Expert reports submitted in opposition to this project provide irrefutable evidence of the nature of the devastation which will occur if this project is approved.
- Clear cutting and development of about 500 acres of the Walt Ranch property resulting in the destruction of over 24,000 trees and other vegetation in order to prepare ground for planting of about 294 acres of vineyards.
- Onsite blasting, grading and construction activities associated with building or improvement of existing 22 miles of roads at the project site.
- Excavating as many as (6) reservoirs and installation of at least five commercial agri-wells for irrigation of vineyards resulting in the annual extraction of nearly 95 million gallons of water from the shared aquifer.
- The combined effects of all of these activities on this sensitive agricultural watershed property will have a devastating impact on humans, wildlife and the environment. Experts have been retained to quantify the likely outcome of this massive construction project and their reports irrefutably illustrate that the destruction that will result from the Walt Ranch Vineyard Conversion project is very significant.
- This project includes destruction of habitat for wildlife, as well as rare and endangered plants and other species of life which have been documented to exist on the property.
The Living Rivers Council’s expert Gretchen E. Padgett-Flohr, PhD, has identified the Foothill Yellow-legged frog, the California Red-legged Frog and the Western Pond Turtle as protected species that are presumed to live in the Capell Creek Watershed.
- Dr. Padgett-Flohr’s reports document the inadequacy of the biological surveys conducted by the Walt Ranch Project proponents. She further described the non-protocol biological surveys as being of “little value”. In support of her expert opinion, she cited a lack of the methods specified, erroneous results and conclusions, including a lack of lack of identification of the specific personnel conducting the studies (and their qualifications), as well as non-compliant protocols used in conducting the biological surveys.
According to Dr. Padgett-Flohr, the EIR did not adequately evaluate or address the overall biological impacts to the aquatic ecosystem from construction activities and landscape alteration due to changes in: (1) water quality, physical changes to water flows and stream and water volumes within water courses resulting from direct water pumping or changes in underground water tables; (2) erosion and sedimentation; (3) potential changes in canopy and streamside vegetation cover; (4) introduction of non-native predators; and, (5) potential contamination of aquatic eco-systems with pesticide and herbicides.
- Dr. Padgett-Flohr also expressed concern for the potential adverse effects of introducing pesticides and herbicides into the aquatic ecosystems via wind-drift during chemical applications, consequential diffusion and leaching into soils, and also widespread dispersion from water runoff during after rain events. See report prepared by Gretchen Padgett-Flohr, PhD (Zoology, Herpetology and Disease Ecology), dated November 20, 2014, commenting upon the DEIR; and to the FEIR, dated April 3, 2016 on Biological Impacts.
- Expert Patrick Higgins, a Consulting Fisheries Biologist, submitted a report cting that the extensive proposal to develop the Walt Ranch into vineyard in the upper Milliken Creek, a sensitive watershed area, would have a devastating effect on that water body and its ability to support aquatic life. Mr. Higgens further opines that the DEIR is totally inadequate and deficient in how it deals with aquatic impacts from the project to Milliken Creek and poses potential risks to Chinook Salmon and other Pacific Salmon species known to inhabit Milliken Creek. See report prepared by Patrick Higgens, dated November 20, 2014.
- Experts were hired by Walt Ranch Project proponents to determine whether protected bat species exist on the property and to identify the location of their roosts, as required under CEQA.
- According to the DEIR, the “experts” hired for the purpose of searching for these nocturnal creatures conducted their study during daytime hours, which explains why they could not find a single bat!
Bat expert Dr. Joseph Sczewczak’s report indicates that he could find no indication or evidence of an adequate biological survey for bats that supported the conclusions and recommendations contained in the DEIR. He further stated as to the lack of sighting any bats at the project site, “That just simply could not happen on that landscape as a result of any adequate bat survey work by anyone with expertise in the methods used to survey for bats”. (See Dr. Joseph Szewczak report, dated 11/13/2014.
- In response to the reports submitted by Dr. Joseph Szewczak and wildlife biologist David Wyatt, the Walt Ranch Project proponents conceded that there are probably “some bats” on the property, however, they offered inadequate mitigation measures for bats as a “one size fits all” approach to any bats that might be on the property. See report by David Wyatt on bats.
- The Walt Ranch Project proponents failed to conduct an appropriate bat survey to identify the species present or to determine their population, the location of their roosts or any other scientific data to guide how to provide appropriate mitigation for protected species during construction. Their failure to do so is in violation of CEQA.
In response to the inadequate mitigation for the bat population at the project site as set forth in the FEIR, Sue Wagner submitted written comments concerning the necessity to conduct a bat survey in order to adequately mitigate for the potential presence of up to five species of special concern, which are considered protected species of bats. A survey, Bat Roost Compensation Plan for Aetna Springs Retreat Project, Pope Valley, Napa County, California (2007), documented the presence of as many as 15 species of bats known to inhabit the project area, five of which are listed as either protected or species of concern. Aetna Springs is about 15 miles from the project site and easily within bat flight patterns. The mitigations proposed by the Walt Ranch Proponents are inadequate and in violation of CEQA. See comments by Sue Wagner and Exhibit C_About Bats, dated April 4, 2016. The 2007 bat survey was retrieved from the Napa County website.
- The Center for Biological Diversity (Sierra Club) submitted a 50-page report detailing the shortcomings of the DEIR and its failure to properly mitigate for numerous species of flora and fauna which were noted not only to exist on the Walt Ranch property, but many of these species have protected status mandating appropriate mitigation.
This project anticipates construction of about 22 miles of wildlife exclusion fencing on the Capell side and 9 miles of wildlife exclusion fencing on the Milliken side creating “animal corridors” through vineyard blocks, which will disrupt natural migratory patterns of local species. The combination of the wildlife exclusion fencing and the steep ridge will block natural migration and animal movement patterns.
- There are concerns that wildlife exclusion fencing has the predictable outcome that predators will learn where wildlife, such as deer, enter or exit the vineyard blocks and lay in wait for its prey which will have no realistic way to escape. The potential increase predator behavior (e.g. mountain lion activity) in or near the community of Circle Oaks is a likely outcome as the wildlife exclusive fencing channels deer through the vineyard and into the subdivision of Circle Oaks situated below the proposed vineyard.
The Center for Biological Diversity (Sierra Club) also commented on the dramatic increase of fencing within the project’s vineyard blocks, described as a “60 to 100 fold” increase in fencing, designed to impact wildlife movement on the property. An estimated 5.6 acres of deer fencing currently exists, which is slated to expand to over 400 acres of deer fencing comprised of dozens of miles of fencing.
- The CBD report also contests the necessity for fencing at all, citing concerns about death and injury to wildlife who may become tangled in fencing, particularly barbed wire fencing, resulting in serious injury or death. “Because death is, by any measure, a significant ‘reduction of wildlife movement,’ the conservation groups request that the County take this threat seriously and in accordance with Napa County’s General Plan Policies (Napa County General Plan CON-29, discussing Policy CON-18). Therefore, the conservation groups ask that the County either entirely prohibit the planned fencing at Walt Ranch or, at a minimum, require the Applicant to only install ecologically friendly fencing to the extent that prohibiting fencing is infeasible”. See comment letter submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, dated November 21, 2014 at pg. 19.
The DEIR acknowledges that wildlife exclusion fencing will limit animal movement, however it fails to specify how many miles of fencing will be allowed to be installed or what type of fencing materials may be used. Even though the map provided by the Walt Ranch Project Proponents shows extensive fencing around vineyard blocks (at fig. 3-12), it concludes that the fencing does not amount to a significant impact. See comment letter submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, dated November 21, 2014 at pps. 17-18. Impact for whom? The animals traversing the fencing corridors where predators lay in wait or the residents of Circle Oaks who will be on the receiving end of these animal corridors?
- The Center for Biological Diversity concludes that the DEIR fails to include an alternative that would have
provided improved species movement across Walt Ranch. As it is, Napa County’s policy to facilitate species movement to the maximum extent feasible, the DEIR should have considered a no- or reduced-fencing alternative. (Id.) As discussed in the biological resources section of these comments, fencing poses a lethal threat to species. As discussed above, the proposed extensive fencing on Walt Ranch will severely reduce wildlife movement, and no corridor the County has proposed in its DEIR will do anything to seriously mitigate this impact. (See DEIR, at 4.2-24.)
- For further information concerning issues pertaining to disruption of wildlife, destruction of habitat, and concerns about endangered species of flora and fauna, see the comment letter submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, dated November 21, 2014.