Jul 30, 2020

Tomato Cannery & California City At Odds Over Sludge Removal

The owner of the San Benito Foods tomato cannery filed a lawsuit against Hollister, California due to differences over the handling of sludge and wastewater

sludge removal

Neil Jones Food Company, owner of the San Benito Foods tomato cannery, filed a lawsuit in San Benito County Superior Court against Hollister, California. 

The suit alleges that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Brown Act, and committed a breach of contract. The city says the San Benito Foods tomato cannery needs to install equipment to bring down levels of contaminants from its well as well as pay $2.5 million to remove sludge from a holding pond.

San Benito Foods accused the Hollister City Council of extortion of fees for removing sludge from pond #2 at the city’s industrial wastewater treatment plant, which the cannery uses to dispose of its wastewater, reported Benito Link. This is in breach of an agreement between the city and the company. 

Originally, the city council told San Benito Foods they would have to pay $4.5 million to be permitted, reducing the number to $2.5 million after negotiations. In the complaint, the cannery said that it has already paid $25,000 annually for three years to remove sludge as part of the permit process. 

According to Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, the issue is not about fees, but about the company’s refusal to invest in upgrades to the cannery’s well to meet CEQA standards and pay $2.5 million to remove sludge from the holding pond. San Benito Foods alleges it is not solely responsible for the sludge because storm waters go into the same pond that carry contaminants from other companies and the city, reported Benito Link. 

The water board has been fining the city for CEQA violations for years, even though the city has paid them. The water board has not shut down the operation, however. The latest fine issued Dec. 11, was for $181,110 with half of that liability paid to the State Water Pollution Cleanup and Abatement Account and the other half suspended pending the city’s completion of an Enhanced Compliance Action project which will reallocate pond #2 to the storm water use. 

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