Walt Ranch Vineyard Project, stuck for five years in legal action, referred to Napa County Supervisory Board after a key opponent opposed revised plan to mitigate estimated climate impact the removal of thousands of trees.
The Center for Biological Diversity on Monday filed an appeal for an Oct. 1 county administrative approval of the project’s revised greenhouse gas mitigation plan, which was rejected earlier this year by Napa County and the state courts. The group and Napa Sierra Club sued the county following certification in December 2016 by supervisors of the project’s environmental impact report.
The Napa County Superior Court and 1st District Court of Appeals supported this certification, but the latter found a fault just over two years ago in the project’s plan to mitigate the elimination of 14 281 trees.
“Residents of Napa facing the aftermath of a severe drought and recent wildfires don’t need to remember that they are living in the midst of a climate crisis,” said Ross Middlemiss, lawyer at the center, based in Tucson, Arizona. organization which claims 1.7 million members. “Cutting down so many carbon sequestering trees at Walt Ranch without a responsible plan in place would be foolish, and it will add to the escalation of the emergency that will spell disaster for the entire valley.”
The center blames the county’s “flawed approach” in the revised mitigation plan “to preserve less existing forests in exchange for a planting program that is vague and unsupported by science.”
Here’s what has changed in the updated greenhouse gas plan. Mitigation measure 6.1 of the previously certified RIA provided for the permanent set aside of no less than 248 acres of oak forest habitat on the 2,300 acre property, resulting in an estimated compensation of 27,528 million tonnes of ‘carbon dioxide emissions. The review would set aside 124 acres on slopes no greater than 30% and plant up to 33,580 native oaks, in addition to an additional 525 acres on the property that should be set aside for other protected species.
The 2016 EIR was based on 507 acres of woodland that would be cleared for vineyards, but the final approved project was for 209 acres of vines out of 316 cleared acres.
The appeal notes that the plan must be specific “where the seedlings will be planted, lacking sufficient information on the current conditions in those areas, and does not detail how the county plans to ensure the success of the mitigation plantings.”
Walt Ranch claimant Hall Brambletree Associates LP, a subsidiary of Hall Wines, said in a review comment letter that major wildfires in 2017 and 2020 burned 97% of the trees on the property. But a lawyer for the center objected to that assessment, pointing to research into the Tubbs fire in 2017 which found that many burnt trees eventually survived.
The call from the center calls for the preserved areas of the property to be existing habitat, to plant trees only in historic oak forests, and to monitor new trees to ensure a survival rate of at least 80% on seven years.
“There are reasonable steps that Napa supervisors can take to ensure this project is built in a way that causes the least amount of damage,” Middlemiss said in the press release regarding the appeal. “We don’t want to be here five years from now staring at a handful of struggling trees near a once thriving forest.”