CALISTOGA — Terry Gard’s family has owned and farmed property at the corner of Highway 29 and Dunaweal Lane for generations.
Gard has 63 acres and says the property is not for sale now nor would he ever sell it. His great-grandparents came to Calistoga in 1879 and started to farm the land. It was passed to Gard’s uncle, and he now farms the land with his son. Some of the vines were planted by the Chinese, he said.
Now, Pacific Gas and Electric needs to use a small portion of the acreage for a liquid natural gas (LNG) facility as it tests the line that runs up and down the Napa Valley.
Gard said he received a letter from PG&E in February.
“They just told me, out of the blue, they were going to buy acreage from me for a project for liquefied gas storage tanks. One, this is an Ag Preserve, and two, it’s dangerous. What if it leaks? Remember San Bruno?” he said, referring to the 2010 PG&E pipeline explosion that killed eight people and injured dozens more, in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno.
Company spokesperson Deanna Contreras said PG&E is not trying to buy the land, but sent Gard a proposal for a permanent easement to use approximately two acres.
“The owner retains underlying ownership,” she said.
Starting at the end of the year, PG&E will be upgrading the gas transmission line that runs along Highway 29. It is approximately 30 miles long, and delivers gas to most customers in Napa Valley, Contreras said. Extensive testing and upgrading will be conducted in various locations from Napa to Calistoga. The project will last until 2022, and possibly beyond, to meet code requirements, and the growing demand for natural gas in the area.
“After the testing and upgrading we would like to build a permanent below-ground connection point to supply gas during outages and other things,” Contreras said.
The testing involves pumping liquid natural gas into a pipeline so customer service is not interrupted.
“We need to utilize LNG on several occasions over the next couple of years to maintain continuity of natural gas service while all of this safety work is being performed,” Contreras said, adding there is a lot of new development in the area. “So these upgrades are necessary. We have an obligation to perform integrity assessments on the system every seven years.”
It turns out Gard’s property at the corner of Dunaweal Lane and Highway 29 meets the necessary site requirements and location to stage the LNG resources.
“We did a significant review and considered many other sites and PG&E determined this site is critical and meets all the requirements, including size, space to switch out tanker trucks, and valves that are already located at that site,” Contreras said.
The Dunaweal Lane project would be similar to the LNG facility in Redding, and in the Santa Cruz Mountains area at Felton. PG&E customers will start receiving letters in the coming weeks regarding the testing and upgrading, and the need to access personal property with geological testing, Contreras said.
She also said the company is committed to working with Gard to visually conceal the facility with fencing or landscape.
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“Any considerations, we’re all ears. Because it is a tourist corridor we’re looking at the best and least impactful way to serve gas to Napa County,” she said.
After receiving the letter in February, Gard told his attorney to handle all matters with PG&E from there on out. He also said he contacted the nearby owners of Twomey Cellars, and Pat Roney, owner of Girard and Clos Pegase wineries, also on Dunaweal Lane.
“They were shocked. They didn’t know anything about it,” Gard said. “Is that the first thing they want their customers to see is a tank farm?”
He’s also contacted the Napa County Board of Supervisors, the Napa Valley Vintners and the Napa Valley Grapegrowers.
Gard said he is prepared to go to court if it comes to that.
“This is an Ag Preserve. We’re supposed to be protecting it. (Our property) is the first unobstructed view of Mount St. Helena as you come up (Highway 29) past Sterling Vineyards. It’s a focal point. The tanks belong on a commercial zone,” he said.
John Borba, Gard’s attorney, questions what the facility will do to the value of Gard’s land, “and the agricultural nature of the area and scenic corridor that everyone in Napa Valley has worked so hard to protect. It’s going to be a huge detriment to Terry’s land and the scenic corridor.”
If Gard’s property is not used for the project, PG&E would need to utilize several other sites over the next couple of years to complete the work, which would be much more intrusive and impactful. None of the other sites are close candidates, Contreras said.
“If we can’t come to an agreement with the landowner, PG&E will need to inject natural gas at several other locations simultaneously to provide that same level of support. So minimizing impact to other communities along that 30-mile stretch, and the impact on other landowners, is a large factor in the selection of this one site,” she said.
A few weeks ago, PG&E completed the appraisal process and made Gard an offer for a permanent easement for a little more than one acre for an LNG system.
After making the offer and Gard’s refusal to sell, PG&E can claim eminent domain and try and take the property, arguing that there is a public need for it.
“In terms of utilities, they are arguing, and I believe the law supports them, that they can go through the eminent domain process,” Borba said. “While they are not a state agency, they are a state-regulated agency serving the public good, in terms of providing gas and electricity to people, if they believe it’s in the public interest to do so. They need to establish that before a judge and then establish a fair price for the land. We think this entire project and its location is misguided. We’ll probably end up in court.”
PG&E will be sending Gard a final offer in June, after which he has approximately 30 days to respond, Contreras said.
“The offer is low compared to what I think it should be, but it really doesn’t matter because Terry’s not interested in selling his property that’s been in his family for decades,” Borba said.