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Port authorizes more money for Port Westward rezone

Land use attorney, analysis more than original spending cap; some question whether it's a futile effort

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Port Westward in Clatskanie is one of the largest industrial properties in Columbia County. A split vote from Port of St. Helens commissioners authorized the agency to spend extra money on trying to get agricultural land at the site to be rezoned for industrial use. Another $45,000 could be spent on efforts to rezone 837 acres of agricultural land at Port Westward for industrial use.

Port of St. Helens commissioners voted 3-2 Wednesday, Oct. 12, to authorize the port's executive director to spend up to $45,000 on a land use analysis of the property.

Commission President Mike Avent, along with Commissioners Chris Iverson and Terry Luttrell, approved the expenditure, with Commissioners Paulette Lichatowich and Larry Ericksen opposed.

In early 2014 the port got approval from Columbia County to rezone a large amount of property from primary agriculture to industrial at a port-owned industrial park in Clatskanie.

An appeal of the county's decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals overturned the county's approval when LUBA remanded the decision, saying more evidence was needed to show why an additional 837 acres was needed for industrial use.

The port hired a land use attorney from Beery, Elsner & Hammond LLP earlier this year to help with the remand. The legal firm then enlisted the help of Mackenzie, an engineering and land use firm specializing in industrial land use. The port later authorized spending up to $25,000 on land use services associated with the rezone, but that cost has since gone up.

Mackenzie and BEH returned to the port in late September with a proposal for an additional $45,000 of land use analysis work that included creating maps, looking at alternatives for a potential rezone and evaluating Port Westward's site need characteristics, among other analyses.

To date, the port has spent at least $100,000 on efforts to try to rezone the land at Port Westward.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Port of St. Helens Commissioners Paulette Lichatowich (left) and Chris Iverson review a proposal from a land use firm that will cost the port more money to pursue rezone efforts at Port Westward. The request for more funds was ultimately approved.

Lichatowich and Ericksen said they were hesitant to spend more money on what could end up being futile efforts.

Lichatowich said when Beery, Elsner & Hammond was first approached by the port, the firm gave the port a total cost estimate of around $40,000. Now the costs are inching closer to $70,000.

“There's a lot of uncertainty and when we initiated this process earlier, Chris Crean [the attorney hired] said he thought $40,000 would cover the whole package for the LUBA appeal," Lichatowich said after Wednesday's meeting. "We got an economic analysis that's $45,000 and we’ve got Cris Crean at $25,000, and it's not panning out to what the original estimate was.”

Lichatowich also voiced concern about heavy flooding of the Port Westward property last year that left two farm operations under water.

Ericksen, who was present by phone, noted that even if the port could bring in new industrial tenants, it's unclear whether they could get permission from Portland General Electric, the largest industrial user at Port Westward, to access and use nearby docks.

Avent said he didn't want to delay the process and wanted to see the port stay committed to rezoning the property to provide job and economic opportunities for future generations.

"Are we gonna move forward with it or not?" Avent asked rhetorically. "We've spent hundreds of thousands on the acquisition of property ..."

Nearly as soon as Avent finished his comment, Commissioner Luttrell cut in with a motion to approve the expenditure, effectively cutting off any further discussion.

The port will resubmit its request for the rezone to Columbia County, but it's unclear when the revised application will be submitted.