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Save Helvetia’s 2013 Year in Review

Hello Helvetia supporters!

Here’s a summary of Save Helvetia’s efforts in 2013 to protect farmland, forestland and natural resources north of the Sunset Highway.  We discuss each of these items in more detail below.

These are our top stories for 2013:

And here’s a look ahead to 2014:

  • We expect that once again the Legislature will attempt to circumvent our land use laws and our legal processes via bills targeted at the Reserves decisions currently under appeal.
  • We will fight pressure for a Westside Bypass which would extend roads through high-value farmland.  We will advocate for the sensible alternative: improving the inadequate transportation grid inside the urban area.
  • We will monitor two air quality issues: excessive lead emissions from Hillsboro Airport and the huge amount of toxic emissions requested by Intel for their new fabs.  Both of these issues affect the entire region, not just Helvetia.

Please consider a gift to Save Helvetia now

As 2014 begins, we see that new issues and battles continually arise.  One or more of the air quality issues may require legal action.  Washington County and the City of Hillsboro seem to have endless funds for lobbyists and lawyers – and endless time to entertain developer interests.  And as we learned during the Reserves process, it sometimes takes lobbyists and attorneys of our own to counter their message.

These threats impact your ability to enjoy all that Helvetia has to offer.  So we ask for your support to help us continue to fight on your behalf.  Please consider making a donation to Save Helvetia.

Helvetia Urban Reserves appeal

In January 2013, Save Helvetia was one of nine groups that presented arguments to the Oregon State Court of Appeals questioning various aspects of the Urban and Rural Reserves decision by Metro and the three counties.  It has been almost a year now, and the Court has not yet issued its ruling.  We recognize that SB 1011, the law governing urban and rural reserves, is new and complex, and we are confident the judges are applying considerable effort in their review.

Until the Court issues its ruling, however, the cities cannot add the areas “approved” for urban reserves into their UGBs, much less develop them.  This is a big problem for cities like Hillsboro, who quickly made the not-yet-approved urban reserves part of their UGB expansions.  The delay brought upon by the appeal has brought attempts by Legislators to pass bills that would circumvent the appeal process and overrule the State court of Appeals.  We fought off one such attempt in 2013, and there are indications that another attempt may be forthcoming in the February special session. 

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Super-siting for “potential” industrial development

Last April, we were successful in fighting House Bill 2255, which would have allowed cities to expand UGBs for industrial development regardless of whether there was an actual need for new land.  This process is called “super-siting.”  When it looked like HB 2255 would not survive, an attempt was made to add it to SB 250 but fortunately both bills died in committee.  We thank those of you who called and emailed your state reps or submitted testimony opposing these bills.  Read Save Helvetia's testimony on HB 2255.

We have seen examples of this kind of thinking in the past: Cities create unrealistic future employment projections, then add productive farm land to their UGB for employment sites, and then the industry fails to show up.  In the early 2000s, the City of Hillsboro obtained approval from Metro to add 1200 acres of prime farmland north of US-26 and south of West Union Road (in Helvetia) to accommodate future R&D campuses that were supposed to bring in almost 1000 high paying jobs.  The high-value Helvetia farmland was brought into the UGB but the R&D jobs did not materialize.

Hillsboro does not seem to realize that sprawling onto farmland destroys the very quality of life that draws the best and brightest to our area.  These potential job-seekers, and the companies that are looking to hire them, appreciate well-planned urban areas with nearby rural landscapes and recreational opportunities.  Here's one such example, where the CEO of a local startup says that the quality of life here is better than either San Jose or Seattle, thanks to Oregon’s land-use planning laws, preserved natural lands and well-planned communities.

This issue will not go away until City and County leadership changes.  The City of Hillsboro and Washington County continue to seek to build a large “land bank” to offer to prospective big tech companies in their desire to land another Intel.

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Developers try to remove agricultural/natural features buffer in North Bethany

In August 2013, a developer from K&R Holdings, who also sits on the Washington County Planning Commission, requested that the County remove development restrictions on all steep slopes within North Bethany.  A Natural Features Buffer had been adopted in Ordinance 739 in 2011, after five years of stakeholder meetings, community comments and multiple rounds of Board of Commissioners hearings.  We found it disconcerting that the County Commissioners would re-open a previously-passed ordinance for the financial benefit of a developer who wants to build more houses on steep slopes in North Bethany.

Save Helvetia wrote a letter in opposition to the proposal.  After community pushback AND the recommendation of their own staff to deny the request, the Board of County Commissioners voted to delay a decision until 2014.  We’ll stay on top of this.

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West Union Road - a commuter conduit?

The City of Hillsboro has a plan for West Union Road and Helvetia Roads - they want them to become 5-lane boulevards to shuttle urban commuters from their tech jobs on the south side of US-26 to the north side where the city expects all of them to live.  This is because city planners project that the tech jobs on the south side of the Sunset will be high-paying jobs and these folks will be able to afford the housing in North Bethany.

Helvetia has been reduced to a “traffic shed” by city planners – a means to move waves of commuters off of the clogged Sunset Highway and through the rural countryside.  But our farmers use West Union Road to move farm equipment and cyclists use it for riding on the north side of the highway.  Our farmers and County deputies say that when roads are widened, speeds go up, endangering lives and creating conflict with slower-moving farm equipment and cyclists.

Save Helvetia and Commissioner Greg Malinowski have proposed an alternate solution: route commuter traffic along urban roads to the south of West Union Road (inside the existing UGB) and have them enter West Union Road further east closer to Cornelius Pass.  In other words, use urban roads for urban purposes.  Discussions are continuing.

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Counties look for ways to reduce citizen involvement

The state Land Conservation and Development Committee (LCDC) has tasked their Citizen Involvement Advisory Committee (CIAC) to look at ways to reduce the cost to counties for citizen involvement.  This is a result of counties’ complaints about the cost of their citizen involvement programs.  In our letter to LCDC, we suggested that Oregon’s Goals 1 and 2 (which address citizen involvement) be put into Oregon Administrative Rules.  This would result in citizen involvement becoming more “substantive” and enforceable.  We’ll let your know their recommendations.

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Westside Bypass raises its ugly head again - Helvetia now a target

In August 2013, Hillsboro and Washington County lobbyists inserted a last-minute request for $1.5 million into HB 2322.  The $1.5 million was to study a “Westside Corridor” as proposed in a white paper written by Hillsboro-funded out-of-state consultants.  Hillsboro wants this “Westside Corridor” to help businesses route their freight to PDX around the congestion of US-26 as well as to help commuters from outside of Washington County get to their jobs in Washington County.

Unfortunately for Helvetia farms and forests, the proposed freeway would run along the west side of Hillsboro, traversing Helvetia from the Jackson School interchange up and over to Cornelius Pass.  It isn’t difficult to speculate that once the freeway is built, the next step would be to develop all the farmland inside the loop, all in the name of “jobs”.

Since this request was put into a “Christmas Tree bill” at the last minute, we were caught by surprise, but we did manage to submit a letter in opposition and generate some calls and letters.  The governor approved the study, but added the proviso that it be used to study ALL modes of transportation improvements.  We believe that this provision was a direct result of input from Save Helvetia and concerned citizens.  The county has since started discussions with stakeholders about how best to spend the money.  We’ll keep you informed.

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Compromised air quality - how much of a danger to Helvetia’s people, soil, and crops?

This year saw an increased awareness of the potential effects of emissions from Intel’s fabs and the Hillsboro Airport on Helvetia’s air quality.  Helvetia is due north of both of these operations and for six months of the year the prevailing winds blow to the north.  Oregon Aviation Watch, a local non-profit organization, has documented the high amount of lead emissions resulting from Hillsboro Airport’s flight training operations – it ranks 21st in the U.S. for amount of lead emissions.  That’s more than PDX!  Beside the well-known dangers of lead exposure to children’s brain development, we are also concerned about lead exposure’s effects on Helvetia’s world-class soils and crops.  We will continue to follow this issue.

In September we were dismayed to learn that Intel had neglected to report emissions of fluoride for 30 years and that DEQ did not notice it, calling it an “oversight”.  We learned that Intel’s DEQ application for their new Ronler Acres fab called for such high quantities of emissions of various pollutants that it classifies Intel as a “major emitter”.  We were disappointed to learn that DEQ does not monitor emissions from semiconductor manufacturers, instead relying on them to self-report their emissions.

On October 14, we submitted a letter to DEQ outlining our concerns and making six recommendations we felt would help protect our health and safety.  Since then, Intel has engaged in community outreach and is actively working with community groups to resolve concerns.  We will continue to seek answers about the effect of emissions from both Hillsboro Airport and semiconductor fabs on the air, soil, water, and residents of Helvetia.

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Support our work

That’s our year in review.  As you can see, we have our work cut out for us in the coming year.  We hope that you will consider a donation to Save Helvetia to allow us to continue our efforts to protect farmland in Helvetia.

We wish you the best in 2014!

Save Helvetia Steering Committee

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