October 4-10, 2006

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By Patricia Lynn Henley

Growing dirt

The ground's getting higher north of Port Sonoma off Highway 37, prompting legal action by the Sonoma Land Trust. The port currently dumps dredged mud onto its 528-acre Lower Ranch. Sonoma Land Trust recently filed a lawsuit claiming this violates the property's agricultural-only easement. Port officials say they have a 10-year permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge 80,000 cubic yards annually. They claim the practice is safe, legal and agriculturally sound because it creates conditions for growing higher-grade hay and safflower. The lawsuit counters that dumping a predicted 5.4 million cubic feet of dredged material will raise the land five feet, and that the salty mud will degrade the soil quality, cause flooding and make the ranch unusable for farming. Sonoma Land Trust bought the property in 1986 to prevent development other than agriculture, then sold it in 1989 with a conservation easement requiring permanent and exclusive agricultural use. The property was subsequently bought by previous owners of Port Sonoma. A dredged-material disposal facility is not farming, says Ralph Benson, executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust. "Everything we have indicates that it's just not an agricultural use, particularly when you look at it in light of [Port Sonoma's] announced plans for a ferry terminal and transportation hub there."

Prepping for flights

After a five-year lapse, commercial air flights may return to the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa next year, thanks to congressional assistance. Horizon Air plans to offer daily flights to Los Angeles and Seattle. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security refused to provide the county-owned regional airport with screening personnel due to budget woes and a limit on the number of screeners nationwide. Screeners inspect baggage and search passengers preparing to board the aircraft. Airport officials appealed to Sonoma County's national representatives. A homeland security appropriations bill approved Friday mandates screeners at three California airports, including the Schulz.

More West Nile

A 52-year-old Calistoga man's flu-like symptoms turned out to be West Nile virus, making him the first Napa County human to catch the mosquito-borne disease. In Marin, a 17-year-old Novato girl was diagnosed Sept. 10, and in Sonoma County, a 58-year-old Petaluma man had West Nile last fall. All three recovered. Statewide, 237 people contracted the disease this year, compared to 742 last year. Few have serious symptoms, but three people have died. Officials say there is still a serious problem with this illness, which is transmitted from birds to equines and humans via mosquito bites. Residents are urged to dump, drain or otherwise dispose of any standing water where mosquitoes could lay their eggs.

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