As Intel readies two massive new research factories in Hillsboro, some of its Washington County are questioning how the expansion will affect their air and community.
Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality is reviewing a new air quality permit that would cover Intel’s existing manufacturing in Aloha and at its Ronler Acres campus near Hillsboro Stadium, and the two new factories collectively known as D1X.
The first phase of D1X is a $3 billion, 1.1 million square foot factory due to begin developing new chip technologies this fall. Construction on an identical second phase, with additional support buildings, began last fall.
Residents raised concerns at a July informational meeting and, at their request, the DEQ agreed to hold a public hearing in September to take comment on the Intel permit.
Intel uses a number of hazardous chemicals in its manufacturing, a multistage process that requires etching metals with acids and implanting new properties on chips’ materials.
The proposed air permit would replace one issued in 2007, raising emission limits for volatile organic compounds (organic solvents used in cleanup) and establishing new limits on emissions of greenhouse gasses and fluorides.
Intel’s factories in New Mexico have been a flashpoint of community concern, where neighbors fear the company’s factory near Albuquerque contributes to respiratory disease.
In Oregon, though, concern about Intel has been relatively light — save for frustrations over congestion associated with Intel’s ongoing expansion. The company has 17,000 employees in the state, more than any other business.
Linda Peters, a former Washington County commissioner who lives near North Plains, said some residents are concerned about the overall growth of industrial activity in the area.
“We’ve got real issues in balancing what’s good in terms of economic growth in our urban and future urban areas with maintaining the rural economies that are just as important to our long-term sustainability,” she said.
Residents want a clearer understanding of how Intel’s emissions, coupled with the Hillsboro Airport and other industrial operations nearby, affect overall air quality, Peters said. She said residents are concerned that DEQ’s review is too mechanical.
“They don’t seem to be adding anything other than making sure that all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed according to the regulations that they’re supposed to be following,” Peters said.
That’s a concern the state hears often, said George Davis, a DEQ environmental engineer working on Intel’s permit. But he said that state and federal environmental laws are designed to make objective evaluations, not subjective decisions.
“We are constrained to operate within our rules, and our rules actually don’t allow us to deny permits or deny emissions increases if the facility meets the requirements,” he said.
“It’s much like getting a driver’s license,” Davis said. “If you pass all the tests, you get a driver’s license. The examiner can’t decide not to give you a permit.”
Concerns about industrial growth are better addressed at the local level, Davis said, in decisions about zoning and urban growth boundaries.
Ronler Acres has been zoned for industrial activity for decades; environmental permits like the one now pending for Intel offer a chance for input, but not for a change in direction.
That frustrates Robert Bailey, who has lived in the Tualatin Valley for 40 years and is active with the Save Helvetia organization that works to preserve agricultural areas north of Highway 26.
“They’re basically saying there’s nothing anybody locally can say,” Bailey said.
Intel, which has sent representatives to community meetings this summer and has held neighborhood meetings to discuss its growth plans, said it works hard to ensure its manufacturing is safe.
“We are dedicated to this community and we want to make sure, just as much as the residents do, that this is a safe place to live and work,” said Intel spokeswoman Chelsea Hossaini.
“We already comply with all these regulations,” she said. “We comply with all the regulations everywhere we operate, because we really believe in being an environmental leader.”
Intel air quality meetings
The state Department of Environmental Quality plans two meetings on Intel’s proposed air quality permit.
Sept. 10: The DEQ will describe Intel’s proposed permit and take questions about that permit and other concerns. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Hillsboro Civic Center, 150 E. Main St.
Sept. 16: the DEQ will take formal comments on Intel’s proposed permit following a short question-and-answer session. The hearing is at 6:30 p.m. at the Hillsboro Civic Center, 150 E Main St.