Both supporters and opponents of the plant packed the Petaluma Veterans Memorial hall, standing along walls while others simply sat on the floor in doorways and aisles.
"We need to have it close and we need to have it as cheap as possible," said Cynthia Murray, president of the North Bay Leadership Council, a group that represents employers in Sonoma and Marin counties.
But opponents, which included members of the Friends of Shollenberger Park, the Petaluma-based Moms for Clean Air and the Petaluma River Council, said they were prepared to fight the project to the end.
David Keller, a former Petaluma city councilman representing the Petaluma River Council, said that placing the asphalt plant next to Shollenberger Park was akin to putting "it next to Chrissy Field, because that's what we're talking about."
He was referring to the former San Francisco airstrip whose wetlands were partially restored after the National Park Service took over the nearby Presidio in the mid 1990s.
"We will never stop defending Shollenberger Park," said Alan Pendley, a chemist who spoke on behalf of Friends of Shollenberger Park. "This is our Yosemite."
Murray, however, said the plant "will create jobs and it will save jobs." Her comments drew applause from Dutra supporters, including several employees from the company's San Rafael Rock Quarry.
The forum was organized by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who represents Marin and southern Sonoma counties.
The proposed project, given preliminary approval by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in February, but opposed by Petaluma city officials, would include asphalt mixing, aggregate recycling, as well as the preservation of 19 acres as wetlands.
On May 21, the Sonoma County Planning Commission endorsed a noise exemption for the plant and recommended its final approval by the supervisors. Wildlife advocates have raised concern about the impact of noise on herons and egrets nesting nearby.
Three panel discussions were held to give proponents and opponents a chance to express their views. One panel featured government agencies that would be reviewing such issues as air quality, the impacts on wildlife habitat and the effects of runoff, if any, on nearby waterways.
Jim Castle, a wildlife biologist, said the sound analysis that was conducted was done with "weighted filters" that are sensitive to human hearing but not to that of wildlife.
Dr. Brian Moench, a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists and president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, spoke on behalf of Moms for Clean Air, raising a number of issues related to air pollution.
"There is no such thing as a safe level of air pollution," Moench said.
But Steve Vandor, a 50-year-old plant operator at Dutra's San Rafael plant, said Moench was overstating the effects of plant emissions.
"You talk to all the 50 or 60 employees at San Rafael Rock and Quarry, we're all still alive, all breathing, with healthy kids and healthy grandkids," he said.
During the public forum, many wore stickers on their sweaters, shirts and jackets indicating their support for or opposition to the project. Some wore face masks representing their concern about possible air pollution and the release of air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides.
"This is probably the hottest issue in Sonoma County," Huffman said.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin at 521-5213 or martin.