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Neighbors sue UVDS and Clover Flat Landfill claiming odors, noise, pollution

Compost piles at UVDS

Junior Garibay, Bryce Howard and Christy Pestoni stand next to the compost piles at the UVDS composting and recycling facility on Whitehall Lane in St. Helena. Neighbors sued UVDS in May alleging odors, noise and other problems at the site.

Neighbors of Upper Valley Disposal Service’s composting and recycling facility in St. Helena have filed a lawsuit over what they say are ongoing problems with intolerable odors, noise and other problems.

The lawsuit against UVDS and Clover Flat Landfill is a “last resort” after exhausting other efforts to stop UVDS’ “illegal, continuing and unnecessarily dangerous, malodorous and noisy activity,” according to a complaint filed May 10 in Napa Superior Court.

The plaintiffs, who each own property on Whitehall Lane are Sandra and John Thompson, Paul Heiselmann, Leslie Velasco, John Witt, and Matt and Kami Smith.

Suzy S. Orza, an attorney for the defendants, said the companies named in the suit “deny all wrongdoing alleged in the Complaint and will file a detailed response” on June 10.

The lawsuit echoes many of the objections raised by neighbors during a Feb. 23 meeting facilitated by Supervisor Diane Dillon, including the “unbearable stench” that inundated the area after a holding pond at UVDS became anaerobic in March 2019.

The lawsuit claims that since 2019, UVDS's neighbors have noticed "an increased rotten garbage smell emanating from the UVDS Whitehall Lane facility, drifting over and inundating the properties, interfering with the residents' enjoyment of the properties, including the properties of the Plaintiffs."

The lawsuit says the composting of grape pomace is a “major source” of the odor.

The lawsuit also complains of fire hazards, the unsightly dumping of old vehicles, light pollution and constant noise, from the crashing and shattering of glass bottles to the engine and brake sounds of large trucks. The lawsuit notes that UVDS recently replaced its trucks' beeping backup warnings with more tolerable white noise.

The plaintiffs seek a court order limiting noisy activities to weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., prohibiting activities that generate odors, requiring fire prevention measures, and preventing UVDS from shining bright lights onto neighboring properties. They also request unspecified damages and reimbursement of court costs and legal fees.

The complaint also alleges pollution originating from Clover Flat Landfill, which, like UVDS, is owned by the Pestoni family.

The plaintiffs allege “violations of numerous solid waste, chemical, drainage, discharge, leachate, permit and environmental regulations” from August 2018 to the present.

After a series of fires in 2018, the joint-powers authority that contracts with the landfill found that Clover Flat had breached its agreement, citing the failure to provide adequate firefighting capabilities and the leakage of contaminated water into a creek. The landfill also came under pressure from the local enforcement agency (LEA) that oversees its operations under the auspices of CalRecycle.

During the March 15 St. Helena City Council meeting, Peter Ex, who’s part of the LEA, outlined the steps that UVDS and Clover Flat took to solve those problems.

Ex said the facility stopped composting, implemented a fire prevention control plan, and hired a new management team.

“Once their new management team took over, both sites drastically improved in terms of site management and daily operations,” Ex said. “They’ve made significant improvements to their operations and infrastructure at both facilities.”

Ex told the City Council that UVDS and Clover Flat “are in full compliance with the LEA. They have been for the past year now, with zero violations.”

He also said the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board conducts routine inspections to look at leachate management and potential groundwater issues and hasn’t found any problems recently. 

UVDS and Clover Flat operate under exclusive long-term franchise agreements to provide waste management and landfill services to the Upper Valley Waste Management Agency, a joint-powers authority that includes Napa County, St. Helena, Calistoga and Yountville.

The UVDS contract is a 15-year evergreen agreement set to expire in 2036. Clover Flat’s contract is set to expire in 2047.

Neighbors and environmental activists, including St. Helena Mayor Geoff Ellsworth, have heavily criticized UVDS and Clover Flat in recent months and called for the two contracts to be subject to competitive bidding.

Earlier this year, Christy Pestoni, chief operating officer for UVDS, said she and members of her company had met with neighbors and addressed their complaints by changing the way pomace is processed, planting trees and shrubs to screen the Whitehall Lane facility, changing the lighting, and eliminating beeping back-up warnings.

Last month Pestoni told the Star that UVDS is investing in a $1.6 million system that will use electronic probes to warn of unpleasant odors and fire hazards created during the composting process.

A look inside Napa's composting plant. Courtesy Napa's recycling program.

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Related to this story

Upper Valley Disposal Service, Upper Valley Recycling and Clover Flat Landfill issued a detailed statement Friday denying allegations leveled by neighbors in a recent lawsuit, while two of the plaintiffs spoke out about how the companies’ operations have affected their lives.

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