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Walt Ranch

The city of Napa has reached an agreement with Napa County to expand water quality monitoring of runoff from the Walt Ranch vineyard project. Meanwhile, project opponents said they will appeal the development to the Board of Supervisors.

Walt Ranch has made its peace with the city of Napa, but not with opponents who have appealed the controversial vineyard project approval to the Napa County Board of Supervisors.

The city previously stated that creating Walt Ranch vineyards in the eastern hills could send pesticides and fertilizers into the city’s Milliken Reservoir. Improving the reservoir’s filtration system to deal with these substances could cost $20 million.

Since then, the city has worked with the Walt Ranch developer and county on an agreement that involves Walt Ranch enacting a water quality monitoring program going beyond that required by the county. It wants the county to add the expanded program to the Walt Ranch approval.

“Once that is done, we’re satisfied our concerns have been addressed,” Napa City Manager Mike Parness said Monday.

But others still have concerns. The Center for Biological Diversity, Napa Sierra Club and St. Helena resident Lois Ann Battuello have filed notices of intent to appeal the county’s Walt Ranch approval to the Board of Supervisors.

Attorney Aruna Prabhala with the Center for Biological Diversity called Walt Ranch “a severe threat to the local environment.”

Mike Reynolds of Walt Ranch said some people will be satisfied only by having no project whatsoever.

“We think this is a good project,” Reynolds said. “We are planting a vineyard in an agricultural zone, nothing more.”

The 2,300-acre Walt Ranch is located in the mountains between the city of Napa and Lake Berryessa along Highway 121. Hall Brambletree Associates asked to create 356 acres of vineyards within a 507-acre total development area. The development area includes such things as roads.

Napa County cut the project to 209 acres of vineyards within a 316-acre total development area to further protect rare plants and certain trees. County Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison tentatively approved the project erosion control plan on June 13 and the decision became official on Aug. 1.

But Walt Ranch has landed amid growing controversies about cutting down trees in the hills and adding vineyards to areas that are watershed draining into reservoirs, creeks and the Napa River.

The city of Napa first voiced its concern in December 2014. Part of the Walt Ranch project includes the watershed for the small Milliken Reservoir and the city didn’t want taxpayers stuck with that possible $20 million filtration system upgrade.

“That cost should be borne by the new land development project that threatens to compromise the high quality of the Milliken reservoir water supply — not by the existing water customers,” Water General Manager Joy Eldredge wrote to the county.

Walt Ranch officials had a different view of the situation. They pointed to the project environmental report that said the proposed vineyard project would, with the proper steps taken, not harm water quality.

Parness said the city worked with the Walt Ranch developers and the county for the past month or so. Walt Ranch will monitor runoff water quality at nine locations and take steps to deal with problems that might arise.

“We appreciate the property owner has worked with us to come up with a plan we both can support,” Parness said.

Reynolds said Walt Ranch will deal with any water quality issues discovered by the monitoring. But, he added, he doesn’t expect there to be any.

“Thankfully, the city of Napa was willing to meet with us,” Reynolds said. “We talked, and we were able to address their concerns. I think that’s the way things should be able to get done.”

Napa County can add the expanded water monitoring program to the Walt Ranch approvals during the appeals hearing. But that assumes the Board of Supervisors upholds Morrison’s decision and allows the project to go forward.

The Center for Biological Diversity said in a press release that the environmental impact report for the project is inadequate. The group is concerned that the vineyards will hurt wildlife, water supply and air quality.

Walt Ranch vineyards will destroy habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog, valley elderberry longhorn beetle and Contra Costa goldfields, the group said. Fencing will restrict wildlife movement.

Prabhala said on Tuesday that she’s followed the Walt Ranch project on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity for several years. The organization has members in the area who expressed concern.

The three appellants have yet to file texts of their appeals with the county. They merely filed brief notices of intent ahead of Friday's appeal deadline. Prabhala said her group’s appeal should be available next week.

Reynolds seemed unsurprised that the Walt Ranch project has been appealed.

“We have created probably the most complete and far-reaching account environmental report that’s ever been done in Napa … it concludes there is no significant impact,” Reynolds said. “If that doesn’t convince people, nothing will.”

Napa County has yet to announce a date for the appeals hearing before the Board of Supervisors.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.