Hearings required if industrial park proceeds in Oregon

Kelly J. Kaczala

        Oregon Mayor Mike Seferian and Administrator Mike Beazley on Monday assured an opponent of a proposed industrial park that any change in land use would require at least two public hearings on the matter.
        “Do you plan on having a public meeting?” Beth Ackerman asked Seferian at a committee of the whole meeting on Monday. Ackerman is one of several property owners who were approached by Seferian to see if they would be interested in selling their land for an electric battery plant in a proposed 400-acre industrial park in East Oregon.
        Ackerman, and many residents who lived in the area, packed council chambers on June 14 demanding to know why the city was not transparent about the proposed industrial park in an environmentally sensitive area that includes old growth forests, wetlands, and eagles’ nests.
         “This is why you had such a big crowd,” said Ackerman. “People were upset because they were hearing about it, just not from you. We all got a big wakeup call in that it was all just moving along. This is very much like the coke plant that Oregon tried to put into place. It got shot down due to environmental pressures. I’m just asking on behalf of our citizenry and our neighbors who would be directly on the border of this proposed industrial site. If you would just get some citizen input. My understanding is, if you want to change the land use…you would at least have that conversation with the public. You had three public hearings on the Kmart site, and that wasn’t even a land use change.”
        Beazley said there would be “a minimum” of two public hearings.
        “Before any purchasing agreements with landowners?” asked Ackerman.
        “That I don’t know,” said Beazley. “I would have to check with the Oregon Economic Development Foundation. Nobody could change land use without those public hearings.”
        “Have you entered into an agreement of any kind with any of the landowners in your proposed industrial area?” asked Ackerman.
        “The city has not entered into any agreement nor has the Foundation,” said Beazley. “Last time I was aware of it, they were negotiating, but I haven’t been aware of any agreement in the last week or so.”
        Ackerman said the city should improve communications with the public in the future when there is the possibility of a change in land use that is environmentally sensitive.
        “If we all communicated well, we would be a lot better off,” she said. “You guys are supposed to be advocates for us. I know you believe you’re doing so in the approach you are trying to take with this imaginary industrial site.”
        She read a section of the city’s 2025 master plan regarding the “preservation of environmental quality.”
        “This plan recommends the continuance of policies that preserve and protect the natural environment and maximizes the recreational value of natural areas for all citizens through constraining development in environmentally sensitive areas,” she said.
        “I think if you guys would just represent us, like you got voted in to do, I would appreciate it,” she added.        
        “That is always our job,” said Seferian. “But remember, we’re representing nearly 20,500 people. We’re also looking out for the whole city. It’s a balancing act. We try to have options.”
Fast track
        Seferian said he approached property owners to see if they were interested in selling their land for the industrial park because the electric battery plant “wanted something right away.” 
        “We had to know if there was even a possibility – if there were enough of those landowners willing to sell. So, we were kind of backed up on a timeline if we were going to entertain the idea of possibly attracting industry, and the battery plant was one of them. They wanted something right away. We had to know if we had any interest at all in selling,” said Seferian.
        “Even if those people got on board, you couldn’t have possibly had a dialogue with the public about the land use change at a time that would suit them,” said Ackerman, who was among the landowners who would not sell.
        “Correct,” said Seferian, “but we weren’t that far along. We wanted to know if we were on the playing field. We had an awful lot of work to do to see if we would like to attract someone – that was one of our objectives. Of course, it would impact the area more than a farm field, but if we were going to put some kind of manufacturing in there, we’d like to pick the one that had the least impact of manufacturing.”
        Ackerman suggested that the city use a liaison to inform property owners of possible industrial land use near or on their properties.
        “Maybe you guys could have a liaison who actually talks to the public without us coming in with pitchforks. We all have to live here together. Just give us a little more respect than what we’ve gotten from this situation so far,” said Ackerman.
        “And we moved as fast as we could to find out if there was any interest,” said Seferian. “It wasn’t by design to hurt anybody. I understood there were people who were not going to like this.”
        Ackerman said the city might want to consider creating a “conservancy area.”
        “It would be a feather in your caps to retire on, that you could be proud of,” she said.


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