Last night, Portland's Planning and Sustainability Commission took up the matter of West Hayden Island—and Mayor Sam Adams' near-deadline-busting plan to annex the gorgeous and rare natural refuge and hand over nearly half of it to the Port of Portland for a deepwater shipping terminal that's years away and that the region may not even need.
The commission is the last step before the Portland City Council, down to its last few meetings of Adams' tenure, takes up the plan. Brian Libby, Portland Architecture critic, was among the dozens of people sitting through the hours of testimony and he's posted an account of what's at stake, and what went down, over on his blog.
It's a must-read. In short, as we wrote in a cover story this summer, and despite some last-second wheeling and dealing by the mayor in the name of easing environmental calamity, it's still not clear that A) this is a good idea or that B) we're spending enough time to honestly figure that out.
Whenever someone testified in favor of industrial annexation, he or she came from an organization that would directly benefit from the environmental usurpation. A union representative whose colleagues would be hired for the construction on West Hayden spoke of "family-wage jobs," implying that trying to save endangered species directly resulted in his babies going unfed. A series of business and port alliance representatives, neckties removed from their black suits, sung the praises of industrial development and finished their remarks to the sound of silence from the packed audience or some poor unironic single clap. Whenever a homeowner about to be displaced or choked by diesel fumes pleaded with the council for mercy, or an environmental group leader pleaded for the accelerated timetable to be slowed down, a chorus of applause rang out from the commission chamber and its filled overflow-room.
The annexation of West Hayden Island would be troubling enough in its own right, but now Mayor Sam Adams is attempting to skip the unfolding process and bring about a City Council vote by the end of the year. Even those at last night's hearing tentatively willing to support the annexation admitted they felt blindsided and disappointed by the mayor's effort to seal the deal before he leaves office at year's end. Most of the community groups at the hearing, such as a group of Native American tribes with ancestral connections to the Columbia and to West Hayden, told the Planning and Sustainability Commission they had never been brought to the negotiating table until the deal was already done.
Adams argues that the process of annexing West Hayden has taken some thirty years, and that he's merely taking the needle off a skipping record. But the thirty years of gridlock on this issue ought to tell us something.