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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Defending Our Turf: Water Ski Lake in Graton/Sebastopol

Water Ski Lake Back yet Again
Water Ski Lake Update - URGENT - January 18, 2009 UPDATE - see below
By Anna Ransome

It’s been a few years since we heard from these people – and now they are taking a new approach toward their goal of a water ski lake in our back yard.

I oppose the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) granting a Section 404 permit and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB) granting a 401 Permit for the Vineyard Lake Project, aka the water ski lake off Mill Station Rd. in Sebastopol. This infamous project had widespread opposition to the building of the lake and then to a use permit application which would have legalized a water-skiing business. That use permit application was unanimously denied by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Now the applicants are attempting to retroactively get permits for the "stock pond."

The lake was constructed with a cheap grading permit and no environmental review, destroying wetlands and irreversibly altering the hydrology of the Atascadero Creek watershed. We have our own studies that refute the studies presented with the 401 and 404 application. This project is within a quarter mile of both the recent wetlands trenching incident (O'Brien) at 9170 Occidental Rd. and the wetlands destruction several years ago on Mill Station Rd. (Tomich) in which the USACE was involved. Atascadero Creek is an anadromous fish bearing stream and all these projects have had a deleterious effect on the creek and surrounding wetlands.

Many of us on this list have worked for years to find ways to reverse the effects of the building of this lake in U.S. jurisdictional wetlands. There is a practice in Sonoma County of building projects without permits and then retroactively applying for permits for a project which would most likely have been denied on application. I'm sure we do not want to encourage such unethical tactics to circumvent federal, state and local laws and regulations.

If you would like to make detailed comment by reading both applications, please call the NCRWQCB by phoning the main desk at 576-2220 to get the address and file viewing hours. The applicant is Gerald Bybee of Vineyard Lake Associates, LLC and the project address is 9499 Mill Station Road, Sebastopol. I am attempting to get electronic copies of the applications and will send them to this list if I do.

There is no deadline yet for comments to NCRWQCB. The date for comments to USACE is January 23, 2009. If you oppose the applications, a general letter is sufficient. Addresses are below:

Katerina Galacatos
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
1455 Market Street - Floor 17
San Francisco CA 94103 -1398
Refer to 404 Application 28994N

Steven Bargsten
5550 Skylane Blvd. - Suite A
Santa Rosa CA 95403
Refer to 401 Application for Vineyard Lake Associates, LLC

Water Ski Lake Update - URGENT - January 18, 2009 UPDATE

If you wish to make comment on the ski lake to the Army Corps, you have ONE WEEK. The deadline is Friday, January 23. The 401 application to the Regional Water Quality Control Board is incomplete, so a deadline for comments has not been set for that. Comments to the Corps can be as simple as:

I do not support the granting of a Section 404 permit for after-the-fact legalization of the water ski lake at 9499 Mill Station Road, Sebastopol CA, otherwise known as the Vineyard Lake Project (#28994N). I object to the destruction of wetlands on the property without the proper and prior analysis of a thorough study of the environmental impacts such a project would have. I do not agree that what are described as "wetlands" in the application are of equal value to the historic wetlands which were destroyed. I also object to the practice of initiating projects in environmentally sensitive areas and then applying to legalize them retroactively.

Please hold a public hearing on this project so that interested parties will be able to make comment.

If there is time to get a snail mail letter in before the deadline, address comments to:

Katerina Galacatos
Permit Manager - Regulatory Division
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
1455 Market Street, Floor 17
San Francisco, CA 94103-1398

I would suggest FedEx or Overnight mail to go out no later than Wed. 1/21.

Or email to:

Feel free to add whatever else you would like to say about the lake and/or your experience opposing it. The applicant, Gerald Bybee, is claiming that:

• the lake is an ag retention pond and that it was built for that purpose and for flood control
• that all the wetlands that were destroyed by the building of the lake have been replaced by wetlands that were created
• that no endangered or threatened species were present
• that there is no alternative project that would have had less impact, including no lake
• that the volume of the lake is necessary to support 40 acres of Pinot Noir grapes and the growth of the agricultural enterprise ( A winery with processing is mentioned.)
• that the lake creates flood control capacity
• that the lake construction improved water quality because old dairy ponds and debris were cleaned up

This is a short list of the claims. If you would like a copy of the studies, I now have the application in a pdf file which I can email to you on request.

The next likely step in this process, if the 401 and 404 permits are granted, would be a Use Permit application for a winery.

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