Calaveras

A draft environmental impact report that studied cannabis was released by the county Friday.

A draft environmental impact report called a countywide ban on commercial cannabis cultivation the “environmentally superior alternative” to cannabis regulations. The document was finally released on April 28.

According to text from the document, a ban on marijuana cultivation would have less of an impact on aesthetics, air quality, biological and cultural resources, water quality, noise, population and transportation under full compliance than a regulatory system.

Impacts on aesthetics and water quality could be worse in some areas and better in others under partial compliance, due to complications related to sites that remain unrestored if cultivation is prohibited. A draft ban re-leased by the county would require cultivators to restore the land if the ban is ratified.

The ban was the most appealing option, per the EIR, of three alternatives. It beat others that suggested legislators take no action and another that recommended they regulate but restrict zones available for cultivation.

The alternatives came at the end of a 240-page document released last week that was based on direction from the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors in February of 2016 to create a permanent regulatory ordinance.

According to the Calaveras County Planning Department, the description of the ban as an alternative project can be used by the county to execute a ban, even though it is not listed in the project’s description.

“Because the originally proposed regulatory ordinance and the currently proposed ban ordinance are both ways of imposing a regulatory scheme on cannabis cultivation and commerce (albeit at opposite ends of the range of choices), it was unnecessary to start over with a new project description and a new EIR,” the department said in a statement.

Still, a ban may not be without its faults.

According to the EIR, illegal cannabis cultivation is likely to continue despite the ban, which would then eliminate money to combat the issue. The report said aerial imagery from Calaveras County identified 500 unregistered sites containing cannabis activity throughout the county where there are already 740 additional commercial cultivators in the county’s cultivation program.

Regulations

According to the draft report, a regulatory system would introduce significant environmental impacts that wouldn’t be able to be mitigated.

Per the document, cannabis cultivation could expose people to odors via construction and cannabis-related activities, remove natural communities through vegetation removal or other grading work, and increase traffic that would heavily degrade roads.

For the odors, the report suggests the county prohibit the burning of cannabis plants, install a ventilation system for indoor grows and increase the setback requirements on properties by 45 feet. Even then, it still would not be enough to diminish the impacts completely, the draft says.

There were no feasible mitigations available to protect land from potential removal of cover that could protect natural communities.

To mitigate effects on roadways, the document suggests cultivators participate in a county Road Impact Mitigation fee program to pay for improvements at locations where they are determined necessary by county staff. It may not work, however, because improvements along particular roadways would not occur before cannabis activities would be allowed under a regulatory system.

Other significant impacts in areas like aesthetics, cultural resources, water quality, transportation and circulation, among others, were identified in the report. They could all be mitigated if permanent regulations were put in place.

Effects on land use, noise and population were all less than significant, per the draft environmental review.

The next step

A 45-day public comment period is underway following the release of the draft environmental review.

Those interested can send comments to the Calaveras County Planning Department through 5 p.m. on June 14 to qualify for consideration. A public hearing with the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors will take place at 6 p.m. May 22, to solicit input from public agencies and citizens.

Following the conclusion of the public comment period, county staff will reply to each comment and send the entire package, with the draft cannabis cultivation ban included, to the Calaveras County Planning Commission. If approved, the package will advance to the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors.

If ratified by supervisors, the cultivation ban would go into effect within 30 days. Cultivators in Calaveras County would then have up to 90 days to comply with the new policy that would supersede the urgency ordinance approved in May 2016. They’d have 180 days from the approval of the ordinance to restore the land to precultivation conditions.

Those interested in commenting on the draft environmental review should contact Calaveras County Planning Director Peter Maurer at 891 Mountain Ranch Road, San Andreas, CA 95259. He can be reached at pmaurer@co.calaveras.ca.us.

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