Many residents of Santa Rosa's West End neighborhood wish Bodean Co.'s asphalt plant was somewhere else.
The six-acre site produces thousands of tons of the hot, black material used to make roads smooth and durable, a process that can be noisy, dusty and stinky.
So the company's plans to erect three, 82-foot-tall storage silos have neighbors fretting about air quality and urging the city not to allow a more intense industrial use so close to a residential area.
They argue the silos, which can hold 280 tons of asphalt each, will lead to increased production and will further entrench Bodean in their neighborhood when the city should be finding a way to eventually phase out such an industrial use.
"We're not asking anyone to leave. We just don't want them to enhance or fortify what we consider, what the city's owns staff considers, a non-conforming use," said Allen Thomas, a leader of the neighborhood association and strong opponent of the project.
But Bodean's general manager, Bill Williams, said the $1.5 million project is being misrepresented and actually would reduce many of the impacts that concern some neighbors. The project will help the plant operate more efficiently by increasing its storage capacity, not its production capacity, he said.
"We're not talking about intensifying our use or increasing our production," Williams said.
The rate of production is limited by other factors on the plant, such as the capacity of the tower that mixes the sand and gravel with a hot oily binder to make asphalt and the size and speed of conveyor belts that move the material into a single existing silo.
The real benefit of the project is not in increased sales but from lower energy costs and operational efficiencies, he said.
He likened the upgrades to cooking for a dinner party: It's more efficient to cook one large casserole ahead of time than cook lots of small casseroles after each guest arrives.
Similarly, the upgrade will save energy — mostly through lower natural gas use — by allowing the plant to operate less frequently and to make more asphalt at a time, something only possible with increased storage. He likened a storage silo to a large thermos that keeps the asphalt warm until the mixture is ready for dump trucks bound for road projects around the county.
The project will lower greenhouse gas emission, reduce night operations and, therefore, cut noise and odors, he said.
The whole debate, which has been raging behind the scenes for nearly a year, heads Thursday to the Planning Commission for a consideration of a use permit for the silos.
City planning staff members are recommending that the project be approved. The plant's site has a history as an industrial use dating to early 1950s, and the city considers the upgrades to be akin to an equipment upgrade. A permit for an asphalt plant at the site was issued in 1961.
Bodean Co. was founded in 1989 when Belinda "Bo" and Dean Soiland took over Mark West Quarry on Porter Creek Road. The company added Blue Rock Quarry in Forestville in 1997. Sand, gravel and other aggregates from the quarries are used to produce the company's asphalt. In addition to huge mounds of aggregate at the plant, it has piles of torn up roadway that gets recycled.