One of the world’s largest pistachio growers is suing Fresno County, alleging that it violated state environmental review regulations.
The suit seeks to halt a nut processing plant being built by the Assemi family in the western part of the county.
Wonderful Nut Orchards LLC filed the suit Tuesday in Fresno County Superior Court, listing the county and the county Public Works and Planning Department as defendants. Wonderful says the county issued construction permits counter to the California Environmental Quality Act — commonly called CEQA — to four entities under the same corporate umbrella involving the Assemi Group, Inc.
Darius Assemi, a partner in the pistachio enterprise, is the publisher of GV Wire.
Jennifer Reisz, general counsel for Maricopa Orchards, which is an Assemi company, said Thursday that the lawsuit is without merit.
“We believe we have done all the necessary environmental reviews for the plant,” Reisz said.
A spokesman for the county said Thursday that it had yet to be served with the lawsuit.
Wonderful says the county did not properly undergo CEQA reviews on the project as a whole— the parties officially listed as Ventana South, LLC, Highway 33 Pistachios, Assemi Brothers, LLC, and the Assemi Group, Inc.
The project is on West Kamm Avenue between Interstate 5 and Highway 33, approximately 20 miles south of Mendota. According to the lawsuit, Ventana plans to build the “world’s single largest pistachio processing facility.” It includes a processing building, truck dock, cold storage building, and administration facility.
Additionally, Wonderful accuses the Assemis of starting construction on silos there without proper permitting. The county issued a stop-work order for the silos on Oct. 28, following complaints from Wonderful.
In the same letter that the county wrote to Wonderful’s attorneys regarding the stop-work order, the county said the property owner was entitled to have farm buildings.
Both instances violate not only CEQA but county zoning codes as well, the lawsuit alleges.
Wonderful is asking the court to require the county to refrain from issuing further permits until an environmental review is completed and rescind some of the permits issued. Wonderful also is seeking a restraining order or injunction preventing the county from authorizing additional permits until the environmental review is completed and the structures are removed. It additionally asks to be compensated for the costs of the lawsuit.
The Wonderful Company issued the following statement:
“Everyone who cares about protecting our region’s environment should be concerned that Ventana is now violating the California Environment Quality Act as well as County of Fresno planning laws. Ventana has already started construction on a major new commercial pistachio processing plant even though no environmental review has been conducted and no planning approvals issued. We are asking the County of Fresno to order Ventana to halt its construction activities of the commercial processing plant immediately. We ask the County to ensure that Ventana follows all laws and that the County adhere to the California Environmental Quality Act by completing the required environmental review of the project.”
No court date has been set.
Assemis Sued Wonderful Earlier This Year
The Assemis filed a lawsuit against Wonderful Pistachios earlier this year. In that suit, the plaintiffs allege that the company owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick failed to pay a contractual 30% bonus for pistachios provided by the Assemis in 2018.
The lawsuit alleges that Wonderful balked at paying the Assemis a bonus because they would no longer be growing pistachios for Wonderful.