In The News

Judge dismisses lawsuit seeking to stop Petaluma asphalt plant

December 28, 2011

By BRETT WILKISON Press Democrat Staff Writer

A Sonoma County judge has dismissed the lawsuit challenging approval of the Dutra Materials asphalt plant, the controversial land use project slated for 38 acres south of Petaluma.

Judge Rene Chouteau dismissed all claims brought against the county, Dutra and its business partners by the City of Petaluma, a group of five nonprofit groups and several individuals.

“This was huge. It was a huge decision,” Aimi Dutra, spokeswoman for her family’s company said of the ruling, which allows one of the most contentious land use projects in Sonoma County to go forward.

Dutra Materials, based in San Rafael, first proposed the plant more than six years ago and could begin construction in late 2012.

The plant was approved last December on a 3-2 vote of the Board of Supervisors, which had previously turned down an earlier version of the project. A majority of supervisors including Mike Kerns and Paul Kelley — both of whom have since retired — and Efren Carrillo, said changes to the plant and safeguards required in its approval resolved their concerns.

The go-ahead came over the strenuous objections of opponents, who said the county and Dutra had failed to address public health and environmental impacts of the facility, including annual production of up 570,425 tons of asphalt and rock material and 145,000 annual truck trips.

Plaintiffs said the activity would mar a nearby county scenic corridor and Shollenberger Park, which sits across the Petaluma River from the planned site.

In their lawsuit they also alleged the plant was rushed through the planning process in violation of open-meeting laws.

The legal challenge asked for the approval to be set aside and for a new environmental study to be done.

In a 30-page opinion filed last week, Chouteau dismissed all of the opponents’ claims, ruling that the county’s environmental analysis was adequate and that open meeting laws had been followed.

Chouteau also found that the dozens of safeguards the county required of Dutra to lessen impacts on traffic, air quality, noise and nearby wetlands were also adequate.

Chouteau said the plaintiffs had presented “no substantial evidence” that the new impacts would be “significant” and or that the mitigations required of Dutra fell short.

David Keller, one of the individuals who brought the suit and a leader of the Petaluma River Council, which was also is part of the challenge, said plaintiffs are considering an appeal.

“Judge Chouteau has rejected our plea to preserve the gateway to Sonoma County from blight and protect the people of Petaluma from Dutra’s industrial pollution,” Keller said in a statement.

Aimi Dutra countered with a statement from her family’s company, citing revisions to the plant that she said would limit its impact on the community.

“This is the right plant in the right place,” she said. “The court’s ruling clearly supports the fact that all environmental impacts have been addressed.”