Petaluma Mushroom Farm

The Mushroom Growers' Newsletter
Volume X Number 11 March 2002

According to The Press Democrat, January 16, and the Petaluma Argus-Courier, February 6, the Petaluma Mushroom Farm, Petaluma, California, has been given a firm deadline to shut down the composting operations at its Thompson Lane site. The farm has been in operation at the site since 1973 and currently is producing about 100,000 pounds of Agaricus mushrooms per week. Nearby residents have been complaining of odors and water pollution from the farm for several years. The farm faces a California Regional Water Control Board Notice to Comply (January 6, 1999), a California Regional Water Control Board Notice of Violation (April 30, 1999), a Superior Court Judgement and Permanent Injunction (September 23, 1999), a Cleanup and Abatement Order (November 1, 2000) and amendments to that order (January 14, 2002).

According to a July 27, 2000 letter from the California Regional Water Control Board to Sonoma county, and a December 21, 2001 inspection report, these actions were based upon findings of:
apparent deliberate discharge of wastewater to Marin Creek
excessive discharge of wastewater to a pasture
improper operation of a waste water holding pond
failure to report spill incidents
operating the sewage disposal system at twice its permitted capacity
hauling wastewater to a wastewater holding pond at a nearby dairy without authorization
The firm is subject to penalties of $10,000 per day plus $20 for each gallon discharged.

In addition to the actions taken by the State, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors met on January 16, 2002 and, in a unanimous vote, gave the firm until July 1 to find a new site or get an outside supplier for its compost. They over-ruled the County Board of Zoning Appeals that had established a November 2000 deadline which was subsequently extended to November 2001 and then November 2002.

The owner of the farm, David Cerini, did complete a larger retaining wall to keep the waste out of the waterways. Cerini has also proposed construction of a state-of-the-art composting operation at another site. That proposal met with opposition from adjacent landowners. Cerini's attorney indicated that no one has come forward to sell compost to the farm and he estimated that it would be at least a year before the compost operation can be relocated. The owners expect to come back to the County Supervisors asking for another extension. If the county holds firm, it is likely that the farm will shut down in July putting its 80 employees out of work while it proceeds with development of the new compost facility. Even if the shutdown is temporary, the farm will immediately loose its market to other suppliers and will need to compete strongly to regain them later. The farm's neighbors were happy with the outcome, but reluctant to celebrate until the problems are ultimately resolved.

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