Concerns about health and environmental safety prompted several residents living around the Vertical Wellness hemp plant — which is temporary closed — to seek help from the Trigg County Fiscal Court on Monday night.
Trigg County resident Dawn Grady told the fiscal court that the state’s Division for Air Quality shut down the plant on Nov. 10 for a 10-day period, although she was uncertain about the reason for the closure.
A statement from The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Division for Air Quality early Tuesday afternoon addressed the shut down.
“Governor Beshear and Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman are working every day to protect the health and safety of Kentuckians through the efforts of a responsive and transparent government. The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Division for Air Quality (DAQ) has responded quickly to address citizen odor complaints about Vertical Wellness, a Cadiz hemp processing company,” according to the statement. “After an investigation, DAQ found that the company was operating without an air permit and was violating air standards for odor and opacity. Secretary Goodman issued an order on Nov. 10, 2020 for the company to ‘discontinue, abate and alleviate.’ The company remains shut down. Vertical Wellness has responded with a remediation plan and DAQ is working with the company to resolve the issue. A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday.”
At the meeting, Grady said she is an engineer by trade who lives less than a mile from the facility located off of U.S. 68 on Roger Thomas Road.
“I know that the smoke coming out is not steam,” she told the court. “I know how to read smoke. I’ve read it for the last 15 years.”
Grady said she was approached by neighbors affected by the smoke and called the state to discuss the issue.
“In my experience, I was never allowed to emit that kind of smoke. Anything over 20% is usually not allowed for an industry in the state of Kentucky,” she said. “That’s where I started questioning how they were able to emit the kind of smoke that they had. They kept telling us it was steam, but steam doesn’t have color. This smoke had color and it was at 100% opacity.”
In her correspondence with the state, Grady said her intention was not to shut the facility down.
“My intention was to have an operating facility that was operating cleanly,” she said. “Ultimately, my outcome was to make sure the city prevents this from happening again.”
Grady said a system of checks and balances with permits could have prevented Vertical Wellness from emitting contaminated smoke and foul odor.
“I know we needed the jobs. I’m glad we have the jobs,” she said. “I just want them to operate as every other factory in Kentucky has to.”
Paul Greene lives about one-half mile north of Vertical Wellness and told the court that the smell from the plant has infiltrated his house.
“My name is Paul Greene, G-r-e-e-n-e. My middle name is fed up,” he said. “My wife has been sick or she would be here tonight. I took her to the doctor. Her eyes were burning, her throat was burning. She had headaches. It wasn’t the COVID because we had that two weeks ago. The doctor said she was inhaling too much carbon monoxide.”
Greene pleaded with the fiscal court to help them.
“I’m just wondering if our elected officials can’t do anything about it, is it going to take a class action lawsuit?” he said.
Retired registered nurse John Hadenwald requested that Vertical Wellness be shut down until an environmental impact study is completed and whatever their recommendation is implemented and evaluate its effectiveness.
“I’m being impacted by the air that is being produced by the hemp process,” he said. “It’s your responsibility as the governing body of Trigg County-Cadiz to be sure that all citizens are protected by the Clean Air Act … It’s our God-given right to have clean air. We shouldn’t have to fight for it.”
Judge Executive Hollis Alexander said the state agencies which oversee these facilities have been onsite to review the hemp plant multiple times.
“I don’t know what to say other than I empathize with you. I understand the situation,” he said. “I also understand that the Division of Air Quality has been there at least monthly since April. I know the Division of Water has been there. The Division of Waste Management. The people with the regulatory power over that kind of thing are investigating the place.”
Alexander said he is aware the facility is shut down temporarily.
“I don’t know of any law or any statutory authority that this court has over that industry or that building or even that industrial park up there,” he said. “If they meet the standards that Air Quality, Division of Water, Division of Waste have given them, I’m not sure what we as a court body can do to affect their business.”
Squire Cameron Sumner suggested the court review and “beef up” the Trigg County zoning ordinances to ensure incidents like these do not happen again.
In other business, Sheriff Aaron Acree attended his first fiscal court meeting since returning from administrative leave following the Oct. 28 fatal shooting of 44-year-old Bennie “Shawn” Biby of Cadiz during an altercation. The Kentucky State Police is still investigating the incident.
Acree and Maj. Mike Sandbrink presented the court with requests to replace two of the sheriff’s department vehicles.
“Since day one I told the county I’m going to give them 100% — not only out of me, but that’s what I expect out of my staff as well,” Acree said. “In order for us to do that, we have to be not only fully staffed, but the equipment to respond. We need equipment to be 100%.”
Acree noted that one of the pickups has more than 180,000.
“Anyone in the law enforcement field knows that is not tactically sound to be responding for emergency purposes,” he said. “We can’t do that and perform with vehicles like that.”
Acree said officers are using expired ballistic vests and tasers that need to be replaced.
“The goal here is to not be a financial burden,” he said. “We need equipment to effectively perform our job. We can’t just kick the can down the road and allow these things to happen.”
Sandbrink said the cost for 10 of the newest tasers over a five-year period is about $34,000. He said to trade the department’s 19 X-26 tasers, the company would credit them $180 each. He said the cost for maintenance on the department’s current tasers would be at least $3,000.
Sandbrink said kevlar vests are effective for five years. He estimated the cost per vest could be as much as $700.
Sandbrink said he has researched state homeland security grant opportunities for the equipment; however, there is a delay.
“The Trigg County Sheriff’s Department applied for an ammo grant in 2017. It was approved in March of 2020,” he said. “That didn’t have anything to do with COVID, but this is how far behind those particular state grants are.”
Alexander said he would present the request to the court’s budget committee.
“That’s some big numbers,” he said, noting that the ballistic vests would be the top priority.
The court also:
• Passed the first reading of an ordinance to reduce the speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph on Kings Chapel Road from Kentucky 3468 (old Highway 68/80) to Kentucky 272, a distance of approximately 3.7 miles. The measure passed 6-1, with Mike Lane voting against.
The second reading will be held on Dec. 7.
• Reappointed Lucas Hale as restaurant representative, John Oliphant as lodging representative and Matt Ladd as judge and fiscal court appointee to the tourism board for the term Dec. 30, 2020 through Dec. 30, 2023.
• Announced the Trigg County tire round-up will be held from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Thursday and 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Friday at Trigg County Road Depart.
• Alexander announced that on Nov. 25 the Donnie Tyler bridge on Highway 778 will be dedicated at noon and Malcolm Sons bridge on Highway 124 at 1 p.m.