To view the report and comment on the draft EIR, visit http://www.planning.calaverasgov.us/MedicalCannabis.aspx online. A draft EIR comment meeting is scheduled at 6 p.m. May 22 in the Board of Supervisors chambers, 891 Mountain Ranch Road, San Andreas.

One year and 23 days after sending a notice of preparation to the state, Calaveras County’s Planning Department staff has released a Draft Environmental Impact Report that supports the clear intent and direction of the Board of Supervisors to adopt a ban of cannabis cultivation.

The 240-page draft EIR identifies significant environmental impacts caused by cannabis cultivation: aesthetics and visual resources, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, greenhouse gas emissions, hydrology and water quality, transportation and circulation, and cumulative effects.

Many of these impacts “can be fully mitigated but some cannot and would remain significant and unavoidable,” planners said in a summary. “Unavoidable impacts include effects on air quality, biological resources, transportation and circulation, and cumulative impacts to agriculture, greenhouse gas emissions, and transportation and circulation.”

In accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act, the Draft EIR for Calaveras County’s approach to cannabis cultivation is now subject to a formal 45-day public review and comment period that begins Monday May 1 and ends at 5 p.m. June 14. A public meeting for draft EIR comments is scheduled at 6 p.m. May 22.

Process

The county Planning Department a week ago released a 20-page draft ordinance that would ban commercial cultivation of cannabis in response to a directive from the Board of Supervisors earlier this year.

County supervisors are expected to review the draft ordinance and the draft EIR. Whether or not revisions to either document are requested, both draft documents are now in the midst of a process that will take at least two months before drafts are finalized and before any new law can be adopted to replace the current law of the land, an urgency ordinance adopted in May 2016.

The final goal is a new law: an ordinance addressing regulations concerning the cultivation, manufacture, testing, distribution, transportation, and storage of medical marijuana within Calaveras County.

The draft EIR was prepared for Calaveras County’s Planning Department by Ascent Environmental Inc. of Sacramento.

Asked how much Calaveras County paid Ascent Environmental Inc. for the 240-page cannabis draft EIR, Rebecca Callen, the county auditor/controller, said Friday she had not seen an invoice yet.

Peter Maurer, county planning director, said the contract amount for the environmental impact report is $172,127 but the work is not finished.

“This is the draft EIR,” Maurer said Friday afternoon. “We still have the comment period, then response to comments, and then the final EIR must be prepared. It might be the middle of summer before this process is complete.”

The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors cannot pass a permanent ordinance on cannabis cultivation until the EIR is finalized, Maurer said.

Maurer called the document released Friday the “Cannabis Ban Ordinance EIR.”

Chris Mundhenk, project manager on the draft EIR with Ascent Environmental Inc. could not be reached for comment Friday. Representatives with Calaveras Cannabis Alliance, a nonprofit representing hundreds of cannabis growers in Calaveras County, likewise could not be reached for comment.

‘Unavoidable impacts’

The draft EIR’s executive summary includes a list of “significant and unavoidable environmental impacts” caused by cannabis cultivation in Calaveras County.

* “Exposure of people to objectionable odors” from construction and operation of marijuana grows cannot be mitigated to a less-than-significant level, according to the draft EIR.

Cultivation and processing of cannabis “generates odors associated with the plant itself, which during maturation can produce substantial odors,” the draft EIR states. Setbacks from property boundaries for marijuana grows do not preclude or prevent “generation of odorous emissions in such quantities as to cause detriment, nuisance, or annoyance to a substantial number of people,” the draft EIR states.

* “Degradation or removal of sensitive natural communities” caused by marijuana grows also cannot be mitigated to a less-than-significant level, according to the draft EIR.

Disturbance or removal of natural land cover, through vegetation removal or grading, could result in degradation or removal of sensitive natural communities.

* “Long-term increase in traffic” caused by cannabis cultivation in Calaveras County also cannot be mitigated to a less-than-significant level, according to the draft EIR.

Additional traffic loads associated with cannabis cultivation, in conjunction with existing traffic levels, would cause levels of service on segments of nine state highways and possibly other roads to degrade to unacceptable levels, the draft EIR states.

Overall with respect to cumulative impacts, “significant and unavoidable cumulative impacts would occur with respect to biological resources and transportation and circulation,” the draft EIR states.

A draft EIR comment meeting is scheduled at 6 p.m. May 22 in the Board of Supervisors chambers, 891 Mountain Ranch Road, San Andreas.

Written comments on the draft EIR can be dropped off or mailed to the Planning Department at 891 Mountain Ranch Road, San Andreas, CA 95249, or submitted by email to PlanningWeb@co.calaveras.ca.us . They must be received by 5 p.m. June 14.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.

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