With permit hearing coming, and odor report released, residents vent at Great Barrington pot growers

Accompanied by attorney Kathleen McCormick, Fulcrum Enterprises LLC partners John Heck and David Ross answer questions Monday from concerned and angry residents about their proposed marijuana-growing and manufacturing operation for Great Barrington.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Residents braved Monday night's ice storm to oppose a marijuana-growing firm's plans ahead of its special permit hearing before the Select Board on Jan. 13.

And company officials sat tight for yet another round of hot criticism and accusations.

Yet, at this third state-mandated community outreach meeting for Fulcrum Enterprises LLC to make itself available to the public, the company said it had downsized and adjusted its plans in response to concerns about noise and odor.

A report by a consultant chosen by the town and posted Tuesday on the town's website indicates that controlling pot odor at the site could require the company to rethink its current plan.

This is likely to fuel more antipathy from Fulcrum's potential future neighbors who, at a string of hearings and meetings that began last summer, still want to drive Fulcrum off the Van Deusenville Road property, citing a host of potential problems.

But, residents threw new hardballs at two of Fulcrum's partners Monday. Most were dodged. But it wasn't an easy night — they want Fulcrum to find another location. They even suggested a patch of land in Lee.

"Why are you so hellbent on being in that [Housatonic] spot?" asked Cardinale Montano, noting that she thinks it involves "greed."

"We're not talking about figures and numbers," she added. "We are people."

Fulcrum is yet another grower in the state that is facing public anxiety about unknowns in this nascent realm — and mainly about pot odor, the control of which is complicated and breeding yet more industry to manage it.

The company plans to grow cannabis in 58,500 square feet in 13 greenhouses, then dry and extract the oils in a state-certified manufacturing building for the wholesale market.

It initially had proposed 80,000 square feet of greenhouse beds, but it cut the size and turned the footprint so that each greenhouse exhaust fan would now vent to the east, away from residences that are across the road and which pepper the surrounding area.

Each greenhouse now would have one fan instead of two, and this would help keep down noise levels.

Partners John Heck and David Ross said the company still plans to use U.S. Department of Agriculture- and Environmental Protection Agency-approved odor-neutralizer spray on each fan. It was this spray that had alarmed town Board of Health officials. Citing uncertainty about its safety, the board subsequently issued a negative recommendation to the Select Board.

And now an independent odor expert's report says that even Fulcrum's adjustments might not be enough, based on testing at a similar operation in California.

"The main shortcoming of the revised odor control plan is its continued reliance on the odor neutralizer in a manner which was found not to be effective based on the analysis of the samples collected by EPS at the California facility," wrote Ned Ostojic, a scientist at Odor Science and Engineering Inc.

"Thus even if the facility's operating staff were made aware of a potential odor occurrence, their ability to mitigate it would be limited."

On Monday, other concerns were raised, ranging from the threat of mold to the viability of Fulcrum's business plan.

"Nobody goes into business to lose money," Heck said, suggesting that Fulcrum is confident in what is its proprietary financial model. "We have turned away from old financial models. We have a competitive advantage."

And Heck's partner, Ross, batted away concerns about mold, citing tight state regulations and testing. He also said that inadvertent pollination in the surrounding ecosystem won't occur.

"We don't produce anything with male pollen," he said. "The male plant would actually make us lose money."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.