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Port seeks attorney to revisit Port Westward expansion

COURTNEY VAUGHN - Port of St. Helens Board of Commissioners President Mike Avent (center) gives his thoughts on the future of development at Port Westward as commissioners Larry Ericksen (left) and Terry Luttrell (right) listen during commission meeting. The port will seek out a land use attorney to help them revisit a rezoning application.

Port of St. Helens plans to hire a land use attorney as it reevaluates an attempt to rezone 957 acres near Port Westward from primary agricultural land to heavy use industrial.

In February 2013, the port applied to Columbia County for a comprehensive plan amendment and zone change to expand Port Westward by converting farmland to industrial property at its industrial park along the Columbia River in Clatskanie.

The county's Planning Commission denied the request, but the Board of Commissioners approved it. An appeal was filed with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, which ruled that the application needed more specificity about needs and proposed uses before that much land could be rezoned.

The port has yet to re-apply to the county.

Port commissioners voiced mixed feelings Wednesday, Oct. 14 during a meeting about how to proceed.

Commissioners Paulette Lichatowich and Larry Ericksen, and Commission President Mike Avent, said they wanted some level of certainty that future attempts to rezone the land would be successful.

“I don't think we're gonna get that answer without moving forward,” Trapp said. “We've got a roadmap that was provided by LUBA of what they're looking for. ... I think we need to protect our investment so far, and follow through. If we meet all the criteria the way LUBA's expecting it, then we need to carry on.”

Paula Miranda, the port's deputy executive director, estimated the port has spent close to $100,000 so far on rezoning efforts.

At issue is whether more than 950 acres are necessary for industrial development and whether the industrial use is compatible with existing surrounding uses.

Mike Seely, a mint farmer who operates a farm in Clatskanie and leases a portion of his farmland from the port, filed the appeal to LUBA. Seely said large industrial growth would have irrevocable impacts to his farming operations and could wipe out his crops.

Lichatowich suggested an economic or market trend analysis be completed for the area before moving forward with another application. Trapp said that could be done as part of the new application process.

Ericksen said he wants to see more businesses using Port Westward, but doesn't want to see the port spend more money to fight an uphill battle.

“I would like to see something move forward out there,” Ericksen said. “What can we put through there that won't get the resistance?”

Ericksen and Iverson agreed that any attempt to reduce farmland for expanded industrial uses was likely to get appealed, but Iverson said that shouldn't dissuade the port.

“I think if we're gonna fight the battle, we fight it to the end,” Commissioner Chris Iverson said. “What else are we gonna do with the property? Plant trees?”

Robert Salisbury, the port's attorney, suggested the port hire an attorney with a specialized background in land use, to guide the agency through the process. Salisbury noted he did not represent the port during its previous case, when it was named an intervenor-respondent in Seely's case against the county.