Industrial hemp growing facilities fuel complaints of night skies going to pot

Lights showing from the hemp greenhouse at 3000 South 1100 West, Hurricane, Utah, March12, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Alan Matte, St. George News

HURRICANE — As night nears, Hurricane resident Alan Matte looks forward to enjoying the twinkling night sky of rural Hurricane. Instead, he has been met by what he said is glaring light pouring into his living room – floodlights cast by the industrial hemp greenhouse on 3000 South and 100 West.

These lights have been coming on for about five weeks now, but not every night until the last three weeks, Matte told St. George News. The lights come on around 4 a.m. in the early morning and run until about 8 or 9 p.m.

Matte brought up this issue during the Hurricane City Council meeting on March 5 in reference to a zoning amendment for a property to be changed from Agricultural/Rural residential to Business/Light industrial.

“Apparently, the state has control of the lighting but we’ve lost our dark skies,” Matte said in a previous story. “Once these properties start to turn to industrial, are we going to be the area where all the marijuana starts to be grown because of our weather here?”

Since the meeting, Matte said the lights remain an issue and portends potential far-reaching consequences.

Lights showing from the hemp greenhouse at 3000 South 1100 West, Hurricane, Utah, March12, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Alan Matte, St. George News

“It’s a lighting trespass,” Matte said. “What we were told by the city is that there’s nothing they can do because it’s the state that makes the rules, and I just found out that’s not true.”

Department of Agriculture and Food Public Information Officer Jack Wilber told St. George News that while there’s nothing in the state law that dictates where agricultural businesses can be located, there is a state statute 4-44-202 that provides defense and protects agricultural businesses in the case of a court action.

“It doesn’t give anybody the right to use lights specifically… It just leaves that up to a court to decide if that is part of their growing practices (and) within the sound growing agricultural practices for that type of growing.”

Whether any enforcement action should be taken or not, there’s nothing in state statute that precludes a city from taking any kind of action or putting any kind of zoning requirements on any of these businesses, Wilber said. But if there is a civil case brought by residents, or by the city or another party, that’s where this statute says there are some potential protections for these businesses.

In Utah, the typical nuisance in agriculture tends to be about dust churned up by tractors or chopping up hay and making a lot of noise in the early morning, Wilber said. Light complaints have been far less common.

There are ways these greenhouses can block out some of the light, such as shade covers used to protect plants from getting too much sun in the summer, he said.

This statute outlines that in a civil action or criminal action for public nuisance, an agricultural business is protected as long as it conducts sound agricultural practices congruent with federal, state and local laws, including zoning ordinances.

There are special regulations when it comes to medicinal cannabis growing operations that provide some protection. But with all other agricultural businesses including industrial hemp, Wilber said, the assumption that if it is in an industrial- or agricultural-zoned area the city permits it to operate as needed to facilitate business.

In terms of whether they can use their lights, there is an agriculture nuisance statute that does provide some potential protection. It outlines some the idea that in normal business operations, normal agricultural operations, there is some protection for those practices.

Matte said Sen. Evan Vickers, who was the chief sponsor of the bill of cannabis amendments, sent him a letter stating that they have been working to figure out lighting regulations on these facilities.

“He said it can be done through the local municipalities, and that the state has nothing to do with it,” Matte said.

Hurricane City Mayor John Bramall told St. George News that he is working with the company to get them to tone down the lights.

“I don’t know where it will end up, but we’re talking and working on getting them to turn their lights down,” Bramall said. “Part of it is they’ve had their lights on and they’ve been working on getting things done, and when they’re working they need enough light to be able to see versus enough light to grow stuff.”

Bramall said they will continue to keep working with the greenhouses to find a solution for the light issue. As of the time of this report, nothing has changed.

Matte, who is originally from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, said beyond the light issue, one of his main concerns has to do with taking preemptive steps in order to prevent Hurricane from becoming like other cities taken over by the hemp industry.

“It’s happening everywhere. It happened in Colorado with us, where every warehouse became a grow facility, and within a year we had a murder,” he said.

Matte said he plans to pitch a proposal to the city of Hurricane, which would create a committee that would oversee these types of operations. One of the primary objectives of this committee would be to review all applications of any person attempting to acquire a permit to lease a property and grow hemp.

The committee would also examine potential impacts in order to ensure the least possible disturbance for residents, wildlife and the environment.

“We’re not fighting a bunch of hippies growing weed in their backyards,” he said. “We’re fighting big business that’s going to take over the whole valley. We’re setting precedence, and there’s no way for the city to fight them (the hemp industry) because they have such deep pockets.”

Matte hopes to be on the agenda to go in front of the council this week, but the city has yet to put out the notice.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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