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El Dorado County wine growers upset over cannabis grow's green light: "This has to be revisited"

SOMERSET — El Dorado County wine growers are upset over the rising number of cannabis grows. They understand marijuana is legal, but where it's being cultivated is causing concern – and a new cannabis application sparked outrage.



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For a quarter of a century, Randy Rossi, has run Saluti Cellars, a Somerset winery and event venue. Rossi is part of what's called the Fairplay American Viticultural Area.


"You have to petition the federal government to recognize it," Rossi said. "You have to have certain characteristics in your soil. Climate, even cultural considerations, are given."


He takes pride in that label but said what's planned is becoming a growing problem. A cannabis cultivation nearby on Perry Creek Road just got the green light from the county.


Rossi represents two associations opposed to the seven-acre project and says it will impact the brand they've built, create safety concerns and cause long-term water worries because cannabis plants use ten times the amount of water grapevines use.


"That's a huge number for us and we're going to fight this," Rossi said.


El Dorado County says there are 12 approved commercial cannabis projects. Nine are a mix of retail, distribution and delivery. The rest are cultivation. This most recent application was approved. Another has been in operation for a year, and one is in the works. All are legal because the county allows up to 150 cultivation grows.


Chris Perry, the county's assistant director of planning, said the ordinance combined with more strenuous regulations codified in 2019.


"Everything gets multiple sets of eyes. In fact, when a project application comes in, it receives what we call agency review," Perry said. "So not just planning and building but outside agencies, fire, school district, others including the State of California."


Perry said all cannabis-approved projects do not rise to the level of further environmental review. Even so, "the board of supervisors just approved the establishment of an ad-hoc committee to look at the cannabis ordinances and that's going to kick off here in the next couple of months," Perry said.


Rossi said millions are on the table. That's why wine growers are pouring their efforts into getting the word out.


"This has to be revisited. This can't be done without consideration," he said. "[We're] one of two of the biggest agricultural crops in the county, we're quite upset and not done with this."

The county's decision on the Perry Creek Cannabis Project can be appealed again within 90 days in superior court.


The Perry Creek Road applicant declined to go on camera, but released a full statement to CBS13.com


"In the 44 years that I have lived on Perry Creek Road in Somerset I have been a farmer. My farming stewardship has always focused on improving our land and soil utilizing organic and sustainable farming practices. My concerns for the environment and respect for my neighbors are paramount. We have cultivated 6.25 acres of certified organic wine grapes located in the Fair Play AVA since 2003. 


 The criticisms and concerns voiced to the Board of Supervisors are of even greater importance to me. As a farmer the issues of odor, water, chemicals, public safety and the environment are my continual focus.


In 2019 and 2020, our 1 acre cultivation of Industrial Hemp with only a 20 foot setback from the neighboring fence line resulted in no nuisance complaints. In fact, after visiting and talking with various neighbors their responses were positive: No (skunk) odor complaints were mentioned or reported as a nuisance. 


 Water usage is of paramount importance to me! As my well water production is finite, the incorporation of water saving practices, the use of drip irrigation, cover crops, minimum tillage and row covers minimizes our water usage while maximizing our farm production.


Additionally, our farm pond naturally filled by rainfall and subsurface water, contains over 32 million gallons of water. Our cannabis farm will use only 20% of that total pond water, without the utilization of well water. Our pond also provides an emergency water source for Pioneer Fire District Wildfire Defense Resources. We are installing 2 large water draft valves available for public fire protection. 


Petrochemical usage is prohibited on my farm as Certified Organic. Inorganic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are NOT allowed on our farm property. In addition, both sides 1250 feet in length of Perry Creek Road is a DOT, "NO SPRAY" zone. Vegetative and weed management is accomplished by my tractor, mowing implements and myself. 


I monitor my farm yearly for improvements of beneficial wildlife habitats and wildlife corridors while maintaining fire safe goals for our community. 


Cannabis as a newly legalized California agricultural activity, agricultural product and crop promises new economic growth and development now for our county. Fulfilling the county's policy mission statement to conserve and protect agricultural land and to encourage agricultural operations within the county, cannabis agricultural expansion is now our promising crop. 


It is our vision to legally cultivate cannabis on our Somerset farm. Initial Biological Resource Assessments and other required studies were initiated in 2020. Our Planning Application, CCUP21-0002 was submitted in 2021. In 2023, HELIX completed our CEQA Study and Analysis. The El Dorado County Planning Commission approved our project January 25, 2024. El Dorado County Planning Department, El Dorado County Sheriffs Department, Department of Transportation, Pioneer Fire District, El Dorado Agricultural Department, the Agricultural Commission, Planning Commission and County Counsel have all reviewed and approved our project. We believe all issues and concerns regarding our project have been examined, reviewed, considered and resolved. 


 The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors approval and support of Staff's professional, complete and thorough review of CCUP21-0002 was confirmed March 5, 2024."

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