by Deborah Steele Hazen
A friend who has been active for many years in volunteering in this community and advocating for economic development, just shakes his head at the fact that it is even necessary to encourage people to support the rezoning of Port of St. Helens-owned land contiguous to the existing Port Westward industrial park so that it can be developed for more industry – job-creating, property-tax-paying industry.
As far as he’s concerned – it’s a “no brainer.”
Why would anyone not want to allow industry – industry that must pass all county, state and federal standards for permits – to create good-paying jobs for local residents and tax revenue for the local service districts on which we depend?
Anyone who needs a job or has a family member who might need a job in the future ought to support this rezone.
Anyone who works for or receives services from the county, the school district, fire district, library; who walks in the park or swims in the pool; who might need an ambulance or a fire truck some day ought to support this rezone.
Anyone who might have occasion to call 9-1-1 or who doesn’t want a revolving door on our jail ought to support this rezone.
That’s just about everybody – right?
One would think so.
But it is necessary to strongly support the Port Westward rezone because there is active and organized opposition who are writing letters, putting pressure on our county commissioners to deny the rezone, criticizing them for having the Sept. 18th hearing on the issue in Clatskanie, making scripted phone calls to county residents, and who will pack the auditorium themselves to lobby against it.
• It is necessary because people who already have what they need and don’t want things to change, or who are against any industry outside of the Portland metropolitan area, are fighting hard against the rezoning.
• It is necessary because some people believe – mistakenly – that the property is being rezoned to allow for a coal terminal. Kinder Morgan, the company that was proposing to bring coal to Port Westward via train, withdrew its proposal in May.
It has been clear to us since then that the Port of St. Helens would not be siting a coal terminal on that property, because of the strong opposition to it, not only from Columbia County residents, but from the highest office in the state.
However, because we kept receiving letters to the editor claiming that the rezoning was for the siting of a coal terminal, we asked Port of St. Helens board of commissioners president Robert Keyser to state – very clearly – that the Port would not consider a coal project for that site. He did that in an article that was the lead story on the front page of this newspaper two weeks ago.
We have received two letters to the editor since then opposing the rezoning on the basis of it being for a coal terminal. We have written back to the letter-writers explaining that their letters were based on a false premise, and we have not heard back from them. To be fair, we are willing to print letters opposing the rezone, but not ones that are based on erroneous information.
For clarification, the Ambre Energy Morrow Pacific project which would see coal brought by barges from the Port of Morrow in eastern Oregon to the dock at Port Westward to be transloaded via an enclosed conveyor system into the holds of Panamax ships, is still very much alive and in the permitting process. But that project has nothing to do with the rezoning proposal.
• It is necessary to strongly support this rezoning proposal by writing to the Columbia County commissioners and attending next week’s meeting (see story on page 1) because some people believe – mistakenly – that this proposal is going to put local farmers out of business. No farmers are going to be displaced by this rezoning, except a portion of Greenwood Resources hybrid poplar farm, and that company willingly sold the property to the Port.
• It is necessary because some people are adamantly opposed to anything that might increase train traffic. Rezoning this property will allow for industrial development that may or may not use the railroad. Regardless of what happens at Port Westward, there is going to be more train traffic – because it is far more economical, fuel-efficent and safer than adding more trucks to our highways.
We might as well accept the fact that this rail line is being used more and will continue to be used more for the foreseeable future and do what we can to mitigate the inconvenience.
• It is necessary because a majority of the members of the Columbia County Planning Commission, for reasons we don’t understand – although they were facing enormous, organized pressure from those opposed to the rezoning – voted against the recommendation of the land use staff.
• It is necessary because there is political pressure that is being brought to bear against the goal of bringing good jobs and needed tax valuation to our county.
• It is necessary because the opponents of more industrial development at Port Westward are blanketing the Columbia County board of commissioners with letters. They are criticizing them for having their public hearing on the issue in Clatskanie next week. They will be here in force on Sept. 18 to attempt to dominate the hearing.
• It is necessary because the future of our community is at stake. Port Westward is our best hope – perhaps our only hope – to site a significant number of new family-supporting jobs in the Clatskanie area. Without those jobs, our population will continue to decline; our business community will continue to wither; our school district, fire district, library and parks will continue to struggle to maintain the services on which we depend.
Change will happen – for the good or for the bad.
Please join the fight for the future of our community.