State fish and game officials warn that a proposed winery northeast of Santa Rosa could damage critical habitat for endangered wildlife species and are urging a more extensive review of the project.
That view supports property owners along St. Helena Road who are opposed to winery plans submitted by Wall Street executive Henry Cornell.
Cornell, a managing partner for global investment firm Goldman Sachs, contends the 10,000-square-foot winery and 8,000-foot storage cave he wants to construct on Wappo Road will use as much water as a two-bedroom house and pose no threat to the environment.
But echoing neighbors' concerns, state Department of Fish and Game officials stated in a report to Sonoma County planners their fear that runoff from roads and buildings related to the project could lead to more sediment in Mark West Creek.
Any additional blockage or reduction of water flow in the creek could pose a threat to steelhead trout and Coho salmon, particularly during dry summer months when the fish are at their most vulnerable, the report states.
"Any adverse effects of reduced flow should be avoided, minimized or mitigated to a level of insignificance," the report stated.
The report was submitted to the county's Board of Zoning Adjustments, which is considering whether to approve Cornell's use permit.
A Nov. 13 hearing to settle that issue was delayed indefinitely after neighbors opposed to the project voiced their concerns.
"I've not seen anybody other than somebody retained by Cornell that has anything good to say about the project," said Steve Krimel, a retired criminal defense attorney who lives on St. Helena Road.
Cornell's attorney did not return a phone call Friday.
Zoning board members seemed eager at the November hearing to obtain the fish and game report and another from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to help them with their deliberations.
State water officials declined in their report to specifically address the Cornell project. However, in summarizing their findings of the upper Mark West Creek watershed, they pointed out several areas of concern that could factor into future decisions related to the winery.
The report noted that a Jan. 5, 2006 landslide originating from the Cornell property caused "extensive" sedimentation in the creek, filling some shallow pools completely.
Both state reports expressed concern about the loss of foliage on the property as a result of trees being cut down.
David Hardy, supervising planner of the county's Permit and Resource Management Department, said both documents will be included in an updated information packet to be given to zoning board members.
Hardy, who has recommended approval of the use permit, said he believes the scope of the reports goes beyond what is under review by county planners.
"The project is not every grape plant Mr. Cornell planted on all of his lands," Hardy said. "Most of that was planted before he even acquired this current winery location."
Hardy declined to comment on whether the project needs to undergo a more rigorous environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, as state officials are urging.
"That's going to depend on what the experts are saying when they revisit the water issue," Hardy said.
He predicted the case would not come back before the zoning board until spring.