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Mark West Quarry faces hefty fine for polluting salmon habitat

Will Carruthers, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

A Sonoma County mining company faces a $4.5 million fine for allegedly allowing over 10 million gallons of tainted water to flow into a creek, damaging the habitat of endangered salmon.

In a September press release, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board announced that, at a Dec. 2 meeting, the agency’s board would consider approving a $4.5 million fine against the BoDean Company, Inc. for numerous alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at the company’s Mark West Quarry several years ago. The North Coast water board is one of nine similar boards around the state charged with enforcing a variety of environmental laws.

Water Board staff first identified the problem in December 2018, when they noticed “sediment-laden stormwater” in Porter Creek downstream from the 120-acre quarry, which is used for hard-rock mining and materials processing. Over the next five months, Water Board officials visited the quarry 15 times total, documenting numerous similar incidents. All told, Water Board prosecutors estimate that 10.5 million gallons of tainted water flowed from the mountainside quarry into Porter Creek, which feeds into the Russian River.

Water Board photographs show that the investigators repeatedly discovered cloudy waters, known as “turbid” in Water Board lingo, emanating from the BoDean quarry. The creek serves as habitat for endangered California steelhead trout and Coho salmon, and the sediments flowing from the quarry could put those creatures at risk.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/bodean-water-fine/

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North Coast Water Board proposes $4.5 million fine against quarry operator for alleged Clean Water Act violations

NORTH COAST WATER QUALITY BOARD

A Sonoma County quarry operator is facing a $4.5 million fine for multiple violations of the Clean Water Act that threaten the survival of endangered salmon populations in tributaries of the Russian River, according to a formal complaint signed last week by staff of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The proposed fine is part of a legal proceeding known as an administrative civil liability that alleges the quarry operator, Dean Soiland, doing business as BoDean Co. Inc., discharged highly turbid storm water from its quarry operations into Porter Creek from September 2018 through May 2019. These discharges violate requirements of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Industrial Activities.

The complaint alleges that BoDean violated other requirements of the NPDES General Permit also by failing to implement best management practices that would have reduced or prevented sediment in stormwater discharges.

Mark West Quarry is a 120-acre aggregate rock quarry next to Porter Creek, a major tributary of Mark West Creek known for its pristine waters and excellent habitat for wildlife, including endangered California steelhead trout and Coho salmon. From December 2018 through May 2019, the quarry discharged more than 10.5 million gallons of highly turbid storm water causing significant amounts of fine sediment to deposit in Porter Creek.

Abnormally high levels of sediment in surface waters can smother aquatic animals and habitats; alter or obstruct flows, resulting in flooding; and reduce water clarity, which makes it difficult for organisms to breathe, find food and refuge, and reproduce.

“Storm water runoff from quarries and other industrial operations exposed to rainfall can cause substantial impacts to water quality unless practices are in place and maintained to prevent soil erosion and sediment transport,” said Claudia E. Villacorta, North Coast
Water Board assistant executive officer. “Had the quarry operator complied with the storm water permit, impacts to water quality could have been avoided. The proposed fine reflects the extent of those impacts and the operator’s failure to implement minimum practices established in the permit.”

Industrial facilities such as the Mark West Quarry are required to control their storm water discharges using the best available technology that is economically achievable or the best conventional pollutant control technology.

A public hearing to consider the complaint and vote on whether to approve the $4.5 million fine is scheduled for Dec. 2-3 before the North Coast Water Board.

A copy of the administrative complaint will be available for review on the North Coast Water Board’s website.

Source: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/press_room/press_releases/2021/region-1-quarry-enforcement-(ACC).pdf

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Montage Healdsburg resort developer fined record $6.4 million for water violations

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State water quality regulators have fined the developer of Montage Healdsburg, the ultra-luxury resort set to open Saturday, more than $6.4 million for environmental violations tied to hotel construction during the stormy winter months of late 2018 and early 2019.

The fine — the largest environmental penalty of its kind on the North Coast — was approved Friday by the Santa Rosa-based North Coast Water Quality Control Board following a nearly eight-hour virtual hearing.

The board’s 5-0 vote affirmed a fine recommended by agency prosecutors as part of a two-year enforcement action against Sonoma Luxury Resort, a subsidiary of Encinitas-based developer the Robert Green Co.

“Today, the prosecution team proved that there were widespread, persistent stormwater violations at the discharger’s construction project,” Dan Kippen, prosecuting attorney for the State Water Resources Control Board, told the regional body Friday. “Ordering the discharger to pay the proposed liability will send a message not only to this discharger that its conduct was unacceptable and must be avoided for its future projects, but will also send a message to all future developers that they flout the (construction general permit) and other water laws at their own peril.”

The 38 violations put forward by regulators included woefully and repeatedly inadequate erosion control measures documented over several months by water quality investigators at the 258-acre resort property at Healdsburg’s northeastern edge, last estimated to cost $310 million. Prosecutors said nearly 9.4 million gallons of prohibited runoff and sediment-filled stormwater escaped the heavily sloped construction site and into streams of the Russian River watershed, leading to two forced work stoppages. The affected tributaries included Foss Creek, a steelhead trout stream.

“I can stand here before all of you right now and tell you in my 20 years, I’ve yet to see a site this nasty,” Jeremiah Puget, senior environmental scientist with the regional board, said Friday. “If you take this case in its entirety, we believe that we went above and beyond our role — as did the city of Healdsburg — in trying to return this site into compliance.”
Continue reading “Montage Healdsburg resort developer fined record $6.4 million for water violations”

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Sonoma County supervisors eye changes to rules governing vineyard development

Tyler Silvy, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Changes sought by grape growers to Sonoma County’s ordinance governing vineyard development are set to come before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, with proposed revisions that county leaders say will streamline permitting and encourage more environmentally friendly farming practices.

The changes are meant to update the county’s Vineyard Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance, established in 2000. The rules have long been a source of friction between the county’s dominant industry and environmental interests.

But the changes before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, supporters say, are a common-sense approach to adapting land use that will be better for the environment.

“In my mind, not only does this not weaken (the ordinance), but this increases it,” said Supervsior James Gore. “I want to see landowners and producers changing practices to less-intensive systems. And if we can streamline this process, and reduce the costs of permitting to do that, that is the ultimate win-win.”

The revisions call for greater leeway and eased rules for growers who are seeking to replant vineyards, including incentives for those who use less invasive methods. The changes also would adjust permitting costs and timelines.

The changes came about through a series of meetings over the past two years between grape growers and Supervisors Gore and Lynda Hopkins, who together represent the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Westside Road and the Alexander Valley.

The original ordinance stemmed from a public push to prevent damaging erosion, tree removal and water pollution problems linked to vineyard operations, which now cover more than 60,000 acres in Sonoma County. In one case, a major landslide in 1998 caused Dry Creek to run red with sediment-laden runoff. The rules have been revised at least three times since the initial ordinance.

The latest proposal emerged from discontent within the wine industry about the work of an an outside contractor the county uses to oversee the vineyard erosion rules.
Continue reading “Sonoma County supervisors eye changes to rules governing vineyard development”

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Sorax, the Ghost of Salmon Past, speaks at the Board of Supervisors in 2012 on the passing of the VESCO ordinance

I am a ghost of Coho Salmons past, once born and raised in Dutch Bill Creek below Occidental. My last reported sighting there was in the 1960’s. I speak for all salmon and wildlife species not able to attend your meetings.


Do you realize that as public servants and supposed stewards of the Russian River that it is the only river in California to have three listed Salmonid species: Coho, Chinook and Steelhead? That is three distinct species of unique, ancient animals. Shall I remind you that humans, all 6 billion of you, compromise only one distinct species, which at this point ought to be renamed “Homo consumous.”

We as salmon, as recently in our evolution as 150 years ago, used to live in peace with the humans of this land, and we co-evolved with the harbor seals and sea lions and our natal forested creeks. The abundance of our families was so great that your early pioneering families remarked “that we were so numerous” they could “walk on our backs.” This all changed with your arrival. In the last 100 years, or during the time of those 3rd, 4th & 5th generation families who so proudly and loudly exclaim in your newspapers to be stewards of the land, it was they who cleared this land of over 95% of its old growth forests, 95% of its riparian forests, drained 95% of its wetlands.

I ask you where are my friends the Grizzly, the Elk, the Antelope, the Marbled Murrelet? My Coho ancestors used to number 500,000 in California rivers and now our runs number less than 5,000, to as low as 1,000 individuals! We are nearing the brink of functional extinction simultaneously with such gloating of stewardship.

It is critical for all of you to recognize that, compared to the past, this land is actually in a highly degraded state. You all need to own up to the fact that your ancestors are indisputably responsible for the overwhelming genocide of the Pomo and Miwok peoples, the silvacide of the great forests, the soilacide (as your activities have eroded and compacted the once rich fertility) and the salmonicide (as I stand before you at the tail end of our existence). If you have the vision and courage, this can change, you can turn this around if you act in earnest now.

This erosion ordinance you pass today with its especially inadequate riparian setbacks is a feeble first step and leaves me with fear for my children, but a critical move in the right direction if you decide to take more steps and begin walking towards a future vision of ecological watershed integrity.

Remember, I am a fish of the forest. Without trees, my breeding streams fill with sediment, dry up due to lack of groundwater recharge and what water remains becomes lethally hot for my young. Every aspect of your development paradigm must be questioned and reevaluated with restorative criteria. You must question your roads, parking lots, housing, industrial, agricultural, logging and mining practices. We the salmon are dying from the cumulative impacts of your collective inabilities to think like a watershed. If we go extinct and fade from memory, so will you!

In closing, since my spawning gravels are so embedded with silt from the denuded, compacted hillsides, I want to offer each of you, as servants of the public trust, an egg of mine that hopefully will help your thoughts to incubate on taking the recovery of Totem Salmon seriously and birthing a new vision of a shared watershed commons for the sake of all our relations.

Thank you,

The Sorax, aka Brock Dolman, Director of the Water Institute at the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center.

Source: https://oaec.org/our-work/projects-and-partnerships/water-institute/

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Montage Healdsburg resort developer recommended for $4.9 million fine for environmental violations

Mary Callahan & Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The developer of a luxury Healdsburg resort faces a record $4.9 million fine for egregious environmental violations after allowing an estimated 6.6 million gallons of sediment-laden runoff to leave the construction site during heavy rainfall last winter, threatening already imperiled fish species in tributaries of the Russian River.

Staffers for the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board documented 38 violations of the federal Clean Water Act between October 2018 and May 2019 by developer Robert Green Jr., the owner of Montage Healdsburg, previously known as Saggio Hills.

The violations — hundreds of examples of them — were observed during repeat inspections, despite warnings to the developer of inadequate efforts to control erosion and runoff at the 258-acre site, according to regulatory documents.

Board personnel twice suspended construction through work stoppage orders, yet deficiencies still were abundant once crews were given permission to resume work, regulators said.

Even though there were points at which improvements were made, erosion control measures such as straw wattles and coverings for bare, exposed ground were not maintained, said Claudia Villacorta, the water quality control board’s prosecution team assistant executive officer.

Eventually, the controls were removed while wet weather still lay ahead so that a storm that came through in mid-May rained on the landscape without anti-erosion measures in place, she said.

“We felt like the conduct was, frankly, grossly negligent,” Villacorta said by phone. “They repeatedly failed to take action, implement effective practices, and I think that’s the reason why the penalty — the proposed fine — was significant.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10619065-181/montage-healdsburg-resort-developer-recommended

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Wine moguls destroy land and pay small fines as cost of business, say activists

Alastair Bland, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

After California wine industry mogul Hugh Reimers illegally destroyed at least 140 acres of forest, meadow and stream in part to make way for new vineyards sometime last winter, according to a report from state investigators, state officials ordered the Krasilsa Pacific Farms manager to repair and mitigate the damage where possible. Sonoma County officials also suggested a $131,060 fine.

But for environmental activists watching the investigation, fines and restoration attempts aren’t going to cut it; they want Reimers — an experienced captain of industry whom they say knew better — to face a criminal prosecution, which could lead to a jail sentence.

“We want him to be an example of what you can’t do here,” says Anna Ransome, founder of a small organization called Friends of Atascadero Wetlands. In August, the group sent a letter to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravich, asking that she prosecute Reimers.

“If winemakers can figure into their budget paying fines and doing minimal restoration work, then what’s to stop the next guy from doing the same thing?” Ransome says.

The D.A.’s office did not return requests for comment. Multiple efforts to reach Reimers for comment were unsuccessful. On Nov. 13, a sign posted outside of an address listed for him that appears to be a residence read “Media Keep Out.”

The Sonoma County Winegrowers, an industry organization that promotes sustainability, also declined to comment.

Ransome’s concerns have been echoed by other environmental and community activists in Northern California who decry a pattern of winemakers violating environmental laws, paying relatively meager fines for their actions, and eventually proceeding with their projects.

For example, high-society winemaker Paul Hobbs now grows grapes on at least one small Sonoma County parcel that he cleared of trees in 2011 without proper permits. Though his actions on several locations where he removed trees caused community uproar, officials fined Hobbs $100,000 and allowed him to carry on with his business. Paul Hobbs Winery is listed by the Sonoma County Winegrowers website as certified sustainable.

Read more at https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/11/18/774859696/wine-moguls-destroy-land-and-pay-small-fines-as-cost-of-business-say-activists

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Geyserville property owner fined for diverting, polluting streams to grow marijuana

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Geyserville property owner who launched a medical cannabis farm has agreed to pay $245,000 in fines and penalties for what Sonoma County prosecutors said was improper water diversion, unpermitted grading and site work that harmed streams in the Russian River watershed.

Property owner Darryl Crawford, a Napa-based investor with experience building wine cellars, said most of the issues on the sprawling 330-acre Geysers Road property stemmed from old roads, water systems and other features built decades ago by a prior owner.

But state Fish and Wildlife officials said that unauthorized work that Crawford had done on the property, including attempts to stop sediment from flowing into streams, created additional problems. Prosecutors said also that the cultivation site was graded without a permit.

Prosecutors sued Crawford and his companies Black Mountain Developers and Cold Creek Group in an effort to get them to comply with environmental regulations and acquire the needed permits to improve the site’s roads and water systems, Deputy District Attorney Ann Gallagher White said.

“The penalties were high because the conduct was egregious and lasted for a long time,” Gallagher White said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9460580-181/geyserville-property-owner-fined-for

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Judge puts controversial Healdsburg logging plan on hold

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Planned logging near a Healdsburg stream that provides some of the last refuge in the region for wild coho salmon has been put on hold after a court decision overturned a timber harvest plan for the 160-acre site.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau determined last month that the plan approved by Cal Fire last fall inadequately analyzed potential impacts for endangered and threatened fish species in Felta Creek and the greater Russian River watershed into which it drains.

Chouteau also agreed with neighbors’ claim that property owner Ken Bareilles failed to sufficiently address the effects of logging trucks on narrow roadways and five rural bridges they would travel to haul lumber from the remote parcel.

The resolution is unlikely to be the final chapter in the dispute, with both sides anticipating ongoing legal battles.

“The land isn’t safe until it has a conservation easement on it or a harvest plan geared for limited, smaller-scale logging, said Lucy Kotter, a one-time forester and a spokeswoman for Friends of Felta Creek, which was formed to block the plan.

Bareilles, a Eureka attorney, said Wednesday he still hopes he can start logging in the spring and intended to revise and resubmit his timber harvest plan for approval in the meantime.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8729540-181/judge-puts-controversial-healdsburg-logging

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Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit 

John Sammon, LEGAL NEWSLINE
Two Sonoma County vintners received a judgment in favor of their proposed wine making operation when an appeal by the Sierra Club was turned back by the state’s 1st Appellate District Court of Appeals.
The court found in favor of the defendants Ronald and Ernest Ohlson, operators of the Ohlson Ranch, who applied for a permit to turn grazing land on their property into a grape vineyard. The Agricultural Commissioner of Sonoma County (commissioner) issued the permit after making a determination the issuance was a “ministerial” act, and therefore exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) standards.
The commissioner’s decision was challenged by the Sierra Club, Friends of Gualala River and the Center for Biological Diversity, who asked for a writ of mandate, a court order to an agency or court to follow the law by correcting a previous action (issuing the permit).
Before the year 2000, grape growers in Sonoma County could plant vineyards without government review or permission.. Since then, new directives have been added, including submitting plans to address erosion controls, proper grading, drainage and other safeguards.
The Ohlsons filed an application in 2013 to turn 108 acres out of 132 acres of range land into a vineyard. The property included wetlands and marshy depressions but no trees or streams. Erosion was to be controlled by the use of anchoring grass, mulch, filter strips and cover crops.
Read more at: Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit | Legal Newsline