City of Colusa bringing in cannabis-related environmental compliance consultant

In a unanimous decision at their meeting on Feb. 6, the Colusa City Council authorized City Manager Jesse Cain to enter into an agreement with Horizon Water and Environment for contracting services that pertain to cannabis-related environmental compliance, forgoing the city’s competitive bidding process.

According to Cain, the impetus for contracting with Horizon was the Triple Crown Project – the largest of the seven cannabis-related projects in the works for Colusa – which is proposed for the Riverbend Estates subdivision on the east side of town.

In August of last year, the city circulated an Initial Study on the Triple Crown Project for a 30-day public review period. After receiving a comment letter from the county that raised a litany of concerns about the proposed project, the city decided to delay certification of the Initial Study and approval of the project, instead taking time to consider its options regarding the environmental review process for the Triple Crown Project and several other, smaller projects being evaluated at the same time.

The city appears to have found their answer in contracting with Horizon. As a part of their contract with the city, Horizon will provide an updated, site-specific evaluation of environmental impacts of the revised Triple Crown Project in an Initial Study. Using that Initial Study as a springboard, Horizon will also be preparing a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance document that will serve as a “city-wide umbrella” for cannabis-related businesses. The focused document will build off of the city’s General Plan Master Environmental Impact Review (EIR), and incorporate applicable mitigation measures from that EIR.

“They are going to piggyback off of our Initial Study we did for Triple Crown… and they’re going to look at our Master EIR, too, because cannabis is new,” Cain said. “They’re going to do a lot of piggybacking off of existing documents, and they’re going to look at what the state has done and piggyback off that, too.”

Individual proposed projects would “be evaluated at a project-specific level of detail sufficient to identify environmental impacts.” The umbrella environmental document will be consistent with all state and local licensing requirements, including the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Department of Public Health, and the Bureau of Cannabis Control.

“My goal at the end of this is to create a city-wide tiering document (so) that it’s a clear path for (City Planner) Bryan (Stice), myself, for any cannabis companies that come in, when it comes to CEQA related issues,” Cain said. “By creating a city-wide policy, it will essentially create a CEQA checklist for us to follow through… My personal opinion is that by taking this route, it protects the City of Colusa and the cannabis companies from lawsuits.”

The City and County of Colusa recently settled a CEQA lawsuit regarding the Green Leaf Processors, Inc. project, located along the levee at the north end of Fifth Street.

Cain said that it was his recommendation that the city forgo the bidding process and go with Horizon because the firm also prepared the state’s environmental document for cannabis.

“Why not go right to the top? This particular firm knows the state’s cannabis document better than anybody. That’s the biggest reason I wanted to waive the (Request for Proposals),” Cain said. “Bryan Stice and I met with them a couple times, and really liked their attitude and knowledge.”

While it is the city’s goal to have the various cannabis companies share the roughly $70,000 cost of hiring Horizon, Cain couldn’t say for certain that there would be no cost to the city.

“The goal in this is that the cannabis firms and companies are going to pay it… Everyone will have their fair share of costs,” Cain said at last week’s meeting. “There might be a city cost towards the end. I’m not 100 percent sure of that – I’m working on that now. If and when there is a city cost to create this umbrella, I’ll bring that back to council before I authorize that and spend the money. Another thing is I’m not going to sign the contract with Horizon until I have money in hand from the cannabis developers.”

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net