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Port won't give up on rezone efforts

Commissioners give narrow approval to move forward after LUBA appeal


The Port of St. Helens will continue its efforts to re-zone 837 acres of land in Clatskanie from agricultural to industrial, following a narrow approval from the Port of St. Helens Board of Commissioners.

Columbia County approved the port’s rezone request, and amended its comprehensive plan in 2013.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Chris Crean, an attorney hired by the Port of St. Helens, consults with port staff and commissioners Wednesday during discussions about rezoning land at Port Westward. Following an appeal by Seely Family Farm, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals remanded the comprehensive plan amendment to the county, seeking more specific explanations about why so many acres were needed for industrial development, among other things.

The port has yet to submit revisions to the county, which would need to re-submit its comprehensive plan to LUBA. Last year, a land use attorney was hired to assist the port in evaluating its options for revising the rezone request.

After an executive session with two attorneys Wednesday morning, commissioners voted to move forward with the rezone effort, with Commissioner Paulette Lichatowich opposed and Commissioner Larry Ericksen abstaining.

Commission President Mike Avent said he didn’t want to see the port give up on its efforts to secure more industrial space for future tenants.

“If it dies, I want it to die because of failure, not because we molded it around again and wasted [energy],” Avent said. “I’d rather let it die in the effort than have no effort at all.”

To date, the port has spent about $100,000 on the rezone process, according to port staff.

But moving forward would cost more money and could jeopardize the prospect of a proposed methanol plant at the port, Ericksen said.

The port has a lease agreement with Northwest Innovation Works, a Chinese-backed company proposing to build a methanol plant at Port Westward.

The company will require more space at Port Westward than the port currently has available. Port officials have approached Portland General Electric, which operates energy generating facilities at Port Westward, to ask PGE to allow future industrial tenants to use some of the acres PGE currently reserves for its own use.

Oddly, port staff told commissioners Wednesday they plan to request a letter from PGE confirming it will not give up additional industrial land near its facilities to the port. Doing so would prove to LUBA that the port needs agricultural land for industrial use.

It could send the wrong message to NW Innovation, Ericksen said.

“You don’t believe concurrently asking PGE for more land and asking them to draft a letter saying they don’t have any land available is a problem?” Ericksen asked fellow commissioners.

Ericksen later said he feels the port should ask for roughly half the acres, rather than trying to justify the need for more than 800.

“Why do we need 800 acres? We don’t even have anything ready for that,” he said. “I just believe it’s a flawed process and I think it could be done so much better.”

Lichatowich questioned whether the process required to address the LUBA remand was worth the effort.

“Are we getting so excited about getting industrial land that we’re not looking at the real cost to develop?” she asked.

No official action has been taken on the port’s rezone request. Port commissioners will still need to review a scope of work and additional legal and consulting fees before the port can again approach the county, Deputy Executive Director Paula Miranda explained.