At neighbors’ urging, Santa Rosa to study BoDean Co. asphalt plant operations

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The Santa Rosa City Council agreed Tuesday to review the permit history and operations of an asphalt plant neighbors say has no business so close to a residential area but which company officials contend has reduced its noise and odor impacts on the area.

The future study session, approved on a 7-0 vote, will be aimed at clarifying for council members and the community what rules apply to the BoDean Co.’s plant and how the facility’s complicated past and oversight by several agencies govern operations at the Maxwell Drive property.

“This borders on an urban myth at times — what can and cannot be done, what has and has not happened on the site,” Mayor John Sawyer said. “It has quite a history.”

Revisiting that history, Sawyer said, would give West End neighbors and Bo-Dean officials the chance to outline their concerns and points and “clear the air, if you will” about the legal rights and operational restrictions on plant.

Neighbors who have opposed the plant’s industrial operations for years have ratcheted up their campaign in recent weeks as more than a dozen residents filed complaints with the city about the noise, odors and nighttime asphalt production activities.

The city views the plant, which has operated since 1961, as having the right to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The heavy industrial use is not in line with current zoning, but because operations preceded that zoning, the plant has been grandfathered in as a “legal non-conforming use.”

The city in late 2012 approved the installation of three new 82-foot-high storage silos, triggering a lawsuit by a neighbors’ group, Citizens for Safe Neighborhoods, which argued a more detailed environmental review was required. A judge in 2013 upheld the city’s approval for the silo upgrade.

Now the neighbors’ group is claiming that the plant violates the city’s noise ordinance, prompting an investigation by code enforcement officers.

BoDean General Manager Bill Williams said that the additional storage silos have allowed the plant to operate less often at night than it once did. He said that between January and August of 2012, before the new silos were installed, the plant had operated after 10 p.m. for a total of 261 hours. So far this year, that number stood at 89 hours, a reduction of more than 65 percent, he said.

The company has since learned that it “may be violating Santa Rosa’s noise requirements,” Williams said. The firm has hired an engineer to determine the source of the noise and “mitigate or attenuate” it to comply with the law and reduce impacts on neighbors, Williams said.

“It has always been our hope to work with our neighbors to find solutions to an impacts we may have on them,” Williams said.

Contractor Kevin Pryne, who lives just east of the plant, criticized the city for allowing the silos to be installed without an environmental analysis on the theory the towers were considered minor changes.

“Apparently the people of the West End neighborhood have no right to know what we’re being forced to breathe,” Pryne said.

Councilwoman Julie Combs urged her colleagues to take up the issue before the results of the noise investigation were complete because of the long history of neighborhood concerns about plant.

But it’s likely the council will have the results of the investigation by the time it holds its study session. If found in violation of the noise ordinance, City Manager Sean McGlynn said the city will work with BoDean to try to bring it into compliance.

In that case, City Attorney Caroline Fowler said the city could require mitigation measures, such as the installation of a sound wall.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum

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