County agrees to deal on railroad lease


Clark County has approved an agreement with the operator for much of its county-owned railroad after years of legal disputes.

During its Dec. 6 meeting, the Clark County Council voted 4-0 with one abstention to approve a contract with Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad (PVJR). The company operates a portion of the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad that runs from Vancouver into deep northeast Clark County.

The company has leased the railroad since 2012, said Kevin Tyler, an employee of the county’s public works department. The county has owned the railroad since 1987.

The county currently leases out operations of the railroad for the southern portion of the tracks. The lease with PVJR allows them to operate the line for industrial purposes.

“Since about 2018, the county and the operator have been at odds,” Tyler said. 

In 2019, PVJR and the county sued each other, which led to the lease presented before the council, Tyler said.

The new agreement addresses the lease, the rent paid by PVJR, law compliance, maintenance obligations, record keeping and dispute resolution. 

The lease extends operations for 13 years with the option to renew for 20 more years. PVJR is responsible for maintenance along the “south” line of the railroad, 

“This is an issue that I’ve tracked for a number of years,” Councilor Sue Marshall said. 

Marshall has been involved with Friends of Clark County, a group that opposed the placement of a zoning overlay that would allow for industrial uses along the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad.

“There is a vision for this railroad that the (PVJR) has and maybe a vision that the county has, but I don’t believe that the community has been adequately informed or had the opportunity to help shape what that vision is,” Marshall said.

Residents near the railroad have opposed the county’s work to open up the area to industrial development. Although in recent years the idea to open the conversation back up has returned, there are numerous individuals and groups who do not want to see the development come to the area.

Because of Marshall’s involvement with the Friends of Clark County group, fellow councilor Gary Medvigy asked her to abstain from the vote. 

“I may abstain or I may vote ‘no,’” Marshall said ahead of her vote. “I am considering it.” She ultimately abstained.

Medvigy noted Marshall has been on the dais for less than a month. He said it was “totally inappropriate at this point” to spend time trying to get her caught up on the issue. 

“This is three years of negotiation,” Medvigy said about the contract.

Councilor Julie Olson had reservations about the contract, but ultimately voted in favor of it. Olson noted that after years of contention, the county was finally able to reach an agreement with the railroad operator.

“The future of the railroad is ahead of us and the community will decide what that future looks like,” Olson said.