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Arguments in Petaluma asphalt plant lawsuit to be heard next month

Oral arguments in an appeal challenging county approval of the Dutra Materials asphalt plant just south of Petaluma will be heard next month in San Francisco.

Arguments had been scheduled for late November, but Dutra attorneys sought a continuance from the 1st District Court of Appeal. The court granted the request but said no further delays will be allowed.

The hearing is set for Jan. 14.

Dutra Materials, based in San Rafael, first proposed a plant on 38 acres just east of Highway 101 and south of the Petaluma River in 2005. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved the plant in 2010.

Opponents argued that the county failed to address public health and environmental effects of the facility, which proposed an annual production of more than 570,000 tons of asphalt and rock material and 145,000 truck trips each year.

They say it would destroy the scenic corridor and Shollenberger Park, a 165-acre wetlands park with a variety of wildlife habitats that sits on the other side of the river.

In a lawsuit challenging the county’s approval, they argued the project was rushed through the planning process and asked that a new environmental study be done.

Petaluma joined the lawsuit as a co-defendant after community members pledged to donate funds to the city’s general fund to help offset legal fees for continued appeals.

Last week, Friends of Shollenberger Park submitted the second half of its $5,000 pledge. Moms for Clean Air also raised $5,000 for the effort.

“Our day in court has come,” said Joan Cooper of Friends of Shollenberger. “We’re very confident that we will prevail and we will protect the park.”

The appeal challenges the 2011 judgment of Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau, who dismissed all of the opponents’ claims. He ruled that the county’s environmental analysis was adequate and that open meeting laws had been followed.

Legal briefs have been filed in the case. Attorneys will make oral arguments on Jan. 14. A time and location for the hearing haven’t been set.

(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)

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