17 April 2013 by Published in: Opinion No comments yet

Defining “Livability”

by Deborah Steele Hazen

My definition of “quality of life” and “livability” implies having a job which can support a family, and having enough tax valuation to support the essential public services such as law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical, 9-1-1 and schools.

Last week’s “Trident” column in response to the Rainier city council’s opposition to the zone change of 957 acres owned by the Port of St. Helens at Port Westward has received quite a bit of comment. Most of it has been in the way of off-the-record “bravos.”

Inside this newspaper are three letters to the editor disagreeing with our opinion, and part of this column is devoted to correcting some factual errors and/or what we believe are misunderstandings in those letters.

First is that “quality of life” issue. There are towns all over this state and nation that have much more train traffic running through them than Rainier, and somehow they have learned to live with it.

We don’t want to harm the quality of life for our neighbors, but we think jobs and tax valuation are very important too.

What about the quality of life for those 54 percent of Rainier elementary school students whose families have incomes below the poverty line? Wouldn’t it be nice for their parents to have a chance at a good-paying job just a few miles away?

One of our letters refers to the number of permanent jobs “related to coal” as 25-50. That number is associated with the new jobs that would come to Port Westward if the Ambre Energy Morrow Pacific coal export facility becomes reality.

That project wouldn’t use the rail at all!

It wouldn’t use the property proposed for rezoning.

It would bring coal in enclosed barges from Boardman in eastern Oregon to the Port Westward dock where it would be loaded through an enclosed conveyor system onto Panamax ships.

Currently, the Morrow Pacific project is mired in Oregon’s permitting process, and the governor’s call for “programmatic” reviews of the global issue of coal.

The coal project which theoretically could locate on a portion of the acreage acquired by the Port of St. Helens for the expansion of the industrial park for any number of potential job-creators, is the Kinder Morgan project.

Kinder Morgan has proposed to bring coal to a portion of the Port Westward property via train to be loaded onto ships for export. That project would bring around 80 permanent jobs, plus 150 or more construction jobs. But we don’t believe it will ever happen.

In January of 2012, the Port of St. Helens and Kinder Morgan signed an agreement covering an 18-month period during which Kinder Morgan would perform its “due diligence” – investigating whether it would even start the permitting process. That agreement expires in June.

Kinder Morgan successfully operates 185 coal terminals all over North America. Facing opposition not only from environmentalist groups, but from the state’s highest-ranking officials, why would they waste a bunch more time and money here? We’re pretty sure they can find other alternatives with fewer hassles.

What’s more, Port of St. Helens commission president Robert Keyser pointed out this week that in its agreement with the company, the Port “required Kinder Morgan to meet with the cities, identify issues and work to solve them.”

Clearly, the issues with Rainier haven’t been solved.

We would note that representatives from Columbia City and Scappoose accepted the Port’s invitation to visit Kinder Morgan facilities on the East Coast, and talked to people who lived by the facilities and near the railroad tracks. They came away satisfied.

The Rainier mayor was offered the same opportunity and declined.

One of our letters to the editor this week contends that “some of the most productive agricultural lands in the state of Oregon” are located near Clatskanie, and predicts that the future will bring more high value crops. new farming techniques, jobs and tax valuation.

We wish that were true. We applaud the very few successful farming operations that remain in the Clatskanie area. But, there are thousands of agriculturally-zoned acres in our area that are under-utilized.

The biggest agricultural operator on the dikelands is Greenwood Resources which was the willing seller of the 957 acres now up for rezoning from agriculture to rural industrial at Port Westward.

Agriculture never has nor ever will provide the numbers of  family wage jobs and tax valuation that will allow the children and grandchildren of current area residents to remain here and enjoy a good quality of life.

And, finally, yes, the Port of St. Helens did help bring U.S. Gypsum to Rainier. In fact, the Port built the dock. Among the reasons USG settled on the site were its rail and water access.

It’s About Jobs, Not Coal

The point is that as much as the opponents want to make the issue of creating more industrially-zoned land at Port Westward about coal. It isn’t.

Nor is it necessarily about adding more traffic to the rail lines.

The Portland General Electric projects at Port Westward don’t use the rail. If Ambre Energy is successful in its permitting, it won’t use the rail. There are other industries that might locate at Port Westward and not use the rail either.

We’re pretty certain, however, that rail traffic on the Portland and Western line is not going to decrease in the foreseeable future, and will probably increase. Rainier has no control over that.

There is quite a bit of talk about potential industrial growth along the Lower Columbia River in Clatsop County at Bradwood or Tongue Point.

That wouldn’t do anything for the taxing districts in Columbia County, it wouldn’t create any jobs here, and it wouldn’t do anything to improve Rainier’s railroad problem.

The best shot Rainier has at improvements to the rail line is via an expanded Port Westward industrial park where Port of St. Helens and Columbia County officials can require some infrastructure investments.

Good governance is – in large part – about building good relationships.

North Columbia County needs jobs. Columbia County needs big industrial valuations to meet the rising costs of public services. The Port Westward rezoning is good for the quality of life in all of Columbia County.

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