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Divided Santa Rosa council approves more asphalt plant silos

Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 11:29 p.m.

A Santa Rosa asphalt plant will be allowed to add three huge new storage silos without the additional environmental study demanded by neighbors worried about air quality and other impacts.

Dozens of neighbors appealed Tuesday night to the City Council to require the additional study, but many also supported the Bodean Company's application for upgrades it says will lessen the impact of plant operations on the neighborhood just northwest of downtown.

On a 4-3 vote, the City Council denied the appeal brought by a group of residents who argued that the new equipment would allow the plant to expand production in violation of zoning rules meant to restrict the plant's operations to its historical usage.

Vice Mayor John Sawyer noted that the Bay Area Regional Air Quality Management District had concluded that the project would improve the air quality related to the plant.

“Isn't that what we want right now? An operator that is responsibly complying with our environmental regulations?” Sawyer said.

But Susan Gorin said she has seen the “enormous amount of dust” that emanates from the Maxwell Court plant, fully expected the issue would head to the court and wanted to “err on the side of caution in asking for more complete environmental information.”

“We know that long-term this is not the place for an asphalt plant,” she said.

The plant operators want to spend $1.5 million to add three 82-foot silos, each with the capacity to store 280 tons of mixed asphalt. Bodean general manager Bill Williams insisted the upgrades wouldn't result in an increase in the plant's production, which he said would remain limited to 295 tons per hour.

But neighbors and some council members were unconvinced.

Both sides resorted to simplistic analogies to explain how this could be the case. Williams likened the plant's operations to baking individual casseroles whenever dinner guests arrived instead of cooking a larger casserole, keeping it warm and having it ready for them when they arrive.

“Nobody would conduct a dinner party this way, but that's the way we do it at the batch plant,” Williams said.

He said the company spends $500,000 annually for natural gas, an amount that could be reduced by $175,000 with the storage silos because the plant could make all the asphalt it needed at once and store it.

He added that greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced because wait time for trucks will be reduced and fumes known as “blue smoke” would be captured by vacuum equipment on the new silos. He also said that nighttime operations and associated noise would be reduced.

He also likened it to a gas station that increases the size of its underground storage tanks, but not the number of pumps for motorists.

But opponents have used the analogy of a coffee shop with one 30-cup capacity coffee maker which loses business when the 31st customer doesn't want to wait for a fresh pot to be brewed. The solution is to start the brewing earlier and store the coffee in three thermoses.

That would allow the owner to sell 120 cups of coffee during the rush period, which they argued in essence expands the operation.

“We are not here to shut Bodean down. We're not anti-asphalt. We all drove here on roads,” said Allen Thomas, a leader in the West End Neighborhood and Historic District and former planning commissioner.

But Thomas and others pleaded for an environmental impact report to be required for the project to help residents better understand the air, dust, noise and other impacts of the plant.

Area resident and contractor Fritz Wisor said he has a positive impression of the Bodean Company generally but worries about his family's health.

“Now is our time to actually lay it all out on the table about what it is we're breathing every day,” Wisor said.

“I think we have to get real about how this place doesn't really fit in the neighborhood,” added resident Kevin Pryne.

But that sentiment concerned several council members. Councilman Scott Bartley noted that the Station Area Plan the outlines the zoning for the area specifically included language to ensure that businesses weren't pushed out until they were ready.

Planning Director Chuck Regalia said the city has no intention of trying to push the plant out. He expects that someday the demand for residential development around the train station will increase to the point where the owners of the property would want to build housing units on the site.

In 2007, when the station area plan was adopted, the city assumed that transition would happen more quickly than it likely will now, but “we still think it'll happen at some point,” Regalia said.

Sawyer, Bartley, Mayor Ernesto Olivares and Jake Ours voted to deny the appeal. Gorin, Gary Wysocky and Marsha Vas Dupre voted to uphold it.

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