A family-owned landfill serving Napa County is facing a $619,400 fine for allegedly polluting a nearby creek in 2019.
A proposed settlement agreement, announced by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board in late November, is based on five alleged violations of Calistoga’s Clover Flat Landfill’s use permit.
The problems include allowing tainted and acidic stormwater to flow into a nearby stream. The company also allegedly failed to properly stabilize erodible areas on the hillside facility and fix leaking equipment quickly. Investigators found that water flowing off the landfill contained excessive amounts of metals which could impact fish and other wildlife, according to the proposed settlement agreement.
Owned by a longtime Napa Valley wine family since the 1960s, the Clover Flat Landfill has become subject to criticism and legal action in recent years as concerns about the facility’s environmental impacts grow. In addition to the pending Water Board agreement, Clover Flat is facing a federal lawsuit filed by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act and negotiating a settlement with the Napa County District Attorney’s Office and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, according to the Water Board’s proposed settlement agreement.
Asked for comment on the Water Board’s proposed agreement and what improvements the company has made since 2019, Clover Flat CEO Steve Peterson said via email, “At this time it is inappropriate for me to comment on the tentative settlement.”
In October, the family announced plans to sell the company to Waste Connections, Inc., a publicly-traded waste management company with over 20,000 employees across the country. The Upper Valley Waste Management Agency, a public agency which contracts with Clover Flat, consented to the sale at an Oct. 17 meeting.
“After the passing of our [Clover Flat] founder Bob Pestoni last year it became apparent that an acquisition was in the best interest for our family, employees and our community,” Christy Pestoni, the company’s chief operating officer, wrote in an Oct. 6 letter to the agency.
According to the Water Board’s proposed settlement, the landfill generates “up to $4.3 million in revenue annually,” not including revenue which comes from processing fire debris.
St. Helena’s outgoing mayor, Geoff Ellsworth, is an outspoken critic of the landfill. After returning to the area and getting involved in local politics several years ago, he grew concerned about the risks the landfill may pose to the surrounding area, which is much more highly developed than it was in the 1960s.
This summer, he filed a complaint with the Napa County District Attorney’s office, alleging the landfill poses “significant and unnecessary fire and wildfire risk.” In September, Christy Pestoni told the Bay City News that the landfill is in compliance with fire regulations.
For now, Ellsworth is holding out hope that a larger company will have the financial resources to improve the landfill.
“With refuse management you need these larger companies that have economies of scale, but I’m still concerned that we’ll still have the same management and the same kind of poor management practices,” he said.
The Water Board’s proposed settlement is available for review at www.waterboards.ca.gov/sanfranciscobay/public_notices/pending_enforcement.html. A public comment period is open until Dec. 29.