SodaCanyonRoad | Walt Ranch needs better environmental evaluation

Walt Ranch needs better environmental evaluation

Patricia Damery | Dec 3, 2016 on: Napa Vision 2050

I’m writing to supplement several important facts from the hours of testimony from the Walt Ranch hearings, in the articles “Napa’s Walt Ranch vineyard hearings open with protest” and “Proponents of Walt Ranch make their case”.

The Halls, the applicants for Walt Ranch, have applied to convert 316 acres of a large, 2,300-acre tract of land in the Ag-Watershed into vineyards. Although the project has been modified following the protest of various environmental and local groups, it still involves cutting over 14,000 mature trees, the equivalent of cutting 62 percent of the trees on the city streets of Napa.

As this project started moving through the EIR process, the Halls began contributing large sums of money to various local lawmakers’ campaigns. As these hearings began, Chair Alfredo Pedroza asked the Supervisors for “disclosures.” They responded by stating any meetings or correspondence they (recently?) had. Not one disclosed any campaign contributions from the Halls. Can our supervisors make an independent decision that is for the benefit of the community and our environment when the project’s applicant has contributed thousands of dollars to his or her campaign?

One of the biggest dangers of this project is the fact that it is a large part of one of the five remaining biologically diverse areas in Napa County in which the original native plants, animals, and soil structure supporting them still thrive. As we face the uncertainties of climate change and a warming earth, it is critically important that we protect areas still intact and not further exploit them. This project includes cutting the oak woodlands, which will impact the entire ecosystem these remaining animals and plants populate.

Four different groups, appellants, found fault with the EIR and want the Board of Supervisors to protect our environment by sending the project’s contested EIR report back for future study. I was disappointed to see a lack of reporting on the appellants’ many reports from biologists, hydrologists, earth scientists, geologists, which took serious issue with some of the findings of the Walt EIR.

Attorney Tom Lippe also questioned the process of the EIR in terms of CEQA compliance. Former supervisor Ginnie Simms also pointed out that the project’s 35 blocks of vineyards, each with roads and water supplied to them, are a thinly veiled real estate development, ready to be sold separately for lifestyle vineyard estates— and wineries. The EIR’s responsibility is to anticipate the consequences of such possible future trajectories. This EIR did not consider such future development, which would have significant impact on water, traffic, and on ecology of the region.

We heard that four novice biologists spent only one day evaluating Walt Ranch for reptiles and amphibians when only one of them is a herpetologist and others could not identify a tadpole from a frog. And hydrologist Greg Kamman reported the proposed deep-ripping of the thin top soils in order to plant vines, a process recommended by Walt Ranch consultants, does not improve soil infiltration rates, thereby limiting runoff, but in fact destroys soil structure which naturally handles water infiltration. Even the Regional Water Quality Control Board says there is no evidence deep-ripping increases infiltration rates. These are only a few of the many counter claims.

There are too many discrepancies and the stakes are too high. Insist that the EIR be redone. Contact your supervisor to come down on the right side on this: send the EIR back for expert evaluation.

NVR 12/1/16 version: Walt Ranch needs better environmental evaluation