Round Rock-based chemical plant Exfluor Research Corporation has hit a hurdle on its way to construct a new facility in northern Williamson County.
Exfluor originally planned to move its headquarters to County Road 236 this year, but in December, the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) granted a contested case hearing for the air permit the corporation applied for, and now their construction timeline has been delayed.
The contested case hearing was granted for 10 affected landowners in the area surrounding the proposed site, as well as the North San Gabriel Alliance, which is a nonprofit organization that was created in early 2022 “to protect the natural environment, homes, crops, animals and property of people who live, work, farm, ranch and recreate in the area of the North Fork of the San Gabriel River in Williamson and Burnet counties,” according to its website.
The next step is a preliminary hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). The date for that hearing has not been set; however, in a request sent by TCEQ to the SOAH, the preliminary hearing has been requested to be held in March.
Following the preliminary hearing, the maximum duration of time that can pass between it and the contested case hearing is 180 days, or six months. At that point, a proposal for a decision must be made.
The issues that will be looked into in that hearing, as determined by the commissioners, include whether the draft permit is protective of air quality in accordance with Texas Health and Safety Code; will be protective of the health of the requesters and their families including sensitive subgroups in accordance with Texas Health and Safety Code; protective of animals and vegetation in accordance with Texas Health and Safety Code; and protective of the use and enjoyment of the requester’s property in accordance with Texas Administrative Code.
Additional issues that will be looked into include whether the application contains sufficient and accurate information for TCEQ to develop a draft permit in accordance with Texas Health and Safety Code and Texas Administrative Code; whether the permit application contains accurate and complete emissions, estimates and air dispersion modeling; whether the draft permit requires adequate emission control technology, including the best available control technology in accordance with the Texas Health and Safety Code; and whether the draft permit contains adequate monitoring and record keeping requirements to demonstrate compliance with its terms.
Lastly, issues that will be looked into include whether the draft permit’s hours of operation are protective of human health, and whether the applicant’s compliance history warrants additional terms or conditions in the draft permit, or denial of the permit in accordance with the Texas Health and Safety Code.
“We are currently awaiting an administrative law judge to schedule the preliminary hearing, and we are looking forward to the opportunity to show that our permit meets all requirements,” Exfluor said a statement released exclusively to The Independent.
Patricia Mulvihill, president of the North San Gabriel Alliance, said the Alliance and the community have succeeded in delaying Exfluor’s construction since April 2022. Alliance members are hopeful the upcoming hearings will continue to delay construction until at least December. Mulvihill added that her organization was thrilled when they learned the contested case hearing had been granted.
“This was the end game—to get in front of a judge and get this permitting process shut down,” she said. “We are just pushing back as hard as we can push back. Exfluor needs to be in an industrial zone location where their products can be properly regulated. We will continue to fight against the chemical plant’s relocation until the end. We are not going away.”
Exfluor began operations in 1984, primarily doing contract research for NASA and the U.S. Air Force, but in the early 1990s, the company transitioned to manufacturing specialty fluorinated chemicals. Today, its products and technology can be found on everything from satellites to televisions. The company purchased a 36.07-acre parcel on CR 236, according to Williamson Central Appraisal District records, in December 2019.
In July 2021, Exfluor applied to TCEQ for issuance of a proposed air quality permit, which would authorize construction of the facility at 1100 CR 236. The application was processed in an expedited manner, as allowed by the commission’s rules in Texas’ Administrative Code. According to the permit, “the proposed facility will emit the following contaminants: hydrogen fluorides, carbon monoxide, hazardous air pollutants, nitrogen oxides and organic compounds.”
The new facility, which is estimated to cost $10 million to build, will serve as a modern research and development center to produce a product enabling an inhaled drug delivery system; the manufacturing of extended wear contact lenses that can be worn overnight; a coolant used in the electronics of U.S. spy planes, drones and the International Space Station; and will continue to produce a lubricant currently used in more than 50 percent of the world’s hard drives.
For more information on the North San Gabriel Alliance, visit northsangabrielalliance.org. For more information on Exfluor, visit exfluor.com.