Tag Archives: environmental law enforcement

Here’s how big wine gets to avoid environmental rules in Napa

Alastair Bland, KCET

According to Anderson, vineyard managers frequently install drainage systems incorrectly, fail to plant required cover crops to control erosion, incorrectly place deer fences in a way that prevents free passage of smaller wildlife, and use pesticides illegally. She says erosion control measures often fail to work, causing loose sediment to wash into creeks. There it can smother gravel beds used by spawning salmon and steelhead, which have almost vanished from North Bay watersheds. Many biologists have pointed to vineyards as a leading cause of the fish declines.

In 2006, Napa County officials issued a permit for The Caves at Soda Canyon, a new winery in the hills east of the city of Napa. As most such project permits do, the document set strict limits on how the developer could build his winery.

But The Caves’ owner Ryan Waugh allegedly ignored some of these limitations. Waugh dug an unpermitted cave into a mountain, and hosted guests at unapproved ridgetop tasting patios. After county officials became aware of the violations, they ordered Waugh in 2014 to block off (but not fill in) the illegal cave, stop the unauthorized wine tastings and muffle a noisy generator.

Neighbors had complained about the generator’s din, claiming that Waugh had promised years earlier to connect his facility to silent power lines. They’re primarily concerned, however, about the winery’s impacts on local traffic and congestion.

County documents report that Waugh followed through on all orders to correct the violations (something neighbors, who say they can still hear the generator, dispute). Then, Waugh submitted a request for a modification to his permit, and in April, the Napa County Planning Commission voted to approve it. The new permit brings the unauthorized components of his operation into full legal compliance while also increasing The Cave’s annual production limit from 30,000 gallons of wine to 60,000. The decision is a win for Waugh, who has reportedly put his winery on the market for $12.5 million.

Neighbors say that laws don’t apply to people invested in Napa County’s influential wine industry.

“You can just drill an unpermitted cave and have unpermitted tastings, and just get retroactive approval from the county, and get more allowed production than you initially had,” says Anthony Arger, who lives nearby. Arger is concerned that The Caves’ enhanced use permits will lead to a dangerous increase in vehicle use on Soda Canyon Road.

The county’s decision to clear Waugh’s record while allowing him to enlarge his business illuminates what Arger and other community activists say is part of a countywide problem. They argue that Napa County officials, especially those in the Planning, Building and Environmental Services department, collude with the wine industry, ignoring violations of local rules, to increase wine production and tourist visits at the expense of the environment and local residents’ health and safety.

Read more at: Here’s How Big Wine Gets To Avoid Environmental Rules in Napa | KCET

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water, Wildlife

PG&E to pay $120,000 for Paulin Creek spill


PG&E has been ordered to pay $120,000 to settle claims that it allowed oil from an underground transformer to contaminate a Santa Rosa creek, prosecutors said Thursday.

A complaint filed in Sonoma County Superior Court alleges the spill into Paulin Creek happened during intense storms in February 2015.Crews were repairing a failed transformer at Sleepy Hollow Drive when oil leaked into a storm drain and flowed into the creek, prosecutors alleged.

PG&E failed to “immediately notify proper authorities of the discharge,” according to a statement from District Attorney Jill Ravitch.

Under the terms of the settlement approved by Judge Allan Hardcastle, PG&E will pay $80,000 in civil penalties and $40,000 in investigative and enforcement costs.

Source: PG&E to pay $120,000 for Santa Rosa creek spill | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Bill by State Sen. Mike McGuire seeks to make redwood burl poaching a felony


Poachers who target the knobby burls on old-growth redwood trees could face stiffer punishment if they are caught under legislation introduced this week by a North Coast lawmaker.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, is proposing to make burl poaching a mandatory felony crime punishable by jail time and a fine of up to $10,000.

“These poachers are butchering healthy, ancient, old-growth redwoods,” said McGuire, who compared the practice to killing elephants for their tusks.

Redwood burls are crucial to the health and propagation of the majestic trees, forming at the base of trunks to shoot forth new saplings and roots. They also protect trees by forming protective layers over damaged wood.

Burls also are used to make a range of products, including tables and other furniture. That has created a lucrative market for the wood and drawn the attention of poachers, who use chainsaws and other devices to carve the prized wood away from the trees, with no regard to the damage the practice causes.

Read more via Bill by State Sen. Mike McGuire seeks to | The Press Democrat.

Filed under Forests

Washing toxin into storm drain results in environmental enforcement


District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced today that defendant Trius Diagnostic Imaging, Inc. of Stockton has resolved a civil environmental enforcement case that occurred on 10/29/13 at Spring Creek Medical Plaza, located at 1144 Sonoma Avenue in Santa Rosa.The investigation revealed that while a piece of radiology equipment was being moved from one of the medical offices and being loaded onto a truck for transport to Trius’ Stockton facility, Trius employees spilled an unknown liquid.

Rather than report the spill to the authorities, the employees hosed the spilled material into a storm drain leading to Spring Creek. A citizen noticed the spill and contacted the Santa Rosa Police Department. Officers responded, along with the Hazardous Materials Team from the Santa Rosa Fire Department.  Spring Creek Medical Plaza owners used a private company to clean up the spilled material which contained some petroleum.  First responders could not determine the quantity of the spill or whether it entered Spring Creek.

District Attorney Ravitch stated, “Businesses may not use storm drains to dispose of hazardous materials because all storm drains flow to our creeks.  We will take all appropriate enforcement measures to protect our creeks.”

The agreement reached between Trius and the District Attorney’s Office requires that Trius Diagnostics Imaging, Inc. pay a total of $50,661.97 in penalties and clean up costs. Of this amount, Trius will pay a penalty for an unlawful business activity of $7,500, clean-up costs in the amount of $34,818.97 to the business owners of the Spring Creek Medical Plaza and $5,343 in investigation costs to the City of Santa Rosa and the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.  The defendant will pay restitution in the amount of $3,000 to an account that will benefit local watershed projects in Sonoma County.  Additionally the agreement requires that Trius must train its employees annually regarding reporting hazardous materials releases and reporting emergency spills.

The case was prosecuted by the Environmental and Consumer Law Division of the District Attorney’s Office and Deputy District Attorney Ann Gallagher White, assisted by District Attorney Investigator Lisa Chapman.  Detective Mark Azzouni of Santa Rosa Police Department’s Environmental Crimes Unit  headed the investigation.

via Washing Toxin into Storm Drain results in Environmental Enforcement.

Filed under Water