Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, Local OrganizationsTags , ,

Judge: PG&E put profits over wildfire safety

A U.S. judge berated Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. on Wednesday, accusing the nation’s largest utility of enriching shareholders instead of clearing trees that can fall on its power lines and start fires and making “excuses” to avoid turning off electricity when fire risk is high.

Judge William Alsup in San Francisco did not immediately order PG&E to take any of the dramatic measures he has proposed to try to stop more wildfires.

But he warned that he was not ruling out at least some new requirements on the company if it did not come up with a plan to “solve” the problem of catastrophic wildfires in California.

“To my mind, there’s a very clear-cut pattern here: that PG&E is starting these fires,” Alsup said. “What do we do? Does the judge just turn a blind eye and say, ‘PG&E continue your business as usual. Kill more people by starting more fires.'”

Alsup is overseeing a criminal conviction against PG&E on pipeline safety charges stemming from a 2010 gas line explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

He proposed earlier this month as part of PG&E’s probation that it remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines in high-wind conditions and shut off power when fire is a risk regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit.

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PG&E cutting trees near power lines in high fire-risk areas

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PG&E is trimming and removing trees near a high-voltage transmission line along River Road west of Highway 101, an area the utility says has been plagued by outages because of falling trees.

The work, conducted by a PG&E contractor, will cover a 40-foot swath — 20 feet to each side of a 60,000-volt transmission line that runs along the road from PG&E’s Fulton substation to Forestville, said Deanna Contreras, a spokeswoman for the utility.

It comes as the utility, which serves 5.4 million electric customers from Bakersfield to Eureka, is engaged in an accelerated and expanded campaign to clear trees and brush away from overhead power lines.

Standards adopted by the state Public Utilities Commission in the wake of last year’s wildfires require power companies to maintain a minimum 4-foot vegetation clearance around their lines year-round in extreme fire-threat areas, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.

These areas, officially designated as Tier 3, cover a broad zone largely in the Mayacamas Mountains from Cloverdale to Sonoma, including the Mark West Creek area, Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione-Annadel state parks, as well as the west county wooded areas stretching nearly to the coast.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8866874-181/pge-cutting-trees-near-power

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

PG&E trims or removes 30,000 fire-damaged trees in Northern and Central California

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has trimmed or cut down more than 30,000 damaged trees in 13 Northern and Central California counties, nearly completing a post-fire campaign to remove scorched trees that posed a threat to the utility’s power lines.
The effort is 99 percent complete in Sonoma and Napa counties, where contract tree-cutting crews dealt with about 10,500 and 13,400 trees, respectively, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.
The only work remaining in Sonoma County, where the October wildfires covered 137 square miles, is related to trees near temporary overhead power lines being erected in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park and Hidden Valley neighborhoods, she said.
In Mendocino County, about 4,400 trees were trimmed or felled, with about 130 in Lake County.
Overall, the work is about 96 percent complete, Contreras said, but affected landowners may still ask PG&E to cut down and remove burned wood from their property at no cost.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/local/7909403-181/pge-trims-or-removes-30000

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

PG&E aims to remove 25,000 fire-damaged trees near power lines across service region

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PG&E aims to cut down up to 25,000 fire-damaged trees in an urgent effort to protect power lines in 13 counties across Northern and Central California, including Sonoma, where last month’s wildfires scorched 137 square miles.
Residents in fire areas may have noticed bright green spray-painted marks at the base of trunks on trees near power lines. They were left by PG&E arborists and foresters who are assessing the trees’ post-fire condition, company representatives said.
Trees marked P1 are deemed dead or dying and designated for immediate removal to prevent damage to power lines, while those marked P2 have secondary priority.
Trees with an FP 1 or 2 mark will be trimmed.
The work is already underway by contract tree-cutting crews along roads and across private property and should be completed by the end of the year, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.
The utility, which serves about 16 million people from Eureka to Bakersfield, has been faulted in multiple lawsuits alleging poorly maintained power lines were responsible for the series of fires that started Oct. 8. The cause of those fires remains under investigation by the state.
Read more at: PG&E aims to remove 25,000 fire-damaged trees near power lines across service region

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, WaterTags , , , ,

Walt Ranch: Water concerns arise from Napa area vineyard’s plan to fell 14,000 oaks

Alastair Bland, NEWS DEEPLY

Residents are concerned that plans to cut down 14,000 oak trees to make way for grapevines will impact groundwater, fish habitat and climate change mitigation.

In the small community of Circle Oaks, California, a few miles east of the wine-soaked Napa Valley, residents are fuming over a wealthy Texas couple’s plans to cut down 14,000 adult oak trees and replant the cleared woodland with 209 acres (85 hectares) of irrigated grapevines. The project, opponents warn, will destroy fish and wildlife habitat, reduce the environment’s resilience to climate change, and drain groundwater reserves.
“They’re going to be using about two times the water our community uses,” says Ron Tamarisk, who has lived in the small town of Circle Oaks with his wife, Nancy, since the 1960s. Tamarisk says the community’s wells have never run dry before, but locals are concerned the proposed vineyard will deplete their supply.
“This is going to dewater Milliken Creek,” says Chris Malan, who lives in a rural unincorporated area just east of the city of Napa and very close to the project site. She is referring to a stream that feeds Milliken Reservoir, from which the city of Napa receives water.
The couple behind the project, Craig Hall and Kathryn Walt Hall, are already well established in the local wine industry. Craig Hall, who has led a career in Texas as a real estate developer, told Dallas News in 2014 that he expected to sell as much as $50 million in wines in 2015, mainly through the couple’s Hall and Walt wine labels. Now, he and his wife’s new project, first introduced in 2006, is on the verge of becoming reality. The proposal to expand their Walt Ranch vineyard was approved in December by Napa County’s board of supervisors.
Locals are outraged by the county’s lenience toward the wine industry in general, which many sources claim exerts political influence over county decision making.
“If this project goes through, it establishes a precedent that a rich newcomer can come in and get their way,” says Randy Dunn, a resident of the small town of Angwin, in the hills northeast of Napa. Dunn is also a winemaker. He grows 35 acres of grapes, mostly cabernet, and says he felled a single oak tree to plant his current vines in the mid-1990s.
The Walt Ranch developers initially planned to cut down almost 30,000 trees. They downsized the plan last year in response to general opposition and to questions about the legality of how the new vines would be irrigated. There was talk for a time of pumping in water from another watershed entirely, that of Putah Creek, a Sacramento River tributary.
Read more at: Water Concerns Arise from Napa Area Vineyard’s Plan to Fell — Water Deeply

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, WaterTags , , Leave a comment on Environmental damage from pot-growing near Cazadero

Environmental damage from pot-growing near Cazadero

Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Two Sonoma County men are accused of causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in environmental damage when they cleared about a half-acre of Boy Scout land in Cazadero to grow marijuana.
Nicholas Henderson, 30, and John Henry, 31, are charged with felony cultivation, possession for sale of marijuana and malicious mischief in connection with the garden, discovered in August at the 350-acre Camp Royaneh.

Deputies acting on a tip from neighbors found more than 100 trees sawed off chest-high with logs stacked between the stumps to create a terrace effect. Pot plants growing in burlap bags were irrigated by pipes leading from a neighboring house that also fed a large plastic storage tank.

A consultant estimated the cost to clean up the property and prevent erosion into nearby Austin Creek would be more than $280,000.

“They took a whole hillside and clear-cut the trees,” said Jason Lewis, a prosecution witness for the San Francisco Bay Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Lewis said the plants went undiscovered because they were in a remote section of the 90-year-old camp. Each summer, the camp hosts about 1,500 children, he said.

Read more at: Men accused of secretly growing pot at Boy | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , , , Leave a comment on Hobbs vineyard conversion headed to court

Hobbs vineyard conversion headed to court

David Abbott, SONOMA WEST TIMES
Paul Hobbs is making news in the West County again, as, on the heels of a $100,000 settlement with Sonoma County over questionable vineyard conversion practices, a lawsuit filed against the winemaker and the county by a group of parents in the Twin Hills Union School District will head to court.
A hearing will take place on March 2 at 9 a.m. in department 17 at 3035 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa.
The lawsuit, filed in December 2013 by the Watertrough Children’s Alliance, alleges that the county failed in its oversight duties by issuing a permit for the transformation of a 48-acre apple orchard into 39 acres of grape vines.
“This is a major project and it should have a CEQA review. It’s a huge manipulation of the environment. Why shouldn’t it require CEQA?” WCA attorney Paul Carroll said. “It’s been applied to much smaller projects. Thirty-eight acres is a huge project right next to a school. Hobbs shouldn’t get a free ride.”
But the ride has not been exactly free for the internationally known vintner who has had his share of run-ins with regulatory agencies over several West County vineyard conversion projects.
On Feb. 2, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office announced a $100,000 settlement with Hobbs over a civil environmental complaint filed on May 28, 2014, focused on conversion projects that took place from 2011 to 2013.
Read more via Hobbs conversion headed to court – Sonoma West Times and News: News.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on Paul Hobbs to pay Sonoma County $100K to settle vineyard projects suit

Paul Hobbs to pay Sonoma County $100K to settle vineyard projects suit

Jeff Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
Sebastopol-based Paul Hobbs Wines on Friday said it has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a 2013 lawsuit in which the county of Sonoma sought millions of dollars in damages over three west county vineyard projects.
The civil court settlement, a couple of weeks in progress, between the wine company and the District Attorney’s Office was signed by judge Nancy Case Shaffer on Friday.
“We’re happy to be done with it,” said wine company spokesman Christopher O’Gorman.
The county accused the company of letting soil erode into a stream during a project last year on a property off Watertrough Road near Sebastopol, clearing Davis Tree Farm off Highway 116 near Graton without a permit in 2011 and running afoul of land-use rules while clearing trees on Hillick Ranch near Guerneville.
Read more via Paul Hobbs to pay Sonoma County $100K to settle vineyard projects suit – North Bay Business Journal – North San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma, Marin, Napa counties – Archive.

Posted on Categories Forests, Land UseTags , , Leave a comment on North Coast timber-cutting rules eased to allow more logging

North Coast timber-cutting rules eased to allow more logging

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation that includes Sonoma and three other North Coast counties in a pilot project allowing trees up to 24 inches in diameter to be felled without a formal timber harvest plan for fire prevention purposes.
Sponsored by Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, the bill extends to Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties an exemption from certain forest protection laws previously authorized for 24 Sierra Nevada and other inland counties in the aftermath of last year’s devastating Rim fire in Yosemite National Park.
The Forest Fire Prevention Pilot Project Exemption is designed to permit property owners to more readily harvest smaller trees if the aim is to reduce forest fuel loads and avert the kind of calamitous blaze that scarred 250,000 acres in the Yosemite area last year.
“Because coastal forests are also vulnerable to catastrophic wild fires, it made sense to extend the pilot project to parts of the coast,” Chesbro, chairman of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “When it expires, we can conduct a more thorough analysis on how to move forward with forest fuel treatment policy. The legislation does not allow clear-cutting and imposes specific requirements to ensure over-cutting does not occur.”
The exemption is to be operable for a three-year period expected to start later this year, when the state Board of Forestry implements the final regulation, legislative staffers said.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@press democrat.com.
via Gov. Jerry Brown eases timber-cutting rules to prevent | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , , Leave a comment on DA files environmental lawsuit against Sebastopol winery owner

DA files environmental lawsuit against Sebastopol winery owner

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A series of environmental and regulatory blunders that brought unfavorable attention to Sebastopol winery owner Paul Hobbs in recent years could cost the renowned winemaker millions of dollars in civil penalties if a pending lawsuit filed by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office prevails.

The District Attorney’s Environmental and Consumer Law Division lodged the civil complaint in May, saying Hobbs and his company “recklessly and carelessly” violated state and local land-use regulations in clearing trees and other vegetation from three prospective vineyard properties in west Sonoma County.

A spokeswoman for District Attorney Jill Ravitch said the aim of the May 28 suit is to safeguard the environment and protect the public interest by ensuring compliance with environmental rules governing vineyard development and other human interventions.

But attorneys for Hobbs said the case seeks “exorbitant and disproportionate civil penalties” in excess of $13 million, and does so improperly, suing on behalf of state agencies for which it has no authority to do so, according to court filings. Hobbs’ lawyers also said they intend to dispute the underlying facts as presented by the district attorney.

via DA files environmental lawsuit against Sebastopol winery owner | The Press Democrat.