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COLUMBIA COUNTY HEARS OVERWHELMING OPPOSITION TO EXPANSION OF FOSSIL FUEL DEVELOPMENT ON LOWER COLUMBIA RIVER

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Aug. 3, 2017 (Clatskanie, OR)—The Port of St. Helens’ controversial proposal to rezone 837 acres of farmland for heavy industrial development faced fierce opposition at a hearing before the Columbia County Board of Commissioners Wednesday night. Farmers, local business owners, commercial fishermen, retired teachers, and many others delivered passionate testimony to the Board on issues ranging from the value of local farms to the threats from oil-by-rail and other fossil fuel development. The hearing marks the Port’s second attempt to convert high-quality farmland along the Columbia River to industrial development, including oil-by-rail terminals, fracked gas-to-methanol refineries, and fertilizer plants. In 2014, the Land Use Board of Appeals overturned a nearly identical proposal by the Port.

“Good agriculture jobs are on hold in Columbia County because of the uncertainty polluting industry proposed under the rezone creates for local farms,” explained blueberry farm owner James Hoffmann. “We need a commitment from the county that we can farm without constant risk to water and food safety.” Mr. Hoffmann described high crop yields from his farm, located in the same drainage district as the proposed rezone, and his reluctance to invest if the county opens the gates for industrial developments like oil-by-rail.

Reflecting the widespread impacts of fossil fuel development on the Columbia River, the County Commissioners heard testimony from Columbia County residents, citizens from Cowlitz and Clark County, Washington, and Clatsop County, Oregon. The Clatsop County Democrats testified in opposition to the rezone, noting that fossil fuel projects like liquefied natural gas (LNG)—a potential industry at the rezone site—faced fierce opposition for over a decade in neighboring Clatsop County. Local residents defeated both LNG proposals. The Commissioners also received a letter from the Oregon Department of Agriculture, describing significant concerns about the impacts of industry to neighboring farms, home to some of the most productive soil in Columbia County.

Port Westward is a hub for energy export ventures. Port Westward is home to Global Partners, an oil-by-rail trans-shipment facility that operated from 2013 to 2015 before switching to ethanol. The company maintains regulatory approval to resume oil shipments. The site is also the former home to two coal export proposals and the company Northwest Innovation Works holds a lease option to build a fracked gas-to-methanol refinery.

“The fight over farmland in northern Columbia County shows how Big Coal and Big Oil have galvanized communities up and down the Columbia River,” stated Dan Serres, Conservation Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “Fossil fuel companies underestimated people’s fierce passion for salmon, safety, and clean water. From commercial fishermen to farmers to parents raising their kids in river communities, dirty industry at the expense of safety and clean water won’t fly.”

The Board will meet on September 13, 2017, to deliberate and vote on the proposed rezone.

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