Will concrete plant leave historic home in dust?
Zoning laws didnt exist in Forest Grove in 1854, when A.T. God Almighty Smith first felled giant oak trees near what is now the south end of Elm Street, then yoked oxen to a hand-built cart with oak trunk slices for wheels and hauled the wood to the site where he built his two-story house.
Forest Grove didnt exist either, of course. Back then, the house was surrounded by forests and fields.
Now it looks north to Highway 47 and east to an industrial zone that includes SakéOne brewery, Forest Grove Storage and Kerr Contractors, Inc., which recycles building materials, including concrete, asphalt and various kinds of rock.
Soon, if Forest Grove planning staff approve the application, a concrete plant could join the neighborhood. This worries the Friends of Historic Forest Grove, a local nonprofit which protects and promotes the citys history and buildings none more so than its centerpiece attraction, the A.T. Smith House.
The Friends group has big plans for the house and property, hoping to turn it into a destination for school children and for tourists from all over the state or even beyond. Long-term visions include a living-history museum, where people in period costumes demonstrate olden-days crafts such as butter churning or blacksmithing, allowing visitors a vivid taste of the past.
But FHFG members worry that a concrete plant would threaten those plans, bringing air pollution, water pollution, traffic and noise that will ruin the historic homes appeal.
Were not trying to be Chicken Littles and the sky is falling, said Diane Morris, FHFG president. We know they have a right to put a business there. Were just trying to raise questions so afterward we wont regret.
Forest Grove staff are reviewing the concrete plants permit application and Senior Planner James Reitz expects a decision this week.
Dust to dust
The main concern of the Friends group and of Forest Grove Storage is dust. Kerr already stirs up dust as its heavy equipment rumbles over the gravel lot and bites into huge piles of dirt and rubble.
Forest Grove Storage Owner Shari Lort says Kerrs dust ends up on her parked car. In the matter of one day its completely covered, like I can go write my name on my car, she said. It creeps into her office as well.
Lort and the Friends group assume concrete-plant dust will be worse not just in quantity but in quality. Cement dust is alkaline, the Friends letter to the city points out.
While the A.T. Smith house is a couple football fields away from the site of the proposed plant, theres no structure to block dust drifting or blowing over the empty, city-owned field in between.
In Texas, a 2010 Lubbock Avalanche-Journal story about a controversial concrete plant reported people living a few football fields away still saw a sharp increase in dust after that plant opened.
In Forest Grove, neighbors of the old Van Doren Red-E-Mix concrete plant on 26th Avenue had dust problems before the plant closed last December and not just next-door neighbors but even Lori Hobbs, who lives across the street and six doors south.
But John Malnerich, owner of the proposed Westside Redi-Mix & Rock plant, said his plant differs from Van Dorens in a number of ways. To start with, it will be about half the size, although it will actually produce more because its so much newer and more efficient, he said.
Malnerich, who also owns Westside Rock, said his concrete plant has extra safeguards against dust because it was a backup plant at the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility in southern California, so had stiffer requirements. Malnerich bought and hauled the plant to Forest Grove, where its now sitting on the Kerr site (Brent Kerr is his son-in-law), waiting for permit approval.
In addition to the standard vacuum systems for filtering out dust during the silo-loading process (when the concrete is still in powder form) and during the next stage, when the cement drops out of the silo onto the conveyor belt, this plant has a third system to vaccum up dust when the cement drops off the conveyor belt into the trucks. For most other plants, dust problems come from that truck loading stage, Malnerich said.
In addition, Malnerich said he plans to pave the site so there wont even be dust from trucks driving over gravel.
The plant comes with an air-discharge permit from the state Department of Environmental Quality, which will come out and inspect the plant after its set up, Malnerich said.
Water, traffic, noise
The Friends group also wonders whether some of the chemicals used at the concrete plant could pollute the nearby Fernhill Wetlands run by Clean Water Services (CWS), which manages Washington Countys water resources.
But CWS issued a stormwater permit to Westside Redi-Mix last week that will allow drivers to wash out their trucks (the main source of water contamination), apparently confident Malnerich has enough oil separators, containment bins and other safeguards in place.
No wastewater will leave the site until it goes through a filtering system and the pH (acidity level) is checked by a lab, Malnerich said.
The Friends group is also concerned about traffic problems between what they expect to be a considerable increase in truck traffic and the school buses or private vehicles traveling to the Smith House.
Malnerich estimates there will be about 15 truck trips (30 counting round trips) to his plant each day.
Reitz said the city, which updated its transportation plan last year, did so with the expectation of an increase in industrial traffic at the intersection of 47 and Elm.
Of all the concerns raised, the only issue officially addressed in city code is noise. We have a quantifiable, permissible sound ordinance that specifies decibel levels at certain times of day, Reitz said.
But noise is the least of FHFGs concerns. And Malnerich thinks his plant will be quieter than Kerrs growling, beeping earth movers. If it turns out to be too noisy, he said, well put up a nice berm and plant some trees on it or something.
Malnerich touts the reputation he built up at Westside Rock, where he won Outstanding Quarry Operator of the Year and other awards due to his pattern of going above and beyond minimum requirements, said Bob Brinkman, a hydrogeologist/reclamationist with the state Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, which handled Malnerichs mining permit. I cant think of anybody Id rather have as a permit holder.
Still, the Friends want to know who will enforce the permit standards once the plant is operational. And how often will it be checked? These are difficult areas to monitor and to govern. Continuing compliance, not just at the outset, but every day ... is crucial, their letter states.
Good time for outreach
Malnerich said he met some Friends members a few years ago at a Citizen Participation Organization meeting, where they were trying to raise money for the Smith house. But he hasnt heard from them since then.
Morris said this issue has showed the Friends the importance of reaching out to more than just history buffs or potential donors. Weve realized we need to get to know our neighbors better, she said.
Those neighbors have varying opinions on the concrete plant. Farmer Hally Haworth, who owns the adjacent farmland, has some concerns but also feels the property owners have a right to make a living, whether it goes along with what I think or not. He trusts the permitting process and the citys due diligence.
Tom Gamble, director of Forest Groves Parks and Recreation Department, which will manage the acreage between the A.T. Smith House and the plant site, said his only concern is that the city mitigate for any dust or noise or other plant-related problems when it designs a park for that space whether by putting up a wall or planting trees or something else.
The neighbors might all have a chance to share their varying viewpoints in the next month or two. FHFG is planning a neighbor-focused open house at the A.T. Smith House.
Malnerich thinks thats a good idea. Connecting with him in a positive way might work out well later, he said.
Maybe someday theyll want to put a sidewalk to that house.