Council hears medical grow concerns

Residents worried about impacts Grant Hill aquifer

Maple Ridge needs to admit it bungled the handling of a medical marijuana plant in Whonnock, start over and move the operation to a location where there’s Metro Vancouver water, says a group opposed to it.

The previous council was irresponsible in granting a building permit for the operation on 272nd Street based on the water required, Betty von Hardenberg, with Thornhill Aquifer Protection Study, told council Tuesday.

She said the plant will require two million litres a day of water at full capacity from the underground table known as the Grant Hill aquifer, which supplies residential wells in east Maple Ridge. She’s concerned the extra water will have to come from either drilling more wells into the aquifer or rainwater harvesting.

“We are your community. Make sure you protect us. We aren’t going away.”

A crowded council chambers heard her ask the new council to accept responsibility, create a contingency plan to supply water to residents if the aquifer dries up and ensure that it is recognized in the official community plan.

As well, medical marijuana operations should use only Metro Vancouver water and be located in industrial areas rather than farmland, she said, suggesting the industrial area at north end of 256th Street.

Dan Sutton, CEO with Vancouver-based Tantalus Labs, which is building the 97,000-square-foot greenhouse in Whonnock,challenged Von Hardenberg’s figure of water consumption.

“Absolutely ridiculous. It’s pure speculation.”

Sutton said an independent water report ordered by his company and filed with the city shows the aquifer is adequate.

The well is rated for 109,000 litres of water a day and the draw from proposed cannabis greenhouse would be within that range.

The report, by Active Earth Engineering, finds no anticipated impact on the aquifer or neighbouring wells.

Sutton didn’t want to say how much water the operation would use, but said the groundwater “is well sufficient for our use.”

The company also plans to collect rainwater runoff and store it in a one-million litre tank to reduce the demand on the aquifer.

“What this report states, categorically, is that the use of this facility will have no impact on the aquifer.

“For me, that’s the end of story.”

But von Hardenberg criticized the report, saying it was too vague and said it’s difficult to predict effects of a heavy withdrawal of water. She said a bedrock aquifer can run great distances.

Sutton said when the company was looking for a location a few years ago, it contacted the city planning department and was told about several possible locations in the Agricultural Land Reserve – “9860 – 272nd St. was one of those addresses,” he said.

The old farm site on 272nd Street made the most sense.

“The city first knew about our intent to construct a cannabis facility at that location well before we purchased it.”

Tantalus received notice from the city that it would comply with bylaws in October 2013 and bought the 22 acres the next month.

The city changed a zoning bylaw in 2013 to locate medical grow ops in land that’s within the Agricultural Land Reserve in order to avoid the issues of smell and security of setting up in an industrial area.

However, federal standards require intense security and odour elimination in order to attain a Health Canada licence.

Sutton said he twice asked for a meeting with former mayor Ernie Daykin and council, but never heard back.  “I can’t speculate why the municipality didn’t want to sit down and talk to my company or myself.”

Daykin though said he can’t recall being contacted.

The company then followed an 11-month process to get a building permit. “We’ve met the requirements of the … [city] with a snap in our step,” Sutton said.

“We feel they’re looking back and saying maybe we should have done more.”

The company hasn’t received a Health Canada licence to operate because the plant has to be complete, something which should happen in the next month, before a licence is issued.

According to Sutton, Health Canada has said if the building is built the way it was explained to Health Canada, Tantalus would get a licence.

Coun. Craig Speirs agreed that water must be protected.

“I’m not sure how we’re going to do that at this point.”

Coun. Kiersten Duncan agreed that the Grant Hill aquifer should be recognized on the natural features map.

Sutton said some people may be objecting not to the fact that it’s growing cannabis, but that it’s a large, industrial-scale green house.

That leads to the question, can a greenhouse be built in the ALR, he said, and the answer is, yes.

He said, if approved, the facility would be as innocuous as a tomato greenhouse.

Sutton said the company wants to address residents’ concerns.

“We’re just really trying to present the facts.”

He added that the company isn’t considering legal action.

“Trying to sue the municipality where we’re taking residency – absolutely not.”