Medical marijuana farm in Eustis is pain in the grass
EUSTIS, Fla. (AP) — The emerging medical marijuana industry was supposed to provide pain relief to thousands of Floridians, but for one Eustis community, it’s nothing but a pain.
Residents along a rural stretch of County Road 44A are taking exception to the noise and smells emanating from a medical marijuana farm that ramped up about a month ago.
“I’m not against medical marijuana by no means. If it helps someone who’s sick, that’s great, but why should it affect my life? I can’t even have peace at my own home,” Ted Miller said. “I don’t like the strong smell of marijuana either, and you can see kids holding their noses at school bus stops, but that’s not even the biggest issue I’m having. It’s the noise. It’s unbearable really and it’s 24/7.”
Miller said it started about a month ago when he was woken one night at 3:30 a.m. by a loud humming sound, like a motor running. He thought someone was stealing his tractor, but went outside and discovered it was coming from the farm. And it has been continuous since.
Miller said he has measured the noise levels and gotten consistent decibel readings in the mid-60s, with spikes in the high 70s.
“It’s changed our life as far as the way we go outside — having our family over, sitting outside, everything,” Ted’s wife, Vicki Miller, told Lake County commissioners at a meeting last week. “We need our community back. We need the noise shut down. We need help.”
In June of 2018, MedMen, a California-based company, purchased the already operational Treadwell nursery, along with its state license to cultivate marijuana and process oil and the rights to open 25 dispensaries throughout Florida, for $53 million.
In September, MedMen began upgrading and modernizing facilities and in February installed dehumidifiers. It was then that the county and MedMen began fielding complaints.
Lake County code enforcement has visited the property, and this week the Millers, along with Jeanine Shawley, a resident who lives about a half mile from the farm, attended a commission meeting to plead their cases.
“This noise is similar to a jet engine that doesn’t stop. It’s constant. You can be out there at 1 a.m. and hear it,” said Shawley. “How many more of these facilities are we looking at in Lake County?”
Daniel Yi, MedMen’s senior vice president of communications, said although the company is following state guidelines for its operation, it is intent on addressing neighbors’ concerns.
“Lake County code enforcement has been at our location and we are not in violation of any noise ordinances. Nonetheless, we strive to be good neighbors and we are being proactive to address any concerns,” said Yi.
The Millers want to believe that’s true, but last week they noticed 10 huge air-conditioning units were delivered to the farm.
“They say they’re working on quieting one thing, but then they are adding more and more equipment,” Ted Miller said.
“I don’t know how they can hide under the agriculture exemption because it’s not agriculture. This is an industry,” Vicki Miller said.
Lake County Commission Chairwoman Leslie Campione has agreed to visit the site to investigate. She isn’t sure how much authority the county has to intervene. Campione said state rules and regulations for medical marijuana production pre-empt local government codes.
Like the Millers, Campione wonders, however, whether MedMen’s operation crosses the line from agricultural to industrial because it produces oil from the plants it grows.
“From a local government standpoint, we have a noise ordinance but the statutes say that a noise ordinance doesn’t apply to agricultural uses and the state has deemed this to be an agricultural use even though there’s an actual production processing side to it,” Campione said.
She said local officials are looking for ways to help the residents while also heading off future problems by, perhaps, regulating the locations of medical marijuana production facilities without exceeding state authority.
“We have a lot of agricultural land and they literally can put one of these in any one of those locations without any further conditions, so we’re trying to figure out a way that we could adopt a regulation that would at least protect the surrounding property owners from noise effects, whether it would be through a buffer or certain decibel levels,” she said.
Campione said she’d also like state legislators to consider a law to protect surrounding property owners from the effects of such farms. That could include noise issues, but also the strong smells, added traffic, bright lights, armed guards, security cameras and other things not normally present in residential communities, Miller said.
“Medical marijuana is supposed to be there to help people and address medical issues, but in this situation, it’s making people around this facility sick because they’re just getting frustrated and the noise is bothering them ... they describe it as driving them crazy and that the smell makes them sick,” Campione said. “It’s an ironic twist to all of this, but I am hopeful we can find a solution and if we can’t find a solution locally, then maybe at the state level.”
Yi said the dehumidifiers used at the farm are commonly used in greenhouse agriculture growing to dry and prevent mold from accumulating on the plants. He said like tractors, which also emit noise, dehumidifiers are allowed uses for agriculturally zoned properties.
Yi also confirmed that per state guidelines, the farm does extract oil from the plants on site, then sells and ships their products to selected sources.
Neither of those processes, however, create additional noise, he said.
Regardless, Yi said that by the end of the month, noise coming from the dehumidifiers should be down significantly.
“We are installing silencers on the dehumidifiers this week, which should bring the noise level down considerably,” Yi wrote in an email. “MedMen also hired an expert acoustician and we will be following up with the additional measure of placing poly-vinyl fabric in vestibule and across our plenum that will shield sound away from the neighbors. This should be done by the end of the month.”
Yi said the silencer and Poly-Vinyl fabric should bring sound levels to 55 decibels at the MedMen property line. “The 55 decibels are no louder than the fans that were running prior to MedMen’s dehumidifier installation,” he said.
Information from: The Daily Commercial (Leesburg, Fla.), http://www.dailycommercial.com