September 06, 2002 11:00 pm

As expected, the Union County commissioners voted unanimously this week to project a 1 percent growth rate per year for the county.

Citing the importance of the rate to economic development, commission chairwoman Colleen MacLeod said the population projection should not be based on the historic growth rate over the past two decades.

"During the last 15 years, the county has suffered the most incredible impact on our resource-based economy," she said. "We are now pulling out of that."

The commissioners have wrestled with the projected growth rate for the past several sessions, as many from the downtown La Grande business community and other county residents have opposed the 1 percent rate countywide and a projected 5 percent per year growth rate for Island City.

Several who testified in opposition to the growth rates have said increasing the rates will open the door for Island City and La Grande to extend their boundaries and allow the construction of a large box store on Island Avenue.

Wal-Mart has said it intends to build a super center across Island Avenue from its current location. The retail giant would more than double the space it now has available and include a food store. Wal-Mart cannot build on the property unless the land is annexed into the cities and sewer and water services are provided.

Commissioners MacLeod and Steve McClure said there is no connection between the population projection and expansion of the urban growth boundaries on Island Avenue.

Even with a 5 percent growth rate, Island City has too much undeveloped land inside the city limits to justify expansion of the urban growth boundary. Other justification may be used to expand the boundary, according to County Planner Hanley Jenkins.

MacLeod said the 1 percent per year projection is necessary if the county is to have economic growth.

"We're trying to establish an economic base so our children won't leave," she said. "This is part of the process for economic growth."

La Grande planners have said the city cannot expand its industrial base without the 1 percent per year population projection.

McClure said that he does not believe increasing the projected population growth from 0.4 percent, as estimated by the state forecasters, to 1 percent per year is "unreasonable."

The Legislature has required counties to project population growth for a 20-year period as part of land use planning.

— Alice Perry Linker