26 March 2014 by Published in: Opinion No comments yet

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A Vision of Clatskanie’s Future from 15 Years Ago

Editorial Comments

by Deborah Steele Hazen

Exactly 15 years ago – in the spring of 1999 – we participated in a process to create a strategic plan for the community and economic development of Clatskanie.

That process, which lasted several months and involved over 40 interested citizens of this community and regional leaders, was led by Rural Development Initiatives, Inc., and was funded by grants from the U.S. Forest Service, the Oregon Economic Development Department and Columbia County.

The final product of this effort, besides a great deal of good discussion and input, was a 25-page strategic plan, including a “community vision” describing what Clatskanie would be like in 2015.

It is an interesting statement, melding together the priorities of the volunteers who participated in the process. Some of it has come true, or is in the process of coming true, other portions of the vision have changed or just not happened.

Here are some highlights of that “vision for the Clatskanie area in 2015,” and our assessment of the current situation.

“Clatskanie has maintained its small town flavor and rural feeling through planning and managed growth. Clatskanie is a safe place to live with affordable housing, abundant employment opportunities, and recreation. There is a balanced economy of tourism, light industry, and small businesses.”

We would give this a mixed review. The small town flavor and rural feeling has certainly been maintained. Although the city and its planning commission approved, after much discussion, the Clatskanie Woods housing development, it has been stymied by the lack of “abundant employment opportunities,” and other housing starts have been few and far between.

• “The downtown business district has a unified appearance which emphasizes local heritage. Attractive signage draws visitors passing through on Highway 30. Clatskanie has a friendly business climate and a diversified commercial district that reflects an emphasis on local availability of basic consumer goods, healthful living, entertainment opportunities and an appreciation for the arts. Environmentally friendly farms and gardens in the surrounding rural area grow produce sold locally, and cottonwood is harvested for paper fiber. Businesses are self sufficient and find it easy to do business with the city and county.”

Several of the owners of downtown businesses have improved the appearance of their buildings. The current restoration of the old I.O.O.F. Hall/theatre building is a major improvement, along with the additions of the Clatskanie River Inn, the Clatskanie Town Centre, and the new Clatskanie People’s Utility District (PUD) building – all of which have been added in the past 15 years.

But, there are still unattractive buildings and unkempt lots along the highway, that detract from the appearance of the community and the impressions given to visitors and passersby.

The Oregon Department of Transportation improvement of Highway 30 through Clatskanie fell short of expectations.

There are unused or under-utilized business properties that are witnesses to a less than prosperous and diversified economy.

In regard to the “environmentally friendly farms,” etc., we are delighted to hear of the plans for a Farmers’ Market this summer.

“Clatskanie has a number of commercial and industrial areas in the city. There is also the Port Westward Industrial Park just a short drive from town” which would have a new highway “making a short drive for employees and trucks moving material in and out of the site.”

“Clatskanie has wisely used its light industrial land to provide diversified jobs from several smaller responsible companies. Good planning and zoning have contributed to a balance of light industry with space for housing, public service, parks and schools. The timber industry continues to be a significant factor in the local economy through sustainable practices.”

We have not seen as much commercial growth as envisioned and virtually no light industrial development within the City of Clatskanie’s urban growth boundary.

The route to Port Westward has been improved, and the costs are being paid off by the new industries locating there. It was not, perhaps, the route that some would have preferred, but it was the one deemed the most affordable through a long study process by the county.

Also envisioned were:

• Diversified retail businesses, a river community with kayaking, fishing, water skiing and boating, as well as sternwheelers coming into Clatskanie; a skate park, fishing ponds, family music events, an outdoor water park, mountain bike trails and a variety of accommodations. Jones Beach would be, according to the vision, a destination for windsurfing and the setting for a kite fesival with permanent restrooms and a park host.

We also hoped to have…

• A timber museum, an RV park, a golf course and a marina – all at the old Beaver Mill property – a community center, gym and fitness center, teen club, softball complex, racquet ball courts and indoor as well as outdoor pools.

• Everyone would drive slowly through the business districts, and improvements to Highway 30 would include a safe pedestrian crossing and landscaping. A truck rest stop was to be located on the edge of town, allowing trucks to park safely off the road. “Even with the highway, the community has developed a pedestrian-friendly environment.”

• The health clinic in town offers both doctors and nurse practitioners. 

We are now in the process of losing one health clinic, but hopefully gaining another.

• The schools are well-funded and supported, and community college classes are offered here. There are job opportunities for youth.

• Water, sewer and street infrastructure has been improved. Overhead lines have been undergrounded. “High speed data transmission has aided the attraction and retention of numerous home-based business.

• All ages work together cooperatively for the good of the community. “Clatskanie is a great place to live, work, shop and recreate.”

The strategic plan outlined specific goals in the areas of business development, workforce, quality of life and infrastructure.

Those goals included:

• Creating a thriving, attractive business district by 2003 with a unified theme that emphasizes the heritage and natural beauty of the area.

• Support efforts to locate an industry(ies) at Port Westward with at least 150 jobs with wages above the median county wage by 2005.

• Identify acceptable and adequate route to Port Westward.

• Increase school funding to allow the restoration of pre-1990 programs options by the year 2004.

• Increase the recreational opportunities in Clatskanie.

• Increase access and infrastructure to at least 200 new housing units within the city boundaries in the next five years.

Clearly, there have been some successes. Some of these visions have come true, others have been re-envisioned, new visions have been created, and we are still working on the rest.

Setting the Record Straight on Port Westward

Contrary to what was envisioned for the cottonwood plantations, they failed as a source of paper fiber, and, in fact, the current owners have willingly mitigated some of their property into wetlands, and sold, in 2010, 786 acres adjacent to the Port Westward industrial park to the Port of St. Helens for the purpose of industrial development.

It is that property which the Port is seeking to rezone – (the rezoning is currently being appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals) – to allow for future industrial development, job creation, and the high property tax valuation, which will help the county, the local school district, the fire district, library, park and recreation, etc.

We would like to make some points about issues related to Port Westward:

• Opponents to industrial development attempt to deny the extreme importance of high industrial valuation, citing enterprise zone tax exemptions and the property taxes that are captured by the Port Westward Urban Renwal District/Columbia County Development Agency.

The enterprise zone tax exemptions are a maximum of five years, and then those companies start paying full property taxes. Developments which choose the “Strategic Investment Program” – such as the Portland General Electric plant now under construction at Port Westward – begin making significant payments to the county and local taxing districts as soon as construction is completed and they begin operating.

• The more development we get at Port Westward, the faster the urban renewal debt will be retired, and the more local service districts will benefit.

• The “COLCO Dev. Agency” line on property tax statements is not an added tax to individuals, it represents the amount that would be distributed to the other tax districts when the urban renewal debt is paid off by the industries locating there.

• Contrary to what is implied in a newsletter being circulated by a group calling itself “Clatskanie Forward,” the rezoning of the Port-owned property and a portion of the Thompson property does not take any working farms out of business. The only farming taking place on the property to be rezoned is a cottonwood plantation that was – as stated above – willingly sold.

• The rezoning does not encompass “about two miles of wildlife habitat along the Columbia River,” as claimed by “Clatskanie Forward.” About two-thirds of a mile of shoreline just downstream from the current Port Westward dock (in use since World War II) is included in the rezone.The Columbia County commissioners excluded two of the three Thompson-family-owned tax lots from the rezoning at their meeting in November.

Some other points of correction to the misinformation being circulated:

• It was the Port of St. Helens commissioners, not the Columbia County commissioners, who took a coal terminal out of consideration for the property being rezoned.

• The pictures shown in the “Clatskanie Forward” newsletter are not of the land being rezoned.

• The land being proposed for the new $1 billion methanol plant is already zoned for heavy industrial. It is not being farmed, and it’s on the opposite side of the industrial park from the land being rezoned.

Farms and Industry Can be Neighbors

We are in favor of agriculture. We believe it is an important cog in the economic wheel and adds to the quality of life in the Clatskanie area. We look forward to patronizing a local farmers’ market.

But, we also know that industrial jobs are essential to a healthy economy. In Port Westward we have one of the best industrial sites/marine terminals on the Columbia River. That is why the United States government chose it for an ammunition storage and shipment point in the opening days of World War II.

For the past 70 years, industry (and we’re including the Army ammunition base in that category), farming and wildlife habitat have coexisted on the Beaver dikelands.

We are convinced they can continue to do so if – as was envisioned 15 years ago – “all… work together to help each other and build a better community.”

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