Controversy of the new proposed Topley grow op saw over 100 people pack into the Topley community hall last Monday.
Previously Alexander Mark Roberts, chief operating officer of K Town Medical Growers (KTMG), made a proposal to the RDBN.
“We’re looking at employing 80 people to start, at $20/hr plus benefits,” Roberts said at a Feb. 17, 2014 Regional District of Bulkley Nechako public meeting.
The RDBN public hearing in Burns Lake was called as part of the zoning bylaw amendment process. The RDBN is amending zoning definitions to account for the possibility of medical marijuana production facilities within the region.
A panel of representatives from the RDBN, School District 91, K Town Medical Growers and the Houston RCMP were on hand to answer questions Monday night.
With the new regulations coming into place as of April 1, 2014, Houston RCMP Sgt. Stephen Rose said, “Roberts needs a licence from Health Canada to grow medical marijuana.” See story on page 6.
And according to Jason Llewellyn, Director of Planning with Regional District of Bulkley Nechako, he will also need the property rezoned.
“Currently zoned for schools and parks, the building needs to be zoned agricultural for the plant to proceed,” Llewellyn said.
Roberts says he will apply to get the property rezoned as soon as he has possession of the building April 1, 2014.
The rezoning process was explained to Topley residents by Llewellyn.
“When [RDBN] staff receives an application, they collect relevant information and evaluate the application, looking at potential impacts around things like traffic, noise and odours. Then, they refer the application to the Ministry of Transportation, RCMP, Northern Health, Health Canada and Ministry of Environment. Staff then write a summery report and recommendation to the RDBN board, who consider the application. At that point, the public is consulted through a public hearing, which would be advertised and held in Topley.”
“The intent of the public hearing is to give the public opportunity to comment on what’s being proposed,” Llewellyn said.
“After the hearing, staff report to the board about the results of the public hearing and the RDBN board would consider the application again. Finally, the Ministry of Transportation must approve the rezoning bylaw, and any conditions given by the board must be met. Then there is a final consideration and adoption of the rezoning bylaw. Without the rezoning and the Topley public hearing, the proposed medical marijuana plant cannot proceed,” Llewellyn said.
A member of the public asked Roberts if he will sell the building if he cannot overcome the hurdles, Roberts replied no.
“No, not at that point. We’ll work to overcome the obstacles,” he said.
Electoral area G (Houston Rural) director Rob Newell presented his opinion of the proposal. “It is without doubt a controversial subject and I’ve received strong opinions from both proponents and opponents of the proposed facility.”
“As the electoral director for the area, I have the responsibility to evaluate the social, economic, and environmental impact of this project. This evaluation, along with the position taken by the residents of this area, will constitute the basis for my recommendation,” said Newell.
Newell summarized the key points he found around the issue of the medical marijuana facility.
“The school itself is central in the debate and he and members of the Topley community spent a great deal of time looking at how the school could be used,” Newell said.
Rick Pooley, School District 91 Assistant Superintendent, said that from time to time they received ideas about how the school could used, but none of the ideas had financial backing.
He says the empty school is costing over $20,000 in heating every year by taxpayers.
“[The empty school] is a burden to the school district,” Newell said.
“At some point in the future, if it’s not used, it could be slated for demolition, and for this school to disappear would be a huge loss to this community,” Newell said.
Newell said security is also a big concern.
He told the crowd that he toured the facility that Roberts currently runs in his home in Topley, and found the security system there very effective.
Regarding the economic impact and jobs, Newell was skeptical, “Eighty jobs, I don’t know, perhaps. I would assume many of those are tertiary.”
He added that if medical marijuana becomes a mainstream industry and is dominated by corporations like most industry, it will probably lose much of its financial benefit to smaller operations.
Newell said the environmental aspect has several issues to be addressed, from the deterioration of the building structure, to moisture, mould, odour and ground water.
He added that there are ways to counteract those problems, and some are already used at the current facility run by Roberts.
“The only jurisdiction that the Regional District has is with the building code, which they would apply if necessary,” Newell said.
Newell closed with a reminder that like any business, the proposed plant needs a social licence.
“Without a social licence, without local support, any company would exude poor judgement to proceed,” Newell said.
Some Topley residents commented after the meeting.
“It’s in the wrong place. I’m not against medical marijuana but that’s a residential area all around it. You have Hwy. 16, the Highway of Tears, and the plant will probably bring more crime and people out this way,” said Pauline Watson a retired Topley resident.
Dustin Bird another Topley resident said, “I don’t mind it, as long as it brings work and jobs for Topley. The guy needs to be a little more straightforward with the community. He should have talked with the community before all this happened. Then people might have different opinions.”
Patty Ragsdale, Topley resident also commented, “It’s scary. We’re just a little town and we don’t even have cops or a security guard. He says he’s got cameras for the facility but is that going to help us?”
Although Roberts has a licence to grow medical marijuana right now, Llewellyn added that Roberts will have to start the process from the start before proceeding with this medical marijuana grow op.