Vote to put Port Westward expansion approval in writing leaves door open for legal appeal

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia County Commissioners Alex Tardif, Margaret Magruder and Henry Heimuller meet Wednesday, Feb. 21, to give final approval to an ordinance allowing more than 830 acres of farmland to be rezoned for industrial use.A split vote from the Columbia County Board of Commissioners marked final approval of an 837-acre farmland rezone to expand Port Westward Industrial Park.

Commissioners voted 2-1 Wednesday, Feb. 21, with Commissioner Alex Tardif opposed, to approve a second and final reading of an ordinance allowing a planning goal exception and rezone of agricultural land in Clatskanie to resource industrial.

The vote to approve the ordinance puts the county's decision in writing, following an initial approval from commissioners on Nov. 29.

Wednesday's vote, which was absent of any discussion from commissioners, means an appeal could be imminent.

The Port Westward expansion project has been controversial since it was first c

onsidered by the county in 2013.

Citing a lack of available industrial land in Columbia County, Port of St. Helens officials say they need to add more land at Port Westward to bring in new industrial tenants and spark job growth. Environmental advocates have long opposed the expansion project, saying it wipes out high value farmland in exchange for fossil fuel and other industrial projects that have negative impacts to the county.

If an appeal of the county's decision is filed with the state's Land Use Board of Appeals, it would mark the second time approval of the rezone request faced state scrutiny.

In 2014, after county commissioners approved the Port's initial request to rezone farmland, LUBA remanded the project, in-part, leading the Port to hire a land use consulting firm to revise the project application. In mid-2017, the Port re-submitted its rezone request to the county, this time with specific industrial uses for the site called out in the application.

Last December, Port commissioners voted to set aside as much as $40,000 in additional legal fees to address any appeals that may be filed in response to the latest approval from the county.

Around the same time, Columbia Riverkeeper, the environmental advocacy group that backed the first appeal in 2014, announced it had received nearly $11,500 in donations over two weeks to use toward a legal appeal.

"By exceeding our fundraising goal, we can bring more legal muscle to this case," Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, a senior organizer with Columbia Riverkeeper, wrote in a letter to supporters in January.

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