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Residents protest Sebastopol vineyard project

  • Thomas Cooper, dressed in a hazmat suit, puts up a sign encouraging residents to call the Air Pollution Complaint Line for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District if they experience dust from the cutting of an orchard near the Apple Blossom Elementary School and Orchard View School in Sebastopol on Monday, June 17, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ PD)

About a dozen residents Monday protested work underway to convert a Sebastopol apple orchard into a vineyard, saying dust from the uprooted trees contained toxic pesticides that could harm children at neighboring schools.

Work began last week on the property, owned by Sebastopol winemaker Paul Hobbs. Parents of children who attend several schools in the area say they want a buffer zone between the property and the adjacent Apple Blossom and Orchard View schools.

Parent groups raised the issue of soil contamination when Hobbs applied for a vineyard development permit in March. The winemaker bought the 48-acre property on Watertrough Road in 2012.

Protest Over Sebastopol Orchard Cutting

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“This is so close to a school, you can't ignore it,” said Thomas Cooper, whose son attends nearby SunRidge School. “We're here to raise the alarm.”

Twin Hills School District is working with Paul Hobbs Winery to limit the dust during the conversion project, said Barbara Bickford, the district's superintendent. The winery is planning to build a fence to limit the dust and will spray chemicals outside of school hours, Bickford said.

“We certainly have taken great strides to address the concerns,” she said. “We have worked with the grower to ensure the safety of the children, the teachers and the staff.”

The school district will monitor dust levels in the air, and has met with an environmental engineer who said “the risk for dust migration appears to be minimal,” Bickford said.

Maben Rainwater, school board president, said that he will feel better about the project if Paul Hobbs Winery complies with its permit and its agreement with the district. Hobbs is required to water the fields during tree removal to keep the dust down, he said.

“I think we, as a district, are going to need to keep Hobbs' feet to the fire,” he said. “Any issue that comes along regarding the health of our kids is a legitimate concern. As long as Hobbs follows what has been mandated, we will be well served.”

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