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Commissioners dont plan to move Clatskanie hearing


County board to consider rezoning at Port Westward on Sept. 18

by: FILE PHOTO - Henry HeimullerThe chairman of the Columbia County Board of County Commissioners said Wednesday, Sept. 4, that commissioners intend to go ahead with a Sept. 18 public hearing in Clatskanie despite complaints from some members of the public about its location.

Henry Heimuller argued that the meeting site in Clatskanie is appropriate because the zone change the commissioners are considering — some 957 acres of agricultural land adjacent to the Port Westward Industrial Park the Port of St. Helens wants rezoned for industrial use — is within the Clatskanie area, and that community and its service districts could be affected by the decision.

“This is a request for a zone change for a particular piece of property. That property may or may not impact rail or truck traffic or anything else. At this stage of the game, we have no idea, because there’s no project, as it were,” Heimuller said, referring to public speculation new developments at an expanded Port Westward could lead to increased traffic on the Portland and Western Railroad or Highway 30, which cut through the downtown areas of Scappoose, St. Helens and Rainier.

The Spotlight has received numerous letters criticizing the commissioners’ decision to meet in Clatskanie instead of their usual meeting spot in St. Helens, at the Columbia County Courthouse.

But Heimuller said he has heard little opposition to the location, with no members of the public testifying at the board’s Wednesday morning meetings on the subject. He said commissioners have held meetings outside of St. Helens on community-specific subjects before.

Asked whether the commissioners could move the meeting out of Clatskanie, Heimuller said, “We are not planning on doing that, because the meeting has been advertised. We’re within the time constraints of the law as far as advertising it is concerned.”

Heimuller also said there are no plans to simulcast the meeting or take testimony from remote locations, such as the courthouse.

“I guess we’ve never considered it,” Heimuller said of allowing people to testify by telephone or video link.

Four county residents identifying themselves collectively as “Clean Columbia County” emailed the three county commissioners early last month to ask for a change of venue or a second meeting to be set in St. Helens. Todd Dugdale, land development services director, wrote back on behalf of the commissioners, saying the board was “not inclined” to change the meeting location.

Some opponents of the location have charged that the commissioners want an audience that is friendly to the rezoning request.

“Given the economic, safety and quality of life impacts of a massive increase in rail traffic on all the cities of the port district, except Clatskanie, why would the only hearing be located in Clatskanie?” Scappoose businessman Brian Rosenthal wrote in a letter to the Spotlight last week. “Clatskanie will have no unit trains cutting its city in half, so its residents ... will get a benefit with limited negative impacts.”

Heimuller rejected that argument.

“As it were, there’s critics in south county and there’s supporters in south county; there’s critics in Clatskanie and there’s supporters in Clatskanie,” Heimuller said. “We need to hear all of them. There is no shuffling of the deck. There’s no stacking of the cards. It’s all wide open and out in the open.”

Heimuller said the Sept. 18 meeting at the Clatskanie Middle/High School, which is set to begin at or after 6:30 p.m., is likely to run well into the evening. Individuals who show up late can still offer public testimony, he added.

While commissioners will take public testimony at the meeting, Heimuller said they could also take action on the proposal, though they might make their decision at another time.

“A decision could be made that night,” Heimuller said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s likely.”

If a second hearing is scheduled, it could be held in Clatskanie or another community, Heimuller said.

“Everybody deserves to be heard, absolutely,” said Heimuller.

The meeting site in Clatskanie is located about 33 miles by road from the Columbia County Courthouse in St. Helens, 40 miles from central Scappoose and 63 miles from downtown Portland, where many south Columbia County residents work.

According to 2011 data from the United States Census Bureau, some 73.5 percent of employed Columbia County residents work outside the county, mostly in Multnomah and Washington counties. About 3 percent work in Clatsop County, across the county line from Clatskanie.