BY DALE BOYD
Special to OsoyoosToday
A medical cannabis production facility proposed for Okanagan Falls drew both concern and support from neighbours at a public hearing Thursday.
Duncan Gordon, chief operating officer of Sunniva Inc., a medical marijuana production company operating in Canada and California, presented a plan for a proposed facility on the former Weyerhaeuser mill site.
Two greenhouses and an administrative building totalling more than 400,000 square feet are proposed for the land. Sunniva Inc. was founded by Poplar Grove Winery owner Tony Holler, who also put forward plans for a $100-million production facility on Osoyoos Indian Band land earlier this year.
Mr. Gordon said the facility would have nothing to do with retail sales in the area.
“This is purely for the manufacturing and cultivation of medical-grade cannabis,” he said.
The site would have an initial investment of about $125 million and aim to create 220 jobs, some skilled and other semi-skilled. A “sealed greenhouse design” would be state of the art, Mr. Gordon said, with automation, 300 security cameras and technology keeping odour issues at bay.
Mr. Gordon added there would be a need to put in a substation and the company is in discussions with Fortis BC.
The proposal drew a spectrum of opinions during the public hearing staged by the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
Okanagan Falls Irrigation District chairman Bob Daly said his group was left out of the loop on the proposal.
“No member of the irrigation district was aware that this particular hearing was taking place,” he said.
Mr. Daly said he was not on one side of the fence or the other when it comes to the “marijuana issue.”
“However, I believe that any responsible decision regarding a large, industrial grow-op should be based on the latest research including water consumption, disposal of waste, energy needs and any other factors that impact the environment,” he added.
He suggested that with careful study it may be possible to safely accommodate the facility above a community water source.
“To make this decision, the directors of the regional district must take the time and do the work to determine that,” Mr. Daly said.
Tayler Thompson, who said he can see the land in question from his back yard, offered his “unwavering support” for the project.
“The numbers are there, the economic impact is there and I think to keep up the red tape and not develop this area is bad for Okanagan Falls, it’s bad for the local economy and I see nothing but good coming from this industry,” he said.
At its March 15 meeting, the Regional Disttrict’s board voted to begin the process of encouraging marijuana production on industrial land through rezoning to protect agricultural plots, most of which are controlled by the Agricultural Land Commission.
Sunniva still needs approval from the Regional District board for its proposal.
Dale Boyd is a reporter with the Penticton Herald. OsoyoosToday shares an editorial agreement with the Herald.