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Winery application to build ag pond makes no mention of cutting oaks

North County residents are concerned about a massive removal of oak trees north of Highway 46 West to make way for a vineyard. A stop-work order has been issued by the county to Estate Vineyards LLC.
North County residents are concerned about a massive removal of oak trees north of Highway 46 West to make way for a vineyard. A stop-work order has been issued by the county to Estate Vineyards LLC. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The winery company that cut down hundreds of oak trees on a property west of Paso Robles applied for a permit to build a 20-acre-foot agricultural pond but made no mention of cutting down trees.

In a letter to San Luis Obispo County planners, the project’s engineer, Eric Gobler, said Estate Vineyards LLC, which owns the property, planned to develop it into a vineyard for Justin Wines.

“A reservoir is needed to enhance vineyard management, operational and energy efficiencies, and enhancement of groundwater management practices,” the application states.

However, the application states that no trees will be removed as a result of the construction of the pond.

“The reservoir will be designed to conform to natural topography (rolling terrain) with no impact to native trees and the environment,” the letter stated.

The reservoir will be designed to conform to natural topography (rolling terrain) with no impact to native trees and the environment.

Estate Vineyards letter accompanying permit application

The county is still in the process of reviewing the work that has been done at the 315-acre parcel off Willow Creek Road to determine whether any violations of county codes have been committed, said Jim Bergman, the county’s planning director. Neighbors say that hundreds of oak trees have been removed as well as native brush, resulting in entire hillsides being denuded of vegetation.

County Supervisor Frank Mecham met with angry residents of the area last week and was told that in addition to the removal of oaks, the neighbors are worried about erosion of the hillsides once it starts raining in the fall and wells going dry because of the 20 acre-feet of water being pumped out of the groundwater aquifer.

Rancher Neil Heaton talks about large-scale oak tree removal and other work on property owned by The Wonderful Company and managed by Justin Vineyards near Paso Robles. "This development, if allowed to continue, will mean the end of our way of lif

County planners say it is not illegal to remove oak trees in an agricultural area; however, other county codes may have been violated, such as cutting on slopes greater than 30 percent grade.

Two stop-work orders were issued last week on the parcel.

The county’s stop-work order cited possible violations of the county’s grading ordinance. The Upper Salinas-Las Tablas Resource Conservation District terminated a work agreement it had issued allowing property owners to build a large agricultural pond, citing three violations of the pond construction permit.

Estate Vineyards, the vineyard landholding subsidiary for multinational The Wonderful Co., owns 1,666 acres on 18 parcels in the Creston Road, Chimney Rock and Willow Creek areas, according to county records. Justin Wines is one of its brands.

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