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County concludes port rezone hearing

Record held open for written testimony; deliberations set Nov. 13


The Columbia County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday wrapped up a public hearing on a Port of St. Helens’ application to rezone 957 acres of rich farmland adjacent to the Port Westward Industrial Park north of Clatskanie so that it could be used for heavy industry.

The board held the record open to receive testimony both for and against the application until Oct. 16, at which time it will take written rebuttal through Oct. 23.

The port’s final written argument for the rezone is due Oct. 30 and the county commissioners are expected to meet at the Columbia County Courthouse Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 10 a.m. to deliberate.

Wednesday saw the continuation of the hearing that started Sept. 18 and that was largely dominated by testimony of those in favor of the application, many who argued the chance to generate jobs and economic growth should drive the application’s approval.

The hearing continued Oct. 3, in which opponents voiced concerns ranging from increased train traffic through Columbia County, incompatibilities between nearby farmland and any resulting industrial growth and expected environmental degradation of the target properties.

Port attorney Gary Shepherd of the Portland law firm Oregon Land Law sought to quell opponents’ claims as part of his rebuttal argument, pointing out no specific uses have been identified for the land proposed for rezoning. He additionally referenced local land-use controls as a means for ensuring appropriate uses and said Port Westward and its multi-modal transportation system — river, rail and road — presents the opportunity to make Columbia County attractive to large industrial employers.

“We’re trying to make the county competitive on a global economic scale,” he said.

Shepherd said the application and hearing process has been the most extensive he has been involved with in his 20-year career.