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Tech millionaire fined $3.76M after destroying wetlands for winery

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Kevin Harvey’s Rhys Vineyards ruined protected natural assets with unpermitted work

A bridge over California’s Ten Mile River.
The Ten Mile River, the watershed for which tech millionaire Kevin Harvey encroached on.
Photo by David Eppstein

Kevin Harvey, a professional investor who made millions in Silicon Valley, destroyed protected wetlands in Mendocino County to build a winery. As a result, he will pay more than $3.76 million in fines.

That’s according to the State Water Resources Control Board, which announced that it reached a settlement agreement with Harvey and his Rhys Vineyards company last week.

“The illegal and permanent loss of wetlands and streams caused by the vineyard construction was an egregious violation of state and federal law,” Josh Curtis, the assistant executive officer of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, said in a Friday statement.

According to the settlement, published on the water board’s site in June but not formally agreed upon until today, Harvey did not bother obtaining permits for his expansion of Rhys Vineyards “in and around the North Fork Ten Mile River watershed and nearby outlying areas of Mendocino County.”

The state’s charges against the vineyard and venture capitalist included:

Site development included and/or resulted in filling and grading a stream and wetland, both waters of the United States, in order to construct a vineyard; discharging earthen and woody debris into watercourses at numerous road crossings; creating unstable hillslope conditions; filling wetlands while constructing, or as a result of constructing and using, roads and other developed features on the Property; and failing to deploy adequate erosion and sediment controls.

The illegal construction dates to at least 2015. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Ten-Mile River area is a critical habitat for salmon spawning and the subject of an aggressive restoration campaign.

In total, Harvey agrees to pay $3,763,391, “of [which] the discharger will pay $1,674,515 to the State Water Resources Control Board ’s Cleanup and Abatement Account, $37,500 to the State Water Board Water Rights Fund, $183,378.55 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, $118,824 to The Nature Conservancy, and $87,797.45 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.”

The other $1.65 million-plus goes toward a conservation program yet to be implemented.

In 2015, when the work began, Wallmine estimated Harvey’s personal fortune at $4.81 million. Forbes reports that he’s sold companies to the likes of Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, AT&T, and Yahoo.

According to the winery’s site, the label has seven estates, six in the Santa Cruz Mountains and one in Anderson Valley.