By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Dutra Materials asphalt plant on the Petaluma River, one of the most disputed industrial projects in recent county history, won final approval Tuesday from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
The quick verdict came on a controversial plan five years in the making and before opponents who expressed bitter frustration at the outcome.
Supervisors Mike Kerns, Paul Kelley and Efren Carrillo voted for the project. Board Chairwoman Valerie Brown and Supervisor Shirlee Zane voted against it. The split vote mirrored the board’s preliminary endorsement on Oct. 12 after hours of public testimony.
While Tuesday’s decision was a procedural formality closed to public comment because a hearing already had been held, it still came with fireworks.
Moments before supervisors took up the issue, Sebastopol activist Magick Altman walked to the speaker’s podium during a period for general public comment, and then approached the raised dais within a few feet of Supervisor Paul Kelley. As she attempted to speak to the packed chamber, she was taken away in handcuffs by a sheriff’s deputy.
Both Dutra supporters and opponents wore stickers or held signs to demonstrate their stance on the project, to be built on 37 acres near Shollenberger Park south of Petaluma
After the vote, Aimi Dutra, spokeswoman for her family’s San Rafael-based company, said she was pleased with the board’s decision.
“It’s been a long road,” said Dutra. The plant was first proposed five years ago as a replacement for a former Dutra plant less than a mile away. Dutra officials said the new plant, with an annual production capacity of 570,425 tons of asphalt and rock material, will have safeguards for environmental and public health.
“We look forward to working with and for the Petaluma community,” Aimi Dutra said.
Supervisors who supported the project said changes to the asphalt plant proposal, including elimination of a crushed materials recycling operation and a change in the way materials arrive at the plant by barge, secured their support.
“I think we have an improved facility,” said Supervisor Efren Carrillo, the swing vote on the project. “The documents in front of me (satisfy) my concerns.”
Opponents, including environmental and citizens groups and the Petaluma City Council, have said the plant would harm air quality and scenic views.
Some have vowed to challenge the project’s approval in court, taking aim at what they say are holes in the county’s environmental review.
They were disappointed not to be able to voice their views again Tuesday.
“This board, on the miserable advice of county counsel, denied the public their right to speak about new information on the Dutra project,” said David Keller, leader of the Petaluma River Council. He cited 114 pages of mitigation documents recently released by the county.
The vote approved a General Plan amendment, a zone change and a use permit for the project.
It followed the board’s final approval earlier in the day of two controversial projects, the Roblar Road quarry and a frost-protection program favored by grape growers. A disputed gravel mine in the Russian River near Geyserville was also given the go-ahead last week.
Dennis Rosatti, executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action, called the votes “a grand slam for resource extraction” interests. He noted that key votes came from two retiring board members, Kelley and Kerns.
“It’s another in a bad series of days for the county’s environment and for the public’s right to know what its government is doing,” Keller said.
For his part, Kerns has called his support of the Dutra plant, which is in the district he represents, “the most difficult decision” of his 12 years on the board.
Dutra supporters praised the board’s decision, saying both the asphalt facility and the Roblar rock quarry would give the county sustainable, local sources of building material for years to come.
“Cheaper prices, less out-of-the-area truck traffic on our roads, and the money stays in this county,” said John Bly, executive vice president of the Northern California Engineering Contractors Association. “This is good for industry.”
You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.