The editorial “Whom do you trust with your drinking water?” (Times-Standard, Feb. 18, Page A4) encouraged its readers to “examine the facts” themselves regarding the proposed Mercer Fraser zoning change to Heavy Industrial at its gravel mine on a Glendale river bar adjacent to the Mad River. This project recently was greenlighted by the county Planning Commission to allow the construction of a concentrated cannabis manufacturing plant at the site which, as approved, allows use of acetone and heptane, among other chemical solvents, in unlimited quantities, on the basis that it is the same kind of “resource related industrial use” as gravel extraction.
The readers of the Times-Standard rely on it to accurately provide them facts about proposals like this. However, in discussing the project, your editorial misstated some key facts. For example:
1. Of concern to the Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC), is that the editorial neglected to inform Times-Standard readers that the proposed cannabis manufacturing facility would not even be run necessarily by Mercer Fraser or even the applicant, MCMP Humboldt, LLC, but instead, operated by an unknown third party operator.
2. The editorial stated that the chemical solvents which the Planning Commission approved to be used to manufacture concentrated cannabis at the site were “under discussion for use.” These chemical solvents include: acetone, heptane, ethanol, butane, propane and isopropyl alcohol. However, we understand that the Revised Conditions of Approval do not prohibit usage of any chemical solvent at the site. Accordingly, the Revised Conditions of Approval (which we understand is being appealed by the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District) explicitly allows all of these solvents — some of which are potent carcinogens — to be delivered, unloaded, stored, used and then removed from the site as waste in unlimited quantities. Characterizing these chemicals as “under discussion for use” is misleading, insofar as that discussion was had by the Planning Commission on Jan. 11, and following that discussion, the Revised Conditions of Approval set forth that any chemical solvent may be used in unlimited quantities in a “closed loop system,” despite Jeff Smith’s statement at that commission hearing that acetone and heptane would be stricken from the list, as the NEC referred to in our previous My Word, “Reckless cannabis proposal could pose threat to life and health” (Times-Standard, Feb. 3, Page A4). That was a pledge that was not kept.
The editorial says that Mercer Fraser’s current gravel operation has a 30,000 gallon diesel storage tank on site. We believe this to be incorrect. We’ve been informed that the tank was removed several years ago. Above ground observation from behind their fence shows a tank estimated to be about 500 gallons. According to the County Office of Environmental Health, Mercer Fraser’s permitted aggregate above ground oil storage capacity must be less than 1,320 gallons.
One of the most concerning aspects of this proposal is the lack of a complete environmental review (EIR) that should include a risk assessment. In their rush to approve, the applicant and the county failed to provide notice to the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (HBMWD), who operates three wells within hundreds of feet of the proposed facility. These wells provide drinking water to most of Humboldt County’s residents. Even assuming that the Board of Supervisors removes acetone and heptane from the list of approved chemical solvents, who can tell us what would be the effect on a drinking water well intake in close proximity of a 55 gallon drum of ethanol (closely related to gasoline) that ruptured in an accident or mishap in the unloading process, or even worse, a drum of waste chemical doing the same as it was being removed from the site? That question was not asked by Planning Commission staff prior to its recommended approval of this project, and without a proper stand-alone Environmental Impact Report with a risk assessment, it cannot be answered.
Readers, if you care about the quality and safety of your drinking water, watch for the appeal hearing to come before the Board of Supervisors sometime in March and be sure to call your supervisor and/or attend the meeting.
Larry Glass is executive director of the Northcoast Environmental Center.