By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Cazadero company agreed Friday to repair two Russian River beaches where it removed gravel in May as a way to groom the gravel bars for the summer tourist season.
The company, Bohan & Canelis, however, did not admit it violated Sonoma County’s zoning laws that prohibit gravel mining in the lower Russian River.
“We think this settlement is beneficial to the county,” Deputy County Counsel Debbie Latham said. “It includes a permanent injunction, and it regulates remediation work quickly before the rainy season.”
The amount of gravel that was removed and whether the company profited from it is still a matter of contention that could trigger large penalties.
The settlement was reached in an all-day hearing Friday before Hearing Officer Douglas Thiele over allegations of unlawful mining and zoning violations.
According to county zoning enforcement officers, Bohan & Canelis is believed to have taken 5,285 yards of gravel from both beaches.
Steve Canelis, one of the company owners, testified that he considered the beach work to be a public service. Some years the company makes money on the grooming, and some years it doesn’t, he said, noting that this year it lost $33,650.
Thiele subpoenaed timecards from Bohan & Canelis and the subcontractors that worked on the beaches, as well as truck tags showing trips from gravel trucks.
“If there is this illegal activity going on, there should be some sort of penalty on profits,” Thiele said. “There will be the penalty if it exists.”
Competitors said the agreement sends a bad message, that it is better business to ignore the law and then seek a settlement.
“I think they need to pay, or you are opening up the whole lower Russian River to gravel mining,” said Wendell Trappe of Canyon Rock Co. Inc. in Forestville.
The dispute grows out of operations between May 10 and 27 when the company, at the request of the Cassini family and the Monte Rio Recreation District, performed work that was considered grooming the beach for tourists.
The work had been done for several years.
“My whole purpose was to provide a safe beach and an attractive beach,” said Paul Cassini.
At the Monte Rio beach, the beach is contoured, space is made for boats and the concession stand and a wheelchair-accessible ramp is put in place.
This year, however, Cassini and the park district were both caught in crossfire between Sonoma County and the gravel company.
They were charged with unlawful grading without a permit, while the gravel company was charged with zoning violations and unlawful mining.
Under the county’s ordinance, gravel mining is not allowed in the lower Russian River. Gravel mining is considered anything over 1,000 cubic yards on a half acre.
“In terms of profitability, it is total cost, the total volume and what we can sell it for,” Canelis said.
Attorney Dan Crowley, who represents Canyon Rock, said the amount of rock taken was closer to 18,000 cubic yards, which would be valued at $540,000.
“The numbers being reported here today is grossly inaccurate,” Crowley said.
He urged Thiele to withhold approving the agreement until the amount of rock taken could be established.
Latham said, however, the amount of rock taken would not affect the county’s demand that Bohan & Canelis come up with a plan to restore the damage to the beaches. The plan includes returning rock that has not been sold, while working with the state and federal agencies that govern the river.
Under the terms of the settlement, Bohan & Canelis is ordered to pay $14,564.70 of the $23,419.60 enforcement costs and get the zoning and environment review for the remediation work.
Cassini was ordered to pay $5,854.90 of the enforcement cost and get a $1,571 coastal permit, while the Monte Rio Recreation District was ordered to pay $3,000, which may be waived by the Board of Supervisors for the cash-strapped district.
Thiele set an Oct. 22 hearing to determine the amount of rock removed, whether Bohan & Canelis made a profit and whether any penalties will be assessed.