Port rezone would compromise quality agricultural soils
I am a graduate of Oregon State University. I majored in agriculture with a minor in soils. I was the district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Columbia County from 1980 to 2000. I assisted in the preparation and development of the Columbia County Soil Survey. I authored the section on agriculture/settlement and development in the survey. I also participated in the final soils review.
Only 3.6 percent of the land in Columbia County is considered prime agricultural land. Prime ag land is a good place for raising crops. Unfortunately, it is also a good place to construct homes and build factories.
Only 1.1 percent of our county is in cultivated crops and only 3.94 percent is in hay or pasture, as opposed to 7.67 percent in urban and industrial lands. We have more urban and industrial lands than we have agriculture. As industrial lands grow, agricultural lands are disappearing. Our county's best agricultural land now has been replaced by rock pits and gravel mines.
On May 29, 1973, Gov. Tom Mc Call signed SB100 and SB101, which set up statewide protections for farmland. From the moment these laws were passed powerful and wealthy interests have worked hard to overturn them. They paid money to promote initiatives in 1976, 1978 and 1982 to defeat these protections; all were defeated by a large public vote.
I am a director of the Columbia Soil and Water Conservation District. In 1976 the CSWD passed a resolution to support the preservation of agricultural lands in our county. Agricultural lands are normally shown as lands with soils capability classes I - IV. Our County Soils Survey shows that three-quarters of the soils in the proposed zone change area are Capability Classes II and III and are good productive agricultural land.
My fears are that we will lose good agricultural land along with the environmentally friendly jobs that agriculture creates. I also fear that industrial activity will force existing farms and businesses like the Seely family peppermint operation to either close or relocate. In addition to the people employed by the Seely family, the two major blueberry operations have more full-time employees than all the existing industrial business at Port Westward.
It is because of this that I believe the Port of St. Helens' request for rezoning and amending our county's Comprehensive Plan is not in the best interests of county residents, and it certainly does not agree with the vision that former Gov. Tom McCall had for our state's future when he signed into law our statewide planning goals.
I would urge our county commissioners to listen to the people as well as to the prior recommendation from their own Planning Commission and deny this zone change request.
Nob Hill Nature Park complements St. Helens growth plans
We feel it is important to respond to Steve Topaz's recent letter to the editor with another point of view about the value of Nob Hill Nature Park in St Helens (see Letters, "Wary of St. Helens urban renewal plan," July 28). We have a long history of working at the site, since 2004, with the city's blessing. We are grateful for the city's support over the years. When it came time to hold the hearing for the city's waterfront, we came in full support of rezoning the park to public lands status putting on equal footing with the city's other public parks.
Many studies have shown health benefits from spending time in nature, from stress relief to being able to enjoy fresh air and physical activity. We know the park, now that it has good trails, is well-used by neighbors, including dog-walkers. It is also a popular place to visit during the summer in conjunction with the 13 Nights on the River concert series held at the nearby Columbia View Park. And it buffers neighboring areas from the city's wastewater treatment plant.
Oak woodland and meadows are increasingly uncommon. They once covered much of the Willamette Valley. More of these lands are lost to development every day as new roads, homes, schools, shopping plazas and other buildings come into being. Even farming takes land mostly out of "natural" condition when it is cleared and put to the plow.
We don't think the city having 6.6 acres of beautiful oak woodland is frivolous or excessive. To the contrary, we believe the park is a valuable amenity that will complement the city's other plans for the Boise property. It can also bring in visitors from outside the city. We have held twice-yearly work parties at Nob Hill since 2004, and we are grateful to the many park supporters who have come to help us maintain the park over the years.
It's a very special place, on a basalt bluff, overlooking the Columbia River. You can see many native wildflowers in April through June, but it's a nice place to visit at any time of the year, so we invite you to come and visit soon. Dogs are welcome, on leash. To paraphrase an old adage about real estate, intact oak woodland ecosystems are worthy of conservation because they aren't making any more of them.
Caroline Skinner and
Nob Hill Nature Park
Park co-founders and stewards