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Revised plan for concrete plant wins city approval

Forest Grove resident still questions state competence in regulating toxic dust


Last Tuesday, Aug. 11, the city of Forest Grove approved the site plan for a proposed concrete batch plant after the owner altered the plan to address neighbors’ concerns.

Westside Redi-Mix and Rock owner John Malnerich revised his plan for the site at the south end of Elm Street after meeting with city staff and potential neighbors, including the nonprofit Friends of Historic Forest Grove, which owns a nearby historic home. The Friends group was one of several neighbors who worried about potential toxic dust, water pollution, increased traffic and noise from the plant.

After the Aug. 3 discussion, Malnerich agreed to a total of 11 conditions that would address those and other concerns. According to the city’s final order, he will (among other things):

n Create at least four landscaped berms to minimize off-site noise and dust. Two of those berms will be at least eight feet tall, one at least six feet and another at least four feet.

n Construct an eight-foot wall on the west side of the plant’s hopper to help muffle the noise.

n Install an irrigation system to dampen the aggregate and keep dust from drifting to neighbors’ properties.

n Landscape the right-of-way property located on Elm Street and the five-foot-wide strip of land adjacent to his front property line.

n Comply with relevant environmental regulations administered by other agencies, such as Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Water Services and Metro.

Regarding this last condition, the city doesn’t actively check for compliance but rather waits until a complaint prompts the relevant agency to come check on the problem, then responds if there is a violation.

“The way the system works is almost inherently backwards,” said FHFG President Diane Morris. “People don’t have recourse until after there is a problem. So everyone is depending on the integrity and good faith of the people in charge.”

At least one Forest Grove resident worries that the Department of Environmental Quality in particular won’t provide adequate oversight for the plant’s air emissions.

According to Malnerich, the plant comes with an air-discharge permit from DEQ, which will inspect the plant after it’s set up.

But Dale Feik questions DEQ’s competence, saying it was partly to blame for 10 years of serious emissions violations by Intel.

DEQ recently fined the Hillsboro-based computer giant $143,000 for three major violations, including failure to report its fluoride emissions to DEQ and failure to obtain a permit to emit fluorides.

But DEQ was partly to blame for those emissions, Feik said, because it failed to specifically include fluorides in the permit. And instead of independently monitoring Intel’s emissions, it relied on Intel to self-report.

“Once an industry gets a construction and/or an operational permit, then it is very difficult to reel in its toxic air and wastewater discharges,” said Feik, who was so concerned about how DEQ handled Intel’s permits that he filed an official complaint with EPA Region 10 in Seattle about the whole permitting process.

Feik contacted Forest Grove planning staff hoping to initiate a public hearing on the concrete plant’s permit process but learned he does not have standing to do so because he doesn’t live within 300 feet of the proposed site.

He also hasn’t decided whether to appeal the city’s decision. Anyone wishing to do so must officially appeal in writing and submit a $250 fee by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25.

The Friends of Historic Forest Grove share Feik’s worries about toxic dust, but Malnerich maintains his plant has more thorough and effective dust-control mechanisms than the usual concrete plant because it previously served as the backup plant for a nuclear facility in California and had stricter requirements.

After listening to Malnerich and his contention that 99.2 percent of the plant’s dust will be captured within the filter system, FHFG members struggled with how far to push their concerns.

“The fact is, I don’t know if (he’s) going to do anything wrong,” said Morris, who sees two different paths the Friends could take.

“One way is to go on being adversaries to the people around us...where you will certainly have hurt feelings and anger.

“Or we can trust that Mr. Malnerich is going to do everything he has said he’s going to do.”

After a Tuesday morning meeting, the group decided not to appeal the city’s decision or request a public hearing. They want to move forward with their primary mission.

“We’re a little group of volunteers who have history as our passion,” Morris said. “We also believe Mr. Malnerich is an honorable person...Our best hope is that everyone working together can make this situation work out for all of us.

“Good neighbors comunicate and are sensitive to everyone’s needs.”