Chainsaw Wine: Permit Sonoma approving more tree removal for failing wine industry

Since I wrote my letter and the application has been approved piecemeal, as always, in stages by PRMD, some grading and tree removal has probably already occurred. The biologist’s full report has been completed and mistakes corrected, mitigations applied, and now a ministerial permit proposed unless a formal opposition is mounted to trigger a hearing. I spoke to Sean Kennings, the forester who said the tree removal would not cause significant siltation of the Gualala River downstream. He was, of course, cordial and impenetrable. Besides my letter, Carol Sklenicka wrote one to the same effect.

Subject: Proposed new vineyard construction at 27800 Seaview Rd.

Dear Mr. Aguero,

I have just been informed of this proposed installation of a vineyard in the Seaview Ridge area and have a number of concerns and questions to pose.

After reading through the biological survey report, I am most concerned that despite admission of habitat loss due to vineyard installation and potential impacts on endangered species, no surveys were conducted to assess their actual presence in the area. Why not?

I am also concerned that despite the presence of increasingly rare native grasses, black and Oregon oak trees and several seasonal wetland areas suitable for red-legged frog breeding, these biotic resources were not considered significant enough to warrant preservation. Why not?

The necessary application of the usual pesticides and herbicides employed in viticulture in an area of pre-existing wetlands and a seasonal creek that drains to the Gualala watershed is of concern, given that scientific evidence shows adverse effects on amphibians from run-off. Why is this not considered in the application?

The potential for silt-producing erosion associated with earth-moving in an area of “very hilly” topography between Kolmer Gulch and the Gualala River is of concern. Why is there no reference to this issue?

On page 12 of the environmental assessment, there is a mistaken reference to the property being located in Napa County, which implies that the report may be at least partially reproduced from prior unrelated parcel assessments.   

While I appreciate the “right to farm” that has driven our Sonoma County land use policies for the past 150 years, we live in an area of decreasing biodiversity, increasing local monoculture (grapes) and an era of extinction of bees and birds that are clearly poisoned by the pesticides used in viticulture. Why would an informed botanist assess this project favorably?

The recommendations for mitigation are appreciated but unenforceable.
This reflects a known lack of adequate staffing and a trend by PRMD and the County in general to avoid any form of guidelines or ordinance to regulate viticulture.

I would very much appreciate a response to my questions and concerns. Thank you for your work in general and your attention to this matter in particular.

L. M.