Mushroom farm runs afoul of state

Alleged wastewater violations follow county order to relocate composting

January 14, 2002



The county's largest mushroom farm, already under orders to move part
of its operation, will be cited for wastewater violations, according to state

An attorney for the Petaluma Mushroom Farm denied the allegations, the
latest in a long series of complaints by neighbors and regulatory agencies.

The Thompson Lane farm west of Petaluma is under a county order to
relocate its composting operation, and neighbors are fighting a recent
decision granting an extra year to complete the move.

San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board officials said
the farm faces citations for alleged violations of an abatement order issued
in November 2000.

The violations involve spraying wastewater for irrigation during the rainy
season and disposing of wastewater in a dairy pond, according to Bruce
Wolfe, watershed management chief for the water quality control board.

Wolfe said the farm could be fined but that it's more likely to receive
another abatement order.

The farm's attorney, Eric Koenigshofer, ridiculed the charges, calling the
board "one of the most profoundly incompetent operations I've ever seen
in a government agency."

He said the board took more than a year to respond to a wastewater
management plan submitted by the farm that included disposal in a dairy

"At some point," he said, "it becomes responsible to assume that the plan
is acceptable."

Neighbors, who have been complaining about the farm since 1983, also
blamed the water board for not properly enforcing its own regulations.

The board is "really being negligent and they should have responded.
They really dropped the ball," said a neighbor, one of about 100
residents who formed the Northwest Petaluma Rural Alliance.

The alliance is challenging a county Board of Zoning Appeals decision to
grant mushroom farm owner Dave Cerini another year to move his
composting operation.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take up that appeal on

Wil Bruhns, a spokesman for the water quality control board, said
inspectors visited the farm on Nov. 13 and Dec. 7, both times finding it
was trucking wastewater to a nearby dairy pond.

During the second visit, he said, inspectors confirmed reports that
wastewater was sprayed into an adjoining disposal field. He said farm
managers described the spraying as an accident.

Following the first visit, the farm notified the water board that it had
arranged to haul wastewater to the Petaluma sewage treatment plant.

On Dec. 3, according to a water board report, Cerini "confirmed"
wastewater was still being taken to the dairy pond, and "appeared to
understand that he did not have authorization" to do so, but said it was
too expensive to take it to the wastewater plant.

Cerini could not be reached for comment, but farm manager Duncan
Soldner reiterated that the farm's wastewater plan calls for trucking
wastewater to the dairy pond. "I don't know anything about any
violations," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 762-9667 or

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