WatchSonoma Watch

Dutra asphalt plant controversy in hands of judge


Lawyers argued Friday before a packed courtroom about a controversial asphalt plant proposed for the Petaluma River that was approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors despite community opposition over potential environmental effects.

Critics of the Dutra Materials project have sued the San Rafael-based company and the county, alleging the project was rushed through in violation of open-meeting laws and without adequate consideration of impacts on public health, air, water quality and nearby park land.

Opponents are seeking a new environmental review and another vote from the board, which has lost two Dutra supporters since approving the project in December 2010 by a 3-2 margin. The new panel likely would reject it.

“I think we made a really strong case,” Petaluma Mayor David Glass said at the end of the more than two hour session before Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau. “And I think the judge asked some really good questions.”

Chouteau listened to arguments from both sides and took the matter under submission. He’ll rely on written briefs and about 50,000 pages of public records in making a decision in the coming weeks.

The courtroom was filled to capacity with Petaluma council members, community activists and project supporters.
“We look forward to a favorable ruling,” Dutra spokeswoman, Aimi Dutra, said after the hearing. “Our case was well-represented and we remain confident.”

The company has been trying to build the 38-acre plant at the southern gateway to the city for about five years. The design has undergone several revisions to reduce noise, traffic and disruptions to native species and habitat.

But opponents allege that an environmental review completed in 2008 was not amended to reflect the changes. Attorney Richard Drury argued it lacked an accurate project description, a map or updated assessments of issues such as traffic and noise, invalidating the supervisors’ approval. He questioned how supervisors could make a decision on something not fully explained to them.

“Even trained experts can’t figure out what the project is, let alone what its impacts are,” Drury said.

Also, Drury accused Dutra consultants of a last-minute “document dump” of more than 600 pages of reports to supervisors the day they voted on the project.

Dutra’s attorney, Les Perry, said the last submission was a mere 56 pages in an 1,800-page report. He conceded changes to the project but said they came at the county’s request and typically lessened impacts on surrounding areas. Each incarnation was covered in the environmental report, he said.

“Yeah, there were pieces added, but to say it’s a project that wasn’t evaluated is fundamentally wrong,” Perry said.

The county’s lawyer, Jeff Brax, disputed claims that supervisors violated the Brown Act by not allowing public comment at the last hearing on Dec. 14. He said it wasn’t required because the matter had been continued from a previous date.

Chouteau picked on some of the open-meeting law questions. He suggested a possible violation of noticing requirements on documents submitted the day the project was approved.

“They were entitled to 10 days’ notice,” Chouteau told Brax. “That’s what I’m concerned about.”

8 Responses to “Dutra asphalt plant controversy in hands of judge”

  1. Happy Medium says:

    This is one of the best articles I read:
    http://nopetalumaasphaltplant.com/ and this one too gives people to contact by Jason Davies http://petaluma.patch.com/articles/dutra-plant-is-flawed-and-unhealthy-for-petaluma-residents

    But also the aspect that has not had an EIR is about the RELEASE AGENTS. This is commonly Diesel, every single day it is required that truck liners be washed out with Release Agents. Any kind of oil harms soil, it doesn’t mix. It causes concentrations of minerals like silenium to run off and caused Kesterson Wildlife Refuge disasters across the nation and 27,000 refuges were contaminated. We don’t use diesel in fertilizer! But it was the oil in petro based fertilizer that ruined the refuges.
    It does not create jobs, because the jobs depends on the contracts they get not Dutra and there will always be contracts. Dutra just wants the Novato Narrows jobs and Haystack landing is close by. All his arguments are based on that.
    If you want an easier more environmentally friendly job Bill and Aimi, why don’t you open an Extreme Park with rock climb walls and water park?
    These parks are very profitable:

  2. David Keller says:

    It’s now really clear that the Dutra asphalt factory is not needed to supply asphalt for the entire region, no less in Petaluma.

    The doom-and-gloom predictions from Dutra and their supporters that “we” need the factory in Petaluma for CalTrans’ paving of 101 and that without it the prices would be sky-high, are completely unfounded. Most all of the 101 expansion project in Sonoma and Marin has already been paved with a lot of new asphalt (and concrete) – without any of it coming from Dutra’s Petaluma location. (With the exception of the as-yet unfunded and unbuilt Narrows section.)

    Thanks to competitive bidding, Dutra’s competitors BoDean and Syar (and maybe even Dutra’s San Rafael plant) have been able to get the job done, on time and under budget.

    As the Dutra EIR clearly stated and the facts now demonstrate, there is still a surplus of existing permitted capacity of asphalt production in the region to do the job, and the new Dutra plant location in Petaluma is completely unnecessary.

  3. Do We Believe in Magic says:

    Dutra is good for Petaluma and good for Sonoma County. It will bring jobs and create jobs for beleaguered, depressed Petaluma.

    Construction jobs are in short supply and the Dutra plant will mean cheaper prices, more jobs and a better economy.

    The Petaluma City Council is way off base on this one.

  4. The Oracle says:

    I guess you’re right “Only Choice.” Sonoma County is known for its one term supervisors.

  5. Only choice says:

    I think Rabbitt is wise enough to know that if he expects to have a second term on the board of supervisors he has to stick with his no on Dutra vote.

  6. The Oracle says:

    Does anyone sincerely believe David Rabbitt when he says he’s against this project. His campaign claim included the weaselly “as it’s presented.” Campaign night party friend, Amy Dutra, only has to make some minor change, and Rabbit will hop over to the “pro-Dutra” camp. The PD’s cynical reporter sees this too, but still feeds us this fantasy tale.

  7. Calculated risk says:

    Dutra, and County Supervisors Kerns, Kelly, and Carillo took a risk they felt they needed to take in order to get the project approved before the new Board of Supervisors came in. It’s pretty clear that had they actually given 10 days of review on the new information, they would have missed the opportunity. So, while it now appears to be unraveling, they probably figured they had no alternative. Provide the 10 days as CEQA requires and risk sending it to the next board to vote on (which would require McQuire and Rabbitt to weigh in), or skip it and hope that the legal team fighting Dutra wouldn’t notice. It was a calculated risk. Fortunately, we do indeed have laws and it’s pretty clearly against the law to add new information at the last minute and prevent public comments, to which they would have been required to respond to. CEQA is clear on this so I expect the judge to rule accordingly and throw this back to the Board of Supervisors. We’ll be watching McGuire and Rabbitt closely to see what they do in this case. As for Carillo, he may get his chance to undo his poor decision on this case to inflict retribution on Petaluma for what he claims was environmental injustice in Santa Rosa (pretty stupid logic for someone who ran as an environmentalist, bad asphalt plant in Santa Rosa, now it’s Petaluma’s turn to have one).

  8. Brown Act Jack says:

    So, the county lawyer doesn’t follow the law, the Brown Act, either.

    He actually believes that if you continue the action, it eliminates all possibility of the public from commenting on the new meeting!

    Perhaps the DA should check with the AG about that position.

    Be a good way to eliminate all discussion, open in one meeting, continue to next meeting and this would prevent public from testifying.

    Ah, attorneys and their ability to invent ways to get around the law, instead of following the law.