A lack of transparency with senior government ministries coupled with misleading information circulated by Maple Ridge city hall staff over the past two years has resulted in a pitched battle between Whonnock residents and the developer of a proposed medical marijuana grow op.
An overflow crowd of close to 350 people packed Whonnock Memorial Hall recently to hear the proposed grow op developer, Daniel Sutton, present his side of the story. But his explanation fell mostly on deaf ears as speaker after speaker expressed their solid opposition to the development.
The residents claim they were told several times by city hall staff and Sutton that the proposal was to develop a silviculture operation, but at a later date learned that instead the intent is to develop a huge medical marijuana grow op.
Many speakers said they weren’t opposed to the development, but will remain adamantly opposed to its location in Whonnock.
The bulk of the residents’ concerns centered around the potential threat to domestic water supplies, which are drawn from the Grant Hill aquifer, York Creek, Whonnock Creek and groundwater wells, coupled with the possible environmental dangers from the runoff of contaminated water. A 600-foot deep well has already been drilled on the property. One estimate places the grow op demand as high as 250,000 gallons a day.
One nearby resident later said he wasn’t originally concerned because he thought it was a silviculture development, which requires only a small fraction of the amount of water compared to what the grow op would use.
The property was formerly the site of a turkey farm. Sutton originally told nearby residents that he was going to carry out soil remediation on the farm, but the residents claim he did the opposite and covered it with several feet of gravel.
One of the residents claimed that the original proposal called for construction of a 40,000 square-foot building, but that could increase in size to 96,000 square-feet once the required federal license has been secured.
Organizers of the public meeting pointed out that there appears to be no requirement in regulation or law to notify the residents of the details of the proposal.
The property lies within the agricultural land reserve and, as a result of recent changes made by the province concerning allowable uses within the reserve, no notice or other indication of the intended use had to be delivered to either the city or nearby residents.
The license, which is required before the operation can begin, is entirely within the jurisdiction of Health Canada.
The only time the city becomes officially involved is upon application for a building permit.
It is that lack of transparency and misinformation from city hall that has residents up in arms.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read and four members of city council attended the meeting, which was the largest public meeting in the history of Whonnock and one of the largest in recent memory anywhere in the city.
One of the ironies of the current controversy is the apparent acquiescence of the past city council to the grow op application, while at the same time they vigorously opposed the operation of an executive length golf course by now Coun. Gordy Robson, even though he claimed at that time that the operation was also a permitted use within the agricultural land reserve.
Apparently growing dope was alright with the previous city council, but playing golf wasn’t. Go figure.
Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.