Commissioners deny meeting attendee's attempt to testify against decision

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Darrel Whipple of Rainier asks the Columbia County Board of County Commissioners to reconsider its decision to allow the expansion of the Port Westward industrial park north of Clatskanie by 837 acres Wednesday, Jan. 15. The board voted to allow the land to be rezoned in November, but it has not yet signed the change into law.The Columbia County Board of Commissioners took a step Wednesday, Jan. 15, toward finalizing its decision last November to approve the rezoning of 837 acres of land north of Clatskanie for industrial use, holding a required first reading of an ordinance to codify the land use decision.

The board voted unanimously in November to approve in part the Port of St. Helens’ application to expand the Port Westward industrial park by 957 acres. Commissioners opted to exclude 120 acres along the Columbia River from rezoning and prohibit a coal export facility on the rezoned land.

Two months after the November vote, Assistant County Counsel Robin McIntyre placed the ordinance to make the decision official before the board at Wednesday’s meeting, but not before Rainier resident Darrel Whipple attempted to testify in opposition to the industrial rezoning.

“I’m here to urge you to reconsider the rezoning of farmland to industrial at Port Westward and call your attention to the transportation difficulties that are coming about as a result of the rush to provide materials to Port Westward through the five cities and rural areas of Columbia County along the [Portland and Western] Railroad,” Whipple said.

Commissioner Tony Hyde interrupted Whipple to ask McIntyre whether the board was allowed to take Whipple’s testimony.

“The record is closed,” McIntyre said. “So there is no more testimony.”

Hyde turned back to Whipple.

“We do have the record closed, which means no more testimony,” Hyde said. “So I’m going to have to cut you off, respectfully.”

Commissioners held a series of public hearings in Clatskanie last year to take public testimony on the port’s application before deciding in November to permit 837 acres to be rezoned.

Many members of the public who spoke against the proposal at those hearings said they were concerned that more development at Port Westward would increase train traffic through the county, just as Global Partners LP’s acquisition of the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery at the energy park has led to an increase in the number of unit trains shuttling crude oil from Portland up to north Columbia County.

The board is expected to hold a second hearing and vote on the ordinance at its Jan. 29 meeting at 10 a.m. in the Columbia County Courthouse.

The timing of the final order is significant because under state law, notice to appeal a land use decision must be filed with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals within 21 days of its signature.

Clatskanie mint farmer Mike Seely and Hood River-based environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper have already signaled their intent to appeal the board’s decision.

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