Water regulators halt construction of Healdsburg luxury resort

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For more information

To view the water board’s inspection report, click here.

A long-delayed Healdsburg luxury resort has run into another major hurdle after regulators ordered the developer Thursday to halt construction upon finding numerous and ongoing alleged violations of laws meant to safeguard waterways.

The developer of Montage Healdsburg, formerly known as Saggio Hills, is responsible for more than a dozen state and federal violations found in routine inspections starting in November, according to the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. Three of the inspections occurred this year, the most recent on Feb. 4, when many of the most serious cases were documented.

Inspectors found heavy sediment runoff from the construction site into Foss Creek, a problem that remained unaddressed over months, said Claudia Villacorta, division chief of the Santa Rosa-based water board.

Foss Creek flows into the Russian River and supports imperiled fish species, including steelhead trout.

“It can smother fish, it can impact their ability to breathe,” Villacorta said of the sediment- laden runoff. “It makes water less clear and it makes it more difficult for fish and other organisms to find food, to look for refuge, to reproduce, and sediment gets in their gills and it doesn’t allow them to breathe.”

Robert Green Jr., the developer, said he’s working closely with the water board to resolve the problems and figure out the best way to stop the runoff. He said it was caused by “heavy” rainfall this winter, something he said he could not have predicted.

“We’ve had a very heavy winter,” said Green, who in 2005 bought the property on the east side of Healdsburg Avenue just north of Parkland Farms Boulevard for $16.8 million. He was reached by phone in San Diego late Thursday.

Green has developed several Four Seasons resorts in California and Wyoming, along with other hotels.

“On the date in question, I think that was the weekend we had 6 inches of rain in two days,” he said.

He was referring to Feb. 1, but the water board reported violations starting in November and continuing in each of the following months.

Villacorta said it’s the developer’s responsibility to prepare for rainfall and contain runoff.

“The amount of rain that was recorded was equivalent to what we would consider a two- to five-year storm event,” she said, describing storms this winter. “It wasn’t anything that was out of the ordinary, for all the incidences that we’ve recorded.”

The work stoppage was the project’s second in three months, after the water board ordered a 10-day closure in December related to the same issues. The developer may face fines of up to $10,000 a day per violation — or a total of more than $100,000 a day — in addition to $10 per gallon of polluted water discharged into the stream, Villacorta said.

It’s the latest setback for the controversial project, which has been in the works since at least 2004. It won approval from the City Council in 2008, but was immediately challenged in court by residents who were concerned about its impact on Healdsburg’s small-town character and who derided its “mega-mansions.”

The development, previously estimated at $310 million, includes a 130-room hotel and 70 villas on the city’s northern edge, with plans to open in 2020.

For more information

To view the water board’s inspection report, click here.

Healdsburg public works officials have been working with the water board on monthly inspections of the development, city officials said. The city has been keeping a particularly close eye on the project because of its size and scope and location near critical water bodies.

“Montage is a different animal,” said Larry Zimmer, the city’s public works director. “That’s based on the sensitivity of the project resulting in the amount of disturbed soil, the waterways running through it and the significant changes in grades from its slopes.”

Construction kicked off in May 2017.

In its inspections, the water board measured turbidity, the sediment load carried by runoff. It found the stream’s turbidity was more than double normal levels, Villacorta said.

She said it will be up to Green to determine how to reduce runoff into the creek. The water board is still weighing whether to assess fines and how high they may be, Villacorta said.

Work will not be allowed to resume until the problems are addressed, she said.

“We did not set a specific time frame for them to fix the problems other than they need to be fixed immediately,” she said. “If they continue to violate, they continue to be at risk of further enforcement actions, and that could entail monetary penalties.”

Zimmer said city officials don’t believe the breakdowns in erosion control were intentional, but the city considers them serious violations.

“Any time there’s a violation of the Clean Water Act, it’s significant,” he said. “This isn’t a blatant disregard for the rules. It is keeping up with the very extensive stormwater protections in place. Failing to do so adequately is what resulted in this.”

You can reach Staff Writers Andrew Beale at 707-521-5205 or andrew.beale@pressdemocrat.com and Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com.

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