Farmers, Conservation Groups Decry Columbia County’s Approval of Controversial Columbia River Estuary Industrial Port Expansion
Long-running effort to rezone hundreds of acres of Columbia River waterfront draws diverse opposition
July 14, 2021 (St. Helens, OR) — Farmers and environmental groups called foul on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners decision to rezone over 830 acres of prime farmland and wetlands for heavy industrial development along the Columbia River. This marks the Port’s third attempt to rezone the area following successful legal challenges brought by a local farmer, Columbia Riverkeeper, and 1000 Friends of Oregon to stop the rezone. Over 1,000 people submitted testimony to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, urging the board to reject the Port’s latest rezone proposal.
“Oregonians value farms and strong salmon runs. The Port of Columbia County’s proposal to trade the county’s prime farmlands for dirty fossil fuel development like fracked gas-to-methanol refineries and oil-by-rail ignores mounting concerns about health, safety, and impacts to farmland and water quality,” said Dan Serres, conservation director for Columbia Riverkeeper.
“This decision is a travesty,” said Jim Hoffmann, a blueberry farmer at Hopville Farms, located near the rezone area. “The Port and the County are turning back the clock on Oregon's land use progress with plans to pave over wetlands on the floodplains of the Lower Columbia River. The Port’s plans will put at serious risk high-value blueberry farms and other high-value crops like peppermint and spearmint.”
Proposed as a potential energy hub, the Port of Columbia County has failed in multiple attempts to industrialize a sensitive tract of low-lying, diked farmlands and wetlands for fossil fuel refineries and terminals. In 2019 the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals’ ruling that Columbia County ignored Oregon law when it doubled the size of Port Westward.
"The soils, sensitive water resources, and valuable farmland at Port Westward are remarkable," said Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, working lands engagement manager at 1000 Friends of Oregon.
“Removing zoning protections for over 800 acres of primarily high-value farmland is no way to thank farmers for their ongoing contributions to our state or to help new farmers gain access to farmland.”
Port Westward is ground zero for a string of controversial fossil fuel developments, including fracked gas, coal, and oil terminals. Examples include:
- Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW) has a lease option to build a fracked gas-to-methanol refinery at Port Westward. NWIW’s lease option contemplates building a methanol refinery within the proposed rezone area.
- From 2013 to 2015, Global Partners operated an oil-by-rail transshipment facility before resuming ethanol shipments. The company maintains regulatory approval to restart oil shipments and the Port amended Global’s lease to allow shipment of tar sands crude oil.
- Portland General Electric currently operates two gas-fired power plants at Port Westward.
- In 2013 and 2014, the Port failed in attempts to site two coal export terminals at Port Westward.
“The future of Columbia County should not be subject to the dying fossil fuel industry which clearly has no future,” said Mary Duvall, a resident of Columbia County and member of Envision Columbia County.
Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon submitted detailed comments describing how the Port’s proposal failed to meet the minimum requirements of Oregon’s land use laws. Oregon law allows for appeals to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, which would likely review the decision in several months.