Hemp hearing rescheduled
Molalla residents, upstairs and downstairs at city hall waiting to testify about foul odors and buzzing noises coming from the Columbia Hemp Trading Company, were disappointed on Tuesday, Feb. 11 when Judge Rodney Grafe stayed the hearing until March 17 at 6 p.m.
After the judge opened the case, Prosecutor Amy Lindgren stated the charges. That created a back and forth between the three attorneys and the judge. The defense attorneys, Joshua Dennis and Garrett Stephenson, asked to stay the hearing because they said Lindgren raised a "conflict of interest issue," according to Stephenson.
"Specifically, the city prosecutor raised the question of whether there was a conflict of interest between the company's interest and the interest of the principal members of the company Mr. [Jacob] Crabtree and Mr. [William] Tosheff," Stephenson added in an email. "That issue is separate and distinct from the conflict that exists between the city and CHTC, which we do not dispute exists. We reiterate that at the time we did not believe a conflict of interest existed between the interests of CHTC and is [sic] principles, nor do we believe a conflict of interest exists now. However, once the issue was raised by the city Prosecutor, we became obligated to address it before proceeding with a hearing on the nuisance."
But Lindgren disagrees. She says, "the City reissued a separate Nuisance Abatement Notice on Jan. 22,2020 to each Mr. Crabtree, Mr. Tosheff and CHTC as the owner, person responsible and person in charge, emailed a copy of each notice to Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt (the defense attorney's law firm), posted all three notices at the facility and emailed a photo of the three notices posted at the facility to Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt."
At the hearing the word ethics was bounced around mostly from the defense attorneys, although they later told the Pioneer the discussion had nothing to do with ethics.
After about 10 minutes of going back and forth between the prosecutor and the defense attorneys, the judge agreed with the defense, and continued the hearing to March 17 at the Molalla Courthouse.
But that left a large number of Molalla residents upset because they had come to notify the judge of their complaints regarding the odor and the noise. Ninety-six people signed in to attend the hearing and 52 of them were pledged to speak. Others at the hearing included city staff such as Mayor Keith Swigart, City Manager Dan Huff and Planning Director Alice Cannon.
Others in the tiny Courtroom, which only held approximately 40 people, included the attorneys, defendants, media and observers. However, the media crew from KOIN Channel 6 was not allowed in the courtroom because recording was not allowed.
The people who were speaking were told they would be sworn in, answer questions and then move downstairs so that new speakers could be brought up to testify.
One speaker who brought a his own list of questions and answers was Bernie Braden who told the Pioneer "Only tear gas is worse," than the odor emanating from the facility.
His questions included, "How have you experienced the impact?"
He wrote, "the odor makes us gag and leaves a terrible taste in our mouths. The odor is fairly constant for our neighborhood as we are north of the facility and the wind usually comes from the south."
He added the odor has affected his quality of life because, "We can't do any of the outdoor activity that we used to be able to do. My doctor told me to walk every day, my wife [likes] to take some deep breaths of fresh air while having her morning coffee on the patio. I used to spend a lot of time in the garage, but the odor gets in there even with the door shut…This odor effects our lives in a major way."
He suggests the hemp dryer be moved into the building and the air leaving the building needs to be filtered.
One woman, who asked not to be named, told the Pioneer, "the odor is nauseating, and the noise keeps you from sleeping. Apparently, some people are feeling sick because the smell creates coughing and other health problems on top of not sleeping.
"I am increasingly frustrated," said Molalla resident Jodie Berg. "This is an ethical issue and it's confining us to our homes. There are medical issues like coughing, burning eyes, gagging and throwing up. It's even affecting animals. It smells like putrid sour kraut," she said.
Others commented they are unable to open their windows and one mother complained she and her young daughter had to wear something over their faces while waiting for the school bus.
Some residents and businesses are documenting the odor daily and can't sleep at night "because it sounds like a small plane is constantly flying just over our house making a droning noise that affects our sleeping."
The mass of people was disappointed, but most indicated they would be back on March 17 to speak.
Whether they will be in the same courthouse is up to the powers that be. Prosecutor Lindgren "is confident" that more Molalla students and families will be available tell their side of the story on March 17. She said the city is investigating options for a larger facility for the hearing, "…and I anticipate a location will be determined soon."
City Manager Dan Huff said the same thing at Wednesday, Feb. 12's City Council meeting.
The Pioneer also asked if the judge could shut the facility down because of the complaints. Lindgren cited Molalla Municipal Code stating that "If the court determines that a nuisance exists the person responsible must abate the nuisance within 10 days after such determination."
The city, Lindgren said, "…will present evidence that the only way to stop the smell is to cease all operations until the company invests in the air filtration system that meets industry standards to eliminate noxious odors."
This is important because nearly 1,000 students attend the elementary and middle schools nearby and need clean air daily.
Part of the problem with processing hemp is that it's a new industry with few to no adequate studies that determine whether the smells being emitted are a specific health hazard. The city only has to show the odors are offensive. That's why its important for the community to tell the judge how they are affected.
CHTC owns another hemp processing plant south of Molalla in Corvallis. Crabtree told the Pioneer that the Corvallis facility is located in an area farther away from residents and hasn't received complaints.
However, Lindgren stressed there are other companies in the state and nationally that process hemp and marijuana indoors without bothering residents with noxious odors and noise.
"The City of Molalla intends to seek all available legal remedies to gain compliance with all local, state and federal laws," she said.
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