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Clark County Council picks a track for Chelatchie Prairie rail development

Council moves back to January overlay map proposal and will look to limit some industrial uses

CLARK COUNTY — After hearing loads of negative feedback over a proposal to allow industrial development along part of the Chelatchie Prairie rail line south of Brush Prairie, the county council on Wednesday indicated they’re willing to take a different track.

The Chelatchie Prairie shortline railroad is up for added development under a county proposal. Photo by Chris Brown
The Chelatchie Prairie shortline railroad is up for added development under a county proposal. Photo by Chris Brown

An online survey done after an open house at Hockinson High School over the Freight Rail Dependent Uses advisory committee proposal showed well over 80 percent strongly opposed the idea. Many of the respondents were upset over the committee’s decision to greatly expand the potential overlay area by increasing the definition of “rail adjacent” to one mile, in an effort to include a rural industrial land bank east of SR-503.

“I believe ‘adjacent’ is ‘adjacent meaning you’re right next to it’, and I really can’t — me personally — can’t go across 503 to the rest of the Lagler land and say that’s adjacent,” said Clark County Chair Marc Boldt at a council meeting Wednesday to discuss the proposal. Public comments weren’t heard at the weekly council time meeting, which is intended for councilors to discuss issues and give direction to staff working on resolutions.

“Several people have come to me and told me that they’re afraid what they expected would be the future of their home and their land may be changed by this,” said councilor Jeanne Stewart. “And I think it’s up to us to make sure that that impact is not greater than it has to be.”

This map from January 9 shows the original FRDU Overlay proposal in red. The council has directed the Planning Commission to return to this overlay. Image courtesy Clark County Community Planning
This map from January 9 shows the original FRDU Overlay proposal in red. The council has directed the Planning Commission to return to this overlay. Image courtesy Clark County Community Planning

Councilor Eileen Quiring, who is running for council chair, said she was initially excited at the prospect of bringing new jobs to the area.

“Having been on the advisory committee for the tolling in Oregon, and realizing how many people commute over to the other side of the river for their job,” said Quiring, “it also seemed to me an excellent opportunity to provide an economy on this side of the river for people who live here to be able to work here.”

But after hearing concerns from the public, Quiring said she was open to returning the overlay size to the original council recommendations from January 9, which defined “adjacent” as property within 500 feet of the existing rail line.

“My idea of how this would be developed would be to do it very carefully,” she added, “and to really take into account the surrounding area, so that it wasn’t injurious. But that it would be seen as something positive, both for them and, really, for the county as a whole.”

One issue was the inclusion of heavy industrial in the overlay, which could allow businesses involving asphalt, chemical manufacturing, or other potentially controversial products to be made in the area.

Jose Alvarez, a county planner overseeing the advisory committee, said the planning commission or council would have the option of including heavy industrial, and yet banning certain applications of it.

“In creating this overlay you do have the option of designing how you want to have those uses within this overlay area,” said Alvarez.

“We would have to be very careful with the kinds of heavy industrial that we implement,” Quiring said, “but it doesn’t make much sense for a railroad not to have some heavy industrial.”

Another issue was the option of allowing sewer service to be extended into the overlay area. State law says sewer lines are illegal outside of an urban growth boundary, but the legislation approved last year allowing the Freight Rail Dependent zoning overlays seemed to indicate that sewer would be needed. Ultimately the council decided to include sewer as part of their proposal, understanding that the planning commission might ultimately nix it if the prosecuting attorney determines it would violate state law.

Councilor John Blom said, at this point, he would be unlikely to vote for anything including heavy industrial. Councilor Jeanne Stewart, who admitted her district wouldn’t be directly impacted by the overlay, said she is having trouble deciding on a direction at this point.

“My hope is that maybe we can bring this around full circle and come to a way that we are looking very closely at what are the buffering and the standards, in terms of protecting surface transportation,” said Blom, “as well as the rail, and as well as the neighborhoods.”

“The thought was today we have to narrow it down, or else there’ll be nothing to testify on,” said Boldt. “Really it’s not the options we want, it’s the options we don’t want, to get them off the table.”

Ultimately, Boldt quipped as the council moved on to other business, the results of their meeting were a step forward, but “clear as mud.”

The Clark County Planning Commission will now take on the issue, including the first public hearing, before sending their proposal back to the council for final agreement, possibly as early as December.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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