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A county hearing on a controversial asphalt plant proposal by the Dutra Group will go forward at last on Tuesday, Oct. 12, after county staff released a report this week recommending that the Board of Supervisors approve the project, finding "less than significant" impacts in a number of areas.

Dutra's latest proposal involves shipping rock material to the Shamrock Materials' site — between Highway 101 and the Petaluma River, just south of town — and using either trucks or a conveyor belt to move the material just south to Dutra's property.

Staff from the county's Permit and Resource Management Department recommended approval of the Dutra project with the conveyor option. Their blessing of the project was based on the improvements that had been made to it since its original incarnation, which proposed building a new barge offload site at the Dutra property.

"Based on the fact that the conveyor option is more consistent with the General Plan and reduces environmental impacts to a greater extent than the trucking option, staff recommends that the Board of Supervisors approve Revised Project II with the conveyor option," wrote Steve Padovan, the county's project planner, in the staff report released late Tuesday.

Staff also said that approving the project would require that the supervisors amend the county's General Plan to account for "limited industrial" rather than "limited commercial" land-use zoning at the site. The plant would have a total capacity of 570,425 tons of asphalt and rock material per year.

In the final report, county planning staff weighed in on a number of concerns:

Emissions from the plant would remain "significant but unavoidable," but would not violate any thresholds.

Noise would not exceed limits in the General Plan, but staff recommended improvements to the conveyor belt to lessen noise.

Impacts on the river and water quality would be minimal, and impacts to the "low quality" wetlands would be minimal, and could be mitigated with the purchase of credits.

The aesthetics of the plant would be better with the conveyor option and have improved greatly since the original proposal, according to the report.

"We're obviously very happy that they are recommending an approval," said Al Cornwell, an engineer with CSW/Suber-Stroeh, Dutra's retained engineering firm. "They've gone through it very thoroughly," he said.

The staff report, which included data and figures determined by environmental consultants hired by the county, is available for public review at Petaluma City Hall.

David Keller, a Dutra opponent, said in an e-mail to the Board of Supervisors that the Oct. 12 meeting should be rescheduled because the release of the report gave the public less than a week to review and comment on the project.

"The rush to jam this huge collection of new — and still undisclosed — documents and data into a very limited time frame for review prior to the Supervisors Oct. 12th public hearing on this Project is a gross insult to the public, stakeholders, businesses, residents, river users and others who have participated in the past hearings and reviews of CEQA and Project documents over the past four years," Keller wrote.

The Board of Supervisors will likely take a straw vote on Tuesday before sending more questions and considerations to county planners, according to PRMD staff. Final approval will likely not be considered on Tuesday.

The release of the staff report follows a forum on the impacts of the Dutra project last week.

A packed audience at the Petaluma Community Center heard presentations on Sept. 30 by experts invited by proponents and opponents to discuss possible health impacts of the proposed plant.

The speakers at the forum, which was hosted by the Petaluma Health Care District, were agreed upon at a meeting attended by representatives of Dutra, Friends of Shollenberger Park and Moms for Clean Air.

Todd Tamura, an environmental consultant with Tamura Environmental in Petaluma, felt that if the Bay Area Air Quality Management District approves of the level of the estimated emissions, they should be considered safe.

Joan Cooper, a founding member of Friends of Shollenberger Park, felt that a presentation by Dr. Alice Brock-Utne, a pediatrician at the University of California, San Francisco was compelling.

"Health issues related to the plant — including how air pollution affects children's development — are never covered in any depth, so I'm grateful to the Petaluma Health Care District for having the forum," Cooper said.

(Contact the writers at philip.riley@arguscourier.com or dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)

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