Kenwood Press

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News: 08/01/2013

Ledson resumes work on orchard conversion

An order to stop work at the Steve Ledson properties between Lawndale and Frey roads in Kenwood was lifted when it was learned that the damages to a winter creek on the property had been done decades before the Sonoma Valley vintner bought the land and began preparing it to plant vines.

The orchard conversion, though permitted by a long-standing county ordinance, has been the source of irritation to neighbors who miss the old walnut trees and who fear that the planned addition of a winery and event center could disturb the peaceful setting, with tourists and wine aficionados flocking to the area.

A view of the denuded creekbank running through Ledson’s vineyard. Photo by Jay Gamel .
Gail Davis, the 14-year veteran Sonoma County Agricultural and Vineyard Conversion Manager, originally issued the stop order – the traditional “Red Tag” – on July 10, after following up on a neighbor’s complaint. The land clearly has been tilled right up to the winter creek bank and there is a dirt road that passes right through it, both of which are forbidden by county ordinances designed to keep silt out of Sonoma Creek and from choking out fish and other wildlife.

County rules prohibit disturbing land within 25 feet of a creek bank, even intermittent winter creeks like the one that meanders through the former orchard. The so-called “blue line” creek is clearly visible on Google Maps, which still shows the original orchard trees. That map also shows that the vegetation was long gone near the creek and that the road through it was there before Ledson bought the property.

The Ag Commissioner’s office notified the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board, all of which act on these notices and can issue fines and action orders.

“I don’t see any violation,” Ledson said shortly after the stop order was issued. “I showed them papers. I don’t think there’s a violation.” He said at that time that the contested conditions had existed at the site for years.

And by July 24, the Ag office agreed to rescind the stop work order.

“We did lift the stop order after a couple of agencies looked at the site,” Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar said on Monday, July 29. He said that the Fish and Wildlife Department checked out the road crossing, agreed it had been there for years and got Ledson to agree to get a permit from them and build a proper crossing.

Ledson has also agreed to “revegetate” the riparian corridor with appropriate plants that will help prevent silt from running into the creek when it rains. Linegar said there will be no fines or other punitive measures taken. “We were able to resolve the situation and provide a benefit to the property in general.”

Ledson intends to remediate an existing nematode infection on the property, common to orchards. “We’ll do a natural process, take out tree roots and leave the land dormant with grasses for couple of years. Then we’ll plant tolerant root stock. It will be a two- or three-year process.”


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