Fresno County and a huge pistachio grower have come to a settlement that’s expected to halt -at least temporarily- work on what would have been the world’s largest pistachio processing plant.
In December, Freshplaza reported on the lawsuit Wonderful Nut Orchards LLC filed, alleging the county bypassed the state’s environmental review process, thereby illegally issuing construction permits for the massive pistachio processing plant being built by the Assemi family.
In the settlement, the Assemi family’s companies Ventana South LLC and Touchstone Pistachio LLC agreed to halt work at 34411 W. Kamm Avenue, where the proposed processing plant was under construction.
The permits issued by the county in September allowed for the erection of 49 silos and related work, but construction on the plant went beyond the approved scope, according to the agreement.
The Assemi brothers -Farid, Farshid and Darius Assemi- also agreed to put $250,000 in escrow to cover any costs accrued by the county as officials inspect and review the process, according to the settlement. Under the agreement, the county was given the leeway to further scrutinize the project, which could include issuing fines, requiring new permits and using other code enforcement powers, the agreement says.
When finished, it’s estimated the plant would have been the single largest pistachio processor in the world, according to the lawsuit. The plant also serves as increased competition to the Wonderful brand, the top selling tree nut in the United States.
The Assemi family and Wonderful have butted heads in court before. Assemi Brothers Inc. filed a lawsuit against Wonderful Pistachios and its billionaire owner Stewart Resnick in September, for an alleged breach of contract.
Wonderful Pistachios garners nuts in the Central San Joaquin Valley from more than 800 growers, including from the Assemi Brothers and their associated farming companies.
When Assemi Brothers announced plans to open its own processing plant in Fresno County, it drew the ire of agriculture magnate Resnick, whose empire includes almonds, mandarins, pomegranates and sweet grapefruit.
The Assemi Brothers’ lawsuit says Wonderful Pistachios is withholding money due to them for the 2018 crop of pistachios. The money is part of a bonus payment given to growers at the end of the season, and makes up about 30% of the overall price. For growers like the Assemies, that could be millions of dollars, according to an industry analyst.
The Assemi family alleges Wonderful officials decided the brothers are not entitled to the bonus because they would no longer be delivering pistachios to the company.