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The controversial Napa Pipe project won’t begin its final string of approval hearings until at least 2012, according to county planning staff, which is still chipping away at a voluminous environmental study.

Consultants for Napa County are working to respond to the vast number of comments received during the project’s public comment period, said Sean Trippi, a county planner. The environmental study must be complete before hearings on the project’s fate can begin.

News that the project, which must ultimately be approved by the county’s Planning Commission, Airport Land Use Commission and Board of Supervisors, will not see major action until at least 2012 comes after years of planning studies and unusually long periods of environmental review.

“The environmental review process for Napa Pipe has been one of the most thorough and lengthy in state of California history, with every credible question asked and answered by the end, so that all stakeholders can be certain there’s been sufficient study,” Keith Rogal, one of the project applicants, said in an email.

Considered the largest development proposal in the history of Napa County, the project has generated controversy since its inception. Calling for 2,580 homes to be constructed as part of a mixed-used development just south of Napa city limits has sparked concerns that the development would create gridlock on major highways, overburden the county’s water resources and place exhaustive demands on nearby city services.

Applicants contend that these concerns, and others, were thoroughly studied in the project’s EIR, which consisted of thousands of pages of analysis and generated comments from almost all major players in the valley. 

Required under the California Environmental Quality Act, an EIR requires project applicants to thoroughly vet the potential effects of their project and propose mitigation.

For the Napa Pipe project, the vetting process has been riddled with extensions and delays.

In October 2009, Napa Pipe’s original draft EIR was released to the public and was scheduled to undergo 60 days of public comment, longer than the 45 days required by law. During the process, the county — at the request of other entities — extended the window twice, with the comment period lasting a total of 105 days. 

Months later, the county’s planning department issued a supplemental EIR, studying a handful of changes to the applicant’s original proposal. The supplemental study was slated to receive 45 days of public comment.

As the comment period neared its end, both the city of Napa and the Napa Valley Unified School District requested that the window be extended by 60 days. After a pair of public hearings, the Napa County Planning Commission opted to extend the window by 30 days, stretching the total period of public comment to roughly 180 days.

Throughout the process, the document was scrutinized by everyone from the city of Napa to local groundwater advocates. Several valley residents, as well as the Bay Area’s Greenbelt Alliance, also chimed in, announcing their support for the project. 

After six years of study — and a roughly $75 million investment in the project — Rogal and his partners are awaiting the opportunity to move forward on developing the Napa Pipe site for new uses.

“It will soon be time for final decisions as to how best to put the property back into productive and beneficial use, and we look forward to doing so,” Rogal wrote.

In a string of emails and phone calls Friday, Rogal was asked whether he and his partners were considering a major revamp of their plan, perhaps focusing on an industrial project. Rogal did not issue a response.

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