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William Hill: Scofflaw

This article was published in the
Anderson Valley Advertiser
in May, 1991.
Reprinted with permission.

By Bruce Anderson

Courtesy: Anderson Valley Advertiser, Boonville, CA

A horrendously damaging vineyard project is underway in the hills east of Boonville. A man named William Hill is scalping the hilltops of its vegetation to plant grapes. He owns about a thousand acres of land running from Highway 128 east to above what in the old homestead days was the community of Peachland. He’s already destroyed the essential oak habitat of a wide variety of wild life. And he’s dug out a large reservoir which his engineer claims will be fed by a well and not the feeder streams supplying Indian Creek. Old timers scoff at the transparently false claim that a hilltop Valley well could fill a large reservoir. By digging this well in his reservoir, Hill’s engineer was able to avoid the reservoir application process. Hill has a long history of avoiding the oversight process.

One night a few weeks ago, Hill’s workers ignited a huge bonfire of uprooted Peachland trees and vegetation that could be seen all over the Anderson Valley and into the Ukiah Valley. Hill’s massive restructuring of the landscape has so far been accomplished without a single permit even though he’s been warned twice by the State Office of Water Quality and Water Rights to get them. The enormous bonfire, ignited without alerting local fire agencies, served as a sort of metaphor for Hill’s flaming contempt for the environment and the people responsible for defending it. The fire perfectly sums up the man’s approach to land development.

Hill is a Stanford MBA who has made millions of dollars buying up fagged-out old rangeland at, say, five hundred dollars an acre, planting it with grapes, then selling the new vineyard to international conglomerates like Coca Cola. This is what he did in Napa County. In Boonville he picked up the old Rawles Ranch for a song and clearly plans to cash in big once he’s converted it to vineyard and tasting rooms.

Aside from the wholesale destruction of wildlife habitat Hill’s “Mendocino Hills” project has so far accomplished, it is obvious that he will require lots of water to irrigate his vines. There really isn’t any water to speak of in the hills of Anderson Valley except in the winter creeks that flow down onto the Valley floor to feed the Valley’s few year-round streams. Hill, given the hundreds of acres he will plant in grapes, will inevitably divert the feeder streams to Indian Creek, the blue line stream nearest him, into the series of reservoirs he plans for his new plantings. Indian Creek can’t stand too much more diversion. Its fisheries are nearly gone from the damage done by logging and from the water being taken from it now.

If a logging outfit dared conduct itself with Hill’s casual disregard for environmental regulations, his project would be besieged by environmentalists. The timber companies at least have to submit their plans for rubber stamp review. Hill whistles right on past the rubber stamps. This project, because it’s relatively remote from view, has only been seen by a few outraged neighbors and one representative of the State Water Rights office. This office is considering what to do about Hill’s project. Hill has been ordered by them to stop, but he plunges ahead.

A Sacramento civil engineer by the name of James C. Hanson not only runs technical interference for the destructive Hill, but he is also the main man for the Huntington Beach Corporation, aka Shell Oil, which has large visions of vineyard development dancing in its corporate head. Hanson is the man who steers vineyard developments around the regs for the large wine interests. One exasperated Water Rights officer said that Hill’s Peachland development reminded him of war-time Laos. “It looks like a combat zone up there,” he said. “I haven’t seen destruction on this scale in a long time.” He also said that the project is “typical of the five-county grape-growing region.”

The big wine people have pots of money and convenient access to the highest offices of the oversight agencies. It won’t be easy to stop them, but the effort is beginning. Hill’s Boonville project will get its fair share of Redwood Summer Two attention in July and August. At the moment we are looking for someone to fly over to take aerial photographs of the Peachland area as evidence for presentations and complaints to the agencies that are supposed to protect the land, the water, the fish, the game, and the people affected by these large-scale entrepreneurs who think their money puts them beyond the law.

Add William Hill’s diversions of upper Indian Creek waters to those under consideration appended below, and we see that Anderson Valley’s year-round streams, already badly depleted and damaged, are coveted by more and more people with more and more money. Like the Water man said, “They ran all over the Napa Valley. Did whatever they wanted. The local government tried to shut the environmental barn door after the horse was out. You people are next.”

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