The Times-Standard’s Jan. 17 cover story “Concerning Water” was unfortunately missing some critically important facts regarding the chemical solvent-based cannabis manufacturing facility. The proposed facility to be built at Mercer Fraser’s Glendale gravel site is in the 100-year flood zone. Also, of great concern is its location within a few hundred feet of Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District’s intake wells, which provide the drinking water for 88,000 Humboldt County residents in Eureka, Cutten, Samoa, Manila, Arcata, McKinleyville, Blue Lake, Fieldbrook, and Glendale areas.
The article says that Mercer Fraser Company representative and former planning commissioner Jeff Smith claimed at the Jan. 11 Planning Commission hearing that “the only liquid solvent they would use for extraction would be ethanol.” But a closer look at the Operations Plan and Manual for the proposed facility (see page 4 of the Planning Commission staff report) state that the volatile liquid solvents proposed to be used in this operation include heptane and acetone. Exposure to heptane is considered a serious threat to life and health and acetone is known to be a potent carcinogen.
Only after Commissioner Noah Levy pointed out that these deadly carcinogenic solvents were proposed to be used in fairly large quantities, adjacent to the water district’s drinking water intakes, did Jeff Smith, the rep for Mercer Fraser and former planning commissioner, admit that he had [conveniently] forgotten to mention this important information during his presentation. Then later in the hearing, Smith asserted that heptane and acetone would be stricken from their proposal. However, when the motion to approve the facility was passed by the Planning Commission, there was no mention of any restriction placed on the use of heptane and acetone for the facility.
This would seem to validate our suspicion that the county and its citizens are being fooled, while in reality the applicant has hidden critical facts which would certainly present a clear and present danger to the integrity of the source of drinking water for the 88,000 Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District customers. So if we cannot count on Mercer Fraser to honestly present their proposal for full public scrutiny, then why should we expect them to obey the rules when operating their facility?
Of additional concern to the environmental community is that it appears the promises made by the county early in the cannabis regulatory discussions that they would promote organically growth cannabis and restrict the use of pesticides and chemical solvents seems to have been quickly forgotten in the rush for revenue. As Northcoast Environmental Center member group Humboldt Baykeeper has pointed out, floodplains are for flood waters and fish. Developing floodplains is poor planning for a variety of reasons. Paving floodplains constrain flood waters, leading to more severe flooding and erosion downstream. Reducing natural floodplains jeopardizes salmon, steelhead, and other protected species by restricting access to low-gradient spawning, resting, and rearing habitat. The potential for accidental volatile chemical spills and other damage during floods is of great concern for the river and fish as well as our primary public drinking water supply. The Mad River is considered critical habitat for coho salmon, which are threatened by development of floodplains and riparian areas that when undeveloped, filter pollutants and slow down runoff. Floodplains provide migration corridors for juvenile and adult coho salmon. Because of their importance to coho and other salmonids, major efforts are being made to restore floodplain habitats all over the North Coast in an effort to prevent the coho from going extinct.
The county General Plan adopted in October includes a policy of protecting floodplains from development for these very reasons. The General Plan also notes that “areas not served by urban services are not suitable for a broader range of industrial uses.” The property does not have public water or sewer services, so the cannabis factory would rely on a well and a septic system in the floodplain.
The Northcoast Environmental Center calls upon all the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District water users and affected citizens of the county to speak out on this reckless, potentially very dangerous proposal. Please join us in contacting your elected representative on the Board of Supervisors to strongly urge them to vote to deny approval of this project when they meet to consider it, possibly as early as this month. Should the Board of Supervisors entertain approving this, it should be accompanied by a full Environmental Impact Report.
Larry Glass is executive director of Northcoast Environmental Center.