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Center for Biological Diversity Appeals Walt Ranch Ruling

"We are disappointed, but not surprised by the appeal. Although the appeal is unfortunate, we believe that Napa County will prevail." - Mike Reynolds, president Hall Wines
by Kerana Todorov
May 07, 2018

A long-drawn project to develop a vineyard in the hills above the Napa Valley floor is back in court.

The Center for Biological Diversity is appealing a Napa County Superior Court judge’s ruling that Napa County did not violate California environmental laws when it approved the development of 209 acres of new vineyards at Walt Ranch east of Napa. The appeal is before the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco. The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization, also represents the Sierra Club.

Craig and Kathryn Hall of HALL Estates of St. Helena in December 2016 won the green light from the Napa County board of Supervisors to plant a new vineyard at Walt Ranch, a 2,300-acre property the Halls had purchased a decade earlier.

Environmentalist groups and homeowners of Circle Oaks, a neighboring subdivision whose residents feared for their wells, strongly opposed the project. In January 2017, the groups filed three lawsuits against Napa County Superior Court. But in March, Judge Thomas Warriner ruled for Napa County.

In a written statement issued Friday, the Center for Biological Diversity said the project will result in 14,000 mature trees cut down, water quality impaired, groundwater aquifers drawn down and habitat for the red-legged frog and other wildlife, destroyed.

“Thousands of oak trees, acres of wildlife habitat and precious water supplies will all be lost if this project is built,” Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney Aruna Prabhala said in a written statement. “The local community and wildlife shouldn’t have to pay the price so that another luxury vineyard can be planted in Napa County.”

HALL president Mike Reynolds on Friday said in an email “We are disappointed, but not surprised by the appeal. Although the appeal is unfortunate, we believe that Napa County will prevail.”

Circle Oaks Homeowners Association, which represents homeowners who live in a subdivision adjacent to the Walt Ranch project and Living River Council, an environmental group, also indicated in a court filing they were appealing their cases.

In the meantime, Napa County voters will soon vote for or against Measure C, a measure drafted to limit the removal of oak trees in the hills above the Napa Valley floor. Election day is June 5.

Proponents say the measure, once enacted, would protect the watershed. Opponents claim the measure is vague, unnecessary and will lead to unforeseen consequences.

If approved, Measure C would limit cutting oak trees in the watershed once 795 acres of oak woodlands are removed. The measure would expand buffers along streams and require property owners to plant three oak trees for every one cut down. The ratio is now 2 to 1.

Opponents to the ballot measure include Napa County’s wine trade associations, including Napa Valley Vintners, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and the Napa County Farm Bureau.

Members of Napa Vision 2050, a grass-roots environmental organization, led the campaign to place the initiative on the June ballot. Other supporters include grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer and Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

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