QUESTION: Where is the Walt Ranch property located exactly? How is the property accessed?
ANSWER: Walt Ranch is located west of Monticello Road (Highway 121) and to the east of the Atlas Peak appellation in a hilly, unincorporated area northeast of the City of Napa and east of the Town of Yountville. The project site can be accessed using Circle Oaks Drive. There is not an access point from Atlas Peak Road.
QUESTION: How many acres on the property will be planted as vineyards? How big is the entire site?
ANSWER: Approximately 209 acres of vineyards will be planted on the site. Some additional acreage will be utilized for access roads, deer fencing around vineyards, etc. The entire property spans 2,300 acres.
QUESTION: How many acres and parcels are there within the project site?
ANSWER: There are 2,300 acres of property that includes 35 parcels.
QUESTION: What times of day will vineyard work be conducted, and how frequently will there be work occurring on-site?
ANSWER: Primary vineyard operations will be carried out over two distinct seasons: the pruning season, which generally begins in December and ends in March, and the harvest/crush season, which generally begins in August and ends in October. Operation of the proposed project would include nighttime harvest (typically from 9 P.M. to 5 A.M.) about 20 days per year, pesticide application (typically from 9 P.M. to 5 A.M.) about 25 days per year, and frost protection with wind machines (typically from 12 A.M. to 7 A.M.) about 15 days out of the year.
QUESTION: What is the zoning designation for the Walt Ranch property?
ANSWER: The entire Walt Ranch property is zoned AW (Agricultural Watershed).
QUESTION: Is a use permit required to plant vineyards at Walt Ranch?
ANSWER: Given the Agricultural Watershed (AW) land use designation, the proposed development of vineyards on the property is considered an agricultural use and does not require a use permit. Land uses allowed in an AW zone without a use permit include agriculture, one single family dwelling per each legal lot, small residential care facilities, antennas, telecommunication facilities, hunting clubs, recreation vehicle parks, campgrounds, and floating docks.
QUESTION: Are the Walt Ranch property owners/applicants leading the environmental impact report (EIR) process? If so, how can they provide unbiased data?
ANSWER: The County of Napa is the lead agency charged with coordinating studies amongst experts in the many areas studied in the EIR, such as erosion and sediment control, biological and cultural resources, air quality, water use, noise, traffic, dust, tree removal etc. With the County overseeing the EIR process, it ensures there is an unbiased, third party providing information from experts in the field instead of relying on information from those who are involved in the project or have already determined their support of or opposition to the project. This provides a fair, independent, fact-based analysis for all interested parties and decision-making bodies.
QUESTION: Are there any environmental impacts that will be deemed “significant” regardless of mitigation measures put in place?
ANSWER: No. Every environmental impact studied as part of the independently-conducted Draft EIR (DEIR) will be reduced to a less than significant level should all mitigation measures be implemented.
QUESTION: What is the site’s current and past use? Are there any structures or other infrastructure on the property?
ANSWER: The site is currently home to 5.6 acres of vineyard land, with much of the rest of the site in open space. Historically, portions of the site have been used as a cattle-grazing area up until the 1990’s, with the rest of the land remaining undisturbed. There are no structures on the site, and the only infrastructure on the property is 21 miles of existing roads that enable year-round access to the property and five existing wells, three of which are active, two of which are inactive.
QUESTION: Who owns Walt Ranch?
ANSWER: Craig and Kathryn Hall, the proprietors of HALL Wines, have personally owned the Walt Ranch property since 2005. They purchased the property with the intent of planting vineyards on a portion of their land.
QUESTION: When was the vineyard project first proposed? Have any revisions been made based on the initial plans?
ANSWER: The vineyard plantings on the Walt Ranch site were first proposed in 2006, with the EIR process commencing in 2007. The Initial Study of the project in 2008 anticipated 356 acres of vineyard land, which was then reduced to 271 acres of vineyard land. Most recently, the county further reduced the allowed vineyard acreage to 209 acres, a reduction of more than 41% based on the original vineyard plans.
QUESTION: Is the Walt Ranch property part of the Ag Preserve?
ANSWER: Yes, the entire 2,300 acre Walt Ranch property is in the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, and as such, it is zoned for agriculture, specifically the Agricultural Watershed (AW) zoning designation.
QUESTION: Many residents of the Circle Oaks neighborhood have expressed concern on the use of wells and its impact on groundwater resources in the area. How will Walt Ranch balance the needs to supply water for its vineyards with the needs of the residents living in the area?
ANSWER: There is ample groundwater in the area to meet the needs of vineyard plantings and area homes. The Sonoma Volcanics geologic formation, the principle water-bearing formation in Napa County, is beneath 782 acres of the Walt Ranch property. A conservative estimate of the available water under the Walt Ranch property from this formation is 1.4 billion gallons. If using the water availability factor, a less conservative estimate put forth in the DEIR suggests as much as 3.5 billion gallons of water are available. To further safeguard valued groundwater resources, Walt Ranch will be initiating and implementing a Groundwater Monitoring and Mitigation Plan to ensure plentiful groundwater supplies and monitoring in the future.
QUESTION: The Milliken Reservoir watershed is designated by Napa County as a Sensitive Domestic Water Supply Drainage, which is maintained with the goal of protecting the drinking water supply from sediment, turbidity, and water quality impacts. How will this proposal protect water quality and our drinking water supply?
ANSWER: Protecting the Milliken Reservoir watershed, Capell Creek watershed and all the tributaries on the site was studied extensively as part of the Draft EIR, and water quality was deemed to be a less than significant impact in the Draft EIR using mitigation measures to ensure the drinking water supply is protected and water quality is preserved. These mitigation measures include road improvements, erosion control methods (temporary devices such as straw wattles and permanent devices such as gravel berms and sediment basins), as well as periodic water quality tests of on-site wells by a hydrogeologist. The erosion and soil loss in both watersheds is expected to decline significantly.
QUESTION: Are there already existing wells on the site? Will there need to be wells or other water sources developed on the site?
ANSWER: Yes. Today, there are five existing wells on the Walt Ranch property, three of which remain active to this day and two of which are inactive. The project is planned for the possibility of up to three new wells being developed in the future. In addition to the on-site wells, the project proposes up to four new reservoirs to store groundwater supplies, and irrigation pipelines will transport water from these sources to the vineyards for irrigation purposes.
QUESTION: How will Walt Ranch’s water use compare to the existing Circle Oaks neighborhood water use?
ANSWER: The homes in the Circle Oaks neighborhoods use 217,261 gallons of water per acre. Walt Ranch is forecasted to use 25,217 gallons of water per acre of property owned, significantly less based on a per acre formulation.
QUESTION: How will pesticides, mildewcides and/or herbicides be applied without impacting or entering the watershed, which in turn could impact drinking water supplies?
ANSWER: Historically, the use of pesticides, mildewicides or herbicides on vineyard land have never been known to enter the watershed or cause contamination. The location of proposed vineyards were designed to provide adequate setbacks from tributaries, and for those applying pesticides, mildewicides and/or herbicides, they must first obtain a private applicator certificate and a restricted materials permit from the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner. Furthermore, all vineyard employees shall be trained annually in the proper application of these substances.
QUESTION: How will sedimentation levels change with the vineyard development? Is sedimentation and soil loss likely to increase?
ANSWER: Sedimentation levels are expected to significantly decline in the watersheds with the development of vineyards at Walt Ranch. Water quality in the Milliken Creek and Capell Creek watersheds will improve due to the reduction of sedimentation and soil loss. Soil loss is expected to decline by 43% in the Milliken Creek watershed, and by 13% in the Capell Creek watershed by using no-till cover crops. This will be a significant improvement based on existing conditions.
QUESTION: How will this project address surface and subsurface runoff throughout the project site?
ANSWER: A system of inlets, pipelines, ditches, level spreaders, and energy dissipaters will be used to manage stormwater runoff throughout the development areas. Perforated corrugated plastic pipes will be installed to reduce saturated conditions in the root zone and improve slope stability. Pipe and rock level spreaders will be installed at the end of proposed pipelines and ditches in order to redistribute concentrated flows. Pipe level spreaders are pipes connected perpendicularly to the drainage pipeline which slow drainage flow. The spreaders have openings placed so that flows are released as sheet flow. Rock level spreaders use rock and gravel covered bench cuts to slow and spread flows from drainage pipes.
QUESTION: What measures will the applicants implement to reduce vineyard erosion on the property?
ANSWER: Vineyard erosion control measures will be implemented on the project site that are designed to reduce overland flows, reduce erosive power of runoff, and trap eroded soil on-site. The primary vegetative measure will be establishment of a permanent, no-till cover crop throughout the proposed vineyard areas with a plant cover density of between 70 and 90 percent. Straw mulch will be applied to all disturbed areas at 3,000 pounds per acre. Various drainage systems will be utilized for erosion control. Drainage ditches would direct runoff to standard and concrete drop inlets while drainage pipelines and rock-lined swales will be used to direct runoff to desired locations. Some of the rock generated will be used to construct erosion control features such as rock energy dissipaters, rock sediment basins, gravity outlets, and rock-lined swales. In addition, some of the rock would be used to create rock-filled avenues on the outboard slopes of some vineyard blocks.
QUESTION: How will improvements to the 21-mile network of roads on the property reduce erosion?
ANSWER: By improving and maintaining the 21 miles of existing roads, which will include rolling dips in the roadway to direct runoff to disperse in the roadside vegetation rather than run along the road, often resulting in gully formation and by implementing this Road Management Plan, the project is projected to reduce sediment entering local streams by 20,437 cubic yards over two decades.
QUESTION: In addition to the longer-term, permanent erosion control measures, what temporary erosion control measures will be put in place to protect tributaries?
ANSWER: Temporary erosion control measures will include straw wattles, straw mulch, waterbars and other measures identified in the Erosion Control Plan prepared for the project.
QUESTION: What is the proportion of trees to be removed compared to trees to be conserved?
ANSWER: More than 94% of the trees on the Walt Ranch property will be left undisturbed. For the woodland areas that will be impacted, mitigation measures will be put in place to offset the loss of trees by preserving other oak woodlands elsewhere on the property and placing deed restrictions on the property to permanently protect several woodland areas.
QUESTION: Exactly how many trees are on the site? How many will be removed?
ANSWER: The tree inventory estimated that there are 235,710 trees on the Walt Ranch property with a diameter at breast height (dbh) of greater than five inches. Of these, it is estimated that 14,400 trees will be removed for vineyard planting, fire protection or roadway improvements. This represents 6% of all trees on-site. To mitigate the loss of trees on- site, the applicants will preserve other woodland areas by way of conservation easements or deed restrictions, replanting trees or proposing other measures to protect the vast number of remaining trees on the property.
QUESTION: What types of trees are on the Walt Ranch property?
ANSWER: There are numerous types of trees on Walt Ranch, including black oaks, blue oaks, coast live oaks, valley oaks, madrones and foothill pines, amongst others. While black oaks are the most common tree on the property, they are accompanied by several shrubs and grasslands (such as manzanita) that are also abundant on the property. As only 209 acres of vineyards are proposed on the 2,300 acre property, much of the woodland areas on the overall property will be left untouched.
QUESTION: What is the size and scope of the conservation easement for trees on-site?
ANSWER: The applicants have pledged to permanently protect 30% of the woodlands (525 acres) on the Walt Ranch site through a permanent conservation easement.
QUESTION: Will a large-scale vineyard operation become a traffic nightmare for area residents?
ANSWER: No. It is important to keep in mind that Walt Ranch is not a winery, meaning there will not be guests frequenting tasting rooms, attending industry events or picking up wine shipments on-site. Instead, the only traffic impacts will be during the construction phase, which will be spread out over approximately four years, and during the long-term vineyard operations, traffic will only peak during harvest (end of summer-beginning of fall) and pruning seasons (December-March). Despite these seasonal impacts, the day-to-day traffic impacts to the area will be minimal, and it is important to note that the site is not far from a state highway (Highway 121). Furthermore, it is important to note that harvest season traffic will likely go unnoticed by neighbors, as most harvest work is conducted at night and during the early morning hours, so residents in the Circle Oaks neighborhood will likely not be disrupted by traffic during the harvest season.
QUESTION: Within Napa County, there are native grasslands that hold various ecosystems. How will this project impact the 4.45 acres of native grasslands within the property?
ANSWER: Impacts to native grasslands shall be reduced to the greatest extent through a combination of avoidance, preservation, and enhancement. In order to maintain biodiversity of native grasslands on the property, approximately 3.30 acres of native grasslands shall be avoided in its entirety. Land placed in protection shall be restricted from development and other uses that would potentially degrade the quality of habitat and should otherwise be restricted by the existing goals and policies of Napa County. Any replacement of native grasslands shall occur on 2.30 acres on the property designated in the Walt Ranch Biological Resources Management Plan (BRMP). This replacement shall occur in suitable areas in proximity to native grassland areas to the maximum extent feasible.
QUESTION: What measures are being taken to protect Napa’s air quality during the project’s construction?
ANSWER: During construction, a fugitive dust abatement program will be implemented by the owner. This program will include:
QUESTION: How will other air pollutant emissions from construction equipment be monitored to preserve the air quality in the area?
ANSWER: The required construction mitigation measures will be filed with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) in advance of construction activities, which will be implemented during the construction of Walt Ranch Vineyards, specifically:
QUESTION: How can the community be assured that these measures are being implemented? If they are not being properly applied, how can the community become involved?
ANSWER: Walt Ranch will have a publicly posted sign with a contact number for dust complaints as well as a phone number to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) to ensure compliance with all regulations.
QUESTION: There are several types of rare plant species on the property. During the construction of vineyards, how will these species be protected?
ANSWER: As a result of mitigations, many special status plant species will have a high percentage of avoidance and preservation on the property. Buffers of no less than 25 feet shall be established around certain preserved or replanted areas. The preserved areas shall be added to the deed restriction, conservation easement, or other means of permanent protection. For certain types of plant species, there may be limited removal to ensure the overall viability of the plant species on the site remain intact. This may include preservation of the same plant species on other parts of the property, the relocation of special status plant species, or the collection of seeds from special status plant seeds so that they may be repopulated elsewhere. To learn the specifics for individual plant species and how they will be protected, please review the Final EIR (FEIR).
QUESTION: What about the wildlife on the property? How will wildlife be preserved?
ANSWER: There is an abundance of wildlife on the property, and they will continue having plentiful habitat once the vineyards have been developed. Deer fencing will enclose individual vineyard blocks, or clusters of vineyard blocks, to prevent them from eating the vineyard plantings, and a biologist will be employed to ensure the preservation of prime nesting areas for numerous animal species on the site. For all construction activities, a pre-construction survey will be conducted by a qualified biologist to ensure nesting areas of special-status birds and bats are protected. For certain types of wildlife, buffers of 250 to 500 feet will be created to preserve special status wildlife habitats. To learn the specifics about all identified types of wildlife on the property, please review the Final EIR (FEIR).
QUESTION: The devastating wildfires that hit Lake County last summer are a reminder of the need to take appropriate steps to prevent future wildfires in remote woodland areas. Walt Ranch could be part of a prime fire area. What steps are the applicants taking to prevent wildfires from starting on the property?
ANSWER: Since 2009, the owners of Walt Ranch have collaborated with fire officials to limit the threat of wildfires in the area. In coordination with CalFire, the owners of Walt Ranch removed vegetation and pruned trees to reduce fuel that could affect the Circle Oaks subdivision at no cost to homeowners. Furthermore, by improving and maintaining 21 miles of road on the property, including the reconstruction or reconfiguration of 5.6 miles of existing roads, CalFire will have a robust road network to effectively navigate the property in the event of a wildfire, with clearance around access roads to keep potential wildfires from coming too close to the roadway. In instances where there is a controlled burn on-site during the construction phase of the project, water trucks will be present when burning occurs in a controlled area. Once the vineyards are planted and they are annually pruned, instead of burning the prunings, the materials will be shredded and maintained within the vineyard block to further reduce the risk of wildfires.