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Atlas Peak fire (copy)

The Atlas Peak fire burned over 51,000 acres and 781 structures, including this one, in October 2017. On Tuesday, the city of Napa and Napa County announced a settlement of their lawsuits against Pacific Gas & Electric which was found responsible for multiple local fires that month. 

Napa County and the city of Napa, along with seven other counties and cities, announced Tuesday that they and PG&E have accepted a mediator’s proposal of $415 million to resolve wildfire claims.

Napa Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan said allocations among the jurisdictions have yet to be determined.

The $415 million payment is to be part of PG&E’s Chapter 11 plan of reorganization and must be confirmed by the bankruptcy court. It is part of a total settlement of $1 billion PG&E proposes to pay to local governments for wildfire losses, subject to court approval.

The mediator’s proposal is for local governments only and does not affect the claims of residents and businesses against PG&E. Any approved claims from Napa residents would also be provided for under the reorganization plan, county and city officials said.

“Just because we’ve reached a settlement that’s still pending approval, nothing happens until all approved claims, including those of our residents, would be provided for under the plan of reorganization,” Rattigan said.

The wildfires that burned parts of Napa County started on Oct. 8, 2017 amid an unusually strong windstorm. The Atlas fire and Partrick/Nuns fire burned in mountains near the city of Napa, and the Tubbs fire burned near Calistoga. They destroyed more than 600 homes in the county.

Napa County in its February 2018 lawsuit against PG&E alleged that the wine country fires started because of PG&E’s negligence in maintaining electrical infrastructure. Cal Fire later blamed the Atlas and Partrick fires on sparking PG&E equipment, but not the Tubbs fire.

Paul Doherty of PG&E on Tuesday issued an email statement on behalf of the utility on the $415 million proposed settlement with the nine jurisdictions.

“This is an important first step toward an orderly, fair and expeditious resolution of wildfire claims and a demonstration of our willingness to work collaboratively with stakeholders to achieve mutually acceptable resolutions,” Doherty said.

Napa County Board of Supervisors chairperson Ryan Gregory and Napa City Manager Steve Potter praised the proposed settlement in a press release.

“This agreement, if approved, will allow Napa County to make necessary repairs to damaged county infrastructure and recover the county’s financial losses as a result of the fires,” Gregory said.

Potter had similar thoughts.

“The city is pleased that PG&E has agreed to this settlement and that taxpayers will not bear the burden of the city’s fire-related expenses and losses,” Potter said.

Neither the county nor city on Tuesday released damage figures from the fires. Officials from both agencies said that is because the allotment process among the nine jurisdictions has yet to be completed.

The county in its lawsuit against PG&E said the fire costs include damage to open space and public lands, firefighting expenses, evacuation expenses, losses of property tax, sales tax and hotel tax, road damage, loss of aesthetic value and debris removal.

None of the October 2017 wildfires burned within Napa city limits. Still, the city in its lawsuit said it lost tax revenues because the fires harmed the local wine and tourism industries. Also, the fires damaged public lands and infrastructure and forced the city to pay for emergency management personnel.

The Atlas fire burned the watershed for the city of Napa’s Milliken Reservoir and damaged water delivery infrastructure.

Involved in the proposed $415 million settlement are Napa County, the city of Napa, Clear Lake, Lake County, Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, Yuba County, Mendocino County and Nevada County.

Mediator Jay Gandhi, a retired judge, presided over several days of in-person mediation sessions held in San Francisco. Participants in the mediation included 14 public entities with various claims from the 2015 Butte fire, the 2017 Northern California fires, and the 2018 Camp fire, the county/city press release said.

Gandhi’s global proposals included a total payment of $1 billion to be made pursuant to PG&E’s confirmed plan of reorganization. PG&E and all 14 public entities accepted the proposals.

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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.