WESTERLY — The Planning Board on Tuesday reviewed conceptual plans calling for development of a new medical marijuana cultivation center, solar energy power operation, and storage facility adjacent to an active quarry in Bradford on property owned by Westerly Granite Co. Inc.
Attorney George Comolli, who represents and is a principal in the family-owned company, provided an overview of plans for a medical marijuana operation run by South County Cultivation Inc. to open in an existing building on the property. South County Cultivation has received approval to operate a medical marijuana facility from the state Department of Business Regulation and the Office of the State Fire Marshal, Comolli said.
The project would be developed in three phases starting with the medical marijuana business, followed by construction of the 3.7-megawatt solar project, which would be built and run by Kersarge Energy, a Boston-based company. The third phase would be installation of a new building that Comolli said would be used for the storage of equipment that would be removed from the former Bradford Dyeing Association plant before the equipment is sold.
Quarrying, which is currently being carried out by Rawson Materials, would continue during construction and in conjunction with the other projects, Comolli said. Rawson acquired the lease in March when it purchased two other quarries in Westerly from the Cherenzia Companies, which had previously held the lease. The quarry operations will remain restricted to limited blasting and crushing focused on removal of large stone segments used for the construction of sea jetties.
A court order established to resolve lawsuits that arose from the Copar Quarries of Westerly operation of the quarry from 2010 to 2015 limits quarrying operations to certain parts of the 104-acre property. The solar arrays would be placed in areas where quarrying is prohibited by the court order, Comolli said.
Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey has declined to approve the proposed medical marijuana facility on grounds that possession of medical marijuana is prohibited under federal law. "This department will not be approving any type of marijuana facility within this town. This department is sworn to enforce local, state, and federal laws, in which any type of marijuana facility still remains a violation on the federal side," Lacey said in an email to the Planning Department.
Comolli addressed Lacey's position and said he hoped to discuss the matter with him. "I applaud Chief Lacey but I would suggest to the board that Chief Lacey is not following town ordinance or state laws," he said.
To illustrate the ubiquity of medical marijuana, Comolli informed the board that the federal Department of Veterans Affairs allows the use of marijuana to try to alleviate opioid abuse among veterans. He added that federal court cases have prohibited the prosecution of medical marijuana cases in courts located in states where medical marijuana is permitted.
"So I believe that to suggest that medical marijuana is not important is contrary to the intent of the statute and ordinance, and I believe that Chief Lacey's concerns are well warranted but should be directed to something that is not related to medical marijuana," Comolli said.
The medical marijuana cultivation would be fenced off. Other security measures would include motion detectors and the use of surveillance cameras both indoors and outdoors, Comolli said. Marijuana grown at the facility would be sold to one of the approved state compassion centers.
The solar project could not be built until the town adopts a solar power ordinance. Work on the ordinance is ongoing, and town officials sought input on the measure from Kersarge Energy as one of the stakeholders.
Everett W. Tatelbaum, vice president of solar development for Kersarge Energy, said the company would develop, finance and operate the project. In response to a question from board member Catherine DeNoia, Tatelbaum said the company anticipates posting a bond to ensure that decommissioning of the project is carried out properly once the array is no longer operable.
Sergio Cherenzia, project engineer for the solar project, said it is currently unclear whether leveling or other earthwork would be required prior to installation of the solar arrays.
James A. Hall IV, board chairman, thanked Tatelbaum and Paul Raducha, Kersarge project developer, "for bringing your solar business to our town."
Hall told Comolli that he wanted the "safest marijuana cultivation allowed by state and local law." Hall also asked that Comolli make efforts to seek input from the police department on security measures to protect residents and the department's officers. The department should have "a real opportunity to contribute to the productive growth of a legal business that is recognized by the state and by local laws," Hall said.
If necessary, Hall said Comolli should provide an expert on medical marijuana and public safety when the board reviews more detailed plans in the future.