Port of Morrow

A barge heads west on the Columbia River after being loaded with grain at the Port of Morrow.

BOARDMAN — The planned expansion of Oregon’s Port of Morrow onto 90 acres of farmland has hit a roadblock after a key rezoning decision was overturned.

Morrow County’s approval of the expansion, which is intended to make way for a data center, was challenged by the 1,000 Friends of Oregon nonprofit organization earlier this year.

The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals has now determined the county didn’t properly change the 90-acre parcel from an “exclusive farm use” zone to a “port industrial” zone and must reconsider the decision.

The Port of Morrow is “somewhat surprised” by the “disappointing” decision, as it had planned to rezone an equivalent industrial property so there’d be no net loss of farmland, said Ryan Neal, the port’s executive director.

“We were basically swapping acre for acre, just in a different location,” Neal said.

The port is still considering whether to revise its proposal to the county, challenge the LUBA ruling before the Oregon Court of Appeals or drop the expansion plan altogether, he said.

“We’re still reviewing what our options are,” Neal said.

To rezone the 90-acre property, Morrow County decided an exception to Oregon’s statewide land use planning goal of preserving farmland was warranted.

The data center, which would house computer servers, requires a rectangular parcel of at least 85 acres as well as 115 kilovolt electrical transmission lines and access to farmland for discharging cooling water, according to the county.

Rezoning the 90 acres east of the Port of Morrow’s industrial park wouldn’t cause a net loss of farmland because another nearby parcel of the same size would be rezoned from “port industrial” to “exclusive farm use,” the county said.

While the county and the port argued that alternative sites wouldn’t sufficiently accommodate the data center’s specific needs, LUBA ruled that the analysis was inadequate under Oregon law.

“We agree with petitioner that the county’s findings fail to explain why the data center use requires a location on resource lands, as opposed to otherwise suitable non-resource lands,” the ruling said.

The county should not have excluded certain alternative sites from consideration without determining “whether these properties could be made available for the data center in a timely manner,” LUBA said.

Likewise, the county should not have dismissed certain parcels because they include wetlands or because they’re too close to other data centers without discussing the associated costs of potential mitigation measures, the ruling said.

Although the county claimed there would be no net loss of farmland, this analysis was also lacking because it did “not discuss the quality or productivity” of the parcel that would be developed, according to LUBA.

Though it’s not out of the question the data center could find another home, the planned site would have been useful for the Port of Morrow, Neal said.

By beginning to expand eastward onto the 90 acres, the port wouldn’t have to make as much of a leap when extending services to roughly 2,000 acres of federal property it plans to acquire eventually, he said.

“That would have been one of the benefits,” Neal said.

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