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CALISTOGA — PG&E is taking Calistoga vineyard owner Terry Gard to court, to seize a portion of his land for a liquid natural gas plant.

Since the beginning of the year, the utility has tried to reach an agreement with Gard, who steadfastly refuses to cede any of the property his family has farmed for generations.

PG&E has now claimed eminent domain to forcibly secure a permanent easement of 1.4 acres on the corner of Highway 29 and Dunaweal Lane, across from Twomey Cellars.

According to PG&E, the property is needed for a project that will upgrade the current Upvalley pipeline to meet the region’s growing demand for natural gas, and to meet state and federal requirements.

PG&E’s counsel Jamie Guillen said in court documents that Gard was issued a notice about the project and an appraiser’s information in January, and sent an offer for the property at the end of April. PG&E’s final offer was delivered to Gard’s attorney, John Borba, in June for $335,000.

Gard says PG&E’s financial appraisal is “vastly underestimated,” and he is also worried that his property will be devalued by construction of a liquid natural gas plant. Gard owns 63 acres that dates back in his family to 1879. Along with not wishing to part with his family’s property, he is also fearful of the possibility of a liquid natural gas storage or leaking accident, similar to that in San Bruno. In 2010, a PG&E liquid natural gas pipeline explosion killed eight people and injured dozens more, in the San Francisco suburb.

“I fear for our lives with this gas storage next to us. We weld at the barn on a regular basis to repair equipment, and our tractor implements spark against rocks,” Gard said. “We probably will move Jim (his son and ranch manager) off the property to live. If the gas plant explodes our ranch house probably would be leveled as it’s less than 200 yards from the site. The neighbors’ homes and the Twomey Winery (across the street) are certainly in jeopardy.”

The liquefied natural gas project

In Napa Valley, from Yountville to the north, natural gas is supplied through a single transmission pipeline, which was installed in 1930. The pipeline runs parallel to Highway 29, and needs to be expanded due to the increase of commercial and residential demand by 2022, according to the court records filed by PG&E.

In order to comply with federal and state regulations, the utility is required to perform integrity assessments, and must also invest in upgrading and modernizing the pipeline.

During the process, portions of the system will not be functional for up to two months at a time. When the pipeline is out of service, it will require large deployments of portable natural gas equipment to support the gas system, the company states in documents.

Construction of the liquid natural gas plant on Gard’s property needs to start March 1, 2020, and construction will take about two years, according to PG&E, and Gard’s property must be acquired by Feb. 1. “Failure to adhere to this timeline will result in potential risk to the reliability of supply services and the impact on the community and businesses and residents of Napa Valley would be significant,” court documents state.

When the government, or, in some cases, a private entity, needs access to private property, it may exercise its power of eminent domain to do so. Another way eminent domain is used is for easements where sewer lines, water lines, telephone and cable lines and electric lines.

PG&E had not responded to request for comment as of last week.

Why this location?

PG&E selected Gard’s property to minimize impact to the surrounding community and keep costs to ratepayers at a minimum, the company said in May.

If Gard’s property is not used for the project, PG&E would need to use several other sites over the next couple of years to complete the work, which would be much more intrusive and impactful. “None of the other sites are close candidates,” spokesperson Deanna Contreras said in May.

“If we can’t come to an agreement with the landowner, PG&E will need to inject natural gas at several other locations simultaneously to provide that same level of support. So minimizing impact to other communities along that 30-mile stretch, and the impact on other landowners, is a large factor in the selection of this one site,” she said.

PG&E is not trying to buy the land, but a permanent easement. “The owner retains underlying ownership. After the testing and upgrading we would like to build a permanent below-ground connection point to supply gas during outages and other things,” Contreras said.

Gard was served papers from Napa County Superior Court at the beginning of September, and the hearing is set for Jan. 8, 2020.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.