Extra Year for Dairy Cleanup

Manny Furtado, already three months behind, given more time by
water board to remove waste from his farm
Gilroy – The dairy farmer who dumped 240,000 gallons of wastewater into local waterways last May has been given another year to clean up his Gilroy facility even as he’s being fined for not meeting environmental regulations.

As the rainy season begins, Manny Furtado is three months behind schedule in removing waste from his 80-acre Ferguson Avenue farm about two miles east of downtown Gilroy. Until he’s in compliance with an order from a state water agency to rid the farm of solid waste and cut the amount of wastewater he discharges from the farm, Furtado faces fines of $5,000 a day.

As of Wednesday, the tally was $455,000. But Matthew Keeling, who’s overseeing cleanup for the Central Coast Regional Water Resources Control Board, said the fines may be waived if Furtado complies.

“We can either fine him out of business or get him to clean up his operation. We’re not charged with putting people out of business,” Keeling said. “My take on this point is that I would rather see him spend money fixing problems rather than paying fines, though there is an argument that fines are certainly appropriate given the seriousness of the violations.”

Keeling said the major improvements Furtado has made since the cleanup order was issued in June persuaded the water board to give him an 12-month extension to completely dredge his six retention ponds of solid waste. He said a quicker cleanup would force Furtado to shut down.

Since June, Furtado has cleared land for irrigation, repaired his irrigation pumping system and improved the levee between his manure storage area and wastewater evaporation ponds.

“He’s come a long way, but given the years of poor performance at his facility he has a lot of work left,” Keeling said. “The real test is going to be whether or not he can remain in compliance with discharge requirements we’ll issue in the next few months.”

The Furtado Dairy has been in Gilroy since 1962, though it was closed from 1986 to 1992. The farm has a history of environmental violations that stretches back more than 20 years, but the spill in May was so egregious that Furtado faces a host of civil and criminal penalties.

The water, full of cow manure and compounds harmful to fish and humans, traveled 4.5 miles through the Alamias Creek, stopping just short of the Llagas Creek headwaters south of Pacheco Pass Highway. Environmental officials said the spill was hazardous to the endangered steelhead trout, which migrates through the Llagas, and a potential threat to the groundwater basin.

Furtado said in May that the spill was an accident. He said Wednesday that he believes he has met the demands of the cleanup order.

“The letter is not right,” Furtado said of the notice of violation issued by the water board. “I’ve done everything they asked. I’ve done everything we discussed I would do.”

Furtado is also negotiating a settlement of criminal charges filed against him by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office. He’s scheduled to be in court January 10.

Deputy District Attorney Kenneth Rosenblatt said a lack of compliance with the state order could complicate settlement negotiations and affect what, if any, fine Furtado must ultimately pay.

“One of the things we evaluate in any environmental case is whether the defendant is in compliance,” Rosenblatt said. “As long as there is a question, we are reluctant to close the book on a case.”

Furtado also has been sued by his Dunlap Avenue neighbor George Ekberg, who alleges that the farmer’s negligence repeatedly caused wastewater to flood his yard. Ekberg’s San Jose attorney, Curtis Jimerson, of Hinkle Jachimowicz Pointer & Mayron, said that Ekberg and Furtado are headed to arbitration.

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