Sonoma County vintner, business face $3.75 million fine for alleged environmental damage
State regulators are seeking to impose a $3.75 million fine on a Sonoma County wine executive and his business for allegedly causing significant damage to streams and wetlands while constructing a vineyard in 2018 near Cloverdale.
The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has accused Hugh Reimers, an Australian vintner, and his company Krasilsa Pacific Farms LLC of improperly clearing trees, grading land and disposing of construction and earthen waste materials in a way that was detrimental to wetland waters and wildlife, according to a May 9 complaint by the North Coast Water Board’s enforcement staff.
A 2019 investigation by the water board of the 2,278-acre property, which Krasilsa Pacific purchased in September 2017, found the company violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act by removing oak woodlands and discharging sediment into Russian River tributaries.
The actions harmed streams that fed into the Little Sulphur, Big Sulphur and Crocker creeks, according to the complaint.
“Impacts on the property from activities four years ago continue to threaten the migration, spawning, reproduction and early development of cold-water fish,” the state agency said Tuesday in a press release. “Excess sediment delivery to streams can smother aquatic animals and habitats; alter or obstruct flows resulting in flooding; and reduce water clarity, making it difficult for organisms to breathe, find food and refuge, and reproduce.”
Additionally, the water board alleged Reimers and his business did not comply with the terms of a cleanup and abatement order, which required the full restoration of the environment to its previous condition. Reimers and Krasilsa Pacific face a penalty totaling $3,750,852 for the alleged violations.
Reimers’ attorney did not respond to requests for comment. Jane Gaskell, counsel for Krasilsa Pacific Farms, declined to comment.
“Their resistance to restoring those waters caused a loss of natural resources that would otherwise benefit the public, and the proposed fine shows there is a cost for failing to comply with regulations that protect the environment,” said Joshua Curtis, assistant executive officer of North Coast Water Board, in the statement.
The board is expected to hold a public hearing on the complaint and fine in early August, according to the release.
Reimers, a former chief winemaker at Constellation Brands, worked previously as president of both Jackson Family Wines and Foley Family Wines, two Sonoma County-based giants in the wine industry. He left Foley in July 2019.
Reimers also is facing a civil suit in Sonoma County, brought in July 2021 by District Attorney Jill Ravitch, which seeks penalties and relief stemming from the same property.
Prosecutors alleged that Krasilsa Pacific and Reimers graded roads, installed culverts, removed trees and other debris that ended up in waterways and engaged in “deep ripping of the soil” to plant vineyards, all without approval from proper regulatory agencies.
A civil jury trial is scheduled for March 2023.
You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or email@example.com. On Twitter @vv1lder.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised to correct an error introduced in the editing process about Reimers’ current employment. He left Jackson Family Wines, where he was president, in 2017.
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