The issue of whether or not to authorize fill to be used on a property on Highway 3A went to pot Thursday after an hour-long discussion, resulting in the majority of regional directors voting to postpone a decision on the matter until Aug. 16.
Green Mountain Health Alliance Ltd.(GMHA), a Kaleden-based marijuana licence applicant, bought an approximate 8.4 hectare former horse farm on Highway 3A earlier this year. GMHA plans to build 12,226 square-metre greenhouse to produce medical grade cannabis and is currently in the application process with Health Canada.
The property is part of the Agriculture Land Reserve where medical marijuana cannabis production is a permitted use.
In front of a gallery of area residents opposed to the production facility, Alison Ruks, senior vice-president for the company questioned directors on whether there would be such a lengthy debate around authorizing fill to be used if it was a different crop being grown.
“I really ask everyone to look at this as a medicinal product. It’s a prohibitionist attitude that is very, very common among the public right now,” she said while giving final comments to the Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen board, adding, “This is an incredible product and this is not everybody that is out there that is building a facility that wants to get kids high … There is so much more to this product and I really question if we were creating this facility to grow something like tomatoes if this would be a question.”
Because the property is part of the Agriculture Land Reserve, an application to the agriculture commission was required before fill was brought into the property. GMHA neglected to provide a Notification for Fill Placement to the Agriculture Land Commission Soils Department and is retroactively making that notification, which the RDOS is required to authorize to move forward.
Tom Siddon, director for Area D, the area where the proposed facility is located, put forward a motion to not authorize. Siddon has come out hard against the legalization of marijuana and of production facilities in either industrial zones or on ALR lands.
When the motion to not authorize failed, Siddon then put forward a motion to postpone a decision until the Aug. 16 meeting, which was carried.
Amongst a number of arguments, Siddon said he received pictures of the property where a large amount of material was taken away and then later filled in.
“I would prefer to get residents’ public comment at an APC meeting, but I’m not suggesting that at this point. We need some questions answered. I see the picture of a major excavation and we’ve been told it’s a minor excavation and I believe it to be major.”
Siddon also pointed to recently released legislation that gave municipalities the ability to regulate concrete slab use on ALR lands, which was not the case previously, as another reason the postponment was needed.
Dominic Unsworth, head facilities designer at GMHA, explained as part of the building process fill including rock and compact crush was needed to move ahead for a sub slab for the greenhouse and also covering for a parking lot.
He added a full report on all soils brought into the property was available and that no material left the site.
“As far as removing any other soils there was some levelling done on-site, but of course we had consultation with the RDOS on permitting and of course there are no soil bylaws here so we are free to carry-on with excavating,” he said.
Although the motion on the table specifically dealt with the issue of fill being brought into the property, directors asked questions related to possible odour at the facility when it was operational, the companies ties with First Nations communities, and why the applicant did not buy land zoned as industrial.
Unsworth said filters would be used to mitigate odour and partnerships are still being discussed with the Penticton Indian Band and other First Nations groups.
“We did vet numerous properties … suitability, structure, this one ticked all the boxes as far as proximity to Penticton and the valley where we will be sourcing most of our skilled farm workers. It’s a great spot,” he said.
The issue will return to RDOS on Aug. 16.