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Plans for a 24-hour asphalt plant along the Petaluma River upstream from Schollenberger Park are drawing fire from environmentalists concerned the facility might drive off wildlife and bring noise, water pollution and unwanted smells.

Dutra Materials of San Rafael is proposing the 38-acre plant at Haystack Landing on the river's southwestern edge just outside the city limits. The company owned a nearby hillside quarry overlooking Highway 101 that is now being developed into homes.

Dutra's plant would operate day and night, providing more than 650,000 tons of material annually for regional highway projects. Trucks would roll onto nearby freeway ramps and the company would build new docks on the river for barge transport.

Although the adjoining land is used for heavy industry -- a concrete and aggregate plant is next door -- critics say the project is inappropriate given the 13-year-old park and wildlife sanctuary across the river.

David Keller, a former city councilman and founder of a river preservation group, said blaring lights, loud trucks and machinery and "the sweet smell of brewing asphalt" could destroy what has become a popular spot for bird watchers and people enjoying nature.

He's asked Dutra to either build an enclosure around the plant, sealing in sounds and smells, or move it upstream to the site of a former concrete plant.

"You will not be able to walk on the river frontage without being keenly aware of this plant," Keller said. "To me it would be a huge loss."

Company spokeswoman Aimi Dutra said the location was picked for its access to a commercial waterway that will allow the company to pull gas-guzzling trucks off the road.

She said the plant will be designed with buffers and landscaping to minimize noise and visual blight. A 19-acre wetland restoration is part of the project, she said.

The company ruled out enclosing the plant, which is not practical, or moving it to the former Pomeroy Corp. site because the city has other plans for the property involving mixed residential-commercial development, officials said.

"We feel this is the best location," Dutra said. "We're going to do our best to minimize the impacts on Schollenberger Park. We know it's a valuable asset to the community."

A recently released environmental report confirmed the project will have certain unavoidable impacts. But Dutra will be asked to make changes to reduce nighttime noise and possible damage to bird rookeries, said Steve Padovan of the county's Permit and Resource Management Department.

The plant will be allowed to make asphalt around the clock but the noisy process of unloading from barges will be limited to daylight hours, Padovan said.

Also, a conveyor belt that would have run near egrets and herons nesting in eucalyptus trees will be relocated, he said.

Potential water pollution from processing materials will be reduced by a system of swales and culverts.

If approved by the county planning commission Aug. 21 and then the board of supervisors this fall, the plant will produce a maximum of 250,000 tons of asphalt each year and handle 250,000 tons of sand and gravel, Padovan said.

It will process another 150,000 tons of recycled material, he said.

"In general, asphalt is pretty inert," Padovan said. "There's not much chance the river would get contaminated unless something happens to a barge."

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 762-7297 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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