Name-calling, finger-pointing and impassioned pleas to take the application to the Lumby industrial park permeated a 90-minute public information meeting Thursday on a proposed approximate 100,000 square foot North Okanagan cannabis production facility.
The building, similar in size to a Walmart outlet, is proposed to be erected in Regional District of North Okanagan electoral Area D on a 29-acre property on Shafer Road off Highway 6 between Lumby and Cherryville by Green Amber, a company whose owner/president, Jonathan Fernandes, bought the property in June 2017. He was mandated by the RDNO board of directors to hold a public information meeting on what has become a very contentious subject.
More than 120 people gathered at Lumby’s White Valley Community Centre Thursday, Jan. 31 and made it clear to Fernandes and the panel: they don’t want the facility in a rural area.
Fernandes, who had engineers and architects on a four-member panel at the meeting, tried to present his plan and goal for the site in the first part of the agenda to the emotional crowd. He and each presenter endured heckling, laughter, questions and fervent comments.
Fernandes himself was called “moron” and other derogatory insults during both his presentation and responses to questions. During one of his answers, a member of the crowd shouted, ‘Why don’t you leave and go somewhere else?’
The application that is before RDNO is a non-farm use application under the Agricultural Land Reserve Act that permits cannabis production as farm use in a facility with a concrete floor.
Fernandes told the crowd he has a background in the cannabis industry and is a former Ontario government employee. He started looking for property in the Lumby area in 2016.
“When we first started our company and were looking for areas where we wanted to establish a grow operation – and that was the business plan at the time – we looked at where we wanted to do it,” said Fernandes. “British Columbia is the heartland of cannabis production and subject matter experts in the entire country. We came out here and Lumby was one of the areas we thought would be a good spot to go ahead with that facility.”
Fernandes said he approached the Village of Lumby and RDNO about the idea in 2016 and said, “they were in favour of it.”
“They were looking for some economic support and looking for jobs,” said Fernandes, in reference to the village. “We also took it to the regional district, asked if this was a good spot for it, are you guys open to it? They said ‘yes, we’re looking for economic base, tax base and jobs for the community.’”
The panel explained that there was enough water to operate the facility, buffer zones still surrounded the area and the facility would provide new employment but the crowd appeared to be hearing but having none of it. They had questions, they wanted answers. And they had comments.
Asked by the crowd why he didn’t buy land in Lumby’s industrial park for the facility, Fernandes said there was one property available but it was contaminated. Asked if the deal with RDNO is a done deal, Fernandes said no, not even close. Asked if anybody has been hired yet by his company, Fernandes said no.
Shafer Road resident Trish Cory said the facility will bring an increase in crime and traffic, and a decrease in her property’s value, something, she said, that has already happened. She and her husband, she said, have lost offers on their home, and offers have decreased by as much as $100,000, because of the proposed facility.
“How are my children lives secure walking and riding their bikes, or the other 13 children living on Shafer Road, how are they safe from your product?”
Fernandes said the facility will be secured. He said he tried to get to transportation concerns in his presentation, but felt the question-and-answer session was what people wanted.
“I’m here to listen,” he said. “I need the feedback.”
Resident Doug Neill, who told Fernandes his application will be fought “at every step along the way,” said it didn’t seem to matter to Fernandes that families’ and children’s lives would be turned “right upside down.
“You’re still going to do this. You don’t care,” said Neill. “The taxes won’t go to Lumby. They’re not going to get any benefit from this. The jobs will still be available if you go to another location. None of this seems to matter to you. You’re hearing from people right now how their life is going to be ruined and you’re saying, ‘yes.’”
Another unidentified Shafer Road resident said the proposal was a great idea, just not in the right place.
“It’s not an area for an industrial place,” said the woman. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for our community and it gives wonderful jobs. You have put a lot of insight into, but this is the wrong location.”
Chris Bauman, a District D resident, reminded residents that the federal and provincial governments downloaded such applications onto municipal governments. She said rural Canada is going through the exact same issue and said this is an opportunity to work with Green Amber and the RDNO to make a model that works for rural Canada, then pointed a finger at RDNO.
“We weren’t consulted. The RDNO needs to take some responsibility. They were not forthcoming on this,” said Bauman, whose sentiments were echoed by Shafer Road resident Kevin Rouck.
“When the new well was being drilled, I asked the operator who it was for, they said they were told it was a family from Armstrong who was doing organic farming and building a home,” said Rouck. “I found letters of support from the Village of Lumby and regional district that were two years in the planning. They were fully in support. No one consulted me. No one consulted my neighbours.”
Nobody from the RDNO board attended the meeting.
After the meeting, Fernandes shrugged off what he termed were “blatant attacks on me,” but said he heard the audience loud and clear.
“A lot of it is NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) and I have to deal with that,” he said. “At the same time, I hear the concerns…
“Part of the animosity, I think, is from them not being consulted up front but it was never part of the municipal process. I would have loved to have gone through the benefits (of the application), upgrades in infrastructure, but when people just don’t want you in their backyard, you just gotta listen to them and not say what you gotta say.”
Fernandes, who drew a raucous cheer when he told the crowd he would consider leaving the area, said he would take the feedback to his board of directors, talk to his team and talk to RDNO to provide input from the public meeting.