Reading the article “County approves Walt Ranch" (June 14) immediately brought to mind two comments: one, the response by one of the so-called "Original Ten" vineyard and winery owners during the late 1960s to a question about planting vineyards on the surrounding mountains, to which he replied: "The valley's for farming, the hills are for the deer." The second was a comment I often heard my mother say, "My, oh my, what money can buy!"
David Morrison, director of Planning, Building and Environment, stated in the article that all of the numerous concerns addressed in the EIR analyses for the above project could be mitigated and would not reach the level of "Significant." I disagree.
These concerns involve the entire ecosystem, including soil erosion, draw-down of tens of millions of gallons of water and damage to the water supply affecting local residences as well as necessitating costly improvements to the city of Napa water system; traffic issues, including road damage and increased pressure on recreational and residential mobility; threats to wildlife; geological threats to the adjacent community of Circles Oaks and many other families living in the surrounding area; various forms of noise pollution generated by heavy equipment, increased numbers of vehicles of all types, demolition explosions, etc.; and the potential risks to the health of these citizens (as well as the construction workers needed for the project) by possible exposure to carcinogenic dust being blasted into the atmosphere.
These degradations would result from the domino effects stemming from the extensive alterations to the landscape, and to conclude that all these can be satisfactorily mitigated does not, in my opinion, meet the smell or common sense test -- notwithstanding the numerous analyses and consultants that have been employed.
Central to many of the issues is the cutting of old-growth forest and there is no possible mitigation for time lost, i.e., the many decades to regrow the estimated 24,000 trees and vegetation to be destroyed and the resultant effects on the ecosystem. If we think of the trees as healers of the environment, e.g., removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, stabilizing soil and stream beds, providing cover for fauna, etc., the work provided by 24,000 trees cannot be compensated by the remaining forest regardless of their numbers or ratios.
Planting saplings, while a good idea, will take years and years to equal the healing capacity of what was destroyed. I think it paradoxical that approximately two weeks after indicating that the removal of 24,000 trees did not have a significant environmental impact, Mr. Morrison in a Napa Register article on July 4, concerning Napa's responsibilities to deal with the counties' carbon load, noted that one aspect of the plan could include planting 2,500 trees annually.
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Anyone who has driven behind earth/rock-moving trucks (which have relatively tight covers over the load) knows that considerable dust escapes. Four years of construction noise may not seem "significant" when gauged from sound measurement techniques, however the effect undoubtedly would be deemed otherwise by local residents. Unlike the project developers and their staff and those public officials making determinations about the risks of this project, the citizens living nearby will face an estimated four years of daily direct exposure to the noise and air pollution from explosions needed to destroy mountains, cutting trees, constant rumbling of heavy construction equipment, workers vehicles, etc,.
I am puzzled why the owners who, when they opened the Hall Winery in St. Helena, touted it as a "green" enterprise, are now promoting a project that is the antithesis to that concept with the destruction of every conceivable aspect of the environment and all for no apparent good reason -- certainly not to put food on their table, clothes on their backs or grow grapes in an environmentally sound fashion. Looking at the plot maps, this looks more like a plan for multiple ranchettes than a farming operation.
I urge the supervisors to reject the totality of this project and, instead, encourage the owners to deed this bit of earth to future generations, which, as others have pointed out, would prove to be a much greater legacy, a la Warren Buffett, the Zuckerbergs, the Gates, and so on.
If this and other such projects that have negative impacts on the many to financially benefit a few get approved, it seems there are very few options left for us, one of which would be to seek redress through the courts. Obviously such an action would require the resources and clout that an organization such as the Sierra Club has. However they would need our support and I urge everyone who is not currently a member to join the Sierra Club since this project would have lasting negative consequences, in varying degrees, on all of us.
Stephen J. Donoviel