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Public hearing scheduled for review of farmland rezone efforts near Port Westward

One of the most controversial projects to come under Columbia County's purview will get a public hearing Aug. 2, preceded by a staff update meeting next Thursday, July 27.

PORT OF ST. HELENS PHOTO - An aerial shot of property near Port Westward shows a dock and undeveloped property nearby. Columbia County commissioners are slated to reconsider an application to rezone property in the area from farmland to industrial.The Columbia County Board of Commissioners is slated to grant new review of a remand application from the Port of St. Helens to rezone roughly 830 acres near Clatskanie for inclusion in the Port Westward Industrial Park.

The first meeting will come in the form of a staff meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday, July 27, in room 338 at the Columbia County Courthouse. That meeting is in preparation for the public hearing in Clatskanie at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2, at Clatskanie High School.

The rezone project has faced heavy opposition since it was first pitched for county approval in 2013.

After Columbia County approved the rezone application, an appeal sent it to the state's Land Use Board of Appeals. LUBA agreed with petitioners, who argued the Port failed to present a compelling reason why such a vast swath of farmland needed to be converted for industrial use.

LUBA determined the rezone application needed more concrete evidence to support the request, leaving the Port to consult with a land use attorney to address the remand.

The port has since submitted a revised rezone application to the county.

Commissioners will have their first public meeting regarding the remand next week.

Thursday afternoon's special meeting will "allow staff to brief the Board of Commissioners on the upcoming hearing on the Port Westward Modified Application Remand," a meeting notice sent to media outlets states.

While county commissioners have yet to have a formal review or make a decision, opponents of the project are watching closely.

Columbia Riverkeeper, one of the groups behind the appeal, is encouraging the public to write county commissioners and demand the agricultural land be kept intact.

The group is also encouraging the public to attend the Aug. 2 public hearing of the county's board of commissioners in Clatskanie. Riverkeeper dubbed a community Facebook invite "Protect Columbia County Farms."

"Farms need rural environments to thrive," a Riverkeeper petition states. "Rezoning over 800 acres of farmland to industrial land threatens existing farm businesses with increased air and water pollution and heavy traffic. "

Riverkeeper asserts the Port "wants to pave over high-quality farmland and build facilities like oil-by-rail terminals."

The group claims the rezone will decimate pristine farmland while pushing more oil-by-rail projects on the rail corridor along Highway 30.

Some Port commissioners have indicated they expect the county will support the rezone.

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