Calls for Napa to relocate landfill

A local mayor wants the Napa County landfill to close before the disaster.

By W. Blake Gray | Posted Friday, 26-Nov-2021

Looking at an aerial photo of the Clover Flat landfill, it’s easy to see why Napa County rulers thought, in the late 1950s, that this would be a great place to dump the county’s garbage.

It is a beautiful place: it is perhaps the best view of all the landfills in the country. It is nestled on top of a mountain in the Chain of Palisades, above the town of Calistoga. Storing garbage on top of a mountain out of the way surrounded by forest – what could go wrong? The landfill opened in 1963 and most of the northern Napa Valley trash has gone there ever since. Napa County had planned to shut it down in 2002, but recycling efforts have extended the life of the facility, according to a history of the landfill released by the county.

Fast forward to 2021. We know more about the environment now; we know the mountain is at the top of the watershed that leads to the Napa river. We also know that being surrounded by forest in contemporary California means fire risk.

You might think Napa County would reconsider the location of the landfill. But the governing body in charge – the Upper Valley Waste Management Agency – instead decided in October 2020 to remove service limits from the landfill. Previously it was limited to accepting trash from northern Napa County; it can now accept garbage from anywhere. And his contract runs until 2047.

Already this year, the landfill is absorbing six times more waste than before, according to St. Helena Mayor Geoff Ellsworth, who says he has seen Sonoma County trucks and wonders how extensive the customer base is. dump.

“That’s six times the contamination load and six times the methane load,” Ellsworth told Wine-Searcher. “Why are we bringing huge amounts of garbage into this delicate little valley? “

Ellsworth is a crusader against landfill and another landfill run by the same company, Upper Valley Disposal Recycling on Whitehall Lane. He has lived in Saint Helena since 1969 and was involved in the environmental movement before running for mayor and winning in 2018. Since then he has used his position to attend meetings in the county, often with a clause disclaimer like that of his emails. his opinions are his own and do not represent the city of Saint Helena.

Personal crusade

Some Napa citizens agree with him, while others are suspicious of his activism. Earlier this year, a group of residents who live next door to Upper Valley Disposal Services filed a complaint against the facility, complaining about the noise and odors. In its response to the lawsuit, the company said neighbors were trying to obtain information about UVDS operations as part of Ellsworth’s “personal vendetta” against the company. UVDS also claimed that Ellsworth and neighbors to its facilities were trying to “put financial pressure on businesses” and “create bad press for businesses”.

Neighbors have since withdrawn this lawsuit and are now suing the government agency that approved the contracts. Echoing Ellsworth’s main complaint, they say the agency should have allowed the tenders so other companies could come up with other plans. I spoke to Sandi Thompson, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. I understand the problematic location of the Clover Flat landfill, but when it comes to UVDS, which is on flat land and not surrounded by forests, doesn’t the county need a landfill somewhere ?

“Of course it does,” said Thompson. “But no one has ever looked at the alternatives. It’s part of the county’s fiduciary responsibility to consider other offers. It’s their duty to us. They have a responsibility to the people of Napa County’s ensuring that our water and our air are safe. “

© Brian Lilla
| PFAs – called “forever chemicals” have been found in groundwater and leachate samples.

Both Clover Flat Landfill and UVDS are owned by the Pestoni family, which also owns Pestoni Family Winery. I would love to give the Pestonis side of the story, but the company rep who answered my phone calls, emails and texts promised two separate days to call me in the aftermath- noon – which I left wide open both times – and never did.

I did however receive a mildly threatening phone call from a longtime professional wine source (NOT the Pestonis) when I started working on this story. I have been warned to be “very, very careful working with these people” – Ellsworth and other environmentalists. I explained that as mayor he has a platform, and that I would write this story because of it. This is how Ellsworth personally associated himself with the problem: he is a guy who makes noise on a subject that most would rather be silent.

There’s an obvious reason the Napa wine folks don’t want this to become a talking point. In May 2020, at the request of the San Francisco Bay Area Water Quality Control Board, the groundwater in the landfill was tested for PFAs – Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, known as’ Chemicals for always ”because they decompose very slowly. They originated when Teflon was introduced in 1946, and they have been found in public drinking water systems in 49 states.

The official Environmental Protection Agency website says of PFAs: “PFAS are found in water, air, fish and soil in places across the country and the world”, and also: “Scientific studies have shown that exposure to certain AFP in the environment may be linked to harmful effects on the health of humans and animals. Testing in May 2020 showed that PFAs are found in all groundwater samples collected at the Clover Flat landfill, as well as in all “leachate” samples. Leachate is a liquid that contains dissolved solids; the treatment of leachate is one of the main environmental challenges of every landfill. The result is that PFAs can be found in the landfill at the head of the watershed of North America’s most prized wineries. No wonder people don’t want to talk about it.

“We forever have chemicals in Napa in the watershed?” Thompson said. “If you take this water and put it on your grapes, are you really organic? “

I requested a quote from Napa Valley Vintners, but they declined to comment.

No comment

“The Napa Valley winemakers are turning and looking the other way,” Ellsworth said. “I hope Napa Valley Vintners will engage with the waste site issues here in regards to water contamination risks, wildfire risks and climate impacts in our small geographic valley. and impacts that can affect both our community and our Napa Valley brand. “

Last year, Wine-Searcher made a story about a series of problems at the Clover Flat landfill, the landfill of which has caught fire on its own 13 times since 2013, a discharge of contaminated water in a tributary of the Napa River. and poor management of radioactive materials which leads a worker to be hospitalized.

The Napa Register newspaper has done most of the reporting on the landfill over the years; our history is largely inspired by it. In July of this year, a journalist made a publicity tour of the landfill to report on improvements made to it. The Register story says that the “Pestoni family went to court in 2019 to wrest control of the company from founder Bob Pestoni. His daughter, COO Christy Pestoni, has put together a new team of leadership led by people who previously worked for larger companies like waste management. ” The article is generally glowing about the changes made by Christy Pestoni, a striking change in tone for the Registry.

Even Ellsworth says, “The leadership has shifted from father to daughter, they’ve definitely put some effort into cleaning things up. I maintain that the problem is the location no matter what they do. By keeping this location you are putting everyone at risk from water and fire. Landfills are inherently prone to fire. This is the nature of landfills. Why would we take this risk if we don’t have to? “

Ellsworth’s obsession is to see the contract open to tender.

“In most cases I’m an advocate for small business, but for waste management we have an obligation to use best practices,” Ellsworth said. “Businesses can participate in tenders and make plans for how they handle waste. Big companies like Recology or whoever it is, have economies of scale. They manage waste so as to have divergent flows, so less waste enters landfills. We haven’t had a call for tenders for 60 years. Everyone in the wine industry is looking for innovative solutions. But when it comes to waste management, we’ve trusted a company for 60 years and if you look at their track record, it’s excruciating. “

But as it stands, the Clover Flat landfill can continue to collect waste for a fee, from anywhere.

With its fine wines, excellent restaurants and beautiful scenery, Napa Valley is a magnet for tourism. For the next 26 years, that could also be a waste magnet.

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