Cosentino Winery and Mustards Grill could lose their operating permits pending a meeting of the Napa County Planning Commission next year. Hearings are expected to be held in March over an ongoing waste disposal dispute pitting the popular Napa Valley dining spot and the adjacent winery against some of their Oakville neighbors.
On Dec. 15, the planning commission voted to begin "revocation proceedings" for Cosentino and Mustards Grill, which only the day before had agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a lawsuit, brought by the Napa County District Attorneys Office, charging them with improper waste disposal. Mustards Grill, a favorite of winemakers and Napa locals, opened its doors in 1983. Cosentino Winery, which produces 27,000 cases of wine a year, got its start in 1980.
Despite the commission's vote, it doesnt seem likely that the businesses will be terminated, according to Jeff Redding, director of conservation, development and planning for Napa County. "Closing is one of the options, but that was not the sentiment of the commissioners," said Redding, explaining that revocation proceedings are required to consider any permit modifications.
At issue are the sewage disposal practices of the two businesses, which annually produce more than 1 million gallons of wastewater that is collected and processed in oxidation ponds on their property. The wastewater is chlorinated and aerated, then sprayed onto land south of the ponds, where it evaporates and gets absorbed by vegetation.
Neighboring residents, led by Giovanna Scruby, claim that overflow from the ponds and wind-borne clouds of treated spray have contaminated their properties. "The real issue is public health," said Scruby, who claims that she contracted hepatitis A from the pollution.
Michael Ouellette, general manager and part owner of Mustards, acknowledged that unusually heavy rainfall over the last two winters has taxed the ponds, but said the restaurant and winery have made every effort to be good neighbors. "We've made a lot of improvements without any county involvement, and we've been waiting on a plan we submitted two years ago for new waste discharge requirements," he explained.
The proposed changes have remained in bureaucratic limbo pending appointment of officers for the Water Quality Board in Napa County.
Mitch Cosentino, owner of the winery, feels that the dispute is mostly fueled by antipathy. "This has less to do with the ponds than a personal dispute between us and the Scrubys," he said. "They've been trying to find an opportunity to put the crunch on us for years, and they've lost at every turn."
Despite the acrimony, Redding hopes the hearings will result in some sort of amicable solution. "There's a heck of a lot of bad blood here," he said, "and something has to be done so that reason prevails."
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