Mr. Morris and the pastor
Sometimes your neighbor knows what you’re up to better than anyone
Melvin Morris owns Morris Farms in the Sutter County town of Live Oak. The Web site for Citizens for Economic Balance says Morris is a “certified organic farmer, who grows prunes, persimmons and walnuts.”
He also owns a trucking firm that receives agricultural-waste products from other farmers and local canneries, stores them on his farm and then hauls them to the Highway 70 Industrial Park. There he dumps the waste onto a cement pad, where it dries to be used as biofuel in the nearby cogeneration plant.
It would seem to be a green operation all the way.
But Morris’ Live Oak neighbor, Will Rogers, begs to differ. For the past few years, Rogers, an assistant pastor who sometimes ministers to jail inmates, has documented Morris’ operations, taking photos and videos that show trucks coming, dumping and going, sludge flowing into a ditch that borders Rogers’ property, and empty containers of oil and transmission fluid lying on the banks of the ditch.
Morris confronted Rogers in July, allegedly grabbing his video camera and threatening him, according to a Sutter County sheriff’s report. And soon after, Morris’ attorney sent a letter to Rogers warning him to stop harassing the farmer.
Morris was cited last year by the DA’s Office because of the fruit waste in the industrial park and the fly ash Morris used to try to contain its runoff. He was charged with six misdemeanor counts for water violations and creating a public nuisance.
A year earlier, Morris was cited by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which discovered a pile of 374 tons of fly ash and the ag waste it surrounded was leaking off the cement slab and into the soil. The DA filed charges after Morris failed to remove the material. That material contained low-level contaminants that could have leached into the soil and made their way into the Feather River, according to a report by a state geologist.
Morris hauled away the pile after the charges were filed.
“We did send him a notice about it,” Ramsey said. “He is supposed to have that stuff on a concrete pad. He was dumping huge amounts onto the pad, off the pad and off the berm that was to contain that waste, which was then leaching into the groundwater. He was also mixing it with some of the ash from the cogeneration plant, and some of that ash had hazardous waste levels.”
In July Morris, confronted with Rogers’ photos documenting other incidents of alleged illegal dumping, agreed to pay $33,000 in fines to cover the costs of the DA’s investigation, and the charges were dropped.
And Rogers, who says he’s received little help from Sutter County officials, vows to keep monitoring Morris and his operations. In June, after a majority of Butte County supervisors turned down Ramsey’s request to fund his chief environmental prosecutor’s commute expenses, Rogers wrote a letter to the board.
“Dear Board of Supervisors,” the letter begins. “I am respectfully submitting to you the enclosed information concerning Morris Farms and Trucking. Melvin Morris is the ‘poor, hardworking and honest man who was not only being prosecuted, but also persecuted’ by your DA’s office. I say ‘Great Job’ to your DA. This case was not a witch hunt, but a sincere effort to curtail a blatant disregard [for] the law.”