Bill would clear way for chip factory in Oregon

PORTLAND — Oregon lawmakers say the state is in the running to land an electronics factory worth at least $1 billion employing 1,000 workers, and they're proposing to clear the way for it to be built on a tract in Washington County.

The development is known as “Project Azalea.” State economic development officials say the unnamed company proposing it has looked at sites in Hillsboro, upstate New York and possibly elsewhere, The Oregonian newspaper reported Friday.

Word of the project leaked out late last year with details indicating that it's a computer chip factory, known as a fab. But specifics remain elusive — especially the identity of the company behind it. Only a handful of corporations build fabs on that scale.

Republican Sen. Bruce Starr of Hillsboro and two colleagues have introduced legislation to give the governor power to block land-use challenges to sites such as the 330-acre site in Washington County.

The Oregon Court of Appeals is expected to rule this month on an appeal brought by the conservation group 1,000 Friends of Oregon and others challenging the designation of land for future urban expansion in the Portland metro area.

If the ruling clears the way for development of the Hillsboro site, the legislation might die. “It's not clear whether this is going anywhere,” said Democratic Rep. Tobias Read of Beaverton.

The measure would allow the governor to make agreements barring land-use appeals for a development by a company willing to purchase large-lot industrial land and create at least 500 jobs producing goods and services sold outside the region.

Such “traded sector” developments are prized among economic development officials, who say they bring new wealth to the state.

A lawyer for 1,000 Friends of Oregon, Mary Kyle McCurdy, says the legislation would create a huge loophole in the state's land use rules.

“The bill appears to be an attempt to make an end-run around the region's urban and rural reserve process, which citizens, organizations, and local governments participated in and trusted that their participation would be meaningful,” she said.

Another backer of the bill, Democratic Sen. Lee Beyer of Springfield, said it could be applied beyond the Azalea debate to developments proposed for sites under land use appeal, and it has been a top agenda item for leaders making the state's business plan.

“This bill is supportive of a potential large industrial siting but has potential value elsewhere,” he said.


Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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