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May 26, 2022

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Rail line industries draft released

New businesses could pop up within a mile of Chelatchie Prairie railroad

By , Columbian political reporter
Published:

Businesses involved in agriculture, construction, chemical and machinery manufacturing and other industries could set up shop one day in the near future along a 33-mile stretch of county-owned rail line.

Since last fall, Clark County has been implementing a change to state law that allows freight-dependent development along land adjacent to the 33-mile rail line, which runs from the BNSF Railway’s main line in Fruit Valley through Hazel Dell and Battle Ground. Earlier this month, a citizen advisory committee released a proposed draft of what kind of industries will be allowed along the rail line and the regulations they’ll face.

Allowed uses include a wide range of manufacturing activities, utilities, wholesale trade, warehousing and others. Some activities, including waste management services, or manufacturing materials such as asphalt, cement or chemicals, would require a conditional use permit. Other activities would be prohibited, including sewage treatment, animal slaughtering, leather tanning, automotive repair, and petroleum and coal products manufacturing.

“Overall, I’m terribly pleased with the process and the end results,” said Eric Temple, the president of Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad, who operates the rail line. “And I think we’re going to be bringing a lot of jobs to Clark County.”

The committee’s proposed regulations allow for the extension of sewer and water services to the new industrial sites, going against recommendations from some members of county staff who argued doing so isn’t allowed under state land use law.

The proposed regulations set the minimum site development area at 10 acres, the minimum lot area at 20 acres and the maximum building height at 100 feet. The regulations also cover odors, noise as well as ground vibrations and electromagnetic interference. Additionally, the proposed recommendations define “adjacent” to include parcels within 1 mile of the rail line.

Speaking during a recent county work session, John Shaffer, a member of the advisory committee, said that this definition of adjacent won’t mean that all land within a mile of the rail line will become industrial development. He pointed out that some parcels in the area are parks, schools, highways and other property unsuitable for industrial development.

Temple said that the 1-mile distance was used in the regulations so the Lagler dairy farm along Highway 503 would be included. The county has previously attempted to set up a rural industrial land bank on the property but has been stymied by state land-use law.

Previously, residents of Brush Prairie have signaled their unease with having industrial development along the rail line that runs through their community. Concerned residents include Brenda Calvert. She co-owns Half Moon Farm in Brush Prairie with her husband, where they keep bees and grow flowers and produce. She said she’s worried about the possibility of industrial pollution in local waterways.

“It only takes one accident,” she said. “What would it do to the area?”

In an e-mail, Sue Marshall, the board president of environmental group Friends of Clark County, reiterated her group’s concerns that the process has been weighted toward rail interests. She also said regulations stretch the definition of “adjacent” and improperly allow the extension of sewer service into rural areas. She described the regulations as an “end run” around state land-use law.

“As proposed, this regulation will result in costly sprawling development, an irreplaceable loss of farmland, challenge the local transportation system and undermine the rural character of the community with the public picking up the tab,” she said.

But Temple said that the regulations are a “good compromise.” He also pointed out that the regulations include requirements for buffering and landscaping that are intended to address concerns from residents.

Republican County Councilor Eileen Quiring said that she’s sensitive to wanting to maintain the “little paradise” that many rural residents enjoy. She said that manufacturers want larger parcels of land and won’t be seeking to develop smaller parcels in residential areas. She said if done correctly, landscaping and buffering requirement can make large manufacturing facilities barely noticeable.

“It’s a real opportunity,” said Quiring. “We own this rail line and we should take advantage of this little jewel we have.”

The public will have a chance to weigh in at an open house in August. The regulations will go to the county council for final approval this fall.

Columbian political reporter

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