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In the latest turn in an increasingly confusing controversy, Napa Valley Vintners announced it wants community collaboration on a possible oak woodland and watershed protection ballot measure for the November 2018 election.

Is the group disavowing a proposed oak woodland and watershed initiative that it co-authored with environmentalists Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett and targeted for the June 2018 ballot? That wasn’t clear on Monday.

“We’re focused on a community consensus building process right now and we’re hoping (Hackett and Wilson) will join us,” Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners said without elaboration.

Other wine industry groups and some Napa Valley Vintners members have criticized the proposed Vintners/Hackett/Wilson initiative and said they were left out of the negotiations. The Napa Valley Vintners Board of Directors addressed the issue on Friday.

The Board of Directors voted unanimously to support having a professional mediator work with the wine and environmental communities. The goal is to come up with a new, proposed initiative that has broader support by Feb. 1, 2018, said a statement released Monday by Napa Valley Vintners.

That date would allow supporters time to gather signatures by the May 9 deadline to qualify this hoped-for, new initiative for the November 2018 ballot. More than 3,700 signatures from local, registered voters would be needed.

For the most part, Napa Valley Vintners limited its public comments on Monday to a written statement.

“The NVV Board heard from its members, industry colleagues and community leaders on both sides and looks forward to continuing this important conversation,” the statement said in part.

Napa County Farm Bureau, which opposed the Vintners/Hackett/Wilson proposed initiative, wanted more information Monday on the Vintners’ latest stance.

“Right now, we’re trying to just get clarification on the direction the Vintners want to take,” Farm Bureau Policy Director Ryan Klobas said. ”The statement the Vintners released was somewhat vague.”

Winegrowers of Napa County Executive Director Michelle Benvenuto said the Vintners’ latest statements are confusing. She sees nothing that says the Vintners has subtracted its support for the Vintners/Hackett/Wilson initiative.

“Are they for the initiative or against the initiative?” she said.

The Winegrowers continue to support a collaborative approach, Benvenuto said. But that has to start with an understanding of Napa County’s existing conservation regulations, she added.

Napa Valley Grapegrowers had no comment on Monday.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear what will happen with the Vintners/Hackett/Wilson proposed initiative. Wilson and Hackett still have the option of gathering signatures to try to qualify it for the June ballot. They couldn’t be reached for a comment on Monday.

Napa Valley Vintners couldn’t necessarily scuttle that version, even if it wanted to do so. County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said that County Counsel’s informal opinion is that all parties signing the initiative submittal with the county would have to agree to withdraw it.

Wilson and Hackett are signers, along with Napa Valley Vintners representatives Stults and Michael Honig.

In yet another twist, Wilson and Hackett last week filed a second, proposed version of an oak and watershed protection initiative for the June election. This one resembles an initiative the county disqualified on a technicality from the November 2016 ballot.

“Our supporters in the community like that (version) a lot,” Wilson said last week. “We have that as an option going forward.”

He prefers the collaboration with the Vintners, he added.

Napa Valley Vintners opposed that 2016 version, along with Napa County Farm Bureau, Winegrowers of Napa County and Napa Valley Grapegrowers. Stults has said that the Vintners worked with Hackett and Wilson on a new version in part because it knew another ballot measure was coming and wanted something less onerous.

Both versions on file with the county—the Vintners/Hackett/Wilson version and the revised 2016 version—begin with the same statement of purpose. The proposed initiatives say their goal is to protect the water quality, biological productivity and the economic and environmental values of the county’s streams, watersheds, wetlands and forests.

Both seek to restrict the cutting of oaks in the agricultural watershed zoning district, which covers the county’s hills and mountains and the Carneros region. But they do so in different ways.

“Napa County’s oak woodlands are one of its defining scenic features and most biologically diverse natural resources,” the initiatives say.

Critics have expressed concern that the oak preservation methods contemplated would greatly restrict how many new vineyards could be planted in the agricultural watershed. They’ve also said the county already has strong watershed protections.

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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.