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Island poses opportunity

MY VIEW • Wildlife and people benefit where nature rules
by: Courtesy of Port of Portland, The future of the west end of Hayden Island comes under debate again with the Port of Portland aiming to develop it for marine trade and activists wanting it protected.

Lee van der Voo's article 'Industry may come to island' (Dec. 7) does an excellent job of describing the complex environmental, social and economic issues associated with the 826-acre West Hayden Island natural area.

For nearly two decades the Port of Portland has held this property with the hopes of converting its 826 acres of forest, wetlands, meadows and riparian habitat into marine industrial terminals.

Throughout that period, the port has faced strong opposition from the community concerned about impacts on wildlife, the environment and quality of life.

We believe that developing West Hayden Island would result in unacceptable impacts on both the community and the ecosystem.

It is time to pursue alternative strategies that would result in the permanent protection of West Hayden Island as a natural area for people and for wildlife.

Many people are surprised to learn that more than 50 percent of Hayden Island is undeveloped and represents one of the most important unprotected natural areas left in our region.

It includes 4 percent of the remaining intact cottonwood-ash forest left along more than 100 miles of the lower Columbia River between Astoria and the Bonneville Dam.

Major development on West Hayden Island would leave little behind for the more than 100 species of fish and wildlife, many of them species of concern, which utilize the island for some portion of their life cycle.

As devastating as development would be for wildlife, it would be equally damaging to the local community. Hayden Island already is one of the most congested and park-deficient areas of Portland.

The prospect of marine industrial development brings with it increased traffic, noise, pollution and reduced property values.

While developing West Hayden Island would exact a high cost to both citizens and wildlife, the port repeatedly has failed to make a solid case for why development should occur.

The port insists that development is necessary, but after nearly two decades remains unable to state specifically what it would build on West Hayden Island and when the facilities might be needed.

In fact, the port was forced to abandon a similar proposal to annex and rezone West Hayden Island in 2000 when community pressure forced it to recognize that it had done an inadequate job of investigating less environmentally destructive alternative sites and when projected market forecasts failed to meet expectations.

It is time to rethink West Hayden Island and recognize that alternative strategies that would serve the environment, the community and the economy do exist.

First, rather than looking to develop Portland's last best unprotected green space, it is time for the port to think seriously about more efficient use of the already developed land base.

That means not only looking at redevelopment of existing Port of Portland terminals, but also real collaboration with the Port of Vancouver, Wash.

Currently the two ports function primarily as competitors. It is time for the two ports, located just a stone's throw away from one another, to work together to reduce duplication and increase efficiency.

Second, it is time to explore alternative opportunities available on West Hayden Island. Even as a fully protected natural area, West Hayden Island could serve the region's economy as a mitigation bank, as a restoration site to meet Superfund Natural Resource Damage Assessment obligations associated with the Portland Harbor, or as a potential land swap in return for developing less ecologically sensitive sites.

After nearly two decades, the social and environmental costs of developing West Hayden Island only have grown stronger while the economic justifications only have grown more uncertain.

It is time to permanently protect West Hayden Island for people and wildlife.

Timme Helzer is co-chairman of Friends of West Hayden Island. Bob Sallinger is conservation director at the Audubon Society of Portland.