Water regulators seek $4M fine for millions of gallons discharged at Healdsburg hotel, housing project

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Nearly a year after construction was halted a second time at a large resort project at the north end of Healdsburg when water-quality regulators allegedly found millions of gallons of sediment-filled stormwater running off into Russian River tributaries, the agency announced it is pursuing a $4.9 million fine against the developer.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board on Tuesday filed an administrative complaint against Sonoma Luxury Resort LLC, which is building a 150-room hotel and 70 homes at the 258-acre Montage Healdsburg project, formerly Saggio Hills. The developer, managed by Delawie in San Diego, has until Feb. 20 to decide if it will contest the fine at a hearing in mid-April, pay it or propose a settlement.

A spokesperson for Delawie declined to comment immediately, asking for written questions.

The agency said its staff observed the developer "consistently failed to use best management practices (BMPs) to prevent or minimize pollutants from discharging off site and documented egregious violations over many months." The result was an estimated 6.6 million gallons of highly turbid water — sediment and other runoff material — going into Foss Creek, a tributary to the Russian River.

Foss Creek and drainage to Russian River supports protected fish species such as steelhead trout.

“There were substantial impacts to water quality, and the proposed fine reflects those impacts,” Claudia Villacorta, board assistant executive officer, said in the news release. “Had the developer complied with the stormwater permit, impacts to water quality — and our subsequent enforcement actions — could have been avoided."

Construction was halted in December 2018 after inspectors started noticing a month prior that best management practices for managing erosion in line with issued permits weren't being checked for effectiveness. Problems were found again in January 2019, leading to another stoppage the following month.

Maximum fines in such cases can be $10,000 per violation per day plus $10 per gallon of untreated runoff that made it into the waterway.

The Saggio Hills project was started in 2004 and approved by the Healdsburg City Council in 2008, according to The Press Democrat. Local residents then challenged the approval in court.

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