thought the zone change at Port Westward was a good thing or not. This is my answer to him.

To put things into prospective, the Port of St. Helens would like to establish a terminal to handle fossil fuels at Port Westward. A few years ago, one of the Columbia County commissioners promised taxpayers that expanding Port Westward would create 600 jobs. Today there are less than 25 jobs. Most operations are automated and a number of the people who work there live in other communities.

Columbia County has a shortage of good agricultural land. The land at Port Westward is considered unique. We have two blueberry growers that employ 60 people and a mint farm that employees 22 people. All of these people live locally and spend their money locally and attend local schools. Columbia County had dreams of expanding to becoming the blueberry capitol of Oregon. Seely Mint has gone national, and Mike Seely is hoping to expand his mint candy operation in order to meet the demand, and hopes to hire another 20-40 people.

To my knowledge, the Port has no new tenants and, last year, the county's planning commission refused to approve a zone change. The county commissioners overturned their own planning commission's recommendation.

Local people appealed to the Oregon Land use Board of Appeals (LUBA). LUBA denied the zone Change. LUBA stated that the Port had plenty of land and did not need to expand at the expense of local agriculture.

This year the Port of St. Helens in a 3-2 vote decided to go for a zone change again. The county commissioners were also excited to support them. Sadly, this will mean that blueberry operations will not be able to expand. Mint-grower Mike Seely has land in Boardman and says that diesel smoke is not compatible with chocolate candy. He told me that he may be forced to eventually move his operation there.

Port Westward is in an urban renewal district and an enterprise zone. Under an enterprise zone, businesses pay on a graduated schedule, qualifying businesses do not pay their full tax for seven years. All taxes in an urban renewal districts must go into the district and be used for improvements in the district, at least until the urban renewal district plan is satisfied. None of this money may be used for schools, county or local governments, or any other things outside of the urban renewal district.

This decision by the commissioners will again be appealed to LUBA, an expensive process which will be costly to the county and to the people making the appeal.

Someone is getting a lot of money for this, but it is not the taxpayers or any of the local people.

Is this good or bad?

You decide. It is obvious that I have already made my mind up.

Bill Eagle

St. Helens

Contract Publishing

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