By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Federal officials want to add nearly 5,000 acres to the central Sonoma County zone designated for protection of the endangered California tiger salamander, including a controversial rock quarry west of Petaluma.
How inclusion in the salamander habitat zone would affect developer John Barella’s plans for the quarry on 70 acres off Roblar Road was uncertain.
Barella, the former owner of North Bay Construction, said he was unaware of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to add 4,945 acres in the Roblar Road area to the habitat zone.
“First I’ve heard of it,” he said Monday.
The federal agency said Monday that it intends to expand the zone — bringing it to 55,800 acres — after learning there were three salamander breeding sites in the Roblar area.
The expanded zone would cover a swatch of land from Windsor to northern Petaluma and from Llano Road on the west to Petaluma Hill Road on the east.
Fish and Wildlife officials will explain the proposed addition to the zone on June 29 at two sessions, beginning at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., at the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa. The agency will accept public comments on the entire habitat plan through July 5 and intends to publish the final rule by Sept. 1.
If the expansion is approved, Barella will be required to consult with the federal agency over possible requirements for the quarry project, said Sarah Swenty, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman.
The consultation would likely involve “a small incremental cost” to Barella because the salamander is known to exist in the quarry area, she said.
Pete Parkinson, county planning director, said federal officials told him that a critical habitat designation “would not make that much difference” to a proposed development.
County supervisors approved Barella’s quarry on a 3-2 vote in December. Parkinson said that makes it “a done deal” from the county’s perspective.
Barella agreed to pay up to $80,000 per acre to replace salamander habitat damaged by quarry operations, among other conditions.
Opponents of the quarry, which has been in the works since 2003, have filed two lawsuits against the project.