For almost ten years, the Port of Columbia County has sought to convert to heavy industrial use up to 837 acres of farmland at Port Westward, Oregon, an area known for fertile, deep, unstable peat soils near Clatskanie, Oregon.
Port of Columbia County Ignores Concerns, Pushes Plan to Convert High-Value Farmland in the Heart of the Columbia River Estuary
On December 14, 2022, the Port of Columbia County Commission voted to spend $398,493 of public funds on a fourth attempt to rezone over 700 acres of high-value farmland at Port Westward, in the heart of the Columbia River Estuary. Three out five Port Commission members voted to approve the Port’s latest attempt despite three previous decisions by Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) rejecting the Port’s plans.
For almost ten years, the Port of Columbia County has sought to convert to heavy industrial use up to 837 acres of farmland at Port Westward, Oregon, an area known for fertile, deep, unstable peat soils near Clatskanie, Oregon. The area is located adjacent to homes, farms, a Buddhist monastery, amid wetlands, critical salmon habitat, and sensitive water resources. In 2022, the Port of Columbia County canceled a planned fracked gas-to-methanol refinery in the area proposed for the rezone after strong public opposition from local farmers and clean water advocates. The Port’s previous attempts to rezone the land have fallen flat, as well. In three separate LUBA cases since 2014, Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon successfully argued that the Port’s plans conflicted with Oregon’s land use laws that protect farmland.
Dan Serres, Conservation Director, Columbia Riverkeeper, stated:
"Today's highly unusual decision by three Port of Columbia County commissioners to spend roughly $400,000 of public funds to attempt to industrialize hundreds of acres of high-value farmland at Port Westward defies reason.
LUBA has rejected the Port's approach three times since 2014, most recently in May 2022 when LUBA upheld all of the objections brought by Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon. The Port keeps trying to force the same square peg into the same round hole, at enormous expense to the public.
The Port has heard loud and clear from farmers and other local community members that the fourth rezone attempt threatens farms, residences, and sensitive water resources at Port Westward. Nevertheless, the Port is pressing forward with its ill-conceived plan to create a large new industrial area in the heart of the Columbia River Estuary.
The Port's proposal remains incompatible with neighboring homes, farms, wetlands, and a nearby monastery at Port Westward."
Local farmers, clean water advocates, and uprail communities concerned about long trains bisecting Columbia County cities and towns remain adamant that the Port Westward area is better suited to agriculture, forestry, and fisheries than industrialization.
In May 2022, LUBA agreed with Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends on all of the issues the groups raised and found that the County failed to consider the important natural resources in the area, failed to adequately evaluate the sensitive agricultural uses (specifically mint farming) at Port Westward, and failed to analyze the scale of the potential adverse impacts of the proposed industrial uses on the surrounding area. The Crag Law Center represented Columbia Riverkeeper and 1000 Friends of Oregon in the case.
The Port is expected to apply to Columbia County to rezone the swath of land in 2023.
Adjacent to the rezone area, the Port is continuing to pursue a major non-conventional diesel refinery. The refinery proposed by Houston-based NEXT Renewables LLC is not located on the land the Port proposes to rezone, but a portion of NEXT’s previously proposed rail yard overlapped the rezone area. LUBA reversed approval for NEXT’s rail yard in October 2022, and NEXT has indicated it plans to redesign the rail yard, a significant setback for the proposed NEXT project.
Urge local, state, and federal officials to reject additional permits for the NEXT refinery project.