by Guy Kovner, The Press Democrat, June 13, 2014
Three environmental groups are challenging Sonoma County’s approval of a 54-acre Annapolis vineyard in a case that reflects long-standing conflict over expansion of the county’s $600 million a year grape industry.
If the lawsuit were to succeed, it would wipe out the county’s vineyard development law, itself born amid controversy between growers and environmentalists 14 years ago.
That friction has intensified with the recent growth of forest-to-vineyard projects near the coast, a cool region hospitable to pinot noir grapes, the most expensive varietal grown in the county.
The law — officially named the Vineyard Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance, known as VESCO — contains a “poison pill” that automatically invalidates the entire law if the courts reject one critical provision, Deputy County Counsel Jeff Brax said.
The legality of that provision, which empowers the county to approve vineyard development plans without environmental study or public hearing [emphasis added], is exactly what the lawsuit challenges . . .
Filed by the Friends of the Gualala River, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, the lawsuit alleges the county violated state law in granting a permit to the Ohlson Ranch in December for a 54-acre vineyard on Stewarts Point Skaggs Springs Road south of Annapolis.
The county’s failure to conduct an environmental review of the project “constituted a prejudicial abuse of discretion,” according to the suit, filed last month . . .
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To read the entire article, visit the Press Democrat: Environmental groups’ lawsuit could upend Sonoma County vineyard policies