Friday, January 30, 2009

A personal message re Petaluma City Council meeting & Dutra Asphalt Plant

From P4C member Elaine Larson, after attending the City Council meeting on Mon. Jan. 26th, a meeting which lasted until 11:30pm due to public discussion of this issue:
My husband ... and I went to the City Council meeting last night and came away totally outraged at the proposed asphalt plant and the process that has allowed it to proceed so far ... I will be composing a passionate letter to every Sonoma Supervisor that I will share later today.

Here's Elaine's subsequent letter, which she sent to Supervisor Kerns on Wed. Jan. 28th:
Dear Supervisor Kerns (and all other elected and appointed officials, public interest groups and media representatives receiving a copy of this email),

We, both native Californians, are new residents of Sonoma County, having just purchased a home for our retirement years in Petaluma in 2008. We first heard of the proposed asphalt plant next to Shollenberger Park and the Highway 101 entrance to Sonoma County on January 26 and attended the Petaluma City Council meeting that night to learn more.

The facts presented by dozens of experts, residents, business owners, and other interested parties are overwhelming and totally negate any possibility of the use of the proposed site for any 'heavy industrial' purpose, let alone a smelly, polluting, carcinogenic rubberized and recycled asphalt plant. Each one of the factors below, on its own, is more than sufficient cause to have discarded this proposal much earlier in the exception, permitting and approval processes. Taken together, they represent a major failure of multiple government agencies to act in the public interest.

1) Impact on Tourism and the Sonoma 'Brand'
Many government agencies, businesses, groups and citizens have worked very hard and invested millions of dollars for many years to grow Sonoma County into a world class tourist destination. Putting an asphalt plant between 101 and the stunning vista of Petaluma, the river, yacht harbor and wetlands that one now sees upon entering Sonoma County is throwing this investment down the drain and limiting the inflow of future tourist dollars.

2) Impact on Local Businesses
There are many office buildings and a yacht harbor easily within smelling and severe-health-impact distance of the site. This includes the magnificent Sheraton Hotel complex, a jewel of Northern California. Imagine putting an asphalt plant next to the Awahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley or the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego to get the picture. Imagine having to work with the overpowering smell of rubberized asphalt in your nostrils every day of every week of every year. It is likely these business will take appropriate action to protect their employees, customers and income, including suing, moving or both.

3) Impact on River Traffic
The size of the barges planned to service the proposed asphalt plant would create a blockage of the Petaluma River that will not be allowed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard or be tolerable for businesses upstream from the site dependent upon river traffic. One of the opportunities for process improvement is not to wait until County permitting is complete to have the ACE and Coast Guard say it can't be done anyway.

4) Impact on Wetlands and Bird Sanctuary.
Shollenberger Park is the largest wetlands in the Bay Area and attracts hundreds of thousands of birders a year. To our surprise, we learned birders spend more tourist dollars than football, basketball or baseball fans. Even more important than the economic impact of lost birder dollars, the fact is heavy industry such as a asphalt plant within 200 meters of nesting sites in and near the sanctuary will have negative impact on the survival rate of the birds and their use of the area.

In addition to the above evidence of the unacceptable consequences if the proposed site is put to heavy industrial use, there are other factors to consider before approving an asphalt plant at an appropriate site elsewhere in Sonoma County.

5) Sonoma needs a state-of-the-art asphalt plant that does not pollute or harm
No matter where located, the plant must be 100% contained, with all air, water and particulate emissions being scrubbed and processed to contain no or insignificant temperature changes, pollution or carcinogens. All employees and users of the plant must be adequately shielded and protected at all times. Our workers, elders and children deserve no less. Such plants are already in operation in other countries, so this represents an opportunity for Sonoma to lead the way in the US.

6) The asphalt plant needs access to fresh water, not salt water
The inappropriately located plant would have used Petaluma River salt water in making asphalt. Use of salt water instead of fresh creates an inferior grade of asphalt that has to be replaced more frequently than asphalt made with fresh water. This is not economically or environmentally sound.

7) The EIR must pertain to the plant that will become operational
The 'fantasy' EIR that was prepared for the unallowable project addressed the production of standard asphalt. The intent for the plant was to produce rubberized asphalt and recycled asphalt, both of which have much more dire environmental consequences.

8) The plant operators must have an unassailable record of good corporate citizenship and environmental protection.
The record of the Dutra Group is abysmal and continues to be so to this day; they were just sued by the residents near their rock quarry in San Rafael. Over the past two decades they have been fined $740,000 by the EPA for illegal dumping in the ocean; they have been indicted by the San Rafael Grand Jury; they have ignored court orders to cease operations and produce records; they have built structures without any permits; they have consistently lied about hours of operation, noise levels, dust levels, and pollution levels. Before another application is accepted from them, they should be required to clear all outstanding matters to the satisfaction of the aggrieved parties and then maintain a clean record for three years to show they have changed their ways.

9) The public must be involved from the beginning
We were shocked that many of the people who spoke to the Petaluma City Council said they had just found out about this proposed project. This indicated an unacceptable lack of disclosure to and involvement of the public in vital matters of concern to all. The public needs to be involved at every stage of locating and permitting the new asphalt plant.

This list is nowhere close to being exhaustive, but it does give a flavor for what we are dealing with. We will close by asking how can we help see that the lessons learned from this fiasco will improve the operations and processes of Sonoma County government? The home page of the Board of Supervisors includes this most encouraging statement: 'To insure that the public is heard on issues of concern, the Board of Supervisors provides a forum for problem solving as it relates to government agencies and processes.' Supervisor Kerns, please tell us how we can participate in this forum, and thank you for this opportunity to comment. We expect your NO votes February 3..

Best Regards,

Elaine and Lars Larson
Petaluma, CA

1 comment:

  1. Elaine, I could not agree with you more. Thanks for writing this. My energy is limited right now so I am not as active as I would like to be. I appreciate your efforts. Mavis Anderson