Company states cannabis facility is still ‘off the table’


A Humboldt County Planning Commission meeting set for Thursday evening will address sweeping zoning changes across the county and is concerning some residents about potential changes, which could mean the revival of a cannabis manufacturing facility project at a Mercer-Fraser Co. site.

The 55-page document accompanying the agenda for the planning commission includes requests for zoning changes by the owners of 30 parcels across the county. Among those parcels are several owned by Mercer-Fraser, including a gravel quarry in the Glendale area, which was the site of a previously proposed cannabis facility.

For Mercer-Fraser’s part, the company’s CEO Justin Zabel said the zoning changes have nothing to do with the cannabis facility, which is a no-go at this point.

“That’s off the table,” Zabel said of plans for a cannabis manufacturing facility.

Nevertheless, groups including Humboldt Baykeeper and Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District are concerned about what rezoning for heavy industrial sites could mean for the Mad River.

A special meeting was called by the water district board on Wednesday afternoon, and the board voted to request the staff draft a letter outlining concerns.

“The board directed staff to prepare a letter to the county planning commission detailing how designating the properties in the Mad River watershed is inconsistent with other county policies and poses a threat to the Mad River water quality,” District General Manager John Friedenbach said.

He said he planned to deliver the letter to the planning commission on Thursday evening.

About 88,000 residents depend on the watershed for water, approximately two-thirds of Humboldt County residents, Friedenbach said.

The property would be rezoned to heavy industrial with a special designation that Humboldt Baykeeper Executive Director Jennifer Kalt said would allow for cannabis manufacturing.

“A heavy industry is the zone that they are changing it to. They claim they are putting a ‘Q’ on to restrict it to cannabis,” she said.

But her primary concern she said is that after the rezone, there could be no further environmental reviews of the parcel.

“The way this county operates,” she said, “when something is developed with industrial uses, they say ‘well, it’s already industrial. We can add this that and the other.'”

She also noted that the way the zoning request is introduced makes it somewhat inaccessible to most local residents.

“A really big question is why isn’t there more information that is easily accessible to the public,” she said. “You can scroll through all these pages and I have been following land use planning issue for years and it was somewhat incomprehensible to me what was being changed.”

 

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The Humboldt County Planning Commission is set to consider sweeping zoning changes at its meeting tomorrow for hundreds of thousands of acres of properties throughout the county.


The zoning text amendments and reclassifications are being proposed to implement the county’s general plan update, which the board passed last year. But they are coming before the planning commission tomorrow night along with 30 owner-requested zoning changes, including a couple from Mercer-Fraser Co. that some worry will re-open the door to a controversial proposal to build a cannabis manufacturing facility along the Mad River near where the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District pulls the area’s drinking water.


Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt said she’s still reviewing the agenda packet for tomorrow’s meeting but indicated the owner-requested zoning changes are of primary concern to her, noting that they include about a dozen requests to rezone gravel queries throughout the county in a way that would accommodate cannabis manufacturing as well. 


And Kalt said it’s important to remember that this is essentially the last chance for public input and review for these projects, noting that once zoning changes are adopted some uses become principally permitted, meaning they are not subject to conditional use or environmental review processes. As an example, she pointed to the rezoning of a property on McKinleyville’s Murray Road that is now the future home of a Dollar General store, which despite some widespread neighborhood concerns is now principally permitted.


The primary concern of many looking at tomorrow night’s agenda is the Mercer-Fraser Co. property in Glendale. 


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In November, Humboldt Baykeeper filed an appeal to the California Coastal Commission of Mercer Fraser's asphalt plant at Big Lagoon. Mercer-Fraser Co. has waived the deadline for the appeal hearing. We will keep you informed of next steps.

Photo: Asphalt plant east of Big Lagoon operating under a temporary permit in 2017.

The Humboldt County Planning Commission has approved plans for the continued operation of an asphalt plant less than a half-mile from iconic Big Lagoon despite objections that all the relevant data about the plant has not yet been received and over requests to postpone the decision until next month.

 

The plant has been operating for several months on an expired permit. 

 

With commissioners Alan Bongio and Brian Mitchell absent, and after a motion to postpone the vote failed, the permit passed with a 4-1 vote, with Noah Levy dissenting.

 

Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt thought it would be prudent to know just what chemicals might be contaminating the site, and in mid-August, asked the Planning Department for further information. She followed her initial queries with a California Public Records Act request and was promised her information by Sept. 24, four days after the commission was scheduled to act on the application. She asked the commission to postpone the hearing until after the requested information has been received. 

 

Kalt also noted that the project area is home to several endangered species including coho and Chinook salmon, and cutthroat trout. She was concerned about possible flood risks and what hazardous materials may exist on the site. 

 

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An eight-year-old lawsuit filed against PG&E Co. for alleged releases of dioxin from stored utility poles into San Francisco Bay and Humboldt Bay has been settled, according to the environmental group that filed the lawsuit.

 

The Ecological Rights Foundation, based in Garberville (Humboldt County), alleged in its 2010 lawsuit that dioxin, a chemical that causes cancer and birth defects, was carried by storm water runoff from treated wooden utility poles, sawdust and wood waste into the two bays. The settlement was signed by U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco on Friday and announced by the foundation on Monday.

 

Under the agreement, which will remain in effect through 2026, PG&E will identify storage yards containing treated poles and will test and implement technologies for reducing dioxin runoff to levels that pose lower risk to human health and wildlife.

 

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