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Work begins at site of Dutra’s Petaluma plant


Work has begun at the site of a controversial asphalt plant just outside of Petaluma, a long planned facility that environmentalists have said will degrade sensitive wetlands along the Petaluma River.

The Dutra Group has started site improvements on the 38-acre property at Haystack landing on the southern edge of Petaluma. Workers have installed a septic system and Sonoma County is in the final stages of issuing the company a permit to begin grading for phase one of the project, which includes space for a new station for the San Antonio Volunteer Fire Department, according to the county planning department.

The company still needs several state and federal permits in order to receive final permission from the county to begin the bulk of the construction.

“We’re being very cautious,” said Gary Helfrich, the county planner working on the project. “There’s a lot of passion about this project. We want to make sure that when and if we issue permits, we do it correctly.”

Dutra first proposed the asphalt plant in 2004. A political hot potato, it was narrowly approved by the county Board of Supervisors in 2010, and opponents almost immediately filed a legal challenge. A series of court rulings upheld the project, and the company has since moved forward in seeking necessary permits.

Aimi Dutra Krause, a company spokeswoman, did not return calls and emails seeking comment on the asphalt plant project.

Helfrich said that the county is withholding the final grading permit for the plant until the company has obtained necessary permits from state and federal agencies for construction in wetlands, among other issues. Dutra needs permits from at least the Bay Area Air Quality District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and California Department of Fish and Game.

The air quality district has issued Dutra a permit to construct the project, but not a permit to operate an asphalt plant, according to Ralph Borrmann, a district spokesman.

“They’re somewhere in between,” he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which needs to sign off on the project, confirmed it has an active application on file from Dutra. Holly Costa, regulatory North Branch chief, said the Army Corps is involved because the project proposes to discharge fill into regulated waters.

“The Corps is actively processing a permit application from the Dutra Group for the Dutra Haystack Asphalt Plant project,” she said.

Costa said that Dutra was asked to respond to a number of comments in December, 2015, and the company asked for an extension beyond the normal 30 day period. She said she has not seen the company’s response more than a year and a half later.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board is also awaiting a response from Dutra to a November 2016 letter it sent the company seeking more information, according to Xavier Fernandez, section leader for the board. He said that if the agency does not receive a response by this November, the regulators can decide to deny the application.

“There hasn’t been much activity recently,” he said, adding that Dutra would also need to apply for a separate permit to operate the asphalt plant once it is constructed.

The Department of Fish and Game did not return a message seeking comment.

Supervisor David Rabbitt said that Dutra so far has taken the necessary steps to move the project forward.

“The project is still obviously active,” he said. “Through the work they are doing, they are showing progress to the satisfaction of the county. Any other agency that needs to issue permits, we want them to get them first before the county gives its blessing.”

Opponents, who filed the unsuccessful legal challenge, have not given up hope of stalling, if not blocking, the project through appeals to the various permitting agencies, according to David Keller, director of the Petaluma River Council. He said that the county is not supposed to issue any permits until Dutra has obtained approvals from the other permitting agencies.

“I’m concerned by the creeping level of permit approvals that the county has offered,” he said. “It’s really frustrating to see the county go ahead with construction” of the septic system.

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)