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  • 23 Nov 2014

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Port considers 'regionally significant' application for industrial areas

The Port of St. Helens made an early move toward applying for a designation that could speed up the permitting process for developments at some or all of its major industrial sites late last month.

The Port Commission heard from its land use attorney, Gary Shepherd, about the prospect of submitting an application under a relatively new Oregon law that allows the state to designate “regionally significant industrial areas” for privileges and protections, including access to expedited project permitting.

Shepherd said the port is allowed to include in its application properties it owns throughout the port district, which runs along the Columbia River from Scappoose north and west to the Clatsop County line, as well as other sites identified by Columbia County or cities in the district.

“We can have Port Westward; we can even include Columbia City; we can include property down in St. Helens, large industrial sites,” Shepherd said. “So we should really look at who can benefit from this application process, and how it can benefit the region as a whole.”

The five port commissioners, as well as Port of St. Helens Executive Director Patrick Trapp, indicated their interest in pursuing a “regionally significant” designation. Trapp said port staff will provide the commission with a written recommendation as to which properties should be included in the application.

Commissioner Chris Iverson asked about the recently rezoned 837 acres of land at Port Westward, the port’s flagship industrial park north of Clatskanie, and whether applying to have it designated a “regionally significant industrial area” would “circumvent” an ongoing appeal of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners’ order to approve the rezoning.

“From a legal standpoint, the property has been rezoned,” Shepherd answered. He said he believed the rezoned land could be pulled from the port’s application for the “regionally significant” designation if the appeal succeeds, but claimed it may not be possible to add the property later if it were left off the application.

“What would be the downside to including everything and then taking it out later if you chose not to do it?” an incredulous Iverson responded. He added, “We certainly don’t want to look at Scappoose Bay or the Port Avenue properties, or anything like that. But where we have large, available chunks of land, I think that we need to put those on the table and look at them.”

“The only downside I see is credibility,” said commission President Robert Keyser. “If we include a bunch of properties that aren’t suitable, then we’re wasting everybody’s time.”

But Keyser added later in the meeting that he thinks the port should include the rezoned land in its application.

“The risk of not including it would be that it could not get in,” Keyser said.

Keyser and other commissioners agreed that Columbia County and cities in the port district should be consulted before the port submits its application. Trapp said the Columbia County Economic Team will also be involved in the process.

Because the discussion of the potential “regionally significant industrial areas” application was held in a work session format, the Port Commission did not take public comment as part of its deliberations on the subject Wednesday, nor did it make a formal decision about applying.

Shepherd, the attorney with whom the commissioners consulted, is a Portland-based lawyer who runs the legal practice Oregon Land Law LLC. He has also represented the Port of St. Helens over the past year in its successful effort to win approval for the rezoning of the property adjacent to Port Westward.

The Port Commission also voted to extend the port’s contract with Shepherd. Trapp said the contract amendment was needed to retain Shepherd as the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals considers an appeal by Clatskanie mint farmer Mike Seely and Hood River-based environmentalist group Columbia Riverkeeper, which want the Port Westward rezoning decision to be overturned.