Senator says 'one size doesn’t fit all’ in bill to change parcels of farmland to industrial or other uses

This view from near Malheur Butte shows the farmland and the Malheur Siphon across the valley. Senate Bill 2 would allow up to 50 acres of some rural lands outside urban growth boundaries to be used for industrial purposes for job creation.

SALEM — A bill which would allow certain counties, including Malheur, to have the opportunity to designate up to 50 acres outside of urban growth boundaries for industrial and other uses, in order to provide jobs, is up for a committee vote next week.

Senate Bill 2, which is co-sponsored by state Senate President Peter Courtney, D.-Salem, Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, and Sen. Bill Hansell, R- Athena, was the subject of a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, of which Bentz is a member.

According to the bill, other counties that would be able to participate would be Baker, Gilliam, Grant, Harney, Lake, Sherman, Union, Wallowa and Wheeler, all in eastern or central Oregon.

The designation of the acreage for industrial or other job-creating purposes would come after an economic analysis done by the counties to identify categories of industrial uses, possible sites that could be used for industrial or other job development and projects the types and numbers of possible uses, the bill reads.

Issues to be considered include location, availability of transportation and related facilities, public facilities and services, work force, suppliers and utilities and support services.

The analysis could include new businesses and businesses that need to expand.

Although he is the lead sponsor, Courtney yielded to Hansell and Bentz to speak first as part of the first panel of speakers during Tuesday’s hearing.

Leading off, Hansell commented that eastern Oregon is still recovering from the last recession and the bill would help small communities be more competitive.

“Fifty acres in eastern Oregon is equal to about five acres in the metro area,” Hansell said. “It will not take away large swaths of farmland,” he said of the bill and provides for local control.

The bill does not allow sites to include high value farmland or sage grouse habitat.

Speaking next, Bentz said the SB 2 will not solve all the land use issues in eastern Oregon but is a step in the right direction.

“It’s difficult to have anything done in eastern Oregon,” Bentz said.

“It will not help,” said Bentz, noting that the bill does not address all the “most glaring problems” in land-use laws.

Courtney for his part, echoed a often heard comment about the state’s land use regulations, “one size doesn’t fit all.”

The senate leader said the bill is the result of negotiations among lawmakers and representatives of a number of agriculture, governmental and land advocacy groups.

Under an amendment proposed by Courtney, no more than 10 sites could be designated for industrial uses.

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Larry Meyer is a reporter for the Argus Observer.

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