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home : current news : current news December 17, 2017

12/5/2017 1:31:00 PM
County approves marijuana grow
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

A proposed marijuana production facility east of Sisters can move forward after a 2-1 vote of the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, November 29.

Norma Tewalt proposes a 3,600-square-foot marijuana greenhouse on her approximately nine-acre property at 69188 Goodrich Road, north of Highway 126. The proposal had earlier won administrative approval, but that action was appealed by a neighbor. The Commissioners held two public hearings and tentatively upheld staff approval of the application on November 8, pending more information.

The approval carries conditions; Tewalt will have to complete an electrical upgrade, and provide proof from Oregon Water Resources that they are meeting requirements for water to be delivered to the property.

Commissioner Tammy Baney, who voted for approval, told The Nugget that the Goodrich Road application had raised concerns typical of the debate over marijuana growing operations in rural Oregon. Opponents believe cannabis should not be considered an agricultural crop and note that it remains a federally prohibited substance. They raise concerns about traffic and crime and the fear that operations "will increase unsavory individuals in the community."

Such issues, however, are not under the purview of county land-use action.

"Most of the concerns raised were not land-use-actionable concerns," Baney said. "You start peeling the onion and all of a sudden you've got a lot of layers. We tackled the things we have jurisdiction over."

Traffic, it turns out, was not much of an issue, as Goodrich Road is well below traffic levels that would be pushed to extremes by a new operation. Power, noise, water and odor must be addressed.

In addition to requiring that the applicant demonstrate that they meet requirements regarding water and power, they must mitigate noise and odor. The greenhouse will be contained inside another structure, which should help mitigate noise from the operation. Baney notes that "if they can't mitigate the odor, we can pull their permit. If we can smell it at the property line, it's not working is the bottom line, essentially."

Phil Henderson, who cast the dissenting vote, told The Nugget that he wants to see more detail in such applications as to exactly how odor control systems will work - and for applicants to provide tested documentation to show that it does.

"If these are legitimate businesses that are going to make a good amount of money, it's not too much to ask that they specify what they're going to use and how they know it's going to work," Henderson said. "They don't do that; they just kind of talk about it in general."

Baney noted that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has an entirely separate licensing process. While the County has approved 28 marijuana production facilities, OLCC has added their approval to only nine of those. Both land-use approval and licensing are required for a legal growing operation.

Baney noted that the County isn't hearing about negative impacts from legally approved operations. However, not everyone who is growing marijuana locally has a license and land-use approval.

"We are working to get aggressive on code enforcement," Baney said. "We know that there are illegal grow operations that we need to address."

The Commissioner told The Nugget that marijuana growing is a challenging and emotional issue.

"A lot of people who are very pro-property-rights are very much against this," she observed.

She called it "one of the most challenging compatibility issues" she has seen in land-use regulation.

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