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Port application 'on hold,' official says

Deadline for regionally significant industrial lands designation passed last week

by: MARK MILLER - Paulette Lichatowich, a Columbia City resident, urges the Columbia County Board of Commissioners to withhold support from the Port of St. Helens' plans to seek a special status from the state for its industrial lands in north Columbia County at a meeting last month. A top port official said this week the application is 'on hold' due to lack of support.The Port of St. Helens is reconsidering its plans to submit an application to the state that could see development projects on some of its industrial lands receive expedited review and appeal processes, according to its deputy executive director Monday, June 30.

Paula Miranda said the application for “regionally significant industrial lands” status — which could encompass the large Port Westward industrial park north of Clatskanie, including hundreds of acres of land rezoned for industrial use early this year — is “on hold” for the time being.

“At this point in time, I don’t think we have received the support that we were hoping to receive,” Miranda said. “We haven’t decided yet if we want to put the application out there.”

The apparent deadline for applications expired last week, but it is unclear what that means for the program instituted three years ago by Oregon Senate Bill 766. The legislation says the Oregon Economic Recovery Review Council “shall designate” between five and 15 regionally significant industrial areas by June 28, 2014. There are five active nominations for the program, according to the Business Oregon website.

The port asked for support from the cities of Columbia City and St. Helens, where industrial parks it hoped to include in its application are located, as well as from the Columbia County Board of Commissioners. They have not received it. The city councils declined to pass resolutions in favor last month, while the county commissioners, despite expressing some openness to the port’s goals, have not voted in favor of the application either.

County Commissioner Earl Fisher said the board has not spoken with port officials about the application in about a month, and it has no current plans to act on it.

“We’ve set it aside,” said Fisher on Wednesday.

The port has been interested in a regionally significant status in the hopes that it would help bring development projects to the port district, which stretches along the Columbia River from the Scappoose area to the Clatsop County line, Miranda said.

“Apparently, some folks here have some prejudice because of the other projects we have,” said Miranda. “I think there is a misunderstanding of the intent of this particular project. So we’re just not sure yet if it’s worth it, putting it out there.”

A number of south Columbia County residents testified before the Board of County Commissioners and the City Council of Columbia City last month asking them to withhold support from the port application. Many said they fear the regionally significant status could lead to diminished local control and public input on planned developments.

Projects on regionally significant lands are entitled to bypass certain steps of the review and appeal processes. Conditional use permit applications would not receive a public hearing before the local planning commission, for example, and the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals would not hear legal challenges to the projects. Industrial lands would also be protected from competing uses for at least 10 years.

Representatives of the port have argued that the expedited processes could help attract developers and local authorities would still retain control over whether to approve or deny permits.