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

'The penalties were high because the conduct was egregious and lasted for a long time,' said Sonoma County Deputy District Attorney Ann Gallagher White said.|

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.

In a settlement deal approved this week by Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Allan Hardcastle, Crawford agreed to make improvements to protect water quality and complete grading work.

Crawford said his employees were growing medical marijuana on the land in 2016 and 2017 and halted production in 2018 while the issues were being resolved.

“The rules (for cannabis cultivation) keep changing on the county level and on the state level, and we were in the middle of it,” he said.

The first violation was noted in July 2016 when an officer and a scientist with the Fish and Wildlife department were inspecting the cannabis farm and noticed a stream was being totally diverted to irrigate the plants in violation of environmental rules, agency spokeswoman Janice Mackey said. That problem was immediately fixed, she said.

But during a subsequent visit, state authorities noticed roadwork had caused sediment to flow into a stream. Workers then altered a stream to stop the flow of sediment, which was done without a permit and made the problem worse, according to Mackey.

“These tributaries are sensitive,” Mackey said. “A huge amount of wildlife, amphibians, turtles, downstream fish depend on clear water.”

The lawsuit also named a former project manager for Black Mountain, Clint Gerber, who was required to comply with a court order to stop work but was not ordered to pay any fees or make land improvements in the settlement.

Crawford and his company, Black Mountain Developers, have applied through Sonoma County’s planning department to cultivate about 1 acre of cannabis on one of the parcels that comprise Crawford’s property, according to county records. Until the District Attorney’s Office opened its case, cannabis cultivation was allowed to take place on the land through the county’s penalty relief program authorizing certain operators to continue growing marijuana while going through the cultivation application process, county officials said.

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