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North Coast Water Board Fines Four Defendants for Illegal Land Development for Cannabis Cultivators
Four developers have reached a $325,000 settlement with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB) to settle a lawsuit for illegally grading roads and pads on a series of remote Trinity County properties, some of which were sold to cannabis cultivators. The four developers/ defendants — Clay Tucker, Barney Brenner, Rincon Land Holdings LLC, and Independence Corporate Offices, Inc. – acquired the largely undeveloped properties, then graded a series of roads and pads and sold the properties.
The development was conducted without the necessary permits and made the land vulnerable to erosion and runoff issues. Sediment washed into the nearby Indian Creek watershed, a tributary of the Middle Fork Trinity River, and threatened fish habitat according to an investigation by the North Coast Water Board. Soil discharges into watersheds are a common concern with this kind of illegal grading, which are made worse by heavy winter rains, as were common in Water Year 2018/19, that trigger runoff of soils that have been disturbed. The developers and current landowners are named in a Cleanup and Abatement Order that requires correction of water quality violations, in addition to the financial penalty.
“Illegal development for cannabis cultivation continues to be a significant issue and is a direct threat to the water quality of the north coast,” said Josh Curtis, assistant executive officer of the NCRWQCB. “The settlement reflects that the parties acknowledged their illegal conduct, and we will be monitoring compliance with the Cleanup and Abatement Order so that these violations are corrected.”
In addition to the guaranteed payment of $325,000, a suspended liability of up to $200,000 was imposed on Tucker. It will be enforced if he engages in, directs or finances conduct that violates the California Water Code within five years of the stipulated judgment.
The NCRWQCB sued the four parties in Trinity County Superior Court after thoroughly investigating the violations. The California Department of Justice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the, in coordination with the State Water Resources Control Board’s Office of Enforcement.
Curtis indicted that this case was important because of the damage to the watershed. “We prioritized this case for enforcement because the unpermitted and poorly planned development of the properties caused actual and threatened discharges to Indian Creek, which is tributary to the sediment-impaired Middle Fork Trinity River,” he said.