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Island can serve two purposes

Our Opinion

As the Portland City Council considers the future of west Hayden Island in the next 10 days, this region faces a huge test on whether it can reasonably balance both economic and environmental goals.

What's required to resolve the decades-old debate on the Columbia River island - whose highly developed east end is best known as home to Jantzen Beach - is a very precise framework for limited industrial development that is compatible with protecting a unique island environment.

On July 29, the council will hear the results of 17 months' worth of study and analysis by the West Hayden Island Community Working Group. Portland Mayor Sam Adams appointed the task force in the hope that a widely diverse group of special interests could agree on how the western portion of the island could serve both as a marine industrial area for oceangoing freighters and as an environmental gem for wildlife, birds and natural habitat.

Unfortunately, after all of its long hours and effort, the task force - according to its own rules of needing an impossible-to-achieve 75 percent majority - could not agree how such a mix was possible.

Now it's up to the City Council to move forward and and finally resolve this long-running debate.

Scale back development plans

The council can help the economy and the environment by approving reduced development plans for the 831-acre west Hayden Island area that include clearly defined, specific conditions with no wiggle room. This outcome will best serve the economic interests of the Portland region and the entire state.

The city also can serve the cause of good land use by annexing the property. This will provide additional industrial capacity in a region that has a shortage of land for jobs. It will accomplish this objective without first having to expand the region's urban growth boundary on the suburban fringe and onto agricultural land.

This will not be an easy chore.

The City Council must tell the Port of Portland that its hope to develop at least two new terminals and a railway spur will have to occur on a smaller footprint - say 275 to 300 acres, instead of the proposed 350 acres. And the impacts of a new bridge, rail lines and streets will have to be within that total acreage as well.

A reduced footprint means the port will pay a higher cost per acre for infrastructure improvements. The port also must employ specialized engineering designs for rail lines, terminal areas and other facilities so that they use less land than is typically the case.

Jobs, nature can coexist

As it requires changes from the port, the City Council also must persuade the environmental community to accept the compromise of allowing a smaller development footprint to be blended alongside natural areas. That's a worthwhile tradeoff when compared with continued uncertainty or large-scale habitat loss. Remember, the island has largely doubled in size from the deposits of river channel dredging - and for many decades it has been seen as the location for deep-water marine industrial terminals.

Environmentalists may say that accepting such an outcome would be a defeat. And the port may say that a scaled-back development would come at too high of a price.

We don't agree with either point of view. We think the port and the environmental community should dig deeper to make this compromise work and serve as a showcase for new jobs, new development and nature.

What will that outcome require?

The council must set specific conditions on both the port and environmental interests. This includes clearly defined development conditions that result in few surprises. It also must include investments, balance and measurable outcomes that will aid the region's economy and environment.

Ultimately, we hope the council's leadership can move long-term opposing factions to say 'yes' we can do something better by doing it together.