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Judge says Mountain Peak winery fire issues need new look from Napa County supervisors
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Judge says Mountain Peak winery fire issues need new look from Napa County supervisors

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Mountain Peak Winery

This drawing depicts how the Mountain Peak Winery at 3265 Soda Canyon Road is to look. Napa County Superior Court wants the county to take another look at winery approvals in light of the Atlas fire.

The controversial Mountain Peak winery approval by the Napa County Board of Supervisors appears headed toward another county hearing, this time focused on new information in the wake of the Atlas fire.

Napa County Superior Court Judge Cynthia Smith ordered the move involving a planned winery at the top of Soda Canyon. The county has yet to announce a date for either the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors to again take up the matter.

“We are reviewing the ruling and our legal options and will bring the discussion to the appropriate decision makers at the appropriate time,” Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said in an email. “Given that this is pending and ongoing litigation, we cannot comment further.”

The Board of Supervisors approved Mountain Peak winery in August 2017. Opponents under the name Soda Canyon Group sued in September 2017, saying the county should have required an environmental impact report for the project.

Then came the October 2017 Atlas fire that burned through Soda Canyon. Opponents said the fire raised new information about the challenges of having visitors at a winery targeted to be built near the end of a 6-mile, dead-end road.

Smith agreed in February that the county should look at the “truly new evidence of emergent facts.” The county unsuccessfully contested her decision in the state court of appeals. Now Smith has issued her final remand order for the county to consider Atlas fire evidence that she listed.

That means the county will reconsider the Mountain Peak winery by taking into account fire experiences from Soda Canyon residents such as Shelle Wolfe. Wolfe in court papers said she lives at mile 6.2 along Soda Canyon Road, almost across the entrance from Mountain Peak.

She described how she evacuated by car from the Atlas fire about 10:45 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2017.

“When we came to the crest of the hill that looks down on the other side of Soda Canyon, the canyon was completely engulfed in flames,” Wolfe said in court papers. “It can only be described as a firestorm, with howling winds, tornadoes of flames cascading down the sides of the canyon and embers flying everywhere.”

Her car heated up as she drove past the flames, Wolfe said.

The county will consider the testimony of Cynthia Grupp. Grupp evacuated by car on Soda Canyon Road – the only escape route – but found a large tree across the road, with a backup of five or six cars.

As the fire approached, a pickup driver and fire engine crew broke off enough branches that cars could squeeze past the tree, she said in court papers.

Mountain Peak winery is to be located at 3265 Soda Canyon Road, about 6 miles from Silverado Trail. It is to produce 100,000 gallons of wine annually, have up to 14,300 tasting room visitors annually and have up to 275 visitors annually at three marketing events.

County supervisors considered fire danger and the condition of narrow, two-lane Soda Canyon Road in May 2017, when they heard an appeal of the Planning Commission approval for Mountain Peak winery.

Among other things, a 2017 county report said that the vineyards at Mountain Peak provide a lower wildfire risk than brush. Construction of Mountain Peak winery, especially the winery’s caves, would provide a safe haven for sheltering in place in the event of a wildfire and evacuation.

But Smith wants the county to reconsider the issue now that the Atlas fire has occurred.

“We believe she reached the right result and she had the authority to do so,” attorney Anthony Arger said last week on behalf of Soda Canyon Group. “Frankly, we believe this gives the county a golden opportunity to effectively right a wrong. And we sincerely hope it does so.”

Should the county affirm its approval of Mountain Peak winery, the matter would return to court for a hearing on winery opponent’s claim that the county should have required an environmental impact report for the project.

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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.

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