The mayor of St. Helena is alleging that a landfill that sits in the hills between his city and Calistoga poses risks of wildfire, explosion and contamination in a lengthy complaint filed with the Napa County District Attorney’s Office.

In his 38-page consumer complaint, Mayor Geoff Ellsworth claims there is a “significant and unnecessary fire and wildfire risk” at the Clover Flat Landfill, owned by Upper Valley Disposal Services.

St. Helena Mayor Geoff Ellsworth. (Photo courtesy of city of St. Helena via Bay City News)

In response, the company and a key county official said the landfill is in complete compliance with all its regulatory obligations.

The complaint is the latest salvo in Ellsworth’s years-long criticism of UVDS operations that he has aired repeatedly in public forums and local news outlets.

The complaint’s central allegation is that the landfill lacks “an adequate and updated” fire protection plan, as required by state fire code for “wildland-urban interface fire areas.”

He also alleges that Clover Flat and the company’s compost and recycling facility south of St. Helena lack proper risk analysis.

“The complaint extends to ongoing fire/explosion risks, contamination risks, past impacts, conflicts-of-interest and large-scale insurance concerns associated with these fire prone operations in high wildfire risk areas,” Ellsworth said in a news release.

Complaint under review

Patrick Collins, a deputy district attorney in the Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit, said his office received Ellsworth’s complaint Aug. 11 and is reviewing it.

“We’ll look into the allegations and see if there’s anything our office should do,” Collins said. “It raises a number of different allegations, so it’s going to take us some time.”

Complaints filed with his office can result in civil or criminal investigations, mediation or a referral to an outside agency that has regulatory jurisdiction over the business in question, Collins said.

About four years ago, Upper Valley Disposal Services incurred permit violations and was ordered to make a bevy of updates and improvements after a series of fires at the landfill.

After these and other incidents involving sediment and leachate discharges into a nearby creek, the landfill changed management teams and has since been described as “open and transparent” by an inspector with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

UVDS chief operating officer Christy Pestoni, whose family has owned and operated the company since the 1960s, said they are now in compliance and were recently issued “a letter of closed and completeness” from the county’s fire marshal.

Napa County director of public works Steve Lederer, who is also manager of the Upper Valley Waste Management Agency, which oversees UVDS operations, said the county has found “that all previous deficiencies which were identified under the prior management team associated with the landfill have been resolved and that the landfill is in full compliance with all regulations, including fire.”

“I have personally (as recently as last month) seen the insurance certificates for the landfill,” Lederer said in an email.

California treasurer named

In his complaint, Ellsworth also names the Upper Valley Waste Management Agency and California State Treasurer Fiona Ma.

Ellsworth said Ma introduced a bill in 2012 when she was in the state Assembly “that fails to recognize or make safety/health provisions for the inherent volatile fuel load associated with garbage/waste and its cross county/cross jurisdictional transfer.”

He also alleges that Ma has “political and personal involvement in Napa County including with the Pestoni family.”

A spokesperson for Ma said her office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

UVDS is also the subject of a lawsuit filed in August by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance alleging U.S. Clean Water Act violations at the landfill.

Pestoni said the company is currently in discussions to settle the suit and anticipates an amicable resolution.

Kiley Russell, Bay City News

Kiley Russell writes primarily for Local News Matters on issues related to equity and the environment. A Bay Area native, he has lived most of his life in Oakland. He studied journalism at San Francisco State University, worked for the Associated Press and the former Contra Costa Times, among other outlets. He has covered everything from state legislatures, local governments, federal and state courts, crime, growth and development, political campaigns of various stripes, wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.