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Aug. 13, 2022

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Clark County closes in on rules for land along tracks

Council eyes options for industrial development in railroad-adjacent area

By , Columbian political reporter
Published:

The Clark County Council has agreed on general outlines for how much-anticipated industrial development along the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad will be regulated.

For the last year, the county has grappled with how to implement ESB 5517, a bill signed by Gov. Jay Inslee that permits industrial development adjacent to the 33-mile stretch of county-owned railroad.

The new law has been hailed as a way to bring good-paying jobs to Clark County. However, for much of the last year, the county has been mired in disagreements over what regulatory hurdles need to be cleared, whether sewer service can be extended to developments along the line and how expansive a definition to use for the word “adjacent.” At the council’s Wednesday afternoon meeting, some of those issues appeared to be resolved. But at least one is likely to resurface.

The council agreed to move forward with implementing a modified version of one of multiple options presented by staff. But the council’s preferred option could be modified again after it’s reviewed further and the public is given more opportunities to weigh in.

“We are not making a final decision,” said Councilor Eileen Quiring. “We are narrowing the options.”

The council’s preferred option would use an overlay map approved by the council earlier this year that allows for industrial development within 500 feet of the rail line. The definition of adjacent preferred by the council is more restrictive than one proposed by an advisory committee. Earlier this spring, the advisory committee called for allowing industrial development within a mile of the rail line.

The committee also issued a draft of regulations that outline what industries would be allowed, including a wide range of manufacturing, utilities, wholesale trade and others. Under the committee’s recommendations, some industrial activities such as waste management services, or manufacturing materials such as asphalt, cement or chemicals, would require a conditional use permit.

A point of concern on the council was whether to allow “heavy industrial” uses. During the meeting, Jose Alvarez, a county planner, said heavy industrial uses are activities that require a higher degree of environmental scrutiny and include asphalt manufacturing, as well as some chemical or paper manufacturing and other activities. He did note that the category included sawmills, leather tanning and wood preservation businesses.

Residents who live near the rail line have been vocally opposed to the project, and the council was presented with the results of a survey conducted by the county that showed its unpopularity.

Councilor Jeanne Stewart, who noted that her west Vancouver district is not served by the rail line, said that she was sympathetic to the concerns of residents but said some less desirable uses might be necessary.

“I’m not sure it makes sense to have a railroad at all that doesn’t have some adjacent heavy industrial use,” she said.

The council’s preferred option does include the option to limit heavy industrial uses. The proposal now will head to the Clark County Planning Commission, which will hold a hearing and make a recommendation back to the council.

One issue that could arise as a point of contention is the issue of extending sewer to industrial developments along the rail line. The council’s preferred option would allow for sewer to be extended to the new industrial development. But some members of the county council and staff disagree on whether doing so is permitted under state law.

“That puts us in a rough spot,” said Clark County Council Chair Marc Boldt.

Columbian political reporter

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