A Dark Cloud is hanging over Petaluma: the Dutra Asphalt Plant proposal

By David Keller
former City Council member
founder, Petaluma River Council

This is a very noxious and dangerous project from Dutra Group, proposing a large asphalt batch plant and recycling facility (650,000tons/yr total production) along the banks of the Petaluma River, directly opposite the well-loved and highly used Shollenberger Park (marsh restoration, trails, national Audubon Society ranking as one of the top 4 new birding sites in the country a couple of years ago, outdoor classroom, research area), and adjacent to a 6 year old thriving egret/heron rookery in eucalyptus trees on the Dutra site itself. The Park itself is used by over 150,000 visitors annually, and would suffer permanent damages from this location and operations as proposed.

There are a huge number of unmitigable significant impacts of the project. On Jan. 26th, at the Petaluma City Council meeting, over 30 people spoke against it (including several from San Pedro Rd. Coalition in San Rafael), out of a crowd of 80 or so people. No one spoke in favor. The council unanimously agreed to send a strong letter to the Supes: fix all the problems, and totally enclose all the operations, and prevent hazards to navigation - or deny approvals. Opposition and doubting questions about the project come from the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance, Madrone Audubon, SCCA, PRC, Friends of Shollenberger Park & Clean Air (a new, ad hoc group doing tremendous outreach), Petaluma Health Care District, businesses, school groups, etc etc. See links at: http://savesbpark.blogspot.com/

The County PRMD staff and Supervisor Mike Kerns have not held any public meetings in Petaluma during the 4 year development of the project, and Mike Kerns declined an invitation to even come to the last Council meeting. It’s been said that many of the Superevisors are viewing this as a case of emotional, complaining Petalumans, who don't understand that this is really just an old industrial dredge spoils site with a path and a bunch of birds, and is in a traditionally (ugly, dirty) old river area, and who are just being NIMBY's for an asphalt plant which we all need, and which helps take truck traffic off the road and is a new employment site [at most 10 people], and who just don't understand the facts about how Dutra will be a good and responsive neighbor, and will not deliver any dirty, smelly air because the plant is 'totally enclosed.'

Most Petalumans are disgusted and very frustrated by this, and very few people even knew about this project until the last few weeks, when p.r. and outreach has ramped up virally.

Attorney Mike Lozeau was hired in October to provide comments on 12/8 to the Supervisors, on air quality errors and omissions of the FEIR. The project returns to the Supervisors next Tuesday, 2/3. We found that most of the FEIR's air quality impacts were grossly understated. For instance, no accounting for PM2.5 particulates. Truck traffic understated by a factor of 4. Barge traffic, noise, lights, runoff, diesel and blue smoke all understated, as we examined the EIR's own data.

We are left with significant toxic and noxious releases of blue smoke (PAH) and diesel fumes. David Keller took a tour, courtesy of and with Aimi Dutra and Brian Peer, to a 'model' plant in Irvine, owned by All American Asphalt, in November. Dutra presents this as their model 'neg. air pressure enclosed loading tunnel' for the trucks, ('state of the art') which is purported to cure all leakage of blue smoke and diesel fumes during loading. However, it leaked blue smoke and diesel fumes/particulates like a sieve, sickening one of the party who waited 1/2 hour in the parking lot for us to arrive from the airport, parked some 225' or so from the exit of the tunnel. No trucks were tarped (even though this is under the South Coast AQMD), leaving a trail of blue smoke down the road and canyon to Irvine. As Aimi and the rest of the group opened the car door when they arrived and parked about 200' from the tunnel exit, they were hit with heavy asphalt smells/smoke, causing Aimi to exclaim, "What's that? that's not supposed to happen! there must be something going on here."

There are also significant problems remaining with extreme noises + background noises, uncontained dusts and silicates from their crushing operation (outdoors, with outdoor exposed storage of aggregates), lights, permitted 24/7 operation (during high demand periods, e.g. CalTrans), unclear impacts to fish from drafting of Pet. River water for dust control, high truck activity (up to 750 trucks per day, ie, up to 1500 trips/day) and other aspects of poor asphalt manufacturing and recycling activities.

Most disturbing, this 40-50 year project (lifespan) occurs 2-300' from the trails of Shollenberger Park, and on the shore of the River - with prevailing winds blowing toxics and noxious smells directly across to envelop walkers, runners, bird watchers, families, school visits, research, recuperating patients and staff from Kaiser, eco-tourists, and the hundreds of workers in nearby office parks, (including PRBO's new national hq), many of which located there to be adjacent to the trails, vistas and tranquility of Shollenberger and the River. The City has spent well over $1M to work on trails and restoration of tidal marsh habitat in this former (and partially still used every 4-5 years) dredge spoils site. The restoration is proving extremely successful, attracting over 150 species of birds noted so far. It is adjacent to the Allman Marsh (purchased with Open Space funds) and the soon to be opened new municipal WWTP, with extensive new polishing wetlands and ponds and nature trails. This is truly a regional and national site for birding and marsh studies. On the north end of the Dutra property itself is a grove of eucalyptus which has become a successful rookery for egrets and herons over the past 6 years.

The operations and buildings would be placed within 70' of the grove (closest building would be the very peaceful new firehouse for the San Antonio Vol. Fire Dept), and John Kelley of Audubon Canyon Ranch's Cypress Grove Field Station (a national expert on egrets/herons) has testified that Dutra's activities will very likely cause abandonment of this education and birdwatching destination rookery.

Additionally, Dutra is also showing a mooring location for their 200' barges and 60' tugs along their bank in a location and position that is undoubtedly going to interfere with safe passage of Jerico Dredging's tugs and barges, as well as rowers and competitors in regattas, past this narrow and curved reach of the river. Jerico hauls their own oyster shell products, and aggregates for themselves and also over 1M tons/year for Shamrock's B.C. -originated rock (Polaris Co.), which Shamrock is using to displace Russian River aggregate. Dutra's mooring goes far into the channel, and probably would not fit within the length of their river frontage as well. Jerico wants the barge/tug mooring to be cut further inland into the parcel, but there may not be enough space on Dutra's property to do that. SoCo PRMD still has not even talked with Jerico's owners, who are the most experienced tug pilots on the river. They're waiting for the Corps to say something, which they of course won't do until there's a permit application, which won't happen until after the Supes approve Dutra's EIR and permits, zoning and land use changes, and GPlan amendment.

This proposed project is pushing the envelope of what California Asphalt plants are doing. It's not anywhere enough, and cannot be allowed to be built (especially by Dutra) in this very sensitive and popular location. It should be totally enclosed, navigational hazards must be eliminated, as well as and stormwater runoff, or it should be denied.


  1. God, you're insane...

    You filthy hippies bitch about everything! Someone could offer to plant a field full of wild flowers and rainbows, and you would sue them for not filing an EIR!

    Do you think that if a building is placed next to an egret rookery, that the birds are just going to drop dead, right then and there? You don't think they'll...I dunno....just move? Besides, if the noise and toxic fumes from 101, which must also blow right over Shollenberger, don't bother the birds, I doubt this will.

    At 9%+ unemployment, we don't have the time or luxury of dealing with your ludicrous nonsense. People need jobs, (real ones....not "Paid to Bitch" ones) the state, the city, and the fed need tax revenue.

    Why don't you try being pro-active? How about, you start a fund to buy the piece of land yourself? Or, build a gravel plant of your own in a location you approve of, and then sell it at a subsidized rate to Dutra? That would make sense. That would be proactive. That way, you wouldn't come across as another whining little N.I.M.B.Y. member. It would require work though...something screaming, yelling, and blogging about doesn't.

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