Farmer and Riverkeeper Take Legal Action to Protect the River and Farmland

A controversial effort to open up over 800 acres of high quality farmland along the Columbia River for industrial development, including oil-by-rail terminals, hit a major roadblock. On August 27, 2014, in a unanimous decision, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) rejected the Port of St. Helens’ proposal to rezone 837 acres of farmland for industrial development.  In 2013 the Port of St. Helens proposed nearly doubling the size of its Port Westward industrial property—home to Oregon’s only oil-by-rail terminal—for projects including coal export and oil-by-rail.  Columbia Riverkeeper was joined by local farmer and business owner Mike Seely in the appeal and was represented by Crag Law Center.   LUBA rejected the Port’s argument that the area needs more industrial-zoned land to thrive.

The Port’s proposal to convert over 800 acres of high-quality farmland to industrial zoning met fierce opposition from local farmers and community members, who expressed concern about an oil spill tainting their shared water supply. The Columbia County Planning Commission recommended denial because the change violated local farmland protections, yet they were overturned by the County Commission.

“We’ve created a successful rural industry in Columbia County but the Commission is choosing oil trains over local business. We’re fighting for our company and the jobs that we provide. We’d be wiped out if this rezone proceeds,” says Mike Seely, owner of Seely Mint Farm, neighbor to the contested acreage at Port Westward. “Seely Mint products will be in every Whole Foods in the nation by the end of 2014. We’re ramping up production and hiring more people, but not if a polluting industry pushes us out.”

As a result of LUBA’s ruling, the County must re-evaluate the application and issue a new decision on the proposal. As part of its review, the County must analyze and explain why the vacant land at the existing Port Westward site and other sites around the County cannot accommodate new industrial uses. The County must also identify a close, direct relationship between the reasons given for expanding the industrial park, and the proposed uses of that land. In addition, LUBA held that the County may not defer analysis of adverse impacts of the proposal to a later time, but instead must evaluate those impacts before approving the goal exception and zone change. Finally, the County must evaluate whether the proposed industrial uses will be urban or rural in nature, and limit uses to rural uses.

See press release announcing our appeal to the Land Use Board of Appeals

See our press release announcing our victory at the Land Use Board of Appeals

Read Riverkeeper’s legal comments outlining our concerns about the rezoning of agricultural land to industrial use at Port Westward.

 

Seely Mint Farm

Seely Mint Far

 

DONATE TO THE PORT WESTWARD FUND

We can’t do this without you! Please donate to our Port Westward Fund and forward this request to your friends and neighbors committed to preserving farmland and stopping dangerous oil and coal trains from disrupting Columbia County.

For online donations, please indicate in the box designated ‘This donation is in honor of’ that your donation is a contribution to the Port Westward Legal Fund.

For check donations, write Port Westward Legal Fund on the memo line. Send checks to:

Columbia Riverkeeper
111 Third Street
Hood River, Oregon 97031
 

For questions about Port Westward, please contact Riverkeeper’s Community Organizer, Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, at (503) 929-5950 or jasmine@columbiariverkeeper.org.