To the editor:
Below the radar, Berkshire County appears to be in the cross-hairs of entrepreneurs and developers looking to make money from growing cannabis. The very things we love about our area (large open areas, clean water and air, forested land and reasonable land prices) also make it attractive for cultivation of cannabis. Several attempts by investors in several towns have had varying outcomes.
Any such installation will run a gamut of approvals and permitting, which will be decided upon by town selectmen, planning boards, and conservation commissions. The risk/benefit equation has to be carefully considered, and the point of this letter is to make sure that the considerable risks are not ignored.
The driver for the towns is clearly revenue, with 3 percent of the gross proceeds typically going into town coffers. Especially given the pandemic, that revenue is attractive to towns. The key questions are quality of life, environmental concerns, impact on camps and tourism (plus related businesses), and lowered property values. Having one (or more) cannabis growing enterprise in a town is almost certain to negatively affect real estate valuations. The inevitable result is that the town will have to raise the tax rates to continue to operate, further depressing home prices.
Properly sited, some of these initiatives may make sense as long as they are not easily visible and do not cause odor, water quality or other problems that adversely affect our quality of life.
In Hinsdale, Ipswich Pharmaceutical Associates is attempting to obtain approval for a two-acre outside growing operation with a drying and processing building attached. This property is in a residential area and well under a mile from Ashmere Lake, with the prevailing winds going directly toward the lake. Pungent and highly noxious odors from cannabis farms during the summer months have been source of litigation in California and other states. We have also heard recently that there is a second group of investors who have written a letter to the selectmen asking for permission to explore a cannabis growing operation next door to this site. That would double most of the issues.
There are many other more rural locations that would not impact local residents or key recreational areas to this extent. There are also two large summer camps on the lake that would essentially have to close down if air quality deteriorates, with a resulting loss of camp derived revenue for Hinsdale and the surrounding towns.
An even larger consideration is that once the first installation is up and running, stopping the next one(s) will be nearly impossible. That concern is not only true for Hinsdale but also for the rest of Berkshire County. Once operational, it is extremely difficult without litigation to induce the developers to correct odor or other environmental shortfalls, even if they do not meet their original commitments.
Tourism is our primary business. It would be a tragedy if we allow something like this to ruin all that makes the Berkshires so desirable to those who wish to partake of our many venues. Let's be sure the risks are objectively assessed.