Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , ,

California vineyard laborers wanted wildfire safety. Then came a shadowy counter-movement

Alleen Brown, THE GUARDIAN


As harvest season becomes riskier, workers are pressing for safer conditions including disaster insurance and hazard pay

But in recent months, a slick website has appeared under the name Sonoma Wine Industry for Safe Employees, or Sonoma Wise, featuring counterpoints to demands from North Bay Jobs with Justice.

When Margarita García, a 39-year-old mother from Oaxaca, Mexico, picks wine grapes during a wildfire, the sky is red and thick with smoke. Ash falls on her face, irritating her throat and eyes. The hot, fast work makes N-95 masks too suffocating, so she and her colleagues opt for bandanas.

In this part of northern California, the grape harvesting season has been transformed by fire. Sonoma county is known internationally for its pinot noir and – increasingly – for intense wildfire seasons made worse by the climate crisis. That has created new economic threats for both grape growers, who can lose an entire season’s harvest in a matter of hours, and for workers, who must operate in increasingly dangerous conditions without replacement income if work is called off.

Now, vineyard laborers like García are pressing officials to enact stronger worker protections during wildfire seasons. They want hazard pay, disaster insurance and safety trainings translated in Indigenous languages – García’s first language is Mixteco. They are also pushing for community safety observers to be allowed to monitor working conditions in evacuation zones and for clean water and bathrooms, even when the ash is falling.

It’s an example of a type of climate-driven labor organizing that is growing across the US, as workers face new climate hazards, such as exposure to extreme heat and hurricane disaster zones littered with dangerous materials.

In turn, a surprising counter-movement has arisen – one that has the veneer of being worker-led, but is driven by the wine industry itself.

Labor organizers say it’s a familiar tactic – one that’s long been used by powerful industries to curtail movements for worker’s rights.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/11/california-vineyard-laborers-wildfire-safety

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , , ,

STB rejects North Coast Railroad Co.’s offer to take over rail line on Eel River

Sonia Waraich, FORT BRAGG ADVOCATE-NEWS

Federal regulators have decided to turn down a late application from a shadowy corporation seeking to take over the 175 miles of rail line stretching from Willits to Eureka, which may have submitted a fraudulent bank statement with its filing earlier this month.

“(North Coast Railroad Company’s) notice of intent will be rejected,” the Surface Transportation Board’s decision states. “NCRCo has not articulated a sufficient reason why its notice could not have been filed by the May 31 deadline, especially given that NCRCo has been an active participant in this proceeding and has noted, in previous filings, its intent to file an (offer of financial assistance).”

North Coast Railroad Company’s proposal to resume service along the rail line would have blocked the ability of the Great Redwood Trail Agency, formerly the North Coast Railroad Authority, to convert the line, which has been out of service for 20 years, into a trail. Part of the process of doing so included getting the OK from the STB to railbank the line, that is to preserve the rail line’s right of way by using it as a trail until conditions for rail service improve.

The North Coast Railroad submitted a poorly redacted filing with the federal STB almost two weeks ago that shows on any given day between March 31 and April 21, its balance with the Self-Help Credit Union fluctuated from less than $100 to a high of $3,269.96. That’s a lot less than $15.7 million beginning and ending balance at the top of the statement.

Read more at https://www.advocate-news.com/2022/06/10/north-coast-railroad-co-s-stb-filing-includes-potentially-fraudulent-bank-statement/

Posted on Categories Forests, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

Landowner under fire for post-Walbridge salvage logging violations

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

To hear Ken Bareilles tell it, the worst thing to happen on his land west of Healdsburg since the 2020 Walbridge Fire was the felling of charred Douglas fir trees that now lie on the ground, dried and cracking, because there’s so little demand at the mills.

To hear his neighbors tell it, the worst thing to happen since the Walbridge Fire has been Ken Bareilles.

It’s not just the neighbors. He’s seen as a bad actor by environmental watchdogs, regulators and others who have watched his emergency timber operation unfold on 106 acres in the sensitive Felta Creek watershed. Set among lush redwoods and ferns, the creek is a last refuge for endangered coho salmon.

Bareilles, for his part, has a different take on the unauthorized creek crossing, the hillside erosion, the flowing sediment, the tractor driven into the bed of Felta Creek and the host of violations documented by three state regulatory agencies over the past year.

According to him, they are the result of bad luck, poor advice, miscommunication and the relentless griping from residents who object to him logging fire-damaged trees up the hill from their homes along a narrow, private road.

He says Cal Fire and other agencies are only trying to pacify the critics by cracking down on him, and anyway, it’s only words and paper. So far there have been no fines or interference in his logging — though he remains under investigation by at least two state agencies. His one-year emergency logging permit, initially set to expire in October 2021, was even extended a year, like everyone else’s.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/landowner-under-fire-for-post-walbridge-fire-salvage-logging-violations/?ref=moststory

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

Sonoma Water petitions State for critical water condition for Russian River as severe drought persists

SONOMA WATER

On May 25, 2022, Sonoma Water filed Temporary Urgency Change Petitions (TUCPs) with the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) Division of Water Rights requesting changes to establish a Critical water supply condition in the Russian River. Under critical water supply conditions, the Russian River would have minimum instream flow requirements of 25 cfs and 35 cfs in the upper and lower river, respectively.

This change will allow Sonoma Water to continue the minimum instream flows that the river is currently operating under and preserve water supply in both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma. It will also help avoid violating the Incidental Take Statement for Dry Creek established in the Russian River Biological Opinion.

The current petitions also commit Sonoma Water and its retail customers to a (the cities of Cotati, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Sonoma; the town of Windsor; and Valley of the Moon and North Marin water districts) 20-percent reduction in total diversions from the Russian River between July 1 and October 31 compared to the same time period in 2020.

“The Russian River watershed is facing severe drought conditions for the third year in a row and filing Temporary Urgency Change Petitions is essential to ensure the water supply for more than 600,000 people and the environment in Sonoma and Marin counties,” said Sonoma Water Director James Gore.

Read more at: https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Sonoma-Water-E-News—June-2022.html?soid=1126949444770&aid=hNUkAxwA6hY

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

Sonoma Clean Power executes power purchase agreement with Luminia for 11.6 MW solar plus 8 MW energy storage project

BUSINESS WIRE

Project to reliably alleviate grid constraints and deliver clean, renewable energy to residents

SAN DIEGO & SANTA ROSA: Luminia and Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) announced today the signing of a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for the development of an 11.6 MW AC solar plus 32 MWh battery storage project in Sonoma, California. Construction of the 75-acre project is expected in the second half of 2023 in southern Sonoma County, tying into a nearby electrical substation.

“Deploying reliable solar and storage projects with community choice aggregators like Sonoma Clean Power reinforces renewable energy as the new standard in our daily energy lives,” said Dale A. Vander Woude, chief investment officer of Luminia. “We formed an excellent team with Kenwood Investments to provide Sonoma Clean Power with a solution for its resource adequacy demand, which is what brought this important project to fruition in Sonoma County.”

In addition to the PPA, Luminia and Kenwood Investments, LLC, are managing the late-stage development of the project. Once completed, SCP will dispatch the 100 percent renewable, locally generated electricity to its EverGreen premium service customers throughout Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The 11.6 MW AC solar PV system also includes 32 MWh of lithium-ion battery storage that can distribute stored solar power across the grid during peak evening hours.

Read more at https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20220606005234/en/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , , ,

Climate controversy: California’s plan for handling crisis is flawed, advisors say

Nadia Lopez, CALMATTERS

California’s climate change plan fails to provide substantial evidence that capturing carbon will meet ambitious greenhouse gas goals, critics say. The plan “does California a disservice,” one state advisor said.

As California races to prevent the irreversible effects of climate change, some experts are questioning key policies that the state is counting on to meet its ambitious goals and accusing state officials of failing to provide substantial details to back up its claims.

The California Air Resources Board’s proposal, called a scoping plan, outlines policies that would transition the economy away from fossil fuels. The purpose of the plan is to fulfill state mandates to reduce planet-warming emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.

In this year’s highly-anticipated climate policy blueprint, some critics say the state agency has not been transparent on how it plans to achieve its goals. The process has left legislators and others at the forefront of the climate discussion confused over the air board staff’s projections.

“The draft scoping plan does California a disservice,” said Danny Cullenward, an economist and vice chair of the Independent Emissions Market Advisory Committee, a group of five experts appointed by the governor and top legislators to assess the effectiveness of the state’s landmark cap and trade program. “It focuses on long-term goals at the expense of near-term action.”

At two recent state committee meetings, environmentalists, academics and climate policy experts who serve on state advisory panels voiced concerns over California’s approach to tackling the climate crisis. They called the plan incomplete, ambiguous and confusing.

Read more at https://calmatters.org/environment/2022/06/california-climate-change-plan-flawed/?utm_id=57747&sfmc_id=3422102

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , , , , , ,

North Coast rail dispute intensifies with competing bids from Skunk Train and coal export company

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A mysterious Wyoming-based firm believed to be pushing a controversial coal-by-rail export proposal along the Northern California coast has made a new filing with a powerful federal board to advance its bid to seize control over the defunct lines running between Willits and Eureka.

The June 1 filing indicated the so-named North Coast Railroad Company, which wants to ship Rocky Mountain coal out of the port at Humboldt Bay, had at least $15 million in the bank — enough to clear an initial federal hurdle in which a company must prove it can cover the cost of a line’s scrap steel and two years of maintenance.

But that company is not the only entity vying for control of abandoned track running through Mendocino and Humboldt counties — along a right of way state lawmakers hope will one day welcome a 320-mile multiuse trail stretching south to San Francisco Bay.

In an unrelated venture, Mendocino Railway, owners of the tourist excursion Skunk Train, are petitioning the federal rail board to restore 11 miles of track north of Willits to run loads of gravel. Mendocino Railway also filed with the board indicating it had the resources to take on that project.

Either bid could complicate the more broadly-supported venture: the proposed Great Redwood Trail, a recreational route planned from Eureka in the north to Larkspur in Marin County on the south. A state agency has already begun planning the conversion of abandoned segments of the rail line in Mendocino and Humboldt counties for the trail.

The three competing ventures must now vie for the endorsement of the U.S. Transportation Board, a body that aims to preserve the nation’s rail corridors but has proven amenable to allowing recreational trails along disused rights of way.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/north-coast-rail-dispute-intensifies-with-competing-bids-from-skunk-train-a/

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Focus on the SDC: Open space and the public trust

Tracy Salcedo, THE KENWOOD PRESS

The SDC’s wildlands are public now. Do they have to be privatized to become public again?

From day one, my community activism has focused on preservation of the open space at the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). Of all the worthy transformations contemplated for the storied property, ensuring the wildlands remain forever wild has been my highest priority.

From day one, I’ve heard promises from elected officials at the county and state levels, along with planners, consultants, and bureaucrats, that preserving the open space was a done deal.

From day one, I’ve asked: If that’s the case, why do we have to wait? Why don’t we set it aside now?

Don’t worry, the officials have responded. There’s a process. Have faith.

I’m worried. In its recently released request for proposals (RFP), the California Department of General Services (DGS) has reiterated its intent to sell the entire 945-acre SDC property, including the open space, to a private party. That’s not preservation in the public trust. That’s creation of private property.

I’m worried.

The process trumps the promise

The timelines for Sonoma County’s specific planning process and the state’s disposition process have always overlapped, but the original idea was that by the time the property was put up for sale, the specific plan would be done, the open space boundaries would be delineated, and a means of transfer to state parks, regional parks, or a land trust would be in place.

Enter wildfire, pandemic, inflexibility, and bureaucracy. Now, if the state sticks to its timeline, it will sell the property before the Board of Supervisors adopts the beleaguered specific plan. If a sale goes forward, the buyer will own not only the campus, but also the surrounding wetlands, woodlands, grasslands, trails, and much of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor.

Read more at https://www.kenwoodpress.com/2022/06/01/focus-on-the-sdc-open-space-and-the-public-trust/

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , ,

Developer terminates agreement with Windsor, leaving civic center project in limbo

Kathleen Coates, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The developer of a controversial Windsor civic center project has withdrawn from an exclusive negotiating agreement with the town, according to a letter received this week by officials, leaving the development’s future uncertain.

Robert Green of the eponymous Robert Green Co. sent a letter Thursday to interim Windsor Town Manager Mark Linder that said the company was exercising its right to terminate the agreement, which was a pact giving the developer the sole right to design the project.

Windsor Town Council had voted Dec. 1, 2021, to halt any work on the project until June 30. A vote on whether to continue the agreement and allow work on the project to move forward would have been held before that.

Mayor Sam Salmon said he anticipated a letter from Green, and wasn’t surprised that he was pulling out of the pact. He said the April 6 election was likely a referendum on the civic center project.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/developer-terminates-agreement-with-windsor-leaving-civic-center-project-in/

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , ,

Sonoma Water petitions state for critical water condition for Russian River as severe drought enters third consecutive year

SONOMA WATER

On Wednesday, May 25 Sonoma Water (Sonoma County Water Agency) filed Temporary Urgency Change Petitions (TUCP) with the State Water Resources Control Board to establish a Critical water supply condition for both the upper and lower Russian River as the drought continues.

Under Critical water supply conditions, the Russian River would have minimum instream flow requirements of 25 cfs and 35 cfs in the upper and lower river, respectively. If approved, this change will allow Sonoma Water to continue the minimum instream flows that the river is currently operating under and preserve water supply in both Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma.

The current petitions also commit Sonoma Water and its retail customers to a (the cities of Cotati, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Sonoma; the town of Windsor; and Valley of the Moon and North Marin water districts) 20-percent reduction in total diversions from the Russian River between July 1 and October 31 compared to the same time period in 2020.

Read more at https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/sonoma-water-petitions-state-for-critical-water-condition-for-russian-river-as-severe-drought-enters-third-consecutive-year