Arcata Bottom mega-grow in the works

The sire of the planned grow. Via County of Humboldt

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Major changes to the pastoral Arcata Bottom ranchland west of town, including industrial and housing developments, continued to roil online fora last week. Already on edge over the unexpected annexation of agricultural/residential land into the City of Arcata, the revelation that a massive industrial cannabis project is in the works further intensified alarm among area residents and environmentalists.

Arcata Land Company, LLC, an entity controlled by Lane Devries of Sun Valley Floral Farm, is seeking county approval for a 38-acre cannabis cultivation operation on two parcels located between 27th Street and Foster Avenue (see map).

According to an Initial Study filed with the county, the area is zoned Heavy Industrial with a Qualified Combining Zone, the new project involves only cultivation. Processing of the cannabis would be conducted at an already-approved processing, manufacturing, and distribution facility located to the north.

Cultivation will take place in four areas totaling about 22.9 acres. Some 6.2 acres of existing hoop structures will be converted from flower production to cannabis. About 16.7 acres of new hoop houses will be set up in the northeast and southwest areas of the property.

Some grading will be done at the site, along with installation of stormwater detention basins, construction of two support buildings, an unpaved parking lot and security fencing.

The study indicates that some 76 new employees will be hired to augment the 40 already employed there. However, the operation will be seasonal, operating mostly from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. from April through October.

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Water for the project – anticipated at 17 million gallons per year – will come from either an existing well and new 100,00-gallon storage tank, or a City of Arcata water line already in place. A wastewater treatment plant is planned, with discharge into Liscom Slough.

Power for the grows would come from PG&E, plus three natural gas boilers.

A number of approvals are required from the county for the project. These include:

• A use permit for the “light deprivation” and mixed-light grows. (Light deprivation controls the frequency and intensity of light plants receive.)

• Building permits and agricultural exemptions for the hoop structures, support buildings and water tank.

• A grading permit or ag exemption.

• An Environmental Health permit for the wastewater treatment system.

• An air quality permit to build and operate the boilers.

• State cannabis cultivation licenses.

• State waste discharge waiver

• Consent by the state Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.

The project is being processed under a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) of environmental impact under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which eliminates the requirement for a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

The county Planning Commission will first consider the project during a Zoomcast next Thursday, March 18.

It’s unclear how many Planco meetings will be required to process the application. Even the earliest appeal of any permit approval wouldn’t occur before May.

Pending approvals and licenses, initial building and operations would begin this year, with construction finishing up into 2022.

Reaction

A project so ambitious, with significant changes to the Arcata Bottom terrain, isn’t without impacts – and there are a lot of them.

Area residents and others concerned with land use have risen to meet the proposed installation with a range of questions, concerns and objections.

These include energy use; water use; air, water and noise pollution including odors; traffic; visual blight including reflected light from the hoop houses; possible effects on property values in the area; pesticide storage and use; and more.

A Feb. 26 letter (see below) from Patty Clary of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) states that an MND is insufficient to adequately asses the project’s wide-ranging impacts on the environment and community. Clary notes that the project application is 1,417 pages long and includes supplements.

“Any time so much information must be analyzed, a full Environmental Impact Statement is required,” Clary stated. A checklist [in the MND] will not suffice.”

Clary further raised concerns about hydrological, pesticide and other impacts, urging that the project not be rubber-stamped: “Simply reeling off the names of various regulations set by various agencies and the promise that these will both be applied to the workings of the factory and adequate to the specific conditions of the proposed factory is not enough to satisfy CEQA.”

Of further concern is the cumulative effects of other major Arcata Bottom grows pending not far away.

Other grows

Compounding possible impacts to the pastoral Bottoms are other large grow projects either approved or pending:

• The Simas 10,000 square foot mixed-light cultivation and 4,000 square foot indoor cultivation on a 48.74-acre parcel on Upper Bay Road.

• Park Meadow Estates 10,000 square foot mixed light cultivation on a 26.16-acre parcel on Foster Avenue.

• WE Produce, a 160,680 square-foot indoor commercial cannabis operation and 30,000 square-foot cannabis nursery on a 9.69-acre Foster Avenue parcel.

Letter from CATs

February 26, 2021
Humboldt County Planning and Building Department
3015 H St. Eureka, CA 95501
via email to Senior Planner Rodney Yandell
[email protected]

Re: Mitigated Negative Declaration

The Arcata Land Company, LLC Commercial Cannabis Outdoor Light-Deprivation and Mixed-Light Cultivation Project, Application No. 12255, Case No. CUP16-583

Dear County Planners,

This letter is written on behalf of the membership of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs), a public interest organization concerned about activities that harm the environment with toxic chemicals. Many CATs members live in the vicinity of or otherwise enjoy the Arcata Bottoms and its wildlife. The activities that are planned for the construction and operation of a huge cannabis factory in the Bottoms, on the edge of town in a lowland area where Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Ocean threaten vast changes to its current hydrology due to the impacts of climate change and where the environment is still reeling from the legacy of highly toxic pesticides used at the former Simpson Mill adjacent to the proposed cannabis factory and where extremely toxic pesticides used for decades in the vicinity by Sun Valley Flower farm, including many tens of thousands of pounds of methyl bromide and other chemical poisons used so toxic they have since been banned is of particular concern to our members.

A mitigated negative declaration for the proposed cannabis factory is inadequate to the requirements of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). It does not evaluate full potential of impacts, does not include a range of alternatives, and is biased towards a preferred alternative that is both misleading and oversimplified.

The proposed huge, 30 acre, 9th largest in USA, cannabis factory proposed for the Arcata Bottoms by Sun Valley Flower Farm, acting here as Arcata Land Company, LLC with both under the ownership of Lane DeVries, is being analyzed under CEQA as a mitigated negative declaration, is not up to analyzing the environmental effects of such a huge project. Not only is the project huge, the underlying document at 1,417 pages is huge and is, in addition, supported by numerous reports and analysis. Anytime so much information must be analyzed, a full Environmental Impact Statement is required. A check list will not suffice. The organization of the material via the negative declaration is not conducive to public understanding and participation in the CEQA process, as important an aspect of the process as any other part. From reading the local newspaper, the Times-Standard where is was reported that John Ford, County Planning Director, waxed glowingly of the appropriateness of the project, any critical thinking person understands the existing bias toward supporting the project and the problems inherent with such bias: a tendency to let critical analysis be reduced to pro forma approval. This should be remedied with an Environmental Impact Report that better organizes information so that analysis of the big project can be complete.

Numerous aspects of environmental impact that arise from such a huge project do not reach adequate analysis. Some of these are concerned with saltwater intrusion and alteration of the water table due to climate change-driven sea level rise and its impacts on surface water, a shallow water table, and the deeper aquifer from which the proposed cannabis factory aims to draw huge amounts of water (although the amount of water to be drawn is a hidden factor as the number of plants to be grown is not revealed), the impacts of atmospheric river storm events on drainage in combination with changes to be expected from rising sea levels, even the number of cannabis plants that will be grown in the almost 800,000 square feet of hoop house is information not provided and thus not adequately analyzed for impact on the environment. What volume of plastic will be waste each year? Where will it be discarded and what impact will the unknown level of waste from the proposed factory have on the environment? Where will 100+ cars park? What impact on air pollution and other environmental impacts can be expected from having this number of cars added to those already bringing commuting workers plus the existing vehicle impacts of the local community which utilize narrow country roads? What impact on air pollution? Far more needs to be known about the proposed factory before mitigations sufficient to the requirements of CEQA can be made adequate. Simply reeling off the names of various regulations set by various agencies and the promise that these will both be applied to the workings of the factory and adequate to the specific conditions of the proposed factory is not enough to satisfy CEQA.

To claim that (from the section on Hazards and Hazardous Materials)

“as part of the proposed cultivation, State of CA approved agricultural chemicals (e.g., PureCrop1, Regalia, Javelin) would be applied to the cannabis plants to control pests and mold. Approved chemicals would be applied at agronomic rates according to manufacturer’s specifications. Consistent with CDFA §8307, for all pesticides that are exempt from registration requirements, cultivation sites must comply with all pesticide laws and regulations enforced by the Department of Pesticide regulation and with the following pesticide application and storage protocols

1. Comply with all pesticide label directions;
2. Store chemicals in a secure building or shed to prevent access by wildlife;
3. Contain any chemical leaks and immediately clean up any spills;
4. Apply the minimum amount of product necessary to control the target pest;
5. Prevent offsite drift;
6. Do not apply pesticides when pollinators are present;
7. Do not allow drift to flowering plants attractive to pollinators;
8. Do not spray directly to surface water or allow pesticide product to drift to surface
water. Spray only when wind is blowing away from surface water bodies;
9. Do not apply pesticides when they may reach surface water or groundwater; and
10. Only use properly labeled pesticides. If no label is available consult the
Department of Pesticide Regulation.
ALC has considerable experience managing and using fertilizers, pesticides, and other
products in existing agricultural operations on the Project Site and adjoining parcels,
and has developed detailed Standard Operating Procedures for use and management
Arcata Land Company Initial Study 54 December 2020
of pesticides, injury and illness prevention, and waste management. In addition, ALC
has developed project-specific waste management and pest management plans,
consistent with State of California cultivation licensing requirements. Further, the
Project will comply with the CMMLUO performance standards, and the Best
Practicable Treatment or Control (BPTC) measures of State Water Resources Control
Board (SWRCB) Order WQ 2019-0001-DWQ. The SWRCB program and County
ordinance have “standard conditions” applicable to cannabis operations that address
impacts from the storage and use of hazardous materials which include the following
requirements:
• Any pesticide or herbicide product application be consistent with product labeling
and be managed to ensure that they will not enter or be released into surface or
groundwater.

In CATs v California Department of Food and Agriculture (re: the Glassy Wing Sharpshooter EIR) the state Court of Appeals decided that citing to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation registration process, the label that flows from that and regulations regarding pesticides does NOT satisfy the requirements of CEQA for adequate analysis. We will assume here that the same is true of citing to other regulations. Simply naming the authority and that the regulation is the mitigation needed to prevent environmental impacts falls far short of the analysis necessary for potentially significant impacts to the environment such as those represented by pesticides.

1. Comply with all pesticide label directions;” this is not an analysis of the potential impacts of the pesticide. Among the legitimate concerns about these applications is the sheer size of the cannabis factory, a million square feet. No effort was made to quantify the number of cannabis plants that will be grown per hoop house or in total.

When growing a monoculture, pest outbreaks can be severe and overwhelming.[https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161012134054.htm and William C. Wetzel, Heather M. Kharouba, Moria Robinson, Marcel Holyoak, Richard Karban. Variability in plant nutrients reduces insect herbivore performance. Nature, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nature20140] Pesticide use may be required for every one of the 1,000,000 square feet of the growing space or the crop will be severely reduced or lost. Thus the reaction in the cannabis factory could be an enormous use of a single pesticide. Even if considered minimally toxic, when used in large quantity there is potential for unacceptable levels of toxicity.

For example, PureCrop1 is, according to its website, “Also described as a nano-supramolecular surfactant, nano-sized emulsions offer many advantages over conventional chemicals in safety, sustainable results, more rapid and reliable activation and extended long-term effects.This description sets off alarms for many who have advanced scientific understanding of nano-supramolecular surfactants as part of the nono-sized movement in agriculture.

Despite obvious benefits of the power of small materials, there are open questions about how the nanoparticles used for day-to-day life may affect the environment. One of the crucial issues that have to be addressed in the near future, before massive fabrication of nanomaterials, is their toxicity to humans and impact on the environment. There are considerable debates regarding how the novel properties of nanomaterials could lead to adverse biological effects, with the potential to cause toxicity. One needs to understand when nanoparticles undergo biodegradation in the cellular environment, what will the cellular responses be? For example, biodegraded nanoparticles may accumulate within cells and lead to intracellular changes such as disruption of organelle integrity or gene alternations. Some of the crucial questions are: 1) Are nanomaterials more toxic than their non-nano counterparts? 2) Will nanoparticles transform in the environment into more toxic forms? Before nanomaterials are allowed to be used in daily life activities, it is important for nanotoxicology research to uncover and understand how nanomaterials influence the environment so that their undesirable properties can be avoided.” [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2844666/]

When used in any quantity in a large monoculture on the edge of town near already established human populations and market farms, as is the proposed cannabis factory, the potential that largeamounts of this chemical compound could be used in a space of a few days is of concern. This is just one way the potential for environmental impacts of the cannabis factory is significant enough to warrant the analysis required by CEQA. Nobody in Arcata wants to be a test animal for the nanoparticals of PureCrop1 without at least an idea of what it entails. This is why we have CEQA, to learn in advance the harms posed by an activity the government is permitting, to find mitigations, to limit, to change or to can the proposal based on facts revealed in an adequate analysis. This mitigated negative declaration fails to accomplish that.

Though we support using low toxicity pesticides as an alternative to higher impact pesticides, there really is no toxic substance that can be considered safe, especially when used near human and wildlife populations and in quantity.

Regalia, another pesticide mentioned as an example of what will be used at the proposed cannabis factory, has as its active ingredient extract of Giant Knotweed (Reynoutriasachalinensis). US EPA has reviewed studies that indicate the plant material may have lower acute impacts [https://www3.epa.gov/pesticides/chem_search/reg_actions/registration/decision_PC-055809_1-Nov-00.pdf] Acute” impacts refer to effects of chemicals that occur immediately or soon after exposure. These effects have not been determined for any of the ingredients of Regalia. Though Giant Knotweed is used as food for many Japanese, its impacts when inhaled are unknown to us as toxicological assessment was not done for the mitigated negative declaration. US EPA analysis is in laboratory conditions with laboratory animals, not in the particular environment of the Arcata Bottoms.

Though the chemicals mentioned above are considered low toxicity, their use has not been analyzed in weather conditions regularly experienced in the Arcata Bottoms. For example: Fog,acommon weather condition of the area where the cannabis factory will be constructed if approved.

Scientists have found that toxic fog, made up of microscopic water droplets containing unexpectedly high concentrations of pesticides, herbicides and many other chemicals, forms over at least some parts of the United States.

The scientists say that the fog may be among the causes of a mysterious decline of forests in the United States and Europe. They say that the chemical-laden fog, which was sampled in Beltsville, Md., and in California’s San Joaquin Valley, could prove to be more of a health hazard than the air in which the fog forms.

[https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1987/02/12/toxic-fog-containing-farm-chemicals-may-be-harming-us-forests/48769d42-510f-41aa-b497-dfcfa972b93d/]

We have discovered that a variety of pesticides and their toxic alteration products are present in fog, and that they occasionally reach high concentrations relative to reported rainwater concentrations. In our experiments, we were able to measure the air–water distribution coefficients of pesticides between the liquid fog and the interstitial gas phase. These measurements reveal that some chemicals are enriched several thousandfold in the suspended liquid fog droplets compared to equilibrium distributions expected from Henry’s Law coefficients for pure aqueous solutions.” [https://www.nature.com/articles/325602a0]

These simple examples of the potential for toxicity as a result of pesticide use on one million square feet of contained monoculture underscore the need for analysis of pesticide use for the proposed cannabis factory.

We request that the mitigated negative declaration be rejected in favor of either turning down the project or requiring an Environmental Impact Report to adequately make transparent the environmental impacts likely to occur as a result of approving the permit.

Sincerely,

Patty Clary

Executive Director

Californians for Alternatives to Toxics

707-834-4833

[email protected]


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