California Vineyard to Pay $3.7 Million for Unapproved Construction

(CN) – A Northern California vineyard will have to pay $3.7 million as part of a settlement agreement for its unauthorized construction that destroyed natural wetlands and threatened Mendocino County’s watershed.

Rhys Vineyard, the Silicon Valley business that sells its own versions of pinot noir and chardonnay, committed several violations under the state’s Clean Water Act while constructing on a hillside property that straddles the South Fork Eel River and North Fork Ten Mile River watersheds, according to a state water board.

The business built three illegal reservoirs that diverted water without permission from the state agency.

According to the settlement agreement, this constituted trespassing and the violations were discovered in September 2015 by inspectors from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and several other agencies.

According to the California Water Resource Control Board, one of the reservoirs was being used to sustain livestock.

Meanwhile, construction on the 20-acre vineyard ate into half an acre of a natural wetland and buried 2,148 feet of a stream channel under the development.

Unauthorized road construction and stream crossings also marred the landscape, according to the water agency.

Josh Curtis, assistant executive officer with the North Coast Water Board said, “The illegal and permanent loss of wetlands and streams caused by the vineyard construction was an egregious violation of state and federal law.”

“This settlement demonstrates our commitment to protecting and restoring our region’s waters and maintaining a level playing field for the vast majority of the region’s vineyard operations who work proactively to meet or exceed environmental regulations,” he said.

Nearly $2 million of the settlement will go toward two habitat restoration projects in Northern California. The projects will go to help fisheries and local wildlife, along with creek restoration.

In order to avoid future sediment issues that could hurt migrating salmon populations, Rhys Vineyards will revert the road and creek crossings construction.

The settlement will resolve two orders, including one from the State Water Board and another from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Rhys Vineyards owns 4,591 acres in Mendocino County. A phone call to Rhys Vineyard for comment was not immediately answered Friday afternoon.

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