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Press ahead on Hayden Island compromise

If there’s a place where environmental and economic values can co-exist, it has to be the Columbia River’s West Hayden Island — which offers the Portland region a rare piece of land to accommodate both new jobs and important wildlife habitat.

The city of Portland should move forward quickly, but still prudently, with a compromise that would allow a portion of the island to be annexed and zoned for industrial purposes.

Portland has a well-documented shortage of land for industry. It also has an obligation to preserve or replace habitat lands as development occurs. In this case, the city also must protect livability for the people who reside on Hayden Island.

These three seemingly competing interests are not mutually exclusive. The Port of Portland can eventually develop marine terminals on West Hayden Island while also leaving the bulk of the island untouched for wildlife — and it can do so without overly burdening its human neighbors. The question now before Portland’s Planning and Sustainability Commission — and soon the City Council — is whether the city is ready to move beyond unending process and agree to zone 300 acres, out of a total of 800, for industrial purposes and to annex that land into the city.

By approving the annexation and zoning, the city would set the stage for the port someday to build terminals along the Columbia River shipping channels. These terminals would expand Portland’s economy, supporting thousands of jobs and allowing the port — which is a major driver of the entire state’s economy — to continue its success.

Mayor Sam Adams, whose term concludes at the end of the year, is pushing to get a Hayden Island decision before he leaves office. He laid out a framework last week that could serve as the basis for progress. Adams’ proposal, which includes substantial cash payments from the port, will need to be revised, but it succeeds in identifying the types of measures required to reach a compromise.

Adams suggested that the port pay $32.6 million up front to accomplish a variety of goals, including environmental restoration, assistance to neighbors and development of hiking trails. Adams is asking for a lot from the port — likely too much in the way of upfront cash. Plus, the timing of such payments would have to be further negotiated. After all, why should the port pay millions of dollars now, if it doesn’t have a deal to build the terminals and if any such development is still years away?

We do, however, agree with Adams’ attempt to fashion a compromise that allows the annexation to move ahead. If the details of this compromise can be worked out in time for a decision this year, that’s all the better for people interested in advancing the local economy. Pushing this off to the New Year — and a new mayor and council — will only delay what we believe will be an inevitable decision to make room for jobs, wildlife and livable communities on West Hayden Island.