Environmental activist wants better relations with Oregon officials

Kelly J. Kaczala

        An opponent of a potential industrial park development on 400 acres in East Oregon last summer urged Oregon City Council at a recent meeting to pay more attention to environmental issues in the city this year.
        Beth Ackerman, one of several property owners who were approached by city officials last year to consider selling their property for the development of an industrial park, told council   Ackerman, of Bury Road, has led the effort to protect nearby wetlands and an already compromised Lake Erie.
        Ackerman has been to nearly every council meeting to comment on the need to preserve environmentally sensitive areas in the city. Oftentimes, the discussion has become confrontational.
        “I know all we do is, I get up here and complain, and we fight. But I am hoping in 2022 we can turn a corner and we can take Oregon out of the dark ages when it comes to wetlands and our environment. Let’s improve the reputation we have, like in the birding community and outside this area. People just see us as industrial. That’s all we are. That’s it. We’re like Gary, Indiana,” said Ackerman.
City services
        The city administration’s response to Ackerman and other property owners opposed to industrial development east of the city has always been to bring in big business to expand its tax base and maintain city services as it looks to the future.
        The two refineries in the city are expected to scale back as more electric cars are manufactured, causing the city to lose $3 to $4 million in payroll taxes.
        “There’s two things we can do about it: cut city services, or try to find new revenues,” Mayor Mike Seferian said last year. “We assembled that land out there in hopes we could find something that isn’t too invasive, that may employ 3,000 people, which is $3 million in payroll income taxes.”
        The city gets approximately 4 percent of collected property taxes. The rest goes to the schools and the county. The city’s lifeline is the payroll income tax, according to city officials.
        The proposed industrial park was for a new electric vehicle battery plant interested in locating on 300 acres of property. That proposal fell through when the city could not persuade enough property owners to sell their land for the proposed industrial park. The East Oregon site was the only location that could meet that demand. 
        Ackerman and other property owners in the area believe that development would negatively affect Eagles’ nests and fragile wetlands.
        “I know industry is necessary and everything,” said Ackerman. “I do a lot of research. I have read the charter, and have learned when ordinances are enacted. I have to say, we are very archaic in where with the environment in our charter and ordinances, and how we approach decision making in the city.”
        She said a city in the state of Oregon enacted legislation last July to establish a process and standards that will minimize the destruction and degradation of significant wetlands within the city limits.
        “These are things you say you’re doing,” she said to council, “things we want you to do. These are things I think will make us appeal to more people if we look like we’re environmentally conscientious and we’re working towards sustainability. Hopefully, I want us to work together. I don’t want to fight. I want to find where we can work together with you and the community - not necessarily me - where we look like we’re moving forward in a responsible manner with responsible land use and protection of the environment. I have gotten an earful from the birding community about how we don’t have a focus on the environment. I don’t want to argue forever. I just want to work together to improve on everything. And I believe a lot of you do, too. They’re passing ordinances across the country about protection of the environment. I think we can do a lot to improve our reputation.”
        City council earlier in the meeting announced plans to update its zoning code with a focus on areas zoned industrial near the Cedar Point Industrial Park along Wynn Road and Corduroy Road. Plans call for the creation of a new zoning category, Advanced Manufacturing, which would keep heavy industry from locating nearly anywhere. Ackerman said she was pleased with the city’s efforts.


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