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Planning process looks to curb Sauvie Island visitor impacts

Planning Commission hears update at Sauvie Island Academy


by: MARK MILLER - The Sauvie Island Bridge, which links Sauvie Island with Highway 30 across the Multnomah Channel. The bridge has been used as a symbol of a Multnomah County project to update the Rural Area Plan for its portions of Sauvie Island and the Multnomah Channel.Draft policies presented by Multnomah County planners Monday, June 2, at the Sauvie Island Academy suggest local residents prefer Sauvie Island remain an agricultural community and do not want to encourage the extensive visitation the island receives.

County staff and an advisory committee comprised of volunteers have been working since last year on updating the Rural Area Plan for the county’s portion of Sauvie Island and the Multnomah Channel. As they near completion of their recommendations, county planners made a presentation to the Multnomah County Planning Commission Monday at which they highlighted several draft policies they may press the county to adopt.

One draft policy that remains under discussion would reject the idea of allowing “agri-tourism” on Sauvie Island. An Oregon law passed in 2011 allows, but does not require, counties to permit a certain number of large commercial events on farmland.

“This has been a pretty hot topic,” said land use planner Kevin Cook. “There’s certainly a difference of opinion out there, and the [committee] certainly wasn’t all of one mind.”

A related draft policy would direct the county to study the impact of farm stands on nearby lands, roads and wildlife.

Cook said the county found that the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area and island beaches, including areas on Columbia County’s third of the island, are major draws for visitors.

“Needless to say, folks are using Multnomah County’s roads to get to these beaches,” said Cook, adding, “We’ve seen statistics that there’s upwards of a million folks coming out here every year just to go to the wildlife refuge.”

Multiple draft policies in the framework presented Monday encourage Multnomah County to work with Columbia County, as well as the state government, to manage visitor impacts on Sauvie Island.

One way to bring visitation under control would be to assess user fees, transportation planner Joanna Valencia said.

“A lot of people think user fees, ‘Is that just a straight fee that the user can pay?’” Valencia said. “But there’s other concepts that we can take a look at,” such as system development charges or increased parking fees, she continued.

Several members of the audience at the meeting weighed in on the draft policies.

Jane Hartline, a longtime Sauvie Island resident, said the Rural Area Plan update is shaping up to be a substantial improvement on the current plan.

“I think we have some great policies,” Hartline said. “This plan is so much better than the one we had the last time.”

“This is a very special place,” added Mark Greenfield, Hartline’s husband, who sits on the advisory committee. “For 40 years, we’ve had to hold the line and fight to protect agricultural land from competing interests, and I ask that you do that again.”

The advisory committee will meet next on June 10 at the Sauvie Island Grange, at 6 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.

The draft plan and policies are slated for a public hearing before the Multnomah County Planning Commission on Aug. 4. However, final approval of the plan is up to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, which could consider the project team’s recommendation later this year.