11 September 2013 by Published in: News No comments yet

Port Westward Rezoning Public Hearing Set Sept. 18 in Clatskanie

by Deborah Steele Hazen

THE PROPERTY contiguous to the current Port Westward Industial Park near Clatskanie that is the subject of a public hearing on Sept. 18 is outlined in the aerial photo in yellow. (See the accompanying story for details). Photo Courtesy of Port of St. Helens

THE PROPERTY contiguous to the current Port Westward Industial Park near Clatskanie that is the subject of a public hearing on Sept. 18 is outlined in the aerial photo in yellow. Photo Courtesy of Port of St. Helens

The Columbia County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposal to rezone 957 acres of land next to the Port Westward industrial park at 6:30 p.m. next Wednesday, Sept. 18, at Clatskanie Middle/High School.

The Port of St. Helens, which owns the Port Westward industrial park on the Columbia River north of Clatskanie, has requested the rezoning of 786 acres of Port-owned property contiguous with the current boundaries of Port Westward as well as 171 acres of privately-owned property from primary agriculture (PA-80) to Rural Industrial-Planned Development (RIPD).

In 2010, the Port of St. Helens purchased the 786 acres from Greenwood Resources, which had previously offered to sell it to investors proposing to build a liquified natural gas terminal on the land. That project never developed.

The 786 acres, now owned by the Port, will continue to be used by Greenwood Resources to grow hybrid poplar trees on the property until it is needed for industrial development. Even after industry is sited there, large agricultural buffers around it are planned.

The remaining 171 acres proposed for rezoning is privately-owned marsh and waterfront beach and has never been under agricultural use, although it is currently zoned PA-80. In the late 19th century up until the 1930s, the beach was used by local fishermen as a horse-seining grounds. It is being proposed for rezoning to allow access to the Columbia River from the Port’s 786 acres.

The Port of St. Helens is seeking the rezone in order to designate its property at Port Westward as a “Regionally Significant Industrial Zone” under Senate Bill (SB) 766, passed in 2011 in a bipartisan effort by the Oregon State Legislature.

Areas designated under SB  766 would have a streamlined permitting process for industrial projects of “statewide significance,” but would still have to abide by all state and federal environmental regulations.

No Coal Proposals

The property in question was the proposed site for the Kinder Morgan proposal to ship coal by train to Port Westward and then load it onto ships. That proposal was withdrawn in May.

After opponents repeatedly claimed that rezoning the property would result in a re-submission of the Kinder Morgan coal train proposal, Port of St. Helens commission president Robert Keyser made a public statement published in the Aug. 29th issue of The Chief that “the Port of St. Helens commission will not consider a coal terminal for the Port Westward property, including the property now proposed for rezoning.

“We looked at Kinder Morgan and logistically it didn’t work for them. We are not interested in going down that road again with either Kinder Morgan or another coal project,” Keyser emphasized.

The Ambre Energy Morrow Pacific coal transloading project, which would see coal barged from the Port of Morrow at Boardman in eastern Oregon to the existing Port Westward dock, would not use any of the property up for rezoning.

Planning for the Future, Protecting Agriculture

No project is currently proposed for the acreage in question. However, rezoning the property to RIPD, “fits with our vision for the future to have this property available for important, job-creating industries,” Keyser said. “We would like to show the same kind of vision that the Port commission did in the 1960s when they purchased Port Westward” – then the decommissioned Beaver Army ammunition depot.

“It may be years or decades before the recently-purchased property is used,” Keyser said. “Even then we have always planned for large agricultural buffers around the industries, and wetland conservation easements are a part of Port Westward.”

“We never expect to see this as an urban industrial area,” Keyser continued. “Nor do we believe that this will negatively impact agriculture outside of our property. In fact, Seely Mint Farm cultivates property within Port Westward (the area which is already zoned industrial) and we would expect that to continue as long as he’s willing to farm it.”

The Port has an agreement with Greenwood Resources to allow it to continue growing hybrid poplar trees on the property in question “well into the future,” Keyser said. “If an industrial project does locate there, we would only take out of farming that land necessary for the project, in cooperation with Greenwood.”

Planning Commission Goes Against Staff Recommendation

Although Columbia County planner Glen Higgins and staff had recommended approval of the rezoning, the county planning commission voted against recommending the rezoning in a split deision June 17.

County commissioners will have the final say on the rezoning. Interested parties are invited to attend the Sept. 18th meeting at Clatskanie Middle/High School and testify before the county commissioners, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Letters of support or opposition to the rezoning proposal may also be sent to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, 230 Strand Street, St. Helens, OR 97051.

Clatskanie School Board Hears Start of Year Reports, Supports PW Rezone

by Deborah Steele Hazen

The Clatskanie School District board of directors heard reports about the start of school and adopted a resolution in support of the rezoning proposal at Port Westward during its meeting Monday, Sept. 9.

The board also adopted the first Monday of the month as its new regular meeting date, changing it from the fourth Monday. The next meeting will be Monday, Oct. 7, at 6:30 p.m., in the Clatskanie Elementary School (CES) media center.

In another action item, the board approved the hiring of retired longtime teacher Karen Slotten to fill a half-time language arts position for one year at Clatskanie Middle/High School (CMHS).

“I’m sure Karen would do a fine job, but fundamentally I have a problem rehiring a retired teacher,” director Monty Akin said. “I’m sure there are other folks out there – new teachers – who would like to do this job.”

“I tend to agree with you on that point, and moving forward I would like to see this school district discontinue the practice of hiring retirees except as substitutes,” said board chair Michael Moravec.

The motion to approve the hiring was made by board vice chair Megan Evenson, seconded by director Valerie King, and passed by a 3-1 vote with Akin in opposition.

“You’ve raised some valid points, and I know it is of concern to the community,” new superintendent/elementary principal Dr. Lloyd Hartley said.

CMHS Principal Jeff Baughman reported on the thunderstorm and the alleged, but unconfirmed lightning strikes on Sept. 5. (See the separate story.)

Baughman and vice principal Amy McNeil reported on training sessions on bullying – particularly cyber-bullying – they had attended and plans for teaching and re-enforcing positive behavior.

“Just banning cell phones is not as successful as teaching appropriate use and enforcing it,” Baughman said he learned at the training. “It is critical to put in solid policies and teach proper use of technology – teach kids right and wrong and enforce the policy.”

McNeil noted that the district has had a cell phone policy in place stipulating that they are not allowed in the classroom. Now, the school staff will be more strictly enforcing that rule.

CMHS student body president Katie Burgher and vice president Megan Strong reported about student leaders assisting with orientation and the “welcome back” assembly. They are making plans for a breast cancer awareness week and homecoming.

CES staff members are working together on emphasizing the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS)  program, and coordinating their efforts on various aspects of education, Hartley reported.

Business manager Janice Essenberg reported the “good news” that the food service program had ended the 2012-13 school year with a $7,000 balance – the first time there has been a positive ending fund balance for a number of years.

The general fund balance was $616,000, lower than the projected $800,000. That is because some property tax receipts did not get properly allocated to the debt service fund.

“We’ve been dipping into our reserves and it’s not sustainable for the long term,” Essenberg said. “We need to be more mindful of spending the reserve funds, and we’re watching enrollment, too.”

Enrollment was recorded at 719 on Sept. 5 – 365 at CMHS and 354 at CES. That is higher than projections, but lower than the end of the last school year’s 725.

Clatskanie School District enrollment, which is usually higher in the fall than it is in the spring, has dropped every year over the past four years. In September of 2012 enrollment was 744; it was 784 in Sept. 2011, and 805 in Sept. 2010.

Resolution in Support of Port Westward Rezoning

Following a brief discussion, the school board unanimously approved a resolution supporting the rezoning at Port Westward. (See separate story for more details.)

The resolution reads in part:

“Whereas: The Clatskanie School District is currently State funded on a per student basis and faces declining enrollment almost every year, negatively impacting its ability to sustain a quality educational program.

“Whereas: The taxing districts receiving property taxes from industry located on the property up for rezoning include Clatskanie School District.

“Whereas: The proposed rezoning would increase the potential for the property tax base at the Port Westward industrial park to reach the level at which the Clatskanie School District may choose to be removed from the state per student funding formula.

“Whereas: Industrial installations create family wage jobs, increasing the likelihood of student population growth for the Clatskanie School District.

“Whereas: Industry and family wage jobs in the community would increase the economic stability of the district and would bring a greater potential for donations, business partnerships, and volunteerism.

“Be it now resolved that the Clatskanie School Board is in support of the rezoning of 957 acres contiguous to the current Port Westward industrial park on the Columbia River north of Clatskanie from the current primary agriculture (PA-80) to Rural Industrial-Planned Development (RIPD).”

Lightning Strikes in Clatskanie During Sept. 5th Storm 

by Deborah Steele Hazen

For the first time in memory, lightning struck inside the city limits of Clatskanie last Thursday evening, Sept. 5.

The storm also dumped 1.93 inches of rain on the community – only one one-hundredth of an inch less than the record rainfall for one day in September of 1.94 set on Sept. 7, 1978.

The thunder and lightning storm rolled into Clatskanie  from the south  late in the afternoon last Thursday.

At 5:48 p.m., the Clatskanie Rural Fire Protection District (CRFPD) was dispatched to Howard Drive where residents reported that a tree was hit by lightening.

At about the same time, heavy rain began to fall.

At 5.55 p.m., the CRFPD was notified that the fire alarm had been set-off at Clatskanie Middle/High School (CMHS) as loud thunder shook the building.

Witnesses have reported seeing lightning strike the atrium area at the school, as well as a goal post on the athletic field. But, CMHS Principal Jeff Baughman reported at Monday’s school board meeting that “we have no confirmation that the grounds and the building were hit.”

However, Baughman said, since the storm the school has been experiencing some technology problems, including with the bell and intercom systems.

He commended the CRFPD and the City of Clatskanie police department for their “very quick responses.” Baughman also praised the work and response of district maintenance supervisor Doug Aske, custodians Gary Nolan and Gary Jones;  CMHS vice principal Amy McNeil who conducted the evacuation of the school when the alarm went  off twice during volleyball games; the players, students and patrons for their patience in waiting under the covered entrance area during both the first alarm and the second that went off at 7:42 p.m. because of another malfunctioning sensor, and the football team “for getting off the field as quickly as they did.”

Lightning: What You Need to Know

The following lightning safety tips are from the National Weather Service website:

NO PLACE outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area!!

If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.

When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter: a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up.

Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.

Indoor Lightning Safety

Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity.

Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.

Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.

Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.

Last Resort Outdoor Risk Reduction Tips

If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby the following actions may reduce your risk:

Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks.

Never lie flat on the ground.

Never shelter under an isolated tree.

Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.

Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water.

Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.).

New MBRFPD Chief is Fourth Generation Firefighter

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CONTINUING A LEGACY OF FIREFIGHTING is Joe Kaczenski, the new fire chief for the Mist-Birkenfeld Fire Protection District (MBRFPD), pictured with his father Chet Kaczenski at right, and stepfather Don Nash at left, who are retired Portland firefighters. Both were present to watch Chief Kaczenski being sworn in on Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Mist-Birkenfeld community picnic held at the main station. Joe’s grandfather and great-grandfather were firefighters as well, and his son Travis, who is pursuing a career in firefighting, carries the tradition into the fifth generation.

Officially appointed as the new MBRFPD fire chief Aug. 1, Kaczenski is a 16-year career firefighter for the Hillsboro fire department. Joe joined the Mist-Birkenfeld department as a volunteer in 2001, and he and his wife Ginger and their three children have resided in Birkenfeld for the past 13 years. He plans to continue his full-time employment with the Hillsboro department for the next two years, before transitioning to full-time at MBRFPD.

Retiring MBRFPD fire chief Dave Crawford who served as chief for 24 years is assisting on a part-time basis to help the transition go smoothly. Chief Photo by Cindy Bloomer

Jail Limits Force Release of Burglary Suspects

by Adam J. Wehrley

Investigations by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and the Clatskanie Police Department (CPD) into a string of burglaries continues, with the recent arrest of several suspects.

Sheriff Jeff Dickerson described the connections between individuals involved in the various cases as “convoluted.” He also disclosed that much of the stolen property has been recovered and is being returned to its owners.

On Wednesday, Sept. 4, both Jennifer Vasey and Joshua Eldred, who were named as suspects by CPD Chief Marvin Hoover and pictured in the Sept. 5th issue of The Chief were arrested for theft and lodged at the Columbia County Jail. Both were released, due to the limited number of inmates being held at the jail.

Two other suspects connected to the burglaries have also been in custody in the past week, Tiffany Kelly-Ellis and Brook Waits.

Ellis was arrested on Thursday, Sept. 5, along with Vasey who was re-arrested and then released again.

Sheriff Dickerson described Ellis as the “fence” for what may be two separate crime rings. She faces charges of Burglary 1, Burglary 2 and Receiving Stolen Property.

The Sheriff named Marvin Elder as another suspect in the ring and indicated that other individuals were being investigated.

Meanwhile burglaries continue. Antique toy trains, rare coins and certificates and a pressure washer were reported stolen by one Clatskanie resident and as of Tuesday, Sept. 10, the trains had been recovered.

Another resident reported that a shed had been broken into, but reported no stolen property. 40 empty pallets were stolen from Johnson Family Feed.

While many of the recent targets have been shops and out building, Sheriff Dickerson reported that the suspects were also targeting vacant homes whose previous residents were either elderly and no longer living at home or deceased.

He stressed that the investigation is still on going. Currently none of the suspects named in connection to these crimes are in custody.

Citizens witnessing an active crime are asked to call 9-1-1. The police non-emergency dispatch number is 1 800 696 7795.

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