Opponents appealed to postpone, supervisors plan to continue

[caption id="attachment_25714" align="alignright" width="360" caption="A view of the proposed plant site from Shollenberger Park"][/caption]

PETALUMA – The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is set to once again consider a proposal for a south Petaluma plant for asphalt and aggregate used in road construction.

The board will continue with the hearing on The Dutra Group's plant project, despite appeals from some community groups and the city of Petaluma to put off discussion yet again because documents analyzing the environmental impact of a second major revision to the project were released just last Wednesday.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Valerie Brown received a number of inquiries to postpone consideration of the project again, but she is keeping consideration of the revised project on the Tuesday meeting agenda, according to her office.

In a report accompanying the documents, county staff recommended approval.

"It's an extremely short timeframe for a very complex project that has been very controversial," said Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliatt, noting that the City Council will not have time to meet to prepare comments. "Because of potential litigation involved, I think we need to have the opportunity to review the documents with our city attorney before the matter goes to the City Council for review."

She has opposed the project in position statements leading up to her November bid for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

San Rafael-based The Dutra Group, which operates San Rafael Quarry and used to run one next to a quarry-turned-subdivision on the southwest edge of the Petaluma, wants to spend an estimated $8 million to $10 million building a plant to serve south county paving projects with 225,000 tons of asphalt and 345,425 tons of sand and gravel annually.

Dutra and paving contractors contend such a plant is needed.

"The Highway 101 corridor from the Cotati hill to the Novato Narrows is where Caltrans is going to be working next, and Petaluma is redoing city streets," said John Bly, executive vice president of Engineering Contractors Association of Northern California. "Right now, the asphalt has to come from Bodean in Santa Rosa or Dutra in San Rafael."

Moms for Clean Air of Petaluma is one of the key project opponents and contends, based on the tally in the project environmental report, that the county has enough asphalt suppliers.

"There are far too many negative impacts and risks associated with placing an asphalt plant so close to parks, schools and homes," said group coordinator Heidi Rhymes. "Not only will toxic and carcinogenic chemicals be released from this project, but it will also mar the scenic corridor, impact the wildlife and use of Shollenberger Park, have negative impacts upon our river, fish and wetlands, increase truck traffic and congestion and impact tourism and nearby housing values in our already suffering economy."

To deal with the emissions question, Dutra is sourcing components from Tennessee-based Astec, a large maker of hot-mix asphalt plant equipment. One is the Astec's high-end Phoenix Phantom burner to melt the asphalt cement for proper mixing with rock aggregate for paving. It uses a high-efficiency "lean burn premix" of natural gas and air to achieve lower nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide emissions than standard burners.

To deal with vaporized hydrocarbons from the asphalt, called "blue smoke," Dutra plans to install a capture system and an enclosed truck loadout area. The equipment for filtering particulates, called the "baghouse," with have higher-performance filter media.

The Board of Supervisors was set to take a final vote on the project in July 2009. But Dutra asked for time to revise the project to address concerns that led the board to take a 3-2 straw vote a month before to reject the project.

Since then, Dutra's design team, led by civil engineering firm CSW/Stuber-Stroeh of Novato, has scaled back the project. But review of how those changes would affect analyses in the 2008 draft environmental impact report wasn't available until Wednesday.

One reason for the delay was the original consultant, Christopher A. Joseph and Associates, went out of business. The new consulting contract with the same project manager was transferred to WRA Environmental Consultants of San Rafael, according to the county staff report.

In July 2009 the project was scaled back to have no asphalt recycling, 25 percent reduction in peak asphalt production to 300 tons an hour and lowered the height of two asphalt storage silos by 14 feet to 62 feet.

Then after the U.S. Coast Guard objected to barge traffic to a proposed materials dock, Dutra dumped the dock.

Added were purchases of a half-million tons of sand and gravel from Shamrock Materials' Landing Way facility along the river and just across the railroad tracks from Dutra's proposed site. That depot is limited to importing 768,000 tons per year.

County staff is recommending trucks be used to move materials from the depot to the plant for up to three years while a conveyor is built across the tracks and a constructed wetland Shamrock built. Permission from SMART for crossing the tracks would be needed, and arrangements between Shamrock and Dutra would have to be worked out on permitting for construction in the wetland.

But the project has brought heated accusations from some community groups that the plant would harm residents' health because of emissions from asphalt production and diesel truck and equipment operations. Another major contention is that the project would detract from the popular wetlands in Shollenberger Park across Petaluma River from the project site, located on 38 acres along the northbound off ramp from Highway 101 at Petaluma Boulevard South.

"Our basic premise is that this is the wrong plant in the wrong location," said Joan Cooper, a founder of Friends of Shollenberger Park, a group that claims to have more than 2,000 supporters.

More than 100 project supporters and opponents sparred over health-related aspects of the proposal at a forum organized by the Petaluma Health Care District on Sept. 30.

The plant project is estimated to cost $8 million to $10 million to build. If approved Tuesday, it wouldn't be operational until late 2011 at the earliest, according to Dutra spokeswoman Aimi Dutra Krause.

The Dutra Group hopes it will have the same success in Petaluma that it achieved Sept. 28 when the Marin County Board of Supervisors approved the plan for ongoing operations at San Rafael Quarry, according to Ms. Dutra Krause.

A deal was worked out with the Point San Pedro Road Coalition, a community group originally formed to counter the quarry project. With a county public works official facilitating dialogue recently, the two sides came to an agreement: Dutra would slightly reduced hours of operation in exchange for a binding agreement from coalition leaders not to pursue a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit over approval of the project.

Yet in Petaluma, some project opponents have asserted that Dutra should have been reaching out to them sooner.

For more information, visit websites for Dutra's plant project at www.petalumaasphaltplant.com,  Friends of Shollenberger Park at www.saveshollenberger.com and Moms for Clean Air at www.momsforcleanair.net.