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News / Business / Clark County Business

Battle Ground opposes Clark County proposal to allow industrial development along railroad

Battle Ground City Council unanimously passes resolution against expanding county zoning overlay

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 26, 2024, 6:05am

Battle Ground officials are pushing back on Clark County’s proposal to allow industrial development along a railroad that passes through the city. At its March 18 meeting, the Battle Ground City Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing expansion of a county zoning overlay for so-called freight-rail dependent uses.

The overlay currently applies to properties within 500 feet of the rail line between Northeast 119th and 149th streets in the Brush Prairie area. It excludes land in the center of Brush Prairie and land zoned for single-family homes on 5,000-square-foot lots.

Following a protracted legal battle, the Clark County Council began considering what to do with the county’s 33-mile-long short line railroad last year. A state law passed in 2017 allows Clark and Okanogan counties to move forward with rail-dependent industrial development on rural and resource land adjacent to their railroads.

In August, the county’s railroad advisory board presented several recommendations to the county council for consideration. Perhaps the most contentious of them was expanding the overlay area from 500 feet adjacent to the line to 1 mile, as well as applying that definition to the entire rail line. The railroad extends from Chelatchie Prairie in rural northeast Clark County to Northwest Lakeshore Avenue in Vancouver.

Battle Ground City Councilor Cherish DesRochers said she had several concerns about the freight rail plans, including the possible use of eminent domain to seize either the city’s property or privately owned property. Those concerns are the result of earlier communications from Eric Temple, president of Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad, which leases the rail line from the county. Temple had said he had already used eminent domain to obtain property.

“One of my concerns, as a resident and city councilor, is all the work we’ve put into the Growth Management Act and if there is potential for something like that to happen, it messes up all the work we’ve done,” DesRochers said.

Other concerns addressed in the resolution included whether increased train traffic would decrease property values for homes near the rail line, which would mean less tax revenue for the city, and increase safety risks.

The Battle Ground City Council’s resolution also states that “millions of dollars in government funding will be required to upgrade and maintain this line which would be better served elsewhere.”

Additionally, the council said it would like to see the rail line used to drive tourism-related activities.

A day after the resolution was passed, County Council Chair Gary Medvigy said he was disappointed in the city’s actions.

“Resolutions are a really poor way to communicate,” Medvigy said at the county council’s March 19 meeting.

Medvigy said he met with Battle Ground Mayor Troy McCoy but said city leaders have not been communicating with the county.

More information on the Freight Rail Dependent Use overlay and rail development is available at clark.wa.gov/community-planning/freight-rail-dependent-uses.

“The moral of the story is we really need … some kind of check-in with each of our cities,” Medvigy said.

The county is now working with a consultant to develop a public engagement process and provide planning assistance for the legislative process.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.