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  • 26 Nov 2014

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Our Opinion: Don't let extra rules sink Hayden Island

Portland’s city leaders are about to make a decision that will influence the entire metro-area economy for decades to come. Annexation of West Hayden Island — a piece of land that holds great promise for environmental preservation and economic progress — is now in the hands of the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission.

For the sake of the region’s economy, the commission — and eventually the City Council — must resist loading this long-debated annexation with so many costly requirements that it becomes impossible to develop a portion of the property for a marine terminal.

The Port of Portland, which owns the 800-acre site, already has agreed to multiple conditions for annexation, but as this issue has moved through the city’s process, more and more requirements are suggested. At some point, these conditions for annexation will render the entire exercise pointless, because the cost of developing the site will greatly exceed the market rate the port could receive for the land.

Such an outcome would be damaging to Portland’s economic prospects. A marine terminal and related spinoff activities would create 2,300 to 4,000 good jobs, according to port estimates.

Those numbers, as impressive as they are, don’t tell the whole story. The Portland region’s economy is highly dependent on the continued success of its port. Approximately 143,000 jobs in this area already are tied to the export economy alone, and the overall impact of a new marine terminal could mean as much as $300 million in personal income each year to the region.

Even with those potential benefits, we wouldn’t support development of West Hayden Island if we believed a marine terminal would destroy the surrounding environment or livability on the rest of the island. The port, however, has agreed to preserve most of the property — only 300 of the 800 acres would be developed. The remainder would be retained as wildlife habitat and for passive recreational uses.

Put another way, 62 percent of this island would be left to nature, while the port has committed to invest $26.3 million on items such as road improvements, recreation and island restoration. What the city cannot do, however, is push the price of development so high that it precludes the possibility of the port moving forward.

The Hayden Island site is needed for jobs and the environment, but the city also needs this land to be annexed for another reason: Unless this 300 acres of industrial property comes inside the city, Portland will fall far short of meeting the requirements of statewide land-use laws. Under those laws, the city must maintain a 20-year supply of industrial land and it is 635 acres short of that goal.

The state has a good reason for mandating a steady supply of industrial sites. Without marine terminals, exports and imports, manufacturing and related activities, this state’s economy would sink.

Following years of debate and two recent public hearings, the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission soon will make a recommendation to the City Council on the West Hayden Island annexation. As this process nears its conclusion, planning commissioners and city commissioners must keep the larger picture in mind. Such a balanced view calls for approval of the annexation — with reasonable, but not deal-killing, requirements placed on the port.