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Appeals expected to reopen land-use debates

Port Westward, St. Helens decisions last year met with objections


by: FILE PHOTO - A developer seeking a sensitive lands permit to remove this bluff in north St. Helens is appealing the city planning administrators decision last year not to grant it. A hearing before the St. Helens Planning Commission is tentatively set for March 11.Land-use decisions made last year could be altered or reversed through the appeals process this year. Such decisions include the ruling by the Columbia County Board of County Commissioners to approve the expansion of the Port Westward industrial park, as well as the finding by a St. Helens city planning administrator that a company’s plans to remove a rocky outcropping in the city may violate ordinances against mining.

County commissioners voted unanimously in November to allow the rezoning of 837 acres of land adjacent to Port Westward, a major energy park north of Clatskanie, for industrial use. But Clatskanie mint farmer Mike Seely and the Hood River-based environmentalist group Columbia Riverkeeper have vowed to appeal the decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

“We really don’t want this to happen, just because of the potential issues,” said Seely, who testified last year at multiple public hearings that he plans to relocate his farming operation if Port Westward is allowed to expand. He said he is concerned dirty industry could damage his plants, and thus his livelihood.

Although commissioners made their decision on the rezoning application, they have yet to sign off on the final order approving it. Once that happens, Seely and other potential appellants will have 21 days to get their notice of appeal to LUBA in Salem.

“What actually triggers the timeline is the commissioners signing the final order to approve the zone change,” explained Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “And that hasn’t happened yet.”

Serres said he expects the Board of County Commissioners to adopt the final order later this month.

Meanwhile, in St. Helens, the city’s Planning Commission is preparing to consider an appeal from developer S. St. Helens LLC that was filed last summer.

“Their attorney sent us a letter asking for a further extension, and basically what that means is right now we’re looking at March 11 as the tentative hearing date,” said City Planner Jacob Graichen of the appellant.

S. St. Helens LLC sought a sensitive lands permit, which it needed to move forward with a project to remove a basalt bluff in north St. Helens, but Graichen decided the project could damage wetland habitat and could actually constitute surface mining under state and local laws. St. Helens does not allow mining in residential areas, such as the neighborhood where the developer seeks to remove the bluff.

Basalt has commercial and industrial applications, and Graichen said in July the developer could offset the costs of the project by selling the rock it wants to remove.

S. St. Helens LLC contends that it must remove the bluff in order to place houses on the land, which was mapped out for residential development as early as the 19th century, when St. Helens was founded. Neighbors argue the bluff’s removal would be disruptive to the neighborhood.

The Planning Commission’s decision can also be appealed to LUBA.

Ed. A previous version of this article misspelled Dan Serres' surname. The article has been updated with the correct spelling.