The Sonoma County Ag commissioner’s office has ordered work stopped at the site of the Paul Hobbs vineyard conversion on Watertrough Road after a complaint of water runoff in the wake of storms earlier this week.
County and Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) officials investigating the complaint found that sediment had been washed into the creek on the property and further that Hobbs had cleared riparian vegetation along the creek.
“We discovered that there were not adequate measures taken to address runoff,” Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar said. “Bottom line is, the project manager should be prepared for any rain event.”
The vegetation removal that was discovered also violated the terms of the project’s permit that requires a 50-foot setback from the creek, according to Linegar.
“There was a significant amount of vegetation removal,” he said. “This was a serious breach of our agreement.”
Linegar added that the matter is “unfolding,” and is being investigated by several government agencies, including RWQCB, California Fish and Wildlife and possibly even the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“Certainly there will be action,” Linegar said. “The grape-growing community at large condemns this sort of activity. He is not representative of the grape growers at large.”
The conversion began earlier this month on the 40-acre property surrounding the Twin Hills Union School District campus that includes Apple Blossom School, Tree House Hollow Pre-school, Orchard View School and SunRidge Charter School.
There has been an uproar over the conversion by parents in the district and activists in the Sebastopol area over pesticides found in the soil and fears of the use of pesticides in the vineyard.
The local vintner has had some high-profile dustups over vineyard conversions in other parts of the West County.
His long-running issues with former neighbor John Jenkel led to the conversion of Jenkel’s Graton property into vineyards and in October 2011, Hobbs cleared Davis Christmas Tree Farm in Graton, leading to a public castigation from 5th District Supervisor Efren Carrillo.
Hobbs’ Marketing and Public Relations Manager Tara Sharp was unavailable for comment.