Update from LoCo:
Mercer-Fraser Withdraws Controversial Plans for Glendale Cannabis Extraction Plant and Rezone Request
Mercer-Fraser has abandoned plans to build a 5,000 square-foot marijuana manufacturing facility on a 13.5 acre parcel along the Mad River between Glendale Dr. and West End Rd. | Image courtesy County of Humboldt.
In a surprise announcement Wednesday morning, Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg tells the Outpost that Mercer-Fraser Co. has withdrawn plans for a controversial cannabis extraction facility along the banks of the Mad River, near Glendale, as well as a request to rezone the property heavy industrial.
Humboldt County Planning and Building Director John Ford confirms that the county received a letter from Mercer-Fraser’s attorney Tuesday night withdrawing both the proposed plans for a cannabis extraction facility and the request to have the property rezoned from agricultural to heavy industrial.
The project, which was narrowly approved by the Humboldt County Planning Commission earlier this year, has drawn a great deal of public scrutiny as well as an official appeal from the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (HBMWD), whose leadership has argued that heavy industrial use on the property threatens to “adversely affect the domestic drinking water supply for nearly two thirds of the population of Humboldt County.”
Reached by phone this morning, HBMWD General Manager John Friedenbach said he had not heard of Mercer-Fraser’s plans to abandon the project.
“I’m surprised,” he said before quickly adding, “I reserve final judgment pending seeing that in writing.” Friedenbach added that if it proves to be true, “obviously the district is very glad to hear that.”
Sundberg recently has been alluding to an agreement that would please everybody, though earlier this week Mercer-Fraser President Justin Zabel said he couldn’t discuss what was in the works.
“We’re working on a good solution right now,” Zabel said on Monday. “So I guess stay tuned.”
He went on to say that he felt the project has been largely misunderstood, especially the request to rezone the property heavy industrial, which he said was a natural extension of changes made to the the underlying land use designation during the county’s general plan update.
Mercer-Fraser has operated a gravel yard and concrete batch plant on the premises for years.
“People talk about how the public should know what’s going on; this general plan [update] was going on for 10 years,” Zabel said, noting that Mercer-Fraser and other property owners in the Glendale region filed rezone requests as part of the open public process.
Zabel added that the company had no plans to operate the proposed cannabis extraction facility itself; rather, it was building it to lease. The proposal proved controversial largely because of plans to use volatile solvents, including butane, propane and carbon dioxide, in the extraction process.
HBMWD staff said heavy industrial activity near their Ranney Collectors (pump houses) threatened to contaminate the drinking water for up to two-thirds of the population of Humboldt County. These pump houses draw water up from the aquifer through the sands and gravel of the riverbed, providing filtered drinking water to residents of Eureka, Arcata, McKinleyville, Blue Lake, Manila and other communities in the north bay region.
Mercer-Fraser’s property sits within the Mad River’s 100-year flood zone, though Zabel said the company had agreed to build the cannabis extraction facility two feet above that designated elevation and had gone above and beyond state regulations in designing a septic disposal system.
“I am very happy to have this issue come to a successful conclusion,” Sundberg said. “It took a little more time because Mercer-Fraser wanted to look into withdrawing both the permit and the rezone. I want to thank them for working with me through the issues and their responsiveness to the community.”
Except will Mercer-Fraser bring this back in the near future after the election?
Mercer-Fraser’s Justin Zabel
Sundberg and Zabel continue to delay appeal hearing over Mercer-Fraser “hash lab” on the Mad
Mercer-Fraser’s Justin Zabel in cahoots with Ryan Sundberg continue to tease a resolution of the standoff with the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District over the potential threat to the water supply for two-thirds of Humboldt County water users. The Examiner asks; How can there be this great resolution if HBMWD isn’t aware of said resolution.
It seems to us that Ryan is just trying to kick the can down the road past the contested election for his 5th district seat.
Decision on pot facility expected
Sundberg “I think everybody will be happy’ with the resolution”
The Mercer-Fraser Company is expected to make an announcement Tuesday about its controversial proposal to build a cannabis manufacturing facility in Glendale upriver from a local drinking water supply pump that provides water to two-thirds of county residents, according to 5th District Humboldt County Supervisor and Board Chairman Ryan Sundberg.
Sundberg said he has been working with the company and the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District — which supplies water to about 88,000 residents — in an attempt to resolve the water district’s concerns with the project.
“I think everybody will be happy with this. Nothing has changed,” Sundberg told the Times-Standard on Monday afternoon.
Mercer-Fraser CEO Justin Zabel said in an email to the Times-Standard on Monday evening a recent meeting with the county planning department and the water district was “very productive.” “We were finally able to have another meeting to meet and confer with county planning last week to discuss the entire application, rather than just the special permit application pursuant to our previous meetings and discussions with the water district and others,” Zabel wrote. “The meeting was very productive which will allow us to address the concerns shortly.”
The district and its seven municipal customers have expressed concern that the facility and a proposed zoning change at the property could potentially allow industrial contaminants to make their way into the groundwater or drinking water. The company has stated local and state regulations require safe containment of any chemicals used at the facility and that any future industrial uses at the property would have to be approved through a publicly vetted permitting process. The project has been on hold as the water district and Mercer-Fraser staff discuss potential resolutions. Last week, the water district’s General Manager John Friedenbach said that they had reached a verbal agreement on March 19, but that Mercer-Fraser has since changed its stance and the resolution talks had fallen through. As to whether Mercer-Fraser had agreed to pull the project entirely or modify it, Friedenbach declined comment both last week and again Monday. Sundberg also deferred comment to Mercer-Fraser.
Sundberg said he was disappointed in Friedenbach’s statements last week because nothing has changed about the agreement struck in March.
Mercer-Fraser staff met with county Planning and Building Director John Ford on April 9 to discuss more options, Sundberg said.
“They wanted to look at more options than just removing one permit,” Sundberg said. As to Tuesday’s expected announcement, Friedenbach said, “We’ll just wait and see what the announcement contains.”
The water district was also contacted by Mercer- Fraser’s attorney last week informing them the district’s hired counsel at Pioneer Law Group in Sacramento had a conflict of interest. The law firm had represented Mercer-Fraser more than 10 years ago but did not inform the water district, according to Friedenbach.
The district had retained the Sacramento law firm rather than its normal Eureka firm Mitchell, Brisso, Delaney, and Vrieze because the firm had previously represented Mercer- Fraser Company.
Friedenbach said that the water district’s board of directors voted Thursday to retain the Sacramento- based Thomas Law Group to replace Pioneer Law Group.