By Anna Del Savio
The Port of Columbia County board of commissioners authorized the purchase of 194 acres near Port Westward at their Jan. 8 meeting. The land, which the port bid on in November, will be used for wetland mitigation.
Bringing the land up to its full wetland mitigation potential, however, could cost as much as $45,000 per acre, Commissioner Larry Ericksen said at the port meeting.
The land itself cost $452,500. Making the land more effective for wetland mitigation could cost millions more.
“In terms of the wetland quality, it’s very low currently wetland quality. It would not be a valuable mitigation site until a lot of work is done there,” Commissioner Chip Bubl said.
The port only found out about the land auction shortly before the deadline for bids, leaving little time for studying the land quality.
The process to check for wetland mitigation potential “was relatively minimal,” according to Port Planning Coordinator Tabitha Tolsma.
“Basically, soil scientists came out and dug some small trenches and determined that the soil was hydric,” Tolsma said.
Projects that remove or inhibit natural wetlands are required to mitigate the impacts of the project by establishing wetland mitigation elsewhere or purchasing credits from a mitigation bank.
Credits would be available from the port, which would cover the costs of bringing the wetlands up to standards.
“Current practice has been — for PGE projects — they’ve been mitigating on our site, and they’ve been very free to give away our property to mitigation,” Commissioner Robert Keyser said.
Valuable wetlands can have deed restrictions placed on them, prohibiting any development on the land. That’s a concern when companies use unoccupied land for wetland mitigation, potentially jeopardizing any development future.
Keyser advocated for the land purchase over continuing the current practice.
The port is paying for the land out of the general fund but is also looking into financing options, explained Bob Gadotti, the port’s finance manager.
Originally published in Columbia County Spotlight