Stakes are high for Basalt marijuana farm, neighbors
In less than three weeks, High Valley Farms will learn whether it will remain in business.
The fate of the marijuana greenhouses, however, isn’t about rent spikes, plummeting revenue or dying business. Instead, this high-stakes battle, which has played out in a series of Pitkin County commissioners meetings over the year, concerns the skunk-like pot odors the greenhouses have been generating since they began operating in March.
Nearby residents, chiefly those who live in the Holland Hills subdivision across Highway 82 from the four greenhouses, have claimed the smell has negatively impacted their property values. Some neighbors said they can’t enjoy such summer pursuits as cook-outs due to the smell. Others said they can’t keep their windows open. And they have urged the county to close the farm.
Jordan Lewis, who owns High Valley Farms with Mike Woods, said Tuesday that “well into seven figures” have been spent on the latest rounds to eradicate the smell. That includes lost revenue because the operation has been scaled back significantly, along with the new carbon filtration system that is being installed.
But High Valley Farms is running out of time.
As a condition of last year’s county approval for their agricultural license to cultivate cannabis, Lewis and Woods assured commissioners there would be no odors. “All retail marijuana establishments shall be equipped with a proper ventilation system so that odors are filtered and do not materially interfere with the enjoyment of adjoining property,” the county’s marijuana licensing regulations say.
The license, which is good for a year, is up for renewal when Lewis meets with county commissioners Sept. 23. Commissioners have planned a tour of the facility — it will be their first — on Sept. 16. When Lewis last appeared before commissioners, Aug. 11, neighbors vented their continued frustrations about the smell. Commissioners said the farm’s license won’t be renewed if the odor isn’t suppressed.
Carbon filters the last hope?
Despite the county’s mandate and previous smell-eradication systems that have failed to deliver, Lewis feels confident about the future of High Valley Farms.
He has put his faith in the carbon filters that will be installed at the grow site. A concrete foundation has been poured and workers were busy Tuesday at the site. Only one of the four greenhouses are fully operational now, Lewis said, as the focus has been placed on wiping out the odors.
By Sept. 15, the day before commissioners tour the greenhouses, two of the greenhouses will be served by the carbon scrubbers. One should be up and running by Sept. 10, Lewis said.
“We’re adopting as rapidly as possible,” he said. “Nobody has done this before. We are learning as we go along, and we’re learning about our flaws.”
But for High Valley Farms to be solvent, all four greenhouses must be fully operational, he said. “We’re like a two-legged dog now,” Lewis said. “There’s not a chance in hell we’ll survive unless we get fully operational.”
Lewis has been on a public-relations campaign as well. High Valley employees have gone “door to door in the Holland Hills area and apologized to the neighbors for disrupting their quality of life this summer,” said Kim Herold, a publicist for Silverpeak Apothecary, an Aspen retailer that sells both recreational and medical cannabis and is owned by Lewis and supplied by High Valley Farms.
Lewis took out a full-page advertisement in both of Aspen’s newspapers on Saturday, writing an open letter to the community. “We are committed to removing this negative impact and delivering on our obligation to the community,” he wrote.
Lewis has invited neighbors of Holland Hills and the Roaring Fork Club to see the elaborate facility for themselves. Some have taken him up on his offer, others haven’t.
For the ones who have visited, Lewis said “I think they understand our efforts are sincere.”
High Valley Farms furnishes marijuana not only to Silverpeak, but other retailers in Pueblo, DeBeque, Breckendridge, Eagle and other ski-town stores along the Interstate 70 corridor.
Between High Valley Farms and Silverpeak, Lewis employs 75 Roaring Fork Valley residents as well as contract laborers from landscapers to electricians.
Neighbors do their own outreach
Neighbors not only have taken their grievances to county commissioners, they also set up a website that sums up their aggravations — roaringforkskunksmell.com.
“This has nothing to do with the morality of marijuana,” the website declares. “Break out the Pink Floyd and Ben & Jerry’s and enjoy. Just don’t inflict the smell of industrial skunk on your neighbors. This is about preserving — at our homes, in our gardens and along our river — the crisp mountain air we all enjoy.”
The site also has a comment section where residents chronicle the odors.
Earlier this week, one person using “Stowman” as an alias posted: “Right now in car 8:23 pm 30-Aug-2105 very strong smell driving by. This needs to stop.”
On Sunday, Holland Hills resident Heather Isberian noted that “Hwy 82 onto Bishop was very strong with the familiar skunk smell again. Too bad. I had hoped to report one day clear but no such luck.”
And Aug. 27, resident David Lambert, who has been outspoken about High Valley Farms, posted: “Nothing less than the removal of all plants is acceptable. Four strikes and you’re out. They should be thinking about growing organic vegetables instead.”
Those comments reflect the general sentiment on the website, but neighbors haven’t been the only ones monitoring the smells.
On June 9, Environmental Health Manager Kurt Dahl began surveying the greenhouse smells. He recorded faint, moderate, strong or very strong odors on 19 different occasions from June 11 through July 31.
Lewis noted High Valley Farms has been growing marijuana for about six months. That’s not a lot of time, he said, to perfect the operation. Even so, by the middle of this month those odors will be gone, he said.
“This problem is going to be solved,” he said.
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For anybody who lives here on the Western Slope, “Wireless” will likely conjure up some bad memories of winter trips westbound on Interstate 70, when Eisenhower Tunnel closures left you stranded, when you sit parked waiting for an accident to clear for hours worried you’d run out of gas, or — as is the case with Andy — when you took a bad detour or shortcut.