Litigation Looming for Napa’s Walt Ranch Project-Update and meeting notice

mscott@biologicaldiversity.org

You’re invited to a meeting of concerned citizens about a large vineyard development in the mountains east of Napa that will tear up over 300 acres of undisturbed riparian, oak and native grassland habitat and convert into vineyards sprawled across the 2,300-acre Walt Ranch property. This project will cut thousands of trees, destroy acres of wildlife habitat, build new roads, and deplete already limited water supplies. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club have filed a lawsuit challenging Napa County’s violations of the California Environmental Quality Act and its inadequate review of the proposed vineyard’s detrimental impacts. The lawsuit raises concerns over:
•          The construction and alteration of more than 20 miles of roads
•          the drawdown of local groundwater aquifers
•          the use of harmful pesticides
•          fencing that reduces habitat connectivity and restricts wildlife movement; and
•          activities that will impair water quality in streams crucial to the survival of local salmon, reptiles and amphibians.
Please join us at a private home near St. Helena for an overview, details and next steps about this vital issue. Learn about local empowerment and protecting Napa from commercial sprawl. Refreshments will be served. Please RSVP by email; limited seating available.    mscott@biologicaldiversity.org
Sunday, February 12th, 2017
2:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Near St. Helena, CA (Address provided to confirmed attendees)
Center for Biological Diversity, presenting staff:
Aruna Prabhala, Urban Wildlands Program Director, Attorney-at-law, has been awarded the “California Lawyer Attorney of the Year” for her work against Newhall Ranch, a proposed mega-development in Southern California.

 

 

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Litigation Looming for Napa’s Walt Ranch Project

Redwood Needles

Litigation Looming for Napa’s Walt Ranch Project

BY NANCY TAMARISK, NAPA GROUP CHAIR

In what could be a landmark case uniting the fights against deforestation and climate change, the Sierra Club has joined the Center for Biological Diversity to file a lawsuit challenging Napa County’s approval of the Walt Ranch project. Two other local organizations, the Living River Council and the Circle Oaks Water District are also filing separate lawsuits.

This fight extends Redwood Chapter’s long tradition of forest and woodland protection, which has included victories in the Headwaters redwood forest preservation, the Bohemian Grove timber harvest plan, and the proposed Preservation Ranch and Artesa clear cuts.

The challenge to Walt Ranch, a vineyard project proposed for the eastern Napa hills, has galvanized community opposition beyond any development in recent local history.

Located at the top of Atlas Peak, the project plan originally called for clear-cutting over 28,000 trees in a 400+ acre total area. The land straddles the headwaters of two creeks: Milliken and Capell. Milliken hosts spawning steelhead, and also feeds Milliken Reservoir, a Napa City water source. The Capell ground waters supply the needs of Circle Oaks, a small community adjacent to Walt. The wild lands harbor several ‘species of concern’, and is a critical wildlife corridor spanning the north-south range of hills which form the eastern rim of Napa Valley.

Over 3000 pages of public comment were submitted in response to the 2014 Walt Ranch draft environmental impact report (EIR), highlighting a wide range of issues, including habitat loss, groundwater depletion, pollution of creeks by sediment and fertilizers, unsafe road access, ground instability, greenhouse gas impacts and noise and air pollution.

Sierra Club and Living Rivers Council were two early local challengers, joined by the renowned statewide advocacy group, Center for Biological Diversity. Community concern spurred the creation of two new watchdog groups: the Defenders of the East Napa Watersheds, centered in Circle Oaks, and Vision 2050, which has become a prominent challenger to development projects up and down the County. Hundreds of people contributed to the effort in ways ranging from donating money, analyzing technical documents, to community canvassing, to turning out for demonstrations. At least a dozen experts in various environmental fields were hired or contributed pro bono to the EIR challenges.

Thanks to our unremitting pressure over two years, we wrested significant concessions from the developers. The vineyard size is down to 160 acres, about half the original proposal. Trees to be felled are down from 28,000 to 14,000. Groundwater use has been capped. Construction vehicles are banned from Circle Oaks Drive, an unstable roadway overlying sewer lines. More protections are in place for threatened Circle Oaks and City water supplies, though these are still inadequate.

However, the failure to achieve concessions on greenhouse gas impacts and special species protections, among other issues, prompted an

appeal of the final EIR to the Board of Supervisors. When that was rejected, litigation remained our only option for continuing the fight.

The Greenhouse Gas Connection

Each litigating party will focus on particular areas of concern. The core issue of Sierra Club’s litigation is the loss of carbon sequestration from the 160 acres of woodland to be destroyed. Worldwide, deforestation is the second strongest driver of global warming. The Sierra Club is charging that, contrary to California law, the EIR fails to account or mitigate for the greenhouse gas impacts of the deforestation.

Center for Biological Diversity is focusing mainly on sensitive species issues; the Circle Oaks Water District is seeking groundwater protections, while Living Rivers Council is attacking creek sediment and dewatering of Milliken Creek.

The Walt Ranch EIR mitigates for loss of trees by the establishment of conservation easements on other parts of Walt Ranch. However, the Sierra Club maintains that, neither logically nor legally, does preserving one tree while cutting down another mitigate for the carbon storage lost by the destroyed tree. In addition, the Walt developers maintain that they do not have to account for the impacts of tree disposal, whether by burning or chipping.

Win or lose, vineyard developers have been put on notice: Attempts to clear cut Napa woodlands will meet fierce opposition, resulting in huge costs and project delays. Many will decide there are easier ways to make money.

And if we prevail, our legacy could be a powerful legal tool for the protection of forests and woodlands across the entire state.

 

1 comment

  1. Jeff Roberts

    DENW AND VISION 2050 were started by Circle Oaks residents and community volunteers. I am puzzled why COHA was not mentioned in your article. The Board and the residents of Circle Oaks are litigating as co litigants with COCWD. I am glad you are helping to fight the battle but it is not just about the wild life. It is about our way of life as well. Sorry, just thought you should have included where this all started. It was started by our community (Circle Oaks), who reached out for help from you and Sierra Club. We brought this to everyone’s attention. You may have not known all of this information.

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