Vertical Wellness hemp plant in Cadiz has reached an agreement with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet to temporarily reopen its plant while it works to rectify failures to follow state regulations.
Earlier in the year, Trigg County residents informed the cabinet that they believed the plant, located at 134 Roger Thomas Road, was not operating within the state’s environmental guidelines. The cabinet reported that since March 30, it had received 22 complaints from 10 different citizens.
Court records obtained by the New Era shed more light on the story.
On Nov. 10, the Energy and Environment Cabinet filed an order to discontinue, abate and alleviate against the hemp plant, effectively shutting down the plant. The order found three areas of wrongdoing by the plant.
Operation without a permit
The plant was accused of operating without proper permits. According to court documents, around April 1, representatives of the cabinet’s Division for Air Quality inspected the Vertical Wellness site in response to claims that the site had “a smoke stack emitting a burning smell.”
The state representatives found a white plume emanating from a stack, and that the plant was operating without a permit or registration for the emission.
“… an employee of Vertical Wellness admitted that the site was constructed in December 2019 and had been operating since February 2020,” the court records state.
The records go on to say the plant constructed and continues to construct additional emissions units prior to submitting a registration application or obtaining a permit. Both of those actions are violations of the Kentucky Administrative Regulations.
The records state that the violations endanger the health and welfare of the people of the commonwealth.
From July 20 to Oct. 22, the plant increased its production throughput by 500%, from around 20,000 pounds per day to 100,000 pounds per day. The records indicate that the plant did not have proper permits for the increase.
At the time of the order’s filing, the plant’s most recent permit application allowed the plant to process 96,000 pounds per day.
The records state, “the frequency of complaints regarding the odor of emissions emanating from the site has increased proportionately with the increased unpermitted operation and throughput at the site.”
Violation of the secondary ambient air quality standard
Around Sept. 15, a representative of the DAQ again inspected the plant in response to complaints of fumes emitting from smoke stacks. When one volume of ambient air — air from the plant — was mixed with seven volumes of odorless air, there was a detectable hemp odor, violating KAR statutes.
Around Oct. 15, another representative of DAQ found the same violations. On Oct. 21, DAQ issued a Notice of Violation, requiring the plant to implement a corrective action plan and submit a written response within 15 days.
The plant failed to meet the demands.
Violation of the particulate matter standard
Around Oct. 22, a DAQ representative again inspected the site in response to the 22 odor complaints. The representative observed continuous emissions with an opacity of 33.9%. The law only allows an opacity of 20% for particulate matter.
Court records state that Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman judged Vertical Wellness “is causing, engaging in, or maintaining a condition or activity which presents a danger to the health or welfare of the people of the state and results in or is likely to result in damage to natural resources …”
The plant was shut down on Nov. 10. After a hearing last Thursday, the plant and state began to negotiate on a plan of action.
The two parties filed an agreed order Monday to reopen the plant.
Corrective action plan
Under the order, Vertical Wellness agreed to operate the facility under strict accordance with a corrective action plan that was approved Friday by the cabinet. The Nov. 10 order has been suspended, but can be reinstated if the cabinet finds the plant is not following the plan.
In the short term, the plant must limit its production throughput. The plant cannot produce more than 96,000 pounds per day, or two tons.
The plant must also operate its hemp dryers based on recommendations from the dryer’s manufacturers. The facility is not allowed to operate its dryers at a temperature that exceeds the manufacturers recommendations.
The plant must only produce air emissions between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The plant is not allowed to engage in any operations that produce air emissions on Saturdays or Sundays.
The plan also gives long term actions Vertical Wellness must follow.
In the next seven days, the plant must retain an independent environmental consultant to verify the air permit application that it currently has pending before the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection. If the consultant finds any incomplete areas in the application, the plant must promptly identify the issue with KDEP.
The plant must also install KDEP-approved control devices “to address odors and opacity emissions from the process no later than March 2, 2021.”
The plant will not be awarded a final permit until it verifies the composition of its emissions. Vertical Wellness must provide KDEP with the results of its emissions assessment 45 days after its testing is complete.
“EEC is hopeful that the measures required will address the violations noted in the Abate and Alleviate Order. The Abate and Alleviate Order will be held in abeyance and can be reinstated if the EEC finds that Vertical Wellness’s operation poses a danger to human health or welfare,” according to a cabinet statement issued Monday. “Consultants to the company are on site to review the process to determine what needs to be done to address odor and other emissions from the facility.”
Addressing the violations
Drew Milburn, Vertical Wellness chief operating officer, said the company is pleased to be working with the state to remedy any areas of wrongdoing as outlined by the cabinet.
“We’re very happy that the cabinet is working with us to resolve the issues,” Milburn said in a phone interview Monday night. “We want to reiterate to the general public that we are working diligently to address any of their concerns. Their concerns have never fallen on deaf ears no matter what.”
Over the past few months, Milburn said the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the permitting process, as well as working with engineers to remedy the violations.
“We did adjust our permit and were in the process while this was all happening,” he said. “Any time that we were notified that we needed to do something, we made every effort to make sure that happened.”
Although the plant shut down Nov. 10, Milburn noted that Vertical Wellness has continued to receive odor complaints from the community.
“In some cases we feel that people are looking for something to find even when it’s clear that we haven’t been operating,” he said.
Milburn said the concerns of the state and Trigg County citizens have been a top priority for the company.
“It’s always been our intention to be a good neighbor and to be a good corporate citizen,” he said. “We feel we will continue to do that. Our intentions were always to be respectful to both the government and to our neighbors. None of that has changed for us.
“The community should expect us to meet the state’s standards and then some,” Milburn added.