A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Industry or orchard? Take a look at the site

Written March 7th, 2023 by Hasso Hering

This is the hazelnut orchard the City of Millersburg wants to add to its urban growth boundary so a paper factory can be built there.

It was a blustery day on Tuesday when I ventured out to take a look at the site the Sofidel company has in mind for a $200 million factory to make various kinds of tissue paper.

On Tuesday morning, the Linn County Board of Commissioners put off for another week, until March 14, a decision on Millersburg’s application to add the 164-acre orchard to its urban growth boundary.

In the afternoon, I parked the truck in Millersburg’s fine city park on Alexander Lane, unloaded the bike and zig-zagged south through housing tracts to Conser Road, and then headed west on Conser into the countryside.

I went past the corner of Woods Road, then across the Portland & Western Railroad track and down a slight hill. That’s where, on the left, there was the orchard.

This is no small orchard. On Google you can see individual trees, and I tried to estimate the total number. What I came up with was 30,000, give or take a few.

The trees were barren of foliage this time of year but full of catkins, which I just looked up is the name for those long hazelnut flowers that spread pollen all over the place when the wind blows.

The Millersburg council wants to take this acreage into the city’s urban growth boundary so the agricultural land can be annexed and rezoned for industrial use. Then the Italian Sofidel paper company can buy it and build its factory there.

The city calls this change in the growth boundary a “swap” because at the same time it wants to expel from its boundary some land to the south that is owned by International Paper Co. That’s the company that briefly owned and then closed and demolished the Albany Paper Mill.

Backers of this transaction are looking at the additional jobs it would eventually bring. Opponents say Millersburg already has plenty of industrial land within the city, some of it unused or vacant, and should not be allowed to eat into more of the prime farmland to the west of the city limits.

Looking at the landscape out there, the fields, the orchard and the snow-covered mountains beyond, I got the feeling that the opponents have the more powerful point. Even on a raw day in March. (hh)

Looking west on Conser Road, with the filbert orchard on the left, on Tuesday afternoon just before a shower of hail.

22 responses to “Industry or orchard? Take a look at the site”

  1. Cap B. says:

    I agree with you, Hasso. The opponents are on the right side of the Millersburg land swap debate. But, that doesn’t mean that the county will turn down the land swap.

  2. JC says:

    I could be wrong but I believe this piece of property is one of the components of a “pipe dream” where a potential bridge across the river could be installed to connect Springhill rd to Millersburg?…im sure this is an unpopular opinion with some but if there could be a compromise of the paper plant to do this as part of the deal maybe a win for all??

  3. Anony Mouse says:

    This isn’t how a transaction for private property in a free society should work.

    In a free society government should not have policing powers that coercively dictate the “desirable” purposes of a private land transaction.

    There are ample voluntary, noncoercive solutions that don’t destroy our right to be left alone.

    Why don’t Oregonians think for themselves and quit acting like sheep on private property issues?

    “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.” Thomas Jefferson

  4. Dave Nofziger says:

    Thank you Hasso! I hope more people come across the railroad tracks to see for themselves. This is a unique and highly productive farming community that will never be replaced.

    According to US department of agriculture’s Farms and Land in Farms 2021 Summary
    February 2022. Total land in farms, at 895,300,000 acres, decreased 1,300,000 acres from 2020.

    We are losing Agricultural ground every day! What happened to the buy local movement?

  5. John Marble says:

    One very short line in your article makes a huge and clear point. You describe leaving the developed area of Millersburg and landing…”in the countryside”. This reveals that the land planning process is working exactly as designed. Residential, commercial and industrial development has been maintained within the Urban Growth Boundary of the City, while high-quality agricultural land has been reserved for agriculture. Bravo to the planning process.

    • Anony Mouse says:

      Bravo to the government planning process?

      Your comment sounds like the sound sheep make when they are stressed in some way….Baa.

      • John Marble says:

        I wonder if you might consider how much more effective your deliberations would be if you didn’t depend so heavily on name calling. As is, pretty thin gruel.

        • DSimpson says:

          Name calling is what we’ve come to, John. It’s exactly the tactic this person’s political heroes would take when the adults in the room are having a conversation that they don’t understand. It’s much easier to bleat like a petulant child than participate in a thoughtful conversation. And, yes, I’m certain this person will fail to see the irony in the pervious sentence.

  6. chris j says:

    Oregon produces 99% of the Hazelnuts in the United States. The shells are good for landscaping and the flowers produce pollen for the bees. What about the jobs that are involved in the hazelnut market? It is a local, independent business that supplies more jobs than just the orchard. Paper products can be produced anywhere. The Willamette valley is a special area for growing certain plants and trees. As Oregonians we would increase our independence and economy if we focused on these amazing natural qualities. Our local government should stop chasing the BBD (bigger better deal). Oregon already is the BBD that is why companies pursue being here.

  7. M Webster says:

    I’m wondering what the current farm/land owners think, feel, want about this whole deal and where they stand in the whole debate about city annexation. Hmmmm…..

  8. Megan says:

    Neither Albany or Millersburg councils and managers are thinking about long term care of our communities. It’s the classic get rich quick scheme in terms of build now, think later. In a world where they tell us we’re going to have food scarcity within 30 years, they annex and build on the best farmland in the state instead of actually planning and building in appropriate or existing locations that have soil that is less then ideal for farming. That’s foolish and irresponsible. It’s also not what Millersburg residents signed up for when we bought our homes. Different vision then to be sure than what we have now and that’s unfortunate. Millersburg, the City Manager, the board and appointed Mayor need to think long and hard about the future of this city and what they really want. Stop allowing homes if you intend to turn it into an industrial park that can and will pollute the Willamette and surrounding areas even more and work hard to preserve the rich and fertile farmland that can and will feed your children and grandchildren when they need it. Put industry where it’s appropriate. Seek out clean industry with technology that will help preserve the health of our communities instead of risking lives down the road. I want to challenge those in charge to start thinking in terms of longevity, preservation, and embracing clean business and industry instead of constantly lecturing and handing down economics hardship on folks in order to meet climate demands made by politicians all while ignoring the very same demands they make on us. This particular business has no business being in that location for a multitude of reasons. Let’s see if Millersburg officials as well as our County officials will listen.
    Do better.

  9. Sharon Hayes says:

    As a resident here in Millersburg. I wish to see this precious farmland left alone. Why do people think progress is defined by change?
    Natural resourses do not need change. This land needs to be cherished & cared for.

  10. GregB says:

    Last time I was down Conser rd, there was a new electrical substation being built at the intersection of Conser and Woods roads. High capacity electricity being available near the proposed mill site probably influences the paper company decision to build there. Filbert trees don’t use much electricity, haha.

  11. Rich Kellum says:

    Hasso, it would be informative to have the City explain why they can not use the brownfield site where the paper mill was instead of taking more farmland out of production.

  12. L says:

    I hope they dont bring a paper factory here. Much prefer the orchard, certainly smells better!

  13. Cap B. says:

    Hasso: Forgot to say your first picture at the start of this article of the “filbert” orchard (we who grew up here call them filberts) is an excellent picture…what with the mountains in the background for contrast. You should have a Christmas card made of it….especially since if the county and Italian businessmen get their way, it will soon be no more.

  14. Marti Benson says:

    What do we need to do to stop this from happening?
    Do they want that property because it is near the river vs. the old paper mill site by the freeway ?

  15. Cap B. says:

    Hasso: I take back my suggestion that you have a Christmas card made from your great picture of the filbert orchard with the mountains in the background. That is, unless you patch your bike into the picture. The bike isn’t in that picture.

  16. C says:

    Millersburg needs to stay in Millersburg and leave Dever-Conner alone. We already do not like what you did to your own land, turning it into an endless subdivision… we don’t want you ruining the farmland and century farms that our families have farmed for over a century. We need farmland, we don’t want your unfarmable land you are offering.

  17. Rich Catlin says:

    Have they forgotten the last paper mill? It’s been gone for how many years and visitors still associate the mid-valley with a certain distinctive odor.

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