Walt Ranch opponents used visuals this week to tell county officials why they think the proposed Walt Ranch vineyard project is bad for neighboring areas and Napa County as a whole.
“Halt Walt,” “Save 28,616 trees,” “No to soil erosion,” read some of the signs at the county’s hearing Wednesday to gather comments on the project’s draft environmental impact report. About 150 people attended and more than 50 went to the podium to speak.
Most of the critics came from the rural community of Circle Oaks and the Atlas Peak area, both of which border the 2,300-acre ranch targeted for about 300 acres of vineyards. They have a variety of concerns resulting from their proximity to the project, ranging from possible groundwater problems to the loss of trees to noise.
But Dan Mufson of the newly formed Defenders of East Napa Watersheds said the proposed project has more far-reaching implications for Napa County. So did several other speakers at the hearing.
“We realized the same issues are occurring all over the county,” said Mufson, who wants the county to put a moratorium on these types of large vineyard projects.
Craig Hall and his family are proposing the vineyard project. Hall owns Hall Wines of St. Helena and founded Hall Financial Group of Frisco, Texas. He was part-owner of the Dallas Cowboys during the 1980s.
“We’re sorry this vineyard has caused concern to anyone,” Hall said at the hearing. “We are open to modifying the project in ways that improve it.”
As described in the draft report, the project consists of 356 acres of vineyards and 500 total acres of disturbed land. Hall has said that proposed mitigations will reduce the project to between 270 acres and 288 acres of vineyards and 400 acres to 420 acres of disturbed land.
The draft environmental report states that the project could have “potentially significant” effects on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, noise, hydrology and water quality, biological resources, cultural resources, geology and soils, hazardous materials, cumulative impacts and transportation and traffic.
But the report goes on to explain how each potential problem can be made “less than significant.”
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For example, vineyard wells might create drawdown interference for neighboring wells and cause pumping problems, the report said. As mitigation, the Halls would have to provide well monitoring data. They could face having their permit revoked in the event of certain groundwater problems.
Pesticides used on the vineyards could be accidentally released, the report said. The Halls would have to comply with county regulations and follow rules for application and storage.
Construction noise could disturb neighbors. The Halls would do such things as limit construction to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and erect temporary sound walls when construction is less than 150 feet from neighbors.
The project could break up wildlife corridors. The Halls would have to fence vineyard blocks individually or in small clusters and create corridors of no less than 100 feet wide.
Gary Margadant of the Mount Veeder Stewardship Council commented on the report, even though Mount Veeder is on the other side of the Napa Valley.
“We don’t understand how such a large project of this kind that removes so many trees and uses so much water can be mitigated to ‘less than significant,’ ” Margadant said.
Carol Kunze spoke on behalf of the Napa Sierra Club. She said the proposed Walt Ranch project would fragment wildlife habitat.
Chris Malan of the Living Rivers Council said such projects are “out of control” and “marching up the hillsides and destroying the headwaters of our streams and rivers.”
But Jim Lincoln of the Napa County Farm Bureau talked about the stringent county standards in place for vineyard erosion control plans, such as the one being sought by Walt Ranch.
“If the project meets the stringent standards, it should be approved,” he said.
Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison oversaw the hearing. The county will take written comments on the draft environmental impact report through Nov. 21.
Morrison expects the county to release its responses to comments and the final environmental report early next year. Then he will hold another hearing in which he will decide whether to approve the Walt Ranch erosion control plan and under what conditions. His decision can be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors.