Pitkin commissioners check out odor-fighting system at Basalt pot facility
Four Pitkin County Commissioners took a long look and a big whiff Wednesday to see if the owners of the marijuana greenhouses outside of Basalt have eliminated what critics call a skunky smell.
High Valley Farms co-owner Jordan Lewis led the commissioners on their first tour of the 20,000-square-foot complex across Highway 82 from the Holland Hills subdivision. Lewis said “we did a lot of things right” with the facility when it was constructed in 2014-15, but the ventilation system needed work. He believes they have found the solution in a new system that forces air through massive charcoal filters before emitting it on the south side of the property, closest to the Roaring Fork River.
The prior system emitted the air that was circulated through the pot-growing operation toward Highway 82 after diluting the odor with a neutralizing agent. Some Holland Hills residents complained that a skunk-like odor was too overwhelming at times after the facility opened in March.
The county’s permit for the greenhouses requires odor mitigation. The commissioners are scheduled to determine on Sept. 23 whether or not the license for High Valley Farms will be renewed. For Lewis and partner Mike Woods, it’s a multi-million dollar decision.
“We went back to the drawing board after the last meeting,” Lewis said, referring to a meeting where county officials said his license hinged on eliminating the odor. Odor mitigation expert Dr. Rakesh Govind of Carnegie Mellon University was hired to help. He came up with a simple design, but one that hadn’t been applied on such a large scale as the High Valley Farms’ greenhouses, according to Lewis.
Lewis and Woods were confident enough in the design that they invested more than $1 million, according to 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 and his team cranked through construction to get the system set up in the largest of their greenhouses to demonstrate to the county and exasperated neighbors that the odors would be eliminated. The largest of four greenhouses was packed twice as full as usual with plants of varying ages for the test.
“This house is as loaded as we’ve ever had a house,” Lewis told the commissioners while touring the interior of the facility. The smell wasn’t overwhelming, despite the presence of hundreds of marijuana plants, many of them in full bloom.
“You walk into a room with that many marijuana plants and you’d think it would reek,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper.
But the real test came outside. Lewis led the four commissioners — Commissioner Michael Owsley didn’t attend — to the south end of the greenhouse to show off the huge duct, fan and filter system on the greenhouse filled with plants. He had them stand just a few feet from where air was emitted from the filters to prove an absence of odor.
“There’s no other way for this air to get out,” Lewis said. “I’m happy to say we’ve accomplished what we were mandated to do.”
The commissioners didn’t make any formal statements or vote because they were on a site visit prior to a public hearing. However, they peppered Lewis with questions.
Commissioner Rachel Richards said she thought she caught a faint whiff of marijuana smell outside but away from the carbon filters. Lewis said it was probably an odor lingering on the clothing of the group from the interior tour. He said he was extremely confident that all odors will be eliminated when all four greenhouses are retrofitted with the new mitigation system.
The new system was operational in the largest greenhouse at the start of this week. It is being installed and close to operational in greenhouse number 1, where the mother plants and “babies” from clippings are housed.
Greenhouses number two and four were stripped of all marijuana plants so there wouldn’t be any odors from them that would interfere with the demonstration of the packed greenhouse new system. The two greenhouses were incredibly clean as preparations were being made to install new fans and infrastructure. The last two houses will be retrofitted with the new ventilation and filter system later this month, according to Lewis’ team.
High Valley Farms stuffed as many plants as possible from greenhouses two and four into greenhouse three, but about 80 percent of them had to be destroyed at a loss of $1.2 million, according to Herold.
After the tour, Commissioner George Newman said that the renewal of the license would come down to eliminating the odor.
“What I saw today is a possible mitigation,” he said.
However, the Sept. 23 meeting will include input from residents of the area and other factors he said he will consider.
Newman said he found the site visit worthwhile.
“I was impressed with the quality of the operation and the security of the operation,” he said.
Clapper seconded the sentiment. “It is an amazing greenhouse facility,” she said. It is clean, energy efficient and abides by state law in meticulous tracking of individual plants, she noted.
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