A prominent Sacramento-area agribusinessman’s company has been fined $1.5 million after state officials said his tomato-processing plant in Colusa County violated wastewater discharge regulations.
The fine was levied this week against The Morning Star Packing Co. by a state agency, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. The case revolves around wastewater discharges from Morning Star’s plant in Williams.
One of the leading tomato processors in the country, Morning Star is based in Woodland and owned by Chris Rufer, a Sacramento County resident who has been a major donor to various libertarian causes.
He was in the news two years ago when public records showed he was one of the top donors to STOP, or Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork, which fought unsuccessfully to halt the city’s $255 million subsidy for the new downtown Kings arena, Golden 1 Center. Rufer, who gave STOP more than $90,000, said he wasn’t opposed to the arena but believed it shouldn’t get any money from taxpayers. The arena is scheduled to open in October.
In the wastewater case, regulators determined that Morning Star had expanded the wastewater discharge ponds around the Williams tomato plant in 2012 without getting authorization from the Central Valley board. Since then, an additional 266 million gallons of wastewater has been discharged from the plant. Agency officials consider the violations significant, said Wendy Wyels, the agency’s compliance and enforcement supervisor.
“This is a large fine for us,” she said. “You could have impacts to groundwater.”
Rufer agreed to a cease-and-desist order but said he will appeal the fine to the Central Valley board’s parent agency, the State Water Resources Control Board.
In an interview, Rufer said Tuesday that he had notified the Central Valley board that he was going to expand processing at the plant, and regulators understood this would translate into more wastewater discharged.
“This is a misunderstanding and they want to make us a bad guy,” he said. He added that the water that’s been discharged is fairly clean and “there’s no indication of groundwater degradation.”