Regulation drives out Chelan County farms

Eric Rosane, Co-Editor

Farms in Chelan County have been facing heavy zoning regulations since 2014 by county commissioners that are forcing a majority of farms to shut down or cease production all together. The ordinance, according to a report by KOHO101, details marijuana farms being regulated under industrial zoning instead of agriculture.

This has left the marijuana industry in Chelan County up in limbo.

According to Katrina Rostedt, president of the Central Washington Grower’s Association, an organization representing over 36 farms, Chelan County experienced their first marijuana based moratorium in 2014 after marijuana farms began to expand into Chelan County. Six months later they began issuing out licenses.

In February 2016, Chelan County imposed a second moratorium on marijuana farms and designated every license issued since October 2015 void, according to Rostedt.

“Looking at the ordinances that they passed, it doesn’t look too horrible. Unless you can understand the intricacies of what’s going on,” Rostedt said.

County Commissioners did not respond to any calls for comment left by the Observer.

According to Rostedt, whose company CWGA has filed two suits against the county, Chelan County marijuana farms make up less than one percent of total land. Total acreage for marijuana farms adds up to around 40 acres.

Jenny Beall, owner of Sysco Panchos Farm, said that her farms has been directly impacted by the regulations instilled by the county and that she believes that their decisions are not ones that a majority of the community believe in.

“Noone is stepping up and making an actual critical decision, their just bashing it off of opinion,” Beall said.

Beall said that one reason why commissioners were gunning for the industrial zoning was because they were getting complaints regarding the smell. The commission has gone through two years of public meetings and land commissioner recommendations.

“They’re invested more into those complaints than into basing their decisions on fact,” Beall said.

Terpenes, or organic compounds which produce fragrant oils, according to Beall, were another reason why the ordinance went into effect. The argument, according to Beall, was that terpenes were harmful to the community.

“In high doses, they can be lethal. But we’re just not there,” Beall said. “I’ve worked on farms for years and I’m the healthiest person.”

To farmers like Beall and Rostedt, these ordinances have been fatal to business. Rostedt describes her business as stagnant – there’s uncertainty in the air as they prepare for their late year harvest. Beall said that her farm is considering shutting down.

Josh Bitterman, owner of NCW Grow and ceo of Evergreen Productions, is a fourth generation farmer. He said that some farms have invested millions of dollars into this farm and that it’s difficult that they all might have to pick up and leave.

“We have everything in this, our life savings… we don’t know if we’ll wake up tomorrow and it’ll be the day that they tell us to get out,” Bitterman said.

Bitterman said that his production, Evergreen Farms, which he started in 2014, is indoor and that most farms aren’t planting because they’re afraid of getting sued. Bitterman said that he’s also in the process of negotiating with the county to rezone his own building to continue operations.

Bitterman also believes that at this rate, only three farms in Chelan will be able to operate. There’s currently around 30 farms. In October, during harvest, Bitterman employs around 50 employees.

Bitterman said that he’s willing to continue working with the county on zoning regulations in hopes that it could benefit all parties involved.