Tag Archives: environmental impacts

Here’s how big wine gets to avoid environmental rules in Napa

Alastair Bland, KCET

According to Anderson, vineyard managers frequently install drainage systems incorrectly, fail to plant required cover crops to control erosion, incorrectly place deer fences in a way that prevents free passage of smaller wildlife, and use pesticides illegally. She says erosion control measures often fail to work, causing loose sediment to wash into creeks. There it can smother gravel beds used by spawning salmon and steelhead, which have almost vanished from North Bay watersheds. Many biologists have pointed to vineyards as a leading cause of the fish declines.

In 2006, Napa County officials issued a permit for The Caves at Soda Canyon, a new winery in the hills east of the city of Napa. As most such project permits do, the document set strict limits on how the developer could build his winery.

But The Caves’ owner Ryan Waugh allegedly ignored some of these limitations. Waugh dug an unpermitted cave into a mountain, and hosted guests at unapproved ridgetop tasting patios. After county officials became aware of the violations, they ordered Waugh in 2014 to block off (but not fill in) the illegal cave, stop the unauthorized wine tastings and muffle a noisy generator.

Neighbors had complained about the generator’s din, claiming that Waugh had promised years earlier to connect his facility to silent power lines. They’re primarily concerned, however, about the winery’s impacts on local traffic and congestion.

County documents report that Waugh followed through on all orders to correct the violations (something neighbors, who say they can still hear the generator, dispute). Then, Waugh submitted a request for a modification to his permit, and in April, the Napa County Planning Commission voted to approve it. The new permit brings the unauthorized components of his operation into full legal compliance while also increasing The Cave’s annual production limit from 30,000 gallons of wine to 60,000. The decision is a win for Waugh, who has reportedly put his winery on the market for $12.5 million.

Neighbors say that laws don’t apply to people invested in Napa County’s influential wine industry.

“You can just drill an unpermitted cave and have unpermitted tastings, and just get retroactive approval from the county, and get more allowed production than you initially had,” says Anthony Arger, who lives nearby. Arger is concerned that The Caves’ enhanced use permits will lead to a dangerous increase in vehicle use on Soda Canyon Road.

The county’s decision to clear Waugh’s record while allowing him to enlarge his business illuminates what Arger and other community activists say is part of a countywide problem. They argue that Napa County officials, especially those in the Planning, Building and Environmental Services department, collude with the wine industry, ignoring violations of local rules, to increase wine production and tourist visits at the expense of the environment and local residents’ health and safety.

Read more at: Here’s How Big Wine Gets To Avoid Environmental Rules in Napa | KCET

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water, Wildlife

State money available for cleaning former pot grow sites in Sonoma County

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Toxic chemicals. Dammed creeks. Forest clear-cuts. Abandoned trash.

These kinds of environmental degradation are the scourge of California’s North Coast, the detritus left behind from decades of highly profitable but unregulated marijuana cultivation.

But in a move state officials hope will make a dent in the thousands of remote sites in need of remediation, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is preparing to distribute $1.5 million for an initial round of watershed restoration projects made necessary by widespread and historically unchecked pot production.

“Existing damage to our watersheds due to unregulated cannabis cultivation is at crisis levels in terms of threats to habitat for aquatic and wildlife species,” agency Director Chuck Bonham said in a written news release.

“While many grow sites have been abandoned or shuttered, the infrastructure and ongoing damage remains.”

The newly launched Cannabis Restoration Grant Program reflects growing recognition of the devastating environmental impact of marijuana cultivation on private and public lands, even as public officials and the public itself moved to legalize its use in California, in part so it could be regulated.

Read more at: State money available for cleaning former pot grow sites in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Water

Sonoma County landfill neighbors sue over site of future compost operation

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A group of neighbors near Sonoma County’s Central Landfill west of Cotati are renewing their legal fight against a plan to use the dump as a long-term site for composting green waste, an operation they contend exposes them to foul odors and poses a threat to water and wildlife habitat.

The group, Renewed Efforts of Neighbors Against Landfill Expansion, filed its second lawsuit in less than a year against the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, this time challenging the environmental review of the future compost site, set to be constructed at Central Landfill.

The 15-page complaint, filed Wednesday, claims the study did not properly analyze impacts on air quality, traffic and endangered California tiger salamander habitat.

“It is clearly flawed — it’s near a school, it’s near neighborhoods and it has traffic problems,” said Roger Larsen, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who lives in the Happy Acres subdivision near the landfill, and who has fought the project for years. “I’ve been watching this for a long time, and problem after problem keeps coming up.”

The lawsuit seeks to have the court shelve the current environmental review and order a new study be prepared. It also seeks to vacate the waste agency’s approval of the new compost site.

Read more at: Sonoma County landfill neighbors sue over site of | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Settlement calls for full study of disputed Sonoma Mountain winery project

 Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A San Francisco couple who want to build a winery and creamery on Sonoma Mountain Road overlooking Bennett Valley will have to undergo a significantly more extensive planning and environmental review process under terms reached in a settlement deal between the county and neighbors who opposed the project.

The deal stems from a lawsuit filed by a group of neighbors after the Board of Supervisors last October approved plans by Nate and Lauren Belden to construct a 10,000-case-a-year winery and cheese production shop.

In the settlement completed last week, county officials agreed to conduct a full environmental review, a time-consuming and expensive step for the Beldens. At least one supervisor says that review was warranted all along.

“I saw obvious flaws in the technical analyses of traffic and water impacts,” said board Chairwoman Susan Gorin, who represents the area and was the sole vote against the Belden Barns Winery last year. “I’m very concerned about the number of events approved and unlimited tasting room hours — it’s a very hazardous road, especially mixed with alcohol.”

Under terms spelled out in the settlement deal, the county is scrapping a determination concluding that all impacts from the winery and creamery on nearby Bennett Valley neighbors, including traffic, noise and water resources, were properly studied. For the project to go forward, the Beldens must pay for the county to produce a full environmental impact report, according to County Counsel Bruce Goldstein.

Read more at: Settlement calls for full study of disputed Sonoma | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use