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Truck traffic ruffles feathers

Residents of Cavanaugh Lane have complained about large trucks traveling down the rural road.

JOHN O'HARA/ FOR THE ARGUS-COURIE
Published: Friday, January 27, 2012 at 3:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2012 at 9:46 a.m.

If there's one thing that everyone on rural Cavanaugh Lane can agree on — the residents and the Petaluma Farms egg facility alike — it's that the road is in bad shape.

Potholes and dust dominate the narrow, half-mile road, which is situated outside the Petaluma city limits off Skillman Lane.

Residents there have become increasingly frustrated in the last year and a half, as they say the road quality has decreased rapidly. They say much of the degradation is due to an increase in the number of commercial trucks running to and from the egg processing facility at the end of the road, compounded by the fact that the cash-strapped county has no money to repair it.

The semi-trucks run up and down the road all day and even into the night, they say, sometimes rattling their windows.

One resident said friends with nice vehicles won't come visit him for fear the road will damage their cars.

Steve Mahrt, owner of Petaluma Farms, says he agrees the road is in terrible shape, but that he's had no choice but to run trucks down the road as his business has increased.

Petaluma Farms is one of only two major egg plants left in Petaluma, the city once known as the “egg basket of the world.” Mahrt is also known for sponsoring the Cutest Little Chick contest at the Butter & Egg Days Parade each year, and he emphasized he tries to be a good neighbor.

He has run an egg processing facility at the end of Cavanaugh Lane since 1986. For years, he ran a wholesale egg and restaurant supply store called Skippy's there as well. Around a year and a half ago, he moved the store to Transport Way off North McDowell Boulevard, based in part on what he said were residents' complaints over speeding traffic.

In this rural community, where agriculture and homeowners must coexist, issues often arise — especially when a farmer's business grows.

But Cavanaugh Lane residents emphasize that they support egg farming and local agriculture — many of them raise livestock of their own. Their main complaint is the volume of the truck traffic and the fact that some of it — like beer, salami and Clover Milk trucks — doesn't appear to be related to egg production.

Mahrt says the beer and salami trucks are also picking up eggs, and that Clover is delivering milk, which the farm then sells. He acknowledged that one customer Petaluma Farms delivers to requires deliveries around the clock, leading to some truck traffic at night.

“I don't like to be having to do that, but we have to do what the customer asks,” he said. He added he tries to minimize impact on the road and keeps dust down by watering it in the summer.

But residents were skeptical, saying that the spraying didn't help to minimize the truck traffic or the potholes and they didn't feel their concerns were being addressed.

After numerous residents complained to the county's permit and resource management department last year, Building and Safety Manager Ben Neuman looked into the complaints twice — once in January and again in August. He verified that all the truck activity was directly related to egg production and in compliance with the area's zoning.

“We looked at the interior contents of the trucks and everything we saw at that time was eggs or eggs related,” said Neuman.

“The real problem is that we're on the end of a road,” Mahrt said. He said the other large egg business in town also has big trucks moving in and out, but the impact isn't the same because the farm isn't on the end of a small lane.

Mahrt added that, to address that problem, he's currently remodeling a warehouse at his Transport Way location, which he hopes to have complete within the next six months. At that point, he plans to route more than half the truck traffic currently on Cavanaugh Lane to Transport Way.

Until then, it's unlikely the road will see any improvement. The county's transportation and public works department is stretched thin, said Deputy Director Tom O'Kane. The department has lost about 40 percent of its staff and has had to prioritize maintaining a small number of primary roads.

There simply aren't enough resources to maintain small roads like Cavanaugh Lane, which he said was never designed to accommodate large truck traffic. The county currently has no plans to improve the road, other than patching potholes as time permits.

(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@argus courier.com)

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