Eganville – A town hall meeting about a proposed cannabis production facility at the abandoned Blackwater Factory in Foymount showed while there were still some concerns about the proximity of the playground, water contamination, odour and traffic, other area residents are just plain excited about jobs and new opportunities in the abandoned industrial park.
“We are willing to work with the community and we feel that the operations will be a positive economic impact on the township,” Mark Drouin of Delcan said at the meeting, which was held via Zoom last Tuesday evening. “We feel we will revitalize the business park, add some needed security there, attract maybe some new investments. But we fully understand some residents have reservations when these types of changes are proposed, especially on this scale.”
Delcan is proposing a medical marijuana production facility and has been working to achieve this at what has been an abandoned and some would say derelict building for almost two years. Their goal is for council to pass an amendment to “rezone a 1.52-hectare property containing an existing 1,858 square metre building to permit a medical marijuana facility.”
The proposed use is “marijuana cultivation, processing, packaging and product distribution and is proposed to be operated entirely within the existing building.”
The challenges of rural life and Zoom meetings via sketchy internet connectivity were front and centre during the town hall meeting, however, a good number of participants were able to raise their concerns. Some questions focused on the hamlet and the number of children and young families in the area, while others described the community as having a high percentage of retirees and questioned why the company would move there.
One resident, who said she had lived there for 42 years, recalled when there was the Blackwater Factory, a furniture factory, a restaurant and a garage.
“There were hundreds and hundreds of people working here and we never had a traffic problem,” she said. “I never even remember a single accident in Foymount in all that time. I am not worried about traffic and I am very pleased if there were jobs for the young ones here. At the moment, there is absolutely nothing in this town. It is completely dead.”
Another resident expressed concerns Delcan was incorporated only nine months ago even though the owners have been in the area and with the building for a number of years.
“Nothing has been done to upgrade the building so far,” he said. “They did start a roof which is half completed at this point.”
He added he has seen no financial plan or architectural plan, and there has been no progress in the building. There has been no federal oversight visible so far, he said.
Another resident of the township, living in Eganville, asked about when the company would be taking job applications, noting now she must travel to Ottawa for a job. Mr. Drouin said it would be about a year before the company was hiring.
Others questioned if there would be a priority in hiring Foymount residents. Mr. Drouin said there would be the possibility of a job fair and they were planning on hiring locally first.
“If we hire locally first people are more passionate because that is their township and their area,” he said.
Another resident said the height of Foymount and low-pressure systems moving in would be a concern with odour.
“I don’t see how the odour will even have a chance to go,” she said. “It will stick down here with us.”
Bonnechere Valley Mayor Jennifer Murphy, who was chairing the meeting, answered a question about what steps the municipality is taking. She said council would be deliberating on the proposal and if approved there would be a site plan agreement in place.
County of Renfrew Planner Bruce Howarth said many issues are site plan related issues such as fencing, aesthetics of the façade, lighting, water and sewage. This is separate from the zoning amendment process, he said.
“One of the things the township does not have the ability to regulate is odour,” he added. “You would have to pass a noxious use by-law.”
He pointed out there is no situation with zero odour but there would be times of greater odour.
In terms of the township, the zoning amendment could be approved with a holding zone until the site plan agreement is dealt with, he added.
Mr. Drouin said looking at fully enclosed cannabis operations, 99 per cent of the odour is contained.
“From most of the enclosed areas it is undetectable,” he said.
The filters and regulations mean the air going out will be essentially odourless, he said.
Mr. Drouin began the town hall with a power point presentation explaining the proposed cannabis production facility would be fully enclosed with no greenhouse or outdoor production.
“Our target market is the craft market – high quality,” he added.
The company is proposing to retrofit the entire 20,000 square foot building to house a 5,000 square foot growing area, he noted. The top cannabis producers by contrast would be looking at two million square feet, he said. The investment by the company is between $3 and $5 million. He added everything is run under the Cannabis Act by the federal government and tightly controlled.
“There is a lot of good opportunity here for a very viable business that is essentially fully regulated by the Cannabis Act,” he said.
During the presentation he showed detailed drawings of the plan, including a depiction of the outdoor image of the building which shows a modern, clean façade. He also answered earlier concerns about security, traffic, water contamination and odour.
Delcan is not using the water at Foymount, he explained.
“All water will be purchased from the town of Eganville at a rate of 350,000 litres a month,” he said.
As well, the current water waste system is self contained so all runoff and wastewater can be collected in a tank, pumped in a tanker and transported off site to a recycling facility. Delcan is also upgrading to new holding tanks, he said.
As far as traffic there will be about 10 to 15 vehicles driven by employees and other traffic will be monthly with deliveries. He pointed out when the Blackwater plant was in operation there were 175 employees driving to the site and before that when the military was in operation there were about 400 people and the impact of military vehicles.
“There will be a slight increase in traffic, but really it is inconsequential,” he said.
Odour will be tightly controlled as per federal regulations, Mr. Drouin said. All air exiting the building passes through high efficiency filters.
In terms of security there will be intrusion alarms, video monitoring, security lighting and perimeter fencing. As well all owners and employees go through rigorous security and background checks with the RCMP.
“No individuals with criminal records can be associated with the business,” he said.
Mr. Drouin also addressed concerns about the playground which is close to the property. He said Delcan will plant a tree line as a barrier and will support the development of a new playground. He noted while some structures are in good shape, the playground itself is not up to code and can be dangerous.
“I have a new daughter, seven months old; I go to the park all the time. I love using it so we want to keep it good for the residents,” he said.
In terms of economic impact there are numerous positions including management, growing, packaging, website, logistics and government regulations at the production facility. As well, there will be building maintenance, snow removal, landscaping, security and other indirect positions.
“Delcan will look to hire locally to support economic and community growth,” he said. “This holds as a very high priority to us as we have seen firsthand the devastation caused when industry left in August 2010.”
Mayor Murphy said she was pleased with the town hall meeting and glad Delcan had submitted documentation to residents about the proposal prior to the town hall meeting.
“The residents are still submitting concerns to the township and they can continue to do so until next Tuesday,” she added.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader