Local opponents of the proposed Dutra asphalt plant on the Petaluma River are gearing up for their day in court, as the Jan. 14 hearing for their appeal approaches.

"We're very confident that we will prevail and we will protect Shollenberger Park," said Joan Cooper of Friends of the Petaluma River, whose organization gave the City of Petaluma $2,500 Monday to help cover the city's legal fees.

The funds, raised at the Shollenberger Shindig event earlier this year, marks the second half of the $5,000 the group promised the city to help offset approximately $90,000 in legal fees the city has incurred fighting the Dutra asphalt plant. Another group, Moms for Clean Air, also gave the city $5,000.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved plans for the asphalt plant in 2010, on a 37-acre site directly across the Petaluma River from Shollenberger Park. Soon after, local environmentalists and the City of Petaluma filed a lawsuit opposing the plant, arguing that the county hadn't adequately considered the environmental impacts of such a development.

Those opposed to the asphalt plant cited pollution, truck traffic and excessive noise as impacts not properly addressed in the county's decision.

A Sonoma County Superior Court judge dismissed the city's case in December 2012, but plant opponents filed an appeal with the First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The case will be heard before a three-judge panel in January, which will then have 90 days to issue a written decision on the matter. It was expected to head to court this month, but was pushed back to allow both sides more time to prepare their cases.

"We feel strongly that our case has merit," said Cooper. "We are appealing to protect our beloved Shollenberger Park from significant damage. It's the city's most popular park and an outstanding natural asset for all of Sonoma County."

Petaluma City Attorney Eric Danly said the city was surprised when the Sonoma County judge dismissed their original case.

"We'll know more after we present oral arguments in January," he said.

Dutra officials continue to contend that the plant and its impacts have been thoroughly vetted. The San Rafael-based company said that 80 percent of the asphalt manufactured at the future Petaluma plant will be used for publicly funded road and infrastructure projects for the county, Petaluma, Caltrans or other government agencies.

Dutra spokesperson Aimi Dutra said while waiting for the outcome of the appeal, the company has been working to secure additional approvals and permits for the plant from state and federal agencies. If the ruling is favorable, Dutra can then move forward with construction on the plant immediately, she said.

The hearing in January will allow each side to argue their case for 15 minutes. The panel's written decision will be reported in April and requires a majority vote.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com.)

Shelters for Pawnee fire evacuees

Lower Lake High School, 9430 Lake St., Lower Lake, is the official shelter established for people evacuating from the Pawnee fire. It is equipped to handle animals.

The Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge, 15900 E. Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks, is not authorized by the Office of Emergency Services but is also sheltering fire evacuees, mostly people in campers and RVs who want their animals with them.

There is an authorized Lake County animal services station in an open field at Highway 53 and Anderson Ridge Road in Lower Lake.