Keep it Clean or Shut Down

Our View: Furtado Dairy needs to comply with clean water
regulations or the water resources board should force the doors
The Central Coast Regional Water Resources Control Board’s permissive attitude in the case of Furtado Dairy is disturbing.

Furtado Dairy’s owners were ordered to reduce wastewater discharge and eliminate solid waste from the facility after it was discovered that more than 240,000 gallons of cow feces-contaminated wastewater was either dumped or spilled into Animas Creek last May.

But enforcement officials say that the dairy is subject to fines of $5,000 a day (more than half a million dollars so far) until the 80-acre farm east of Gilroy is in compliance with the order, and they have extended the deadline to comply with the order by a full year.

But the fines might not be levied.

“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,” Matt Keeling of the water board told reporter Matt King. “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.”

Furtado also faces criminal charges resulting from the spill for which he is hoping to negotiate a settlement with the district attorney’s office. Manny Furtado is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 10.

If last May’s spill was the dairy’s first brush with environmental regulations, we might be open to an argument that some enforcement wiggle room is in order.

But according to King’s recent article, “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.”

We don’t have a problem with closing businesses with histories of flouting environmental regulations.

In addition, one point of punitive action is to provide incentive for others to comply with the law. If Furtado is let off the hook, why should any other farmer, or any other business for that matter, be expected to comply with expensive but important environmental regulations?

Furtado’s 4.5-mile spill last May endangered the groundwater basin, put wildlife at risk and introduced compounds dangerous to fish and humans into our water supply.

All businesses, whether dairy farms or newspapers, medical offices or restaurants, have pesky environmental regulations with which they must comply or face the penalties.

Here is a business with a history of flouting environmental regulations. We don’t see any reason to waive civil fines, negotiate away criminal penalties or send a message that environmental regulations can be ignored.

Clean up and comply or shut the doors.