Napa Valley Updates

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


This is from the St. Helena Star. In one of the most sordid acts of mean spiritedness, a representative from the LRC (Living River Clansmen) sent a letter to the group which would have approved St. Helena's loan. The letter which didn't go to environmental issues, but apparently questioned the City's ability to finish the project or secure the funds necessary to, (I haven't seen the letter so am not sure), caused a two month delay in the bureaucratic process.

Without the letter, the prject would be getting underway as we speak. Now our elderly citizens get to go through another winter of uncertainty and fear thanks to three or four radical environmentalists who are gaming the system.

The environmental group which conceived of the Flood Plan (Measure A), Friends of the Napa River has signed off on this project.

The Living River Clansmen (they won't identify themselves), wearing metaphorical hoods, have left the Friends of the River and started their own Bureaucratic terrorist group. Ain't we lucky!

Flood Project Delayed

By Jesse Duarte

Wednesday, August 1, 2007 11:59 PM PDT

One month after construction of the city’s flood protection project was scheduled to begin, city officials announced Monday that time constraints have forced them to postpone construction until next year.

The city council and staff had hoped to construct the project in two phases, providing Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park and Hunts Grove Apartments with flood protection by the end of this year and constructing additional improvements along Sulphur Creek in 2008.

But due to unforeseen delays, the city will put off construction until next April and try to finish it by October.

“We tried our hardest to get it going this year, and we’re as sorry as you that it’s not going to happen,” Councilmember Eric Sklar told a crowd of Vineyard Valley residents Monday.

“We’re all disappointed, but I don’t think we’re surprised,” said Vineyard Valley’s Joanne Otteson. “And on rainy nights this winter, it’ll be on all our minds.”

According to Sklar, delays caused by LRC were a major factor in the city’s decision to postpone construction. But LRC spokesman Sampson Bowers was hesitant to take the credit — or the blame — for delaying the project.

“Personally, I’ve been trying to get with the city and figure out a way to get this project in the ground in a way that LRC can support,” Bowers said. “But they haven’t been interested in talking about that.”

Sklar said three factors contributed to the city’s decision:

• The delay in securing a $12 million state loan.

• The unexpected findings of a cultural resources inventory at Vineyard Valley.

• Living Rivers Council’s threat to file an injunction to halt construction.

The city had hoped to break ground on the project around July 1. However, the $12 million loan the city had expected to receive by that date was delayed when, according to Sklar, Bowers wrote letters to State Water Resources Control Board staffers casting doubt on the city’s ability to repay the loan.

Those communications led the agency to hold off on approving the loan until a July 17 board meeting. But even with the loan approved, loan documents had to be signed and a construction contract had to be approved — leaving the city a month behind schedule.

Indian artifacts found

Meanwhile, archaeologists scouring the flood project site for Indian artifacts and remains as part of a cultural resources inventory were making interesting discoveries. According to City Manager Bert Johansson, “the extent of the features uncovered to date makes it highly probable that construction activities will unearth additional finds.”

Sklar told Vineyard Valley residents he was unable to go into detail about the archaeologists’ findings due to federal and state regulations aimed at preventing the looting of artifacts.

The law would have required construction workers to stop digging whenever they found artifacts and allow archaeologists to remove them in the proper manner. If construction had begun July 1, those delays would have been manageable, Sklar said. But the new start date wouldn’t have allowed for those delays without pushing the project’s end date past Oct. 15, the city’s deadline to complete erosion control measures in preparation for the rainy season.

The shortened construction schedule also could have increased the chances of flooding if work was still under way when the rains began.

“If we begin Aug. 15 and don’t finish what we’re doing, there will be a greater chance of flooding because we will have removed sections of the existing wall to put the new one in,” Sklar said. “We just can’t take that chance.”

LRC injunction threat

LRC’s threat to file for an injunction to halt construction as soon as it began also contributed to the city’s decision. The injunction would have delayed construction until LRC’s pending appeal was settled.

While Sklar said the city’s attorneys were confident LRC’s request would be denied, if it were granted the city would have had to compensate the winning contractor for their lost profits, possibly to the tune of $1 million.

The city now plans to put the project out to bid again, this time requiring construction to be completed in one year rather than the previous two-phase approach. Mayor Del Britton said performing all the work in one year should be more convenient and less expensive for the contractor, which should help offset rising construction costs.

The city will have to wrestle with several other problems before beginning construction, including the project’s budget shortfall, the exact amount of which won’t be known until property acquisition is complete.

Johansson said the city is investigating several options to obtain that money. The city intends to apply for $5 million in state flood protection corridor grants.

Depending on how successful those efforts are, the city might have to raise the rest of the money by creating a benefit assessment district — basically a monthly tax over the parcels receiving flood protection. The issue could reach the city council in September, Johansson said.

Additional relief could come from the Water Resources Development Act, congressional legislation that authorizes St. Helena’s project to receive federal and state reimbursements. That bill has passed both houses of Congress, and each house is expected to vote on a reconciled version of the bill by next week, leaving its fate in the hands of President George W. Bush. The House of Representatives was expected to vote Wednesday, Aug. 1, on the reconciled version of the bill.

If Bush vetoes the bill, Congress will have enough votes to override his veto and enact the bill, Sklar said.

The bill could enable St. Helena to receive $19.5 million for the current flood project and for Sulphur Creek flood protection.

The city also must acquire two pieces of property: portions of the parcel southwest of Vineyard Valley owned by Stephen Hunter and the land within Vineyard Valley beneath the displaced mobile homes.

Legal obstacles

Finally, LRC’s appeal of a court ruling in favor of the city will likely reach an appellate court by the time construction begins, possibly as soon as October, Sklar said. If that appeal is unsuccessful, it should render LRC’s pursuit of an injunction a moot point, he said.

But after speaking to LRC’s Chris Malan, Bowers said the organization is not ready to rule out the possibility of seeking an injunction even if that appeal is unsuccessful.

“It would be such a different situation that it’s really too early to say,” Bowers said.

According to Bowers, LRC was planning to file for an injunction this year for two reasons: to allow the appeals process to run its course and to prevent the city from completing the first phase of construction and then running out of money to complete the second phase, which he said includes all the environmental improvements LRC is eager to see.