Apparently Assemblyman Jared Huffman – and possibly Rep. Lynn Woolsey’s – did have a hand in encouraging the U.S. Coast Guard to take another look at plans for a Dutra asphalt plant.

And it sounds as if there are some legitimate concerns about whether barges moored at the proposed off-load facility near Haystack Landing will leave enough room for anyone else – including recreational boaters – to pass by.

We met this morning with former Petaluma City Councilman David Keller, an opponent of the plant, who laid out his concerns about the tight squeeze. Here’s the issue: In that section of the river, the width of the navigable portion is only 100 feet. The Dutra barge is 50 feet wide meaning it will take up about half of that. A tug on the outside of the barge will take up even more space. The North Bay Rowing Club says a crew team in a single scull needs about 30 feet to get by. Two sculls racing need at least twice that.

Dutra has said in its materials that, when its barges are moored, it will leave “more than 100 feet navigable channel width in the Petaluma River.” Apparently, that’s what Dutra officials have told the Coast Guard.

Keller argues that the only way that’s possible is if Dutra does what Shamrock Materials next door did – cut out part of the bank and dredge more of the river. Dutra has said it has no plans to do that.

So where is the discrepancy?  Apparently, that’s what the Coast Guard is going to check out next week and the reason today’s Board of Supervisors’ review of the plans was postponed until Jan. 12.

The Coast Guard sent a letter on Nov. 24 saying the Dutra proposal does not appear to create “any significant navigational hazard.” However, it followed with another letter dated Dec. 4 saying that the earlier one referred only to the “commercial traffic.” “After further review, we would also like to fully analyze the river’s uses regarding recreational vessel traffic to mitigate any hazards and/or infringements to all parties who use this waterway,” the second letter said.

Between those dates, Huffman, encouraged by Keller, appealed to the Coast Guard to take another look and hear the concerns of recreational boaters. Woolsey’s office may have done the same.

Granted, Dutra’s barges are only expected to be moored for about four hours while unloading – with an average of two barge trips a week. But the supervisors have made it clear that they don’t want the river blocked at all if this plant is be built. Dutra officials says they now want that condition modified, suggesting, perhaps that they’re admitting their math doesn’t work. We’ll see if the supervisors hold firm.

–    Paul Gullixson