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Town consultant advises West Stockbridge Select Board regarding cannabis farmer’s odor-mitigation proposal

The consultant advised extending the project's length across the site's fence line.

West Stockbridge — The Select Board heard a review July 1 by third party consultant Mike Lannan, president of Tech Environmental, of an odor mitigation proposal produced by Byars Scientific, the consultant for cannabis grower Wiseacre, 42 Baker Street. The group decided to defer further action until additional information submitted by Byars regarding the project is reviewed by Lannan.

Following odor complaints from West Stockbridge and Richmond abutters to the cannabis facility about a year ago, the Select Board advised Wiseacre to produce an odor-mitigation plan. Wiseacre co-owner Jon Piasecki hired Byars Scientific as its consultant and presented a proposal at the first of the year, in an effort to lessen the adverse effect of the cannabis odor, a smell that occurs during a small window of time at the early fall harvest time when abutters enjoy the outdoors.

Lannan was hired by the town pursuant to its Host Community Agreement (HCA)—a contract between West Stockbridge and Wiseacre governing the cannabis facility’s operations—to “get a handle on what their odor potential is and how exactly it could be addressed or is being addressed and whether or not what they’re proposing would be effective essentially.” Tech Environmental is an air-quality odor-control consulting firm specializing in assisting municipalities.

For Lannan, the issue was “simple.” “It comes down to how many plants they have on the size of the lot, the proximity to the neighbors, the weather conditions, and any control or lack of control,” he said.

The key is what is the acceptable level of odor control, Lannan said. The Byars proposal includes a large agriculture fan and a system that covers part, or 20 percent, of the fence line with nozzles to spray an odor-neutralizing material, plant-based Ecosorb CNB 204. The fan and fence system operate together to blow the air from the plants down and over the fence line system, neutralized by the misting sprays of Ecosorb. However, Lannan recommended to the Select Board that, given the size of its growing space, Wiseacre employ a “continuous fence line system” for odor control. Wiseacre is classified by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission as a Tier 11 facility, meaning the entire canopy the business will cultivate is between 90,000 and 100,000 square feet, with the growing area outdoors.

Lannan said his experience includes indoor cannabis facilities, as well as landfills, and equated Wiseacre to a composting site or a landfill with “a large area to address.” Although he said the proposed system is standard in the industry for indoor use, he questioned if, at 20 percent coverage, the partial-fence-line system and fan is sufficient in an outdoor facility. “Whether that [system] can handle this entire area or not is yet to be seen,” he said.

Lannan posed a “fork in the road” question to the Select Board to either shrink down the facility to a size he felt the proposed partial-fence odor-mitigation system could handle or add a full-fence system to accommodate the current amount of plant coverage.

“The option to reduce the size of the grow facility was added because that has been done in other projects that I’ve worked on; otherwise, the town is left with a very black-and-white decision which is to pull the HCA, to pull the permits because of odor,” Lannan said. “I put in the ability to reduce the size really for the facility’s sake, not for the town’s sake.”

Upon questioning by Select Board member Andrew Krouss, Lannan confirmed that no immediate impact to life or health exists with the proposal and the spray substance, Ecosorb, a concern cited by some abutters. Lannan said a staggered growing system—as opposed to Wiseacre’s one-time harvest period—has been used to reduce the impact of odor. Due to the facility’s geographical constraints, however, he said that system won’t add much benefit in a field that produces an odor of high intensity and lower duration. “It’s the amount of odor that’s occurring in this short period of time that’s the issue,” Lannan said.

Responding to Select Board Chair Andy Potter, Lannan said Mark Byars, who heads up Byars Scientific, is “very honest and does a good job,” adding that he knows how to put systems together and install them. However, testing a counteractant such as Ecosorb in a lab is different from how it performs in an actual farm setting, he said, with the latter sometimes presenting other issues to the overall project.

Town Counsel Nicole Costanzo advised the Select Board that the process involves ”odor mitigation and not odor elimination.” “The question hangs on what is an acceptable odor level to the town,” she said.

According to its May report, Tech Environmental recommended four actions be taken by Wiseacre in its odor-mitigation efforts: add a full-perimeter fence-line counteractant system (such as Ecosorb) before the flowering season; submit a monitoring and sampling plan to the town; provide a written commitment to install recommended solutions or reduce the size of the grow facility; and submit an odor-management plan over the winter for the following season. Potter commented that the full-perimeter fence-line system should be installed by July 31 and Wiseacre has already submitted a monitoring and sampling plan.

“What we’re hoping to do is have a conversation to reach a point of understanding within the bounds of the Host Community Agreement,” Potter said.

Wiseacre attorney Aaron Dubois responded that his client is similarly looking for that discussion.

“I believe the plan that has been submitted and has then since been modified by Wiseacre more than satisfies the conditions in the HCA regarding reasonableness and this not being a legal nuisance,” Dubois said to the Select Board, noting the number of nozzles spraying Ecosorb has doubled from the initial plan’s 10 percent of the fence line to 20 percent.

Dubois said last year’s odor would be the worst in the company’s progression, with each year becoming better as more information is gained. Due to exigent circumstances, the harvest period was delayed this past year, he said, and subsequently occurred when most of the leaf canopy planted to obscure the odor was down, leaving only passive odor-mitigation efforts of fragrant plantings, screening, and land sloping in place. In addition to the proposed farm fan system, the coming season’s screen plantings are more mature and plentiful, he said.

Lannan voiced concern that Byars didn’t want to implement a full-perimeter system due to the amount of water consumption the misting system needed for a full-perimeter project. If there is mild wind, a partial-fence system may not produce the intended results, he said. “That’s where I think the sticking point is on this,” said Lannan, who pushed for a full-fence system to be installed this year. He likened the full-fence system to a sprinkler system with various zones that could be activated as needed, given weather, wind, or other conditions.

Dubois objected to reducing the size of the growing space and said a full-fencing system wasn’t recommended by Byars Scientific. Additionally, such a system would douse the plants, destroying their viability, and be “cost prohibitive,” he said.

“The majority of the airflow, when this [partial-fence] system needs to be on, will be going through where the [Ecosorb] emitters are,” Dubois said. He asked for the opportunity to prove this plan is reasonable and feasible. “We’re putting the viability of the project on a knife’s edge,” he said.

Lannan advised the Select Board that “it is worth letting them try” the proposed strategy using 20 percent of the fence line and a fan to draw the odor to that part of the field where the emitters will be placed. “And how effective that will be, time will tell,” he said.

A complaint website is being prepared for citizens to address directly their concerns in real time, as well as a meteorological system, Dubois said.

Krouss asked Wiseacre for a written commitment and timeline regarding the odor-mitigation project, with Dubois responding that the system will be on site in the next 10 days, installed prior to August 1 and in position before the flowering season in late August or September. The growing season is generally completed by November 1.

At the meeting, the Select Board also appointed Peter Rothstein to the town’s Vision Committee and made the Dog Park Committee an official group with its eight existing members.

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