Local News Matters weekly newsletter

Start your week with a little inspiration. Sign up for our informative, community-based newsletter, delivered on Mondays with news about the Bay Area.

Neighbors of the Upper Valley Disposal Service recycling and compost facility in rural Napa County are suing the company over complaints about bad smells, bright lights and loud noises.

In a lawsuit filed in Napa County Superior Court on Monday, a group of seven neighbors claim to have suffered from “pervasive, unhealthy, harmful and damaging odors, noise and other pollution” generated by the company’s Whitehall Lane site, which is just south of St. Helena and handles recycling and processes compost.

The suit claims that the UVDS composting site began as a small-scale operation decades ago but has grown over the years “into a much larger, complex and more odorous and indeed dangerous operation” and that since 2019 a “rotten garbage smell” has grown increasingly pungent.

The neighbors also allege that the company has failed to take proper fire safety precautions and has constructed a building, a road and two bridges over an adjacent creek without the required permits.

It also dumps “abandoned, rusting and decrepit vehicles and equipment” on its property, attracts pests, makes too much noise and uses floodlights that disturb the neighbors, according to the suit’s allegations.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to order UVDS to stop any operations that produce odors detectable to its neighbors, stop accepting or processing grape pomace from outside Napa Valley, stop allowing lights to shine onto neighbors’ property and stop noisy activities like truck or equipment operation and glass handling and breaking outside specified hours, among other things.

They are also asking for court costs, attorney fees and an unspecified amount of money for punitive and compensatory damages.

Many of the issues raised by the lawsuit were brought up in a public meeting with several neighbors back in February that was facilitated by Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon.

UVDS chief operating officer Christy Pestoni said then that she had met several times with neighbors and the company had already taken a number of steps to address their concerns.

For example, it has installed new equipment and made improvements to the way it processes grape pomace in order to reduce odors, changed the facility’s lighting in an attempt to reduce impacts and planned to plant more than 200 trees and shrubs to help screen the site from neighbors, among other things.

UVDS, which also operates the Clover Flat Landfill just off of the Silverado Trail, has found itself at the center of a debate about its continued role in the region driven in large part by St. Helena Mayor Geoff Ellsworth.

Ellsworth and local environmentalists have criticized the company for its past history of environmental and health problems at the landfill, including a series of fires at Clover Flat and a creek contamination in 2019 which led to the facility’s temporary shutdown.

After those and other incidents, the company brought in a new management team and state and county officials say it has since been working closely with regulators to ensure compliance.

Lawyers for the neighbors and the company did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

UVDS has 30 days to file a written response to the lawsuit.