Friday, January 12, 2018

UPDATE: Blue Lake Area Rezoning Could Threaten Water Supply, Says District Manager

Posted By on Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 3:48 PM

UPDATE: The Humboldt County Planning Commission ultimately approved the project that will see Mercer Fraser establish a cannabis extraction process near where much of Humboldt County sources its water along the Mad River.

Several members of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District Board, as well as community members, attended the public comment session to voice their disapproval. Because the site is in a 100-year flood plain, there is some concern that an emergency would dump solvents into the county water system, impacting the health of two thirds of those who rely on municipal drinking water.

“There’s plenty of existing industrial property in Humboldt for this to go,” said Friedenbach. “Just not here.”

Speaking for Mercer Fraser, Jeff Smith responded to concerns by insisting that the updated general plan had changed land use in the parcel, meaning it must be rezoned to be consistent with its current use.

Planning Commissioner Noah Levy said he found this argument ironic.

“I don’t want to disregard the importance of getting the zoning right,” he said. “There’s been a decades long gravel zoning on this parcel. That’s not squaring up the existing land use with the zoning as I see it.”

After more than an hour of discussion, Levy joined At Large Commissioner David Edmonds to vote no on the item. They were outnumbered by Robert Morris, Ben Shepherd and Kevin McKenny, with representatives Alan Bongio and Brian Mitchell abstaining. The project proposal will next appear before the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors for approval.


The Humboldt County Planning Commission meets tonight to discuss a slate of items, including an 18,676-square-foot cannabis grow in Miranda, changes to the Commercial Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance and the rezoning of a Blue Lake gravel pit owned by Mercer Fraser Co. that will also allow the company to launch its own cannabis edibles line. This final item has drawn the attention of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, whose general manager, John Friedenbach, said in an email to the Journal that the requested zoning change — from Agricultural to Heavy Industrial — may have consequences for most of Humboldt County's drinking water.

The parcel, which is on Glendale Drive between Blue Lake and Arcata, is adjacent to the Mad River and, according to Friedenbach, between the HBMWD's collector's 2 and 3, as well as immediately upstream from Collector 1 and Industrial Station 6's surface water intake. What this means, according to Friedenbach, is heavy industrial activities "have the potential to negatively impact the integrity of our drinking water source for our district and 88,000 residents of Humboldt County."

HBMWD intends to ask the the planning commission to pull the item from its consent agenda — which usually consists of routine items passed in one action without discussion — so it can be discussed publicly, giving residents the opportunity to weigh in. According to the text of the staff report on the item, the zone reclassification is intended to "better reflect the existing use of the property as Mercer Fraser Co.'s gravel yard and concrete batch plant operations." The zoning reclassification is coupled with approval of a special permit for a 5,000-square-foot cannabis processing facility that will include a commercial kitchen for making edibles.

"The volatile compounds used in their processing (heavy industrial) is a major concern to us as is any future potential heavy industrial use," Friedenbach said in his email.

The Journal has reached out to both Friedenbach and Mercer Fraser for further comment. Reviewing the item, it does not appear that Mercer Fraser is expanding its gravel and concrete operations, but rather the land must be rezoned to accommodate cannabis manufacturing. The report includes the recommendation that the extraction facility use a closed-loop system for any solvents —the operations plan indicates butane, propane, CO2, ethanal and isopropanol will be used — disposing them off-site. According to the report, the full  text which can be found here, staff found "there is no substantial evidence that the proposed project will have a significant effect on the environment."

The Blue Lake Rancheria, County Department of Public Works, County Division of Environmental Health and North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board have all added their comments to the item. The planning commission will meet tonight at 6 p.m. in the Board of Supervisor's Chambers.

Editor's note: This post originally referred to the proposed site as being in Blue Lake when, in fact, the property is in Glendale, which is in the Blue Lake area but not within its jurisdiction. The Journal regrets any confusion.
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About The Author

Linda Stansberry

Linda Stansberry

Linda Stansberry was a staff writer of the North Coast Journal from 2015 to 2018. She is a frequent contributor the the Journal and our other publications.

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