By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Petaluma City Council decided Monday night to evaluate whether to appeal a judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit trying to halt the Dutra Materials asphalt plant.
After a closed-session discussion, City Attorney Eric Danly announced that the council agreed to analyze whether there are legal grounds for an appeal and how much it would cost to continue the fight.
The council joined with five nonprofits and several individuals in the suit, arguing the county and Dutra failed to address potential public health and environmental impacts of the plant when it was approved by the county Board of Supervisors in December 2010.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau dismissed all claims last month against Dutra and its business partners, allowing the project to move forward. The plaintiffs have 60 days to appeal.
The plant, first proposed more than six years ago, could begin construction late this year, owners said.
All seven council members have opposed the plant, which would be at the southern end of Petaluma and across Petaluma River from popular Shollenberger Park.
Aimi Dutra, spokeswoman for her family’s company, said her company is set to move forward, whatever Petaluma ultimately decides.
“I don’t think it’s going to alter Dutra’s course,” she said. “We’re going to continue to be a local resource for Petaluma like we have been for years.”
For 23 years, Dutra operated an asphalt plant along the Petaluma River not far from the current site. That plant closed in 2007.
Earlier Monday, 28 opponents and supporters of the plant, planned for 38 acres adjacent to Highway 101 and the river, spoke during a public comment period.
Joan Cooper urged the council to “fight to the end” to try to prevent the plant from opening: “You can’t not afford to do this.”
While he enjoys Shollenberger Park, Gary Shelden said he supports Dutra.
“Do the right thing and let the plant move forward,” he said.
Cat Canto told council members they needed to represent Petalumans who oppose the plant.
“This is the time for you all to stand up, not with big business, but with the community that has voted against this time and time again,” Canto said.
Chester Parker, a 68-year resident of Petaluma, argued for stopping legal action: “I don’t want one dime of my money spent on opposing this.”
Councilman Mike Healy, an attorney, cautioned constituents who’d emailed him that an appeal could be costly and would have high standards to reach.
A successful appeal would have to prove Chouteau made reversible errors in his legal analysis — regardless of whether the plant is perceived as good or bad for Petaluma.