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Much already in the works for 2015

As the arrival of the New Year is a time to reflect on the past, so too is it an opportunity to look toward the future and, if it calls for it, make the necessary adjustments for improvement. In the spirit of list-making that often accompanies the New Year, we decided to make our own wish list for the governmental and quasi-governmental agencies that set and oversee policy in south Columbia County. Here are some of the events we hope to see come to pass in 2015:

• The year 2014 was a rocky one for the city of Scappoose, which saw a parade of interim city managers brought on to fill former City Manager Jon Hanken’s position, and the ultimate firing of police Chief Douglas Greisen. Still, the city is starting the year with fresh promise following the hiring of Michael Sykes, who technically started in his position as Scappoose city manager on Thursday, Jan. 1. In addition to stablizing city government and a return to its role as a trustworthy and responsible steward of city operations and finances, we would also like to see the resolution of the city’s urban growth boundary discussion. A very small number of detractors have sidelined the Scappoose urban growth boundary expansion, in effect sidelining the prospect for positive development at Scappoose Industrial Airpark. Our hope is to see the legal challenges resolved and for the long-envisioned development at the airport to move forward.

• The city of St. Helens was arguably one of the least controversial and most responsibly managed in 2014. We look forward to the continuation of the St. Helens City Council’s methodical approach to the acquisition of the former Boise Cascade Co. veneer plant property. And, sometime soon, we anticipate a discussion about how that property is going to be used. Will it be used as a lure to private developers? As a location for a community college? A maritime heritage museum? A mixed-use commercial and residential complex? A river ferry terminal? Or, perhaps, a combination of all of the above? We look forward to that discussion once the deal settles.

• There were several moments that caused us distress with Columbia County government in 2014. Most recently, the resolution of a cattle neglect case exposed serious issues with how the county had managed the associated seizure and fostering of those cattle. Also, the county’s well-compensated commissioners have too often demonstrated an adherence to a behind-the-scenes, good-ol’-boy system of government that flies in the face of community expectations for transparency. We get it: the county commissioners enjoy the company of industry executives. But just because you get campaign finance money from those industries, it doesn’t change the fact that your privileged representation is intended for the benefit of all the people, both those who did and did not vote for you, in Columbia County. We have a sense we’ll be disappointed on this front in 2015, too.

• Our preferred role for the Columbia River People’s Utility District is one that is in the background, with a staff of dedicated, responsible professionals who ensure the reliable delivery of electricity in south Columbia County at the best price possible. We don’t like seeing the PUD on the front page of the newspaper for administrative angst. In 2015, we look forward to the PUD’s continuation as a community-based agency that maintains reasonable rates and makes smart decisions for long-term benefit of its ratepayers, all accomplished without controversy.

• The South Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, a member-based organization, is in the throes of reconfiguring following the departure of its only compensated staff member. Though we appreciate the numerous financial challenges confronting the chamber, as a member, we would like to see the installation of a long-term executive director who executes the position in action as well as title. Some of those deliverables could include further advocacy for the business community, and fundraising and grant-writing initiatives that expand the chamber’s reach and influence. To its credit, the board appears to be engaged in the process of considering new policy and strategy for advancing the chamber’s purpose, including the prospect of hiring an executive director who could help organize south Columbia County’s businesses into a cohesive, influential and marketable unit.

• Lastly — and with the realization there are numerous agencies omitted from this list due to space — we are looking forward to watching the Port of St. Helens manage its desired expansion at the Port Westward. In 2014, an ambitious initiative to rezone 837 acres of rich agricultural land so that it could be used for industrial purposes, though receiving the blessing of the Columbia County commissioners, was soundly rejected following appeal to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. Now, the port is the position of reconsidering the initiative, and possibly embarking on the lengthy public process necessary to achieve its sought-after rezone. Additionally, as oil prices continue to collapse under the weight of a glut of domestic supply, it’s hard not to anticipate a congressional proposal to begin the national export of crude oil. Should that occur — or even in anticipation of that occurring — it will be interesting to watch the port balance likely industrial pressure to expand oil deliveries to its Port Westward facility against public concerns for rail safety.