Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , ,

Wine moguls destroy land and pay small fines as cost of business, say activists


After California wine industry mogul Hugh Reimers illegally destroyed at least 140 acres of forest, meadow and stream in part to make way for new vineyards sometime last winter, according to a report from state investigators, state officials ordered the Krasilsa Pacific Farms manager to repair and mitigate the damage where possible. Sonoma County officials also suggested a $131,060 fine.

But for environmental activists watching the investigation, fines and restoration attempts aren’t going to cut it; they want Reimers — an experienced captain of industry whom they say knew better — to face a criminal prosecution, which could lead to a jail sentence.

“We want him to be an example of what you can’t do here,” says Anna Ransome, founder of a small organization called Friends of Atascadero Wetlands. In August, the group sent a letter to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravich, asking that she prosecute Reimers.

“If winemakers can figure into their budget paying fines and doing minimal restoration work, then what’s to stop the next guy from doing the same thing?” Ransome says.

The D.A.’s office did not return requests for comment. Multiple efforts to reach Reimers for comment were unsuccessful. On Nov. 13, a sign posted outside of an address listed for him that appears to be a residence read “Media Keep Out.”

The Sonoma County Winegrowers, an industry organization that promotes sustainability, also declined to comment.

Ransome’s concerns have been echoed by other environmental and community activists in Northern California who decry a pattern of winemakers violating environmental laws, paying relatively meager fines for their actions, and eventually proceeding with their projects.

For example, high-society winemaker Paul Hobbs now grows grapes on at least one small Sonoma County parcel that he cleared of trees in 2011 without proper permits. Though his actions on several locations where he removed trees caused community uproar, officials fined Hobbs $100,000 and allowed him to carry on with his business. Paul Hobbs Winery is listed by the Sonoma County Winegrowers website as certified sustainable.


Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here’s why. 

David Roberts, VOX
Since you asked (many times)
I did an event with environmental journalist (and personal hero) Elizabeth Kolbert late last week, in which we discussed various matters related to journalism and climate change. Subsequently, one of the attendees wrote and asked why I hadn’t talked about population. Isn’t overpopulation the real root of our environmental ills?
Anyone who’s ever given a talk on an environmental subject knows that the population question is a near-inevitability (second only to the nuclear question). I used to get asked about it constantly when I wrote for Grist — less now, but still fairly regularly.

I thought I would explain, once and for all, why I hardly ever talk about population, and why I’m unlikely to in the future.

Math confirms that population is indeed a factor in environmental impact
Human impact on the natural environment is summed up in a simple formula:
Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology

All are rising. (Bill Gates has a slightly more complicated formula related to carbon dioxide, but P is a variable in his too.)

Read more at: I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here’s why. – Vox

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Land Use, WaterTags , , ,

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

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

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , Leave a comment on Sonoma County landfill neighbors sue over site of future compost operation

Sonoma County landfill neighbors sue over site of future compost operation

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

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , Leave a comment on Settlement calls for full study of disputed Sonoma Mountain winery project

Settlement calls for full study of disputed Sonoma Mountain winery project

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