Sonoma County Supervisors Mike Kerns, Paul Kelley and Efren Carrillo decided Tuesday that San Rafael's Dutra Group can build and operate an asphalt plant at Haystack Landing, a decision sure to have consequences in the near future. Kerns and Kelley are not standing for re-election in November and Carrillo was clearly uneasy playing the role of decision maker for the board.
"Yes" was David Keller's response when asked if a suit will be filed if the supervisors affirm the straw-vote taken Tuesday on Dec. 12, as scheduled. "We hope we can change the final vote on Dec. 14, and if not, unfortunately, we will have to go to court." Keller heads the Petaluma River Council and, working with two other groups, has been a dogged opponent of the asphalt plant from the start. He brought an attorney along to argue that there was not enough time for the public to digest the 1,100 pages of documents released last week describing a revised, reduced project.
Aimi Dutra, spokeswoman for the Dutra Group, was pleased with the vote, and said the company would move forward as soon as the final vote is made in December. She expressed hope that physical construction could begin by the end of 2011. There are several other hurdles to overcome before then, however.
"We are pleased with the outcome," Dutra said. "We have worked hard to build a project that addressed community concerns."
The 3-2 vote came after four solid hours of emotional testimony at a packed house of project supporters and opponents voicing objections and supporting arguments that have been made in many public hearings over the past five years. Both Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Valerie Brown cited health reasons for voting against the project, saying that even if the projected pollution levels from the plan fall below Bay Area standards, they would still have enough of a cumulative effect to warrant denial.
Zane was also critical of Dutra's track record of having racked up millions of dollars in fines for illegal dumping in Miami's Biscayne Bay and off the Farallon Islands closer to home. A $45 million lawsuit is underway in federal court in Sacramento after a Dutra barge destroyed a houseboat in the Delta, severely injuring the owner. The barge was not supposed to be operating at night, and there was only one tug, a violation of river regulations.
Kerns said he considered Dutra's spotty track record, but was swayed by a letter from Marin County Supervisor Susan Anderson, a long-time critic of Dutra's San Rafael operations.
"We just got a letter from (Anderson) and a copy of an op-ed piece where she glowingly praised Dutra and Aimi for working with the community and county in Marin," he said. "The letter was extremely complimentary and said they'd done a wonderful job. Their (San Rafael quarry) permits passed on a 5-0 vote (Sept. 28). While there have been problems in the past, I think Dutra is doing everything they can to overcome the reputation they've developed."
There were at least 200 people packed inside and outside the board chambers in Santa Rosa at the 2:15 p.m. hearing, held in an almost circus-like atmosphere. Almost everyone wore a "yes" sticker or was waiving a "no" placard. Some opponents were wearing costumes and one man donned a gas mask.