Napa Pipe developers are making major, last-minute changes to correct what potentially could be a fatal flaw in the 2,580-home mixed-use development proposal at Napa’s southern border.
Keith Rogal of Napa Redevelopment Partners now plans to use surface water rather than groundwater to support the proposed Napa Pipe project, potentially circumventing the county’s general reluctance toward tapping groundwater for development.
Using surface water rather than groundwater also could thwart efforts by some Napa Pipe opponents to kill the project at the ballot box through an initiative that would send all residential developments in unincorporated county areas to the voters if those projects rely on groundwater.
Napa County Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said Tuesday that Napa Pipe property owners hold the option to purchase 1,000 acre-feet of surface water from the Delta, more than enough to meet Napa Pipe’s anticipated needs of about 600 acre-feet, she said.
“The property owner has agreed to use surface water supplies rather than groundwater if the required agency approvals can be obtained,” a press release from the county states.
But as Rich Ramirez, city manager for American Canyon, points out, “It doesn’t really matter what the property owner wants to do or does not want to do” if all the technical and environmental issues can’t be resolved.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” agreed Volker Eisele, the Upvalley vintner who is putting together an initiative that would let voters weigh in on groundwater use in Napa County. “To get surface water from someplace into Napa County is not that simple.”
According to Gitelman, the Napa County Flood Control District would have to agree to initiate the transfer by requesting approval from state agencies. Then, either the city of Napa or the city of American Canyon would have to choose to act as the wholesale water supplier since they control the capacity of the North Bay Aqueduct, a key water pipeline.
“There would have to be agreements made out to entertain anyone else’s use of that pipeline,” said Joy Eldredge, general manager of Napa’s Water Division.
Eldredge said that at least one of the entities sharing the pipelines would have to give up a portion of its capacity if Napa Pipe is to use the North Bay Aqueduct. The North Bay Aqueduct is shared by Napa, American Canyon, Calistoga and the Solano County Water Agency, she said.
“We haven’t had any formal discussions around this water aspect,” Eldredge said. “This is the first I’m hearing of this major change, so as far as the city and our water supplies, we’re looking forward to seeing the details of (the county’s) assessment of how the conveyance and of course the availability and reliability of the water supply would be.”
Rich Ramirez, American Canyon city manager, would not say whether American Canyon is interested in making arrangements to share its portion of the pipeline’s capacity, noting only that the conversation first came up about two years ago and would have to be studied by the county before it can be considered.
“Any kind of conversation dealing with water supply with Napa Pipe needs to be undertaken through a civic engagement process, the focus being what’s in the long-term interest of south Napa County,” Ramirez said.
Napa and American Canyon have been critical of the Napa Pipe project in the past, but Gitelman suggested Tuesday that “an offer of surplus water” might “change their stance.”
Rogal agreed that “Napa Pipe can go a long way toward meeting some of our area’s most pressing water needs.” The issue of water agreements with the cities are “technical topics, with lots of variables to them, which will be explored and defined during this period,” he said.
Because the county’s draft environmental review of the project so far has not considered the use of surface water, Gitelman said the county will have to re-work its analysis before the Napa County Board of Supervisors can vote on Napa Pipe.
County officials estimated earlier that the final environmental review would be finished by late fall, but Gitelman announced Tuesday that county officials will take more time to study the use of surface water, as well as other changes to the Napa Pipe project announced Tuesday.
“If we are efficient, the first public hearing will only be delayed three months until January,” she said.
“Extending the review process is the right thing to do,” said Napa County Supervisor Keith Caldwell, who serves on an ad hoc committee that has been working with the developer in recent months to come up with the project changes announced Tuesday.
“We’ve agreed to process Keith Rogal’s application for a new residential neighborhood, and the changes we’re talking about are things that need to be considered,” he said.
Said Rogal, “We remain committed to providing the county with the financial resources and the time to ensure all important questions about this proposal can be asked and answered. After an unprecedentedly long review period, we have now consented to substantial additional time and expense to ensure these other topics of interest are thoroughly studied.”
The Housing Element of the county’s general plan, adopted in June 2009, requires Napa County to rezone a portion of the industrial Napa Pipe site for housing by June 2011, regardless of whether the entire Napa Pipe project is approved.
School site proposed
Additional changes announced Tuesday include a 10-acre school site set aside at Napa Pipe for a new elementary school.
Developers have identified a 10-acre vacant lot across Kaiser Road from the Napa Pipe site, located within the city of Napa, where a new school might one day go up.
“As we've said since the very beginning of the project planning, if the (Napa Valley Unified School District) determines they want to see a school site as part of our project, we have always said we will make one available,” Rogal said.
According to Don Evans, the school district’s director of school planning and construction, the proposed Napa Pipe elementary school would serve an estimated 400 students strictly from the Napa Pipe development.
“We have been working with the developers and with our demographers, and we have determined the potential is that the developer could generate enough students to justify a new elementary school,” Evans said.
The district is asking the developer to pay for the elementary school, which he estimates could cost between $15 million and $20 million to build.
Developers have not stated explicitly at this point whether they would front the entire bill.
Other changes to the Napa Pipe project include the requirement that on-site wastewater treatment be considered as an alternative to Napa Sanitation District service “only if the treated wastewater were used as recycled water for irrigation purposes both on- and off-site, with no discharge to the Napa River,” according to county officials.
“What we analyzed before were two options,” Gitelman said: “One where the site was served by the Napa Sanitation District and one with an on-site wastewater treatment plan. In the on-site option, some of the treated water was used as recycled water but some was discharged into the wetlands which went to the Napa River.”
“The change to the project,” Gitelman continued, “would say if we choose the on-site wastewater option, we would treat it all and not discharge any of it. It means we’re going to have to analyze using some of the recycled water off-site, because you can’t use it all on-site. We’re going to have to talk about where it could go.”
Caldwell said Tuesday that studying the new alternatives to the project will “eliminate some obstacles before we even get to the public hearing process.”
“Then the planning commission and the board will be able to focus on the basics,” he said, “the land use, the number of units, traffic, other potential impacts and mitigation.”