Some 300 neighborhood residents packed Whonnock Lake Centre on Monday to declare their opposition to what would be one the largest medicinal marijuana grow operations in North America, in the rural area of east Maple Ridge community.
They said the 97,000-square-foot greenhouse project would threaten a limited supply of groundwater, could bring a criminal element, could pollute a salmon-bearing stream, will lower property values, and would be out of place in the residential area.
There was also frustration that the process had kept them in the dark about the project – some said they were lied to about the nature of the operation, told it was for silviculture.
Daniel Sutton, CEO of Vancouver-based Tantalus Labs, stood at the microphone and calmly tried to answer their questions, and listened while they vented frustration.
Harold Mischke said his property overlooks the proposed structure.
“Hello neighbour. I wish I had never seen your face. Simply because it’s the wrong place. Not because of what you’re doing – where you’re doing it,” he said.
“We’re going to put you on notice, we will not go away. This is just the start, and the gloves will come off,” he added, to applause.
Klaus von Hardenberg, who started the Thornhill Aquifer Protection Study, studying groundwater in the area known as the Grant Hill aquifer, said even small wells can drop water levels in neighbouring ones.
“What concerns us most is the sheer size of your operation,” he said.
Sutton said that the company is having a hydrology study of the area done, and he would provide TAPS with a copy.
What’s more, he said Tantalus is legally responsible for ensuring no neighbours’ wells are affected by the operation.
There was a rumble from the audience, with several saying it is too late.
“We were aware from the beginning that this [water usage] was a critical issue for this area,” Sutton said.
He added that a cistern on the site would capture rainwater, up to a million litres, and be stored for use during water shortages.
He also assured residents that the company can fulfill a zero odor mandate through a filtration system.
However, Patricia Purdy noted the area does not have the infrastructure to support intensive agriculture or industry, noting there are frequent power failures and “severe annual water shortages.”
Many residents have to truck water to their properties.
“The development being discussed is not one that should be permitted in what has been a quiet, subtle, rural residential area for over a century,” she said.
Purdy also thinks the building would be an eyesore, with a barb-topped fence and security lights.
“It’s probably going to end up looking, at best, like Matsqui penitentiary,”
Sutton answered that security lighting is all infrared, so not to disturb neighbors at night.
“The area chosen for this development is totally inappropriate,” said Susan Schell, who would be a neighbour of the facility.
Schell said she called city hall after she saw a “brownish-grey milky mass” discharged into salmon-bearing York Creek, which runs through the proposed grow property, and also borders hers.
Sutton answered that he too sees silt in the creek, before it flows onto the Tantalus property.
He said the creek is essential to the facility, and the company is required by law to protect if from pollution.
“Shame on the previous mayor and council for facilitating and aiding this project, and allowing it to proceed” added Schell.
Tom McLennan said the operator acknowledges that there is a danger of attempted thefts of a marijuana crop, which is why it shouldn’t be located in a residential neighbourhood.
“If you knew we would have a criminal element here, why would we want it,” he asked. “Is this facility suitable for a rural residential area, with a Montessori school across the street from the grow-op?”
Sutton said that security measures would include cameras and motion sensors, but not armed guards.
Sutton refused to state how many plants the facility would house once in full production.
But there were gasps from the audience when he said plants nearing full maturity each require two to seven gallons of water a day.
Mayor Nicole Read took the microphone and said she, too, was shocked.
“I’m a bit taken aback by the number of gallons per plant.”
Read said there are 12 other applicants around the city, and that it is looking for ways to better inform neighbourhoods about them.
She said the process of approving medicinal marijuana grow ops has not been transparent enough.
Four applications are at the building permit stage, including Tantalus, and one more is built already. Other applications may be on the same aquifer, Read said.
Tantalus Labs must build its facility, then have it inspected by Health Canada before it can be licensed. If it is not approved for medicinal marijuana production, the company has a contingency plan for the site.
Residents are urging a letter campaign to Health Canada.