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After public comments pour in, county staff recommends tightening conditions for approval

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia County commissioners discuss routine matters after rescheduling deliberations on a potential Port Westward expansion Wednesday, Sept. 13. Left to right: Commissioners Alex Tardif, Margaret Magruder and Henry Heimuller.Deliberations on the possible expansion of Port Westward Industrial Park in Clatskanie were again delayed Wednesday, Sept. 13, after Columbia County planning staff recommended tighter conditions of approval for the project.

The Columbia County Board of Commissioners met Wednesday after holding a lengthy public hearing the month prior in Clatskanie to take comments on the proposed major rezone and map amendment of 837 acres of agricultural land, requested by the Port of St. Helens.

After receiving a memo from county staff with additional recommended conditions of approval, commissioners opted to leave the record open for additional comments on the new material.

County staff is recommending the board approve the rezone request, but only if the proposed uses are "significantly dependent on a deepwater port and have demonstrated access rights to the dock, and those uses with employment densities, public facilities and activities ..."

Last month, the Spotlight reported the Port had yet to shore up access agreements for the existing dock at Port Westward, despite naming the dock as a unique resource capable of serving several types of new industrial business ventures at the site.

Additional conditions include ground and surface water quality sampling to prevent industrial wastewater discharge from polluting the watershed at the rezone site and areas downstream from it; and a hazardous material spill response and clean-up plan from the Port.

"We've received a lot of comments," Robin McIntyre, a land use attorney for the county, told commissioners Wednesday.

Following an Aug. 2 public hearing on the rezone and expansion, the county received more than 100 new comment submissions.

"The Board has received 105 written comments about the comprehensive plan amendment … some comments are just a single page while others are hundreds of pages in three ring binders or in digital form," a county staff report notes.

Because of the large volume of public input, the Port of St. Helens voted earlier the same morning to approve up to $15,000 in extra legal fees for its land use attorneys with Beery, Elsner & Hammond LLP, hired to handle the remand. The Port has already authorized $85,000 in attorneys fees to the law firm, to date.

The extra fees will cover the costs "to respond to the substantive issues raised and other County questions as part of the County deliberation and decision making process," a Port resolution states.

After the announcement no public hearing or deliberations would take place, a packed meeting room of more than 25 people quickly emptied.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Audience members file out of a meeting room Wednesday morning, Sept. 13 after county commissioners opt not to deliberate or vote on a rezone in Clatskanie for an expansion of Port Westward Industrial Park. More than 25 people showed up Wednesday, and some had hoped to give public comment."That's it?" one audience member asked aloud as a crowd began to exit en masse.

Commissioner Henry Heimuller explained there would be no more opportunity for public comments, only written comments.

"It's important to get every piece of evidence," Heimuller said, justifying the board's decision to leave the record open for additional comments.

"When new evidence comes to light, then you can comment on that," Commissioner Margaret Magruder explained after Wednesday's brief meeting, saying comments will only be accepted if they pertain to the new material submitted into the record.

Written comments can be submitted to the county until Sept. 27, and the board of commissioners is scheduled to deliberate on the matter Oct. 25.

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