The Napa Open Space District will try to help shape a proposed timber-to-vineyard conversion project near Angwin without taking a position for or against it.
District policy forbids wading into growth battles. But a proposal to create the 34-acre Le Colline vineyard project by removing 24.5 acres of forest and 9 acres of grassland proved to be an attention-getter because the property is next to Linda Falls nature preserve.
Napa County is taking comments on a draft environmental impact report for the Le Colline proposal through Feb. 19. Last Monday, the Open Space District approved a letter with its threading-the-needle observations.
“This is always a tricky area for us to navigate,” Open Space District Board Member Dave Finigan said.
The county’s draft environmental impact report by Analytical Environmental Services found no red flags with the Le Colline project at 300 Cold Springs Road. All potential impacts can with certain steps be rendered “less than significant,” it concluded.
Among other things, the report said the proposed 34-acre vineyard project site is on an 88-acre property. About 36 percent of the forest on the property would be lost, with the rest to remain.
“With the vast amount of forest occurring south and southwest of the project site, the loss of 24.51 acres of forestland adjacent to the town of Angwin would not be considered a significant loss to local forests,” the draft environmental impact report said.
Still, the Open Space District is concerned. Since the district holds a conservation easement over the Linda Falls nature preserve owned by the Land Trust of Napa County, it is a sort of neighbor to Le Colline.
Napa County has policies to support agriculture and to protect natural resources, the Open Space District letter on the Le Colline project said. The challenge of any development proposal is to strike a balance.
“The project as proposed does not from our perspective strike the best balance and thus has adverse impacts that could be avoided if the project were redesigned,” the letter stated.
For example, the district wants larger habitat areas to remain as opposed to smaller, isolated areas. As proposed, the project includes narrow fingers of development. That isn’t ideal either for habitat health or agricultural efficiency, the letter said.
“Size and shape matter,” the letter said.
The environmental impact report said less sediment would run off the property after the Le Colline project is built because of detention basins. The Open Space District said this conclusion would be more credible if existing sediment runoff rates were measured in the field, as opposed to relying on theoretical modeling.
Several audience members said they would have liked the Open Space District to go further in its observations. They addressed the Board of Directors during public comments.
Kellie Anderson of the Linda Falls Alliance said the tractor noise and other noise from the vineyard project would affect the experience at Linda Falls. She favored no Le Colline project.
Linda Falls preserve has 132 native plant species and a waterfall spilling 31 feet over volcanic rocks.
Mike Hackett of Save Rural Angwin called the Le Colline property “a jewel.” Water from Conn Creek on the property eventually flows into the city of Napa’s Lake Hennessey reservoir, he said.
“Sometimes, someone has to stand up here and just be passionate about something,” Hackett said. “This is why I am here.”
Passions are running high in the community over cutting down forests for vineyards. Some say Napa County already has some of the strictest conservation regulations in the nation; others say more should be done.
The Open Space District sought to have its say on a particular project without being sucked into the wider dispute.
The Le Colline vineyard project needs to receive an erosion control plan from Napa County to move forward. It also must obtain Cal Fire approval for a timber harvest/timber conversion plan.
On Tuesday, the Napa City Council will vote on approving a letter from the city accepting the erosion control plan for Le Colline.
Go to https://bit.ly/2SBpBDx to learn more about the Le Colline project and to see the draft environmental impact report.