A bill for mills

Smith, local officials move to revive industrial lands

Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, has moved one step closer in her goal to help revive Oregon’s economy by putting old mill sites back to work.

House Bill 2691 was one of three bills to create new jobs that passed through the House Trade and Economic Development Committee, chaired by Smith, on Wednesday.

The legislation sponsored by Smith received unanimous approval and allows a city or county to rezone or redevelop abandoned or diminished mill sites for industrial use. Under the bill, local entities could make that move without going through the arduous process to gain an exception from state land-use planning goals.

“Although not all former mill site are appropriate for redevelopment, this legislation will help in a number of rural communities where these mill sites are the only industrial lands available,” Smith said.

Hood River County Planning Director Mike Benedict lent his land-use expertise to help Smith craft the objectives of the bill that will apply to three former Hood River County lumber plants. The two closed Hanel Lumber Mills and the Dee mill are already zoned for industrial use.

“This is a common sense approach to get ‘shovel ready’ land without harming the environment whatsoever,” said Benedict, who testified at one of the recent committee hearings in Salem.

Hood River Port Director Dave Harlan presented a strong case to Smith’s committee about the economic need for passage of the bill. He said although Hood River looked “prosperous,” that appearance was deceiving since it had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and its average wage and salary income was just $21,493 — ranking 35th out of Oregon’s 36 counties.

“Add high housing costs to the mix and you get a picture of poverty in paradise,” said Harlan, contending that the use of ready-to-go industrial sites was crucial for the county to retain existing firms and attract new businesses.

His comments drew agreement from Hood River Economic Development Coordinator Bill Fashing, who was joined at the state capital by Hood River County Commission Chair Rodger Schock and District 1 Commissioner Carol York.

Smith credited the united stand of Hood River officials for influencing the passage of the bill, which could affect more than 160 mill sites around Oregon. The legislation will be presented on the House floor for a full vote next week and then sent to the Senate if approved. Smith’s constituent Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, has co-sponsored the legislation and will help now help move it toward joint passage.

On Wednesday, Smith’s committee also approved two other key pieces of economic development legislation. House Bill 2298 expands the qualifications for an income tax exemption program to help small businesses in struggling communities. And finally, House Bill 2671 modified the eligibility requirements for long-term, non-urban enterprise zone tax incentives.

“Whether a company uses these new laws to create five jobs or 50 jobs, each one will be important to an Oregon family,” said Smith. “These three bills are the beginning of our effort to get Oregon back on track.”

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