WatchSonoma Watch

Water Quality Board seeks record fine for Highway 101 work in Santa Rosa


Water quality officials have filed a complaint seeking a $5.5 million fine from Caltrans and a Santa Rosa contractor for allowing soil to be washed into Copeland Creek during work to widen Highway 101.

It is the largest fine that the North Coast Regional Water Quality Board staff has ever recommended, said Luis Rivera, assistant executive officer. If the two parties contest the fine, a hearing will be held before the water board Jan. 24, Rivera said.

The violation occurred during a June rainstorm that overwhelmed the efforts of the Ghilotti Construction Co. to divert water around a culvert project.

It resulted in 150 cubic yards of soil being washed into Copeland Creek and into the Laguna de Santa Rosa, according to the complaint.

“The reason we are bringing the complaint is there were large impacts to a receiving waterway that is already impacted by sediment, the Laguna de Santa Rosa,” Rivera said.

The laguna is part of the Russian River watershed and the sediment is a threat to the spawning areas of Coho salmon, which are on the endangered list, and chinook salmon and steelhead, which are listed as threatened.

The complaint was issued Monday. It alleges that best practices for erosion control and storm runoff were not used, and Caltrans did not file monthly reports on the project.

It asks for a fine of $5,565,860, which includes $25,000 cost of the investigation by the water board. The maximum fines that could have been levied were $167 million, according to the complaint.

Ghilotti was extending a culvert to accommodate the widening of Highway 101 between the Rohnert Park Expressway and Pepper Road when the incident occurred.

According to the complaints, the contractor was using two 18-inch pipes to divert Copeland Creek around the culvert, despite warnings from water board inspectors that they may not handle runoff from a summer storm. A four-foot pipe was recommended instead.

When a storm hit on June 28, the water diversion efforts failed and water board inspectors said that three pumps were installed to pump water around the work area, which caused turbidity downstream, according to the report.

The contractor also built two earthen dams and used bags filled with sand silt, rather than washed gravel, the complaint said.

Neither Caltrans nor Ghilotti commented on the complaint.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.

8 Responses to “Water Quality Board seeks record fine for Highway 101 work in Santa Rosa”

  1. Little Advice says:

    Speaking from experience, it is impossible to self perform that work in-house unless they have a zero tolerance attitude with their work force. I have done projects with zero issues but it was a battle where I had no choice but to fire many workers for not adhering to the permit constraints. Complying with the permit can be done but the cost to us was substantially more than budgeted or what the estimators bid but it was a far cry less than the fines and lawyer bills for not complying.

    To comply with the permit the owner’s mindset must change, the estimators need bid the cost of the compliance in their bid verses what is done now, bid work too cheap and expect the “close and go mindset” to work, those days are over with. Glover / Ghilotti need to reeve late the costs and put all those costs into the budget, down time, street sweeping, trash and litter pickup, temporary measures, and whatever else is mandated by the permit. This includes the daily paperwork and employing QSD/QSP on the projects preparing the daily – weekly – monthly paperwork the permit requires.

    Hence we used North Coast Resource Management (NCRM) for the QSP/QSD and a Qualified SWPPP / BMB subcontractor at a cost that was more than bid but when it was all said and done, a job well done and zero fines or lawyer bills… I will say, the daily paperwork NCRM generated was equal to a tree being removed everyday and used for their daily documentation of the site, this aspect I don’t think the water board took into account, this makes no sense knowing their liberal and don’t want trees removed.

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  2. Sally Doyle says:

    It has come down to the govenment environmental bureaucrats eating their young. Doesn’t all of this strike you as outrageous?

    This is another outstanding example of our progressive, extreme leftist government here in California gone mad.

    The government power to tax and the government power to sue, is the true power to destroy and destroy it has done.

    It is no wonder more and more businesses and entrepreneurs have move out of state and this trend will accelerate. The business climate in this state and in Sonoma County is atrocious.

    The passage of Prop. 30 will only speed up this exit. Enough is enough. Moving on and moving out are the best options for those unwilling to be sujected to the abuse of high taxes, total regulations and rediculous penalties.

    Those left will be eating the few crumbs left from the hands of big brother, Santa Claus, the government taxing the poor and suing other governmental agencies over a little mud spilled by mother nature.

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  3. What are you drinking, friends? says:

    Who pays to make sure we all have clean water to drink when it’s been polluted with mud and silt? Especially after warnings and guidance about how to keep it clean.

    How much does it cost to clean the pumps and filters operated by the Water Agency? How much does it cost to clean the gravels and sand that naturally filter our water?

    Who pays to clean up the gravels used by the salmon and steelhead for spawning? Sorry, they don’t clean up so well.

    Why would any public agency give a crap about cleaning up mistakes made by others when it damages all our drinking water? or should they just can it and go away?

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  4. @snarky says:

    Snarky, in short, you are a liar. The police were fined for not adhering to a city ordinance that is completely inconsistent with state and federal law. In fact, they were in complete compliance with state and federal law.

    Just the same, the actions that Ghilotti took were clearly am assault on protected species whom we have spent millions of dollars to restore habitat for…contrary to local belief, public employees and endangered species share the same allies, because at the end of the day huge corporate nd pollution interest will screw public employees and the environment unless we stand together as brothers and sisters.

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  5. Snarky says:

    Lets see.

    The state and local government steal OUR money.. and call it “voluntary” taxes.

    They then try to steal it from each other.. in this case its Water Quality vs. CalTrans. Failing that, you can bet that the contractor will be the only one to actually lose money.

    And, a fine in the MILLIONS of dollars.

    Now, compare that to the tiny fine levied against the local police officers union for the illegal election material that they mailed out… which violated FEDERAL election laws.

    What did the local “public safety” people have to pay for their attempt to manipulate the voters ?????????

    A thousand bucks, right ? Wow.

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  6. James Bennett says:

    I met Ghilotti at the Wells Fargo Center during the well monitoring fiasco that had property owners coming out in such numbers that they had to rent the facility with a mid day and evening meeting. He struck me as a no B.S. country boy in overalls. A big man’s man, he was almost in tears. Because of everything the county puts him through. So much unnecessary expense. He cited examples, he told me it was too much. He had work, it was just too damn expensive to do business. The next day he had to lay off a couple guys that had been with him for many years.

    Now let’s apply some common sense (remember that?), what happens after a big rain? A big rain that forces a couple small mud slides/erosion?

    It’s not battery acid or industrial waste…it’s dirt.

    Paying this enormous governmental machine to put us out of business, out of our rights, out of our money.

    Are we all out of our minds?

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  7. GAJ says:

    Dear lord…this State is insane.

    “The maximum fines that could have been levied were $167 million, according to the complaint.”

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  8. E Nuff says:

    This is precisely what is wrong with government today. Too many agencies each fighting over turf and funding. When that fails start suing each other.

    Look who this board is, Activists, Lawyers and PhD’s appointed by the Governor.


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