Special Allowance for Floodplain Cannabis Lab Sought by Eureka-Based Mercer-Fraser

Humboldt Baykeeper logoOn January 17, the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District Board (HBMWD) voted unanimously to appeal the Humboldt County Planning Commission’s approval of a cannabis extraction and manufacturing facility just upstream from the intakes for the drinking water supply for 88,000 Humboldt County residents.

Drinking Water for 88,000 People at Risk

“Water quality is critical to this community. We have got to err on the side of protecting this water,” said Director Bruce Rupp, who represents constituents in Eureka and Cutten. The HBMWD supplies water to the cities of Eureka, Arcata, and Blue Lake, as well as the Community Service Districts that supply drinking water to Cutten, McKinleyville, Manila, Samoa, Glendale, and Fieldbrook.

The District also voted unanimously to oppose the rezoning of the Mercer-Fraser property to “Heavy Industry,” since that change would allow a wide range of industrial manufacturing. e county maintains that other industrial activities would require a Conditional Use Permit—cold comfort from an agency that rarely rejects development and too often fails to enforce its regulations and conditions of permit approval.

The decision ultimately rests with the Board of Supervisors, which will consider the appeal and the rezone on February 27 or soon thereafter.

The site of Mercer-Fraser’s proposed cannabis extraction facility is in the Mad River floodplain along Highway 299 between Blue Lake and McKinleyville. Base map from Humboldt County Web GIS (http://webgis.co.humboldt.ca.us).
The site of Mercer-Fraser’s proposed cannabis extraction facility is in the Mad River floodplain along Highway 299 between Blue Lake and McKinleyville. Base map from Humboldt County Web GIS (http://webgis.co.humboldt.ca.us).

Floodplains are for Flood Waters and Fish

Developing floodplains is poor planning for a variety of reasons. Paving floodplains constrains 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 last 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.

Furthermore, the county has a very sensible ordinance on the books, which prohibits “storage or processing of materials that are in time of flooding buoyant, flammable, explosive, or could be injurious to human, animal or plant life.” Yet the Planning Commission recommends changing the zoning from “Agriculture General” to “Heavy Industry” to allow cannabis extraction using volatile chemicals.

Heavy industry simply does not belong on floodplains, no matter how safe a developer promises to be. The Supervisors should approve a change in zoning to allow the gravel processing to continue without allowing cannabis manufacturing and other heavy industry. Otherwise, we can be sure that floodplains on every river in the county will be at risk of industrial development.

Eureka-based Mercer-Fraser Co. is a paving contractor, gravel mine operator, and owner of the property in question. Mercer-Fraser Vice President Justin Zabel is also an officer of McMp LLC, the developer of the proposed cannabis extraction facility.

Tell the Board of Supervisors

Please reject this project and the rezoning to protect our drinking water, the Mad River, and salmon!

Send an email to Board Secretary Kathy Hayes, khayes@co.humboldt.ca.us (she will forward your comments to all five supervisors); or call and/or email supervisors directly:

Rex Bohn, District 1: 707-476-2391, rbohn@co.humboldt.ca.us

Estelle Fennell, District 2: 707-476-2392, efennell@co.humboldt.ca.us

Mike Wilson, District 3: 707-476-2393, mike.wilson@co.humboldt.ca.us

Virginia Bass, District 4: 707-476-2394, vbass@co.humboldt.ca.us

Ryan Sundberg, District 5: 707-476-2395, rsundberg@co.humboldt.ca.us

Thank the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District for protecting our drinking water and the Mad River!

Stay informed! To be added to Baykeeper’s action alert list, email us at alerts@humboldtbaykeeper.org and follow Baykeeper’s Facebook page!




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