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Darrel Whipple’s testimony against Port Westward rezoning

Oct. 3, 2013

I am Darrel Whipple, Rainier, Oregon 97048. I have lived here with my family for forty-three years. You all know me from my school teacher career or my volunteer activities. I am a founder and board member of Friends of Fox Creek in Rainier. I served on the county’s Reduce Illegal Dumping Task Force; I continue to serve as vice-chair of the Lower Columbia River Watershed Council and vice-chair of the Columbia County Cultural Coalition Board. But this year is the first time I have actively tried to influence the outcome of the Port District elections, or of a county administrative procedure – this rezoning of farmland to industrial at Port Westward.

As I testified in May at the Planning Commission,

I have a special concern for the Thompson property that is included in the Port’s request by agreement between the parties. This property, which is outlined on the staff’s map, is 171 acres of riparian forest, swamp and wetland along the Columbia outside the dike. It is first-class wildlife habitat just onshore from the historic seining grounds. I monitor this area by observing from Erickson Dike Road looking for birds during the North American Migration Count in May and September of most years. The best use for this strip is as fish and wildlife habitat, not as access to docks serving huge Panamax ships.

 

But that is why it is included in the proposal, to provide river access to a large-scale heavy industry that will export bulk commodities.

No, we don’t know what those commodities will be, but we do know that this whole rezoning effort was tied up with the agreement the Port signed with Kinder Morgan to build a coal terminal to export 30 million tons of coal per year. The properties for rezoning are configured to allow for a rail extension – I’m guessing westward from Quincy – and a rail loop with probably a spur going out to the river where a new dock could be built on the Thompson property. This scenario is suggested or implied in the agreement with Kinder Morgan, which I will submit for the record.

But Kinder Morgan withdrew, and then the story changed. Now it was, We need to qualify for Regionally Significant Industrial Area under Senate Bill 766. Trouble is, that 2011 emergency measure was targeting areas that were already zoned industrial but were under-used. Converting farmland to industrial is a perversion of the spirit of that law, in my opinion, and of course requires an exemption from the county-wide and state-wide land use goals. And that is why the matter has landed on your desks today.

I urge you to deny the Plan Amendment and deny the zone change, supporting the five-to-one recommendation of the Planning Commission.

A primary reason for doing so is that the applicant has not provided sufficient justification for such a huge sacrifice of farmland. Without the coal terminal for you to weigh against the farmland in your values calculation, you are left guessing whether it will be a marshmallow factory served by helicopter deliveries, or something else. There are too many unknowns. We are being sold a pig in a poke.

A second reason for denial is that the applicant has not shown that the proposal will be compatible with existing adjacent uses. Dust, diesel exhaust and heavy truck traffic commonly associated with what the applicant declares will be large-scale, heavy industrial uses are not compatible with mint farms and blueberry farms, as Mr. Seely and Mr. Poysky, among others, can attest.

A third reason for denial is that the applicant has not addressed all the transportation impacts. There is still no rail impact study that explains how a multi-modal marine hub – as Port Westward is being touted – can be served adequately by rail without drastic increases in unit train traffic through five cities along the Highway 30 corridor. That is why Scappoose, St. Helens and Rainier city councils – reflecting the anxiety of their citizens – have expressed by letter or resolution their serious concerns about potential increases in rail traffic. Even the road traffic analysis commissioned by the Port goes out no farther than about eight miles from Port Westward, despite anticipating thousands of additional truck trips per month on Highway 30 and our country roads.

We can’t wait and deal with those impacts after they occur. We can prevent them, instead. At the Planning Commission hearing Mr. Shepherd had it right when he said, "We have no control over what the railroad does." So, if you provide a destination for six unit trains a day incoming, of whatever commodity, then that is likely what you will get. And it will be too late to stop it, especially with reduced local control under Senate Bill 766.

With the reasons I have outlined, you have a strong case for denial. I hope you will see that this is the right course for the county at this time

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29

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