The Dutra Magic Show

by David Keller, Petaluma River Council

Most people reading this column have experienced a ‘con’ at a carnival or fair. The Shell Game, or Hide-the-Ball, is one of the most common magic tricks. A ball is hidden under one of three shells or cups, which are then shuffled skillfully by the dealer. The player gambles that they can spot where the ball is hidden.

The dealer’s sleight-of-hand is designed to confuse players, and distractions by shills deflect attention from the tricks being played. A slippery dealer will never let the player find the ball. While the Shell Game looks simple, the con man always wins.

Dutra is playing the Shell Game with us, obscuring the truth about their Asphalt Factory proposal. The Argus Editorial “Keep Petaluma River Traffic Moving” (1/21/10) echoes Dutra’s p.r. game designed to confuse and scare the public into believing that without Dutra, the Coast Guard will shut down our River, all dredging would cease and we’d be inundated by floods.

Instead of trying to find the hidden ball, it’s really time we just stop playing with the con.

Dutra lied to the US Coast Guard and Sonoma County, saying that their barges and tugs would be moored outside the Petaluma River’s federally-dredged navigational channel. Dutra doctored their official maps so that their barges and tugs appear to avoid interfering with current and future commercial and recreational river traffic. The Coast Guard called them out on this fabrication, stating that the remaining channel clearance around a moored barge is not safe.

Dutra claims they’d moor barges for 4 hours to unload aggregates, averaging twice per week. But observations at Shamrock indicate that actual barge unloading time is closer to 8 hours. In letters to the County, Dutra insisted that when they’d operate 24/7 for large government paving jobs (80% of their asphalt business), they’d need to restock raw materials onsite with up to three 4000-ton barges per day, day and night. During those periods, the entire river channel will be blocked and dangerous by maneuvering and anchoring Dutra’s tugs and barges.

Dutra lied again to the US Coast Guard and Sonoma County, saying that two PG&E 12” high-pressure gas transmission pipelines crossing the River go through Shamrock’s parcel upstream, instead of their real location. We discovered that Dutra fabricated their official maps so the pipelines conveniently appear to bypass Dutra’s proposed tug and barge mooring site. However, the pipelines are on Dutra’s property, clearly marked with two 4’x8’ signs reading, “WARNING. DO NOT ANCHOR OR DREDGE. GAS PIPELINE CROSSING. PG&E”. (see: Dutra has a Terminal Gas Problem post below) Perhaps this is why Dutra has refused requests to dredge into their river bank to get their barges and tugs out of the River Channel.

Dutra still claims that dumping of over 200,000 cubic yards of dredge spoils into our Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (over 200 instances) was only minor ‘leakage’, caused by high seas and defective computer-controlled dumps on their barges. But Dutra paid a $735,000 fine to EPA in 2006 for these violations.

Dutra also claims that Miami-Dade County (Florida) inaccurately marked a dredging site in Biscayne Bay, when Dutra was discovered to have destroyed 3.5 acres of federally-protected sea-grass and coral beds. Yet in 2006, after declaring bankruptcy, Dutra’s insurance company paid Miami-Dade County $22.5 Million in compensation.

What’s next? Dutra will morph again to cover their exposed messes. Each time their Shell Game is uncovered, they come up with a new game.

Now, in response to insurmountable problems revealed at their site, Dutra is proposing to locate barge facilities at Shamrock’s property just upstream. Dutra will need a new EIR. Shamrock’s permits and operations must be reviewed closely for its capability to add 125 barges and tugs and over 550,000 tons of aggregates to their existing site.

Let’s stop gambling with Dutra with Shollenberger Park, our health, our River’s safety and wildlife, our tourism, and our community’s investments. Dutra has played Hide-the-Ball games too long about asphalt manufacturing capacity not needed regionally. It’s time for County staff to stop being conned by Dutra’s “magic show.” It’s way past time to end Dutra’s Shell Game, once and for all.

David Keller is a former City Councilman, and founder of the Petaluma River Council.


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