Letter to the Editor: Industrializing central Clark County could be disastrous



I am alarmed! My alarm stems from a sober realization of what would happen if the county were to proceed with its current plans to industrialize central Clark County.

The main vehicle for this planned industrialization centers around the use of an antiquated railroad, the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad. Among other things, these plans call for the development of a huge 400-acre gravel mine, the Chelatchie Bluff Mine, that will remove approximately 112 million yards of material to a depth of 700 feet. This operation will result in surface and groundwater impacts affecting fish populations and groundwater drinking supplies for most of Clark County. Of note, once contaminated, groundwater is almost impossible to remediate.

The mine operator, as well as the railroad operator, Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad (PVJR), plan to transport this gravel on long, slow-moving freight trains that would cripple travel on surface roads, including the transport of emergency vehicles. This use of the railroad would require substantial upgrades including new gravel, concrete railroad ties, heavier gauge rail and, quite possibly, new locomotives. How much of these costs would be borne by taxpayers?

In addition, the county has also developed a railroad “overlay.” This overlay is a new zone that would allow heavy industry and major commercial enterprises within a mile of both sides of the railroad along its 33-mile length. Remarkably, the county has continually permitted extensive residential development all along the right of way, even abutting the railroad itself. This puts residential use in direct conflict with industrial development. Would the county be able to equitably balance the environment, social and industrial tradeoffs presented by this conflict? I am skeptical given that the county owns the railroad and would profit financially from its development.

Although meeting environmental requirements is included in his lease, PVJR has repeatedly been found in noncompliance, demonstrating its inability to operate responsibly.

Taken together, all this leads me to make two recommendations. First, the county should terminate the lease with the Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad. Second, the county, in working with the state, should repeal Senate Bill 5517, the enabling legislation.

Tony Morrell

Brush Prairie