by Caroline Griffith
Despite widespread opposition from citizens and environmental organizations, the Humboldt County Planning Commission recently approved a controversial cannabis grow near Weott. The decision could still be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. The NEC, EPIC, CNPS, Friends of the Eel River and Redwood Region Audubon Society were among those in opposition, signing onto a letter to the Planning Commission asking them not to approve the project as proposed.
The project, Rolling Meadow Ranch, LLC Commercial Cannabis Project, which is located at McCann Road and Dyerville Loop Road, east of Weott is seeking seven Conditional Use Permits for 5.77 acres of mixed-light cultivation and processing facilities utilizing 16 greenhouses, is expected to operate year-round with a maximum of four cultivation cycles annually. Opponents of the project argue that the Planning Commission should have either ordered a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) or exercised its authority to deny the project’s application based on the fact that the Project may have one or more significant effects on the environment and negative neighborhood impacts.
Concerns included inadequate surveys for biological resources and wetlands, water usage and whether or not new access roads meet fire-safety standards. Neighbors also worry about the impact of the estimated 30 employees driving up and down a road that is already poorly maintained and not suited for heavy traffic. Also of concern is the ability of the Fruitland Fire Protection District to quickly respond to potential emergencies at the remote property.
Another major concern is that the area is a potential “high-use” area for raptors like Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii), sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) and golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). New agricultural projects often attract rodents, which are then dealt with using rodenticides that harm those animals higher up the food chain, like raptors. The presence of humans and human activity can also affect raptors and potentially disturb their nesting and breeding patterns. According to a representative for the project, wildlife mitigations include noise reducing fans and automated Blackout curtains to reduce light pollution. She went on to say that only one golden eagle nest was sighted on the property in 2003 and none have been seen since then. During a three-day survey period in early January 2020 no nests or signs of golden eagles were observed. One public commenter pointed out, “The Golden eagle mitigation only addresses breeding season. What about nesting? Human activity will be great and could cause eagles to desert territories.”
Since the passage of Prop 64 in 2016, Humboldt County residents have watched with concern as massive greenhouses and cannabis mega-grows started popping up in their neighborhoods. Though the process of developing local regulations was lengthy and local environmental groups participated in giving guidance to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, the resulting permitting process still seems to favor large grows and has failed to incorporate many of these suggestions. People who are interested in monitoring the permitting process and weighing in on projects can find Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission agendas at https://humboldt.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx