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In the Weeds

Firm approved to open a cannabis research facility in La Veta

by Bob Kennemer

Patrick Williams, President, Chief Science Officer for Sangre AgroTech, spoke with the La Veta Town Board at a public hearing on November 7. The firm plans to open a multi-million dollar genetic research lab in La Veta next year on the south end of town on Highway 12. The purpose is to study the cannabis genome, searching for medicines to treat human diseases. The facility will employ approximately 34 people by next fall, with a 2018 budget forecasted to be $6 million. When asked “Why La Veta for this lab?” Williams and his wife Mary responded that they were visiting the area last year and toured the Cuchara Valley, which they found beautiful. Noting she had been raised in Kansas, Mary stated, “I could live and work here!” Photo by Bob Kennemer.

LA VETA — After a 20 minute public hearing, the LVTB approved a commercial redevelopment application for Sangre AgroTech. The company is currently based in Tucson, Arizona and has the official name of Weed, Inc. “This will be an agricultural lab,” according to Patrick Williams, Ph.D., who serves as the President and Chief Science Officer for Sangre AgroTech.

Williams said the facility will be located at 5535 State Highway 12, where the Feed Store Church was previously located. “This lab will be used to study the genome or genetics of the cannabis plant so we can find out which parts of the plant could be used to treat human disease,” said Williams. There was a certain amount of concern and confusion from audience members, who some thought the business was going to be a commercial marijuana grow operation.

Lance Smit, a resident who lives near by the facility, asked if the plant will be growing marijuana and voiced concerns about possible odors leaving the lab. “No, we will not be growing marijuana,” stated Williams. He stressed the lab will be studying cannabis and there is a scientific difference. Under U.S. law, cannabis is the plant itself, and hemp and marijuana are specific parts of the plant. Hemp refers to the sterilized seeds, stems, stalks and roots. Marijuana is in reference to the viable seeds, leaves and flowers. However, it was noted that in the future, about two years from now, the lab will grow cannabis. “We will have a section where we will grow cannabis plants to maturity. After testing the plants will be destroyed and composted in our onsite community garden,” explained Williams.

When asked about security, Williams said the facility will have five security guards and will have, “24/7 security 365 days of the year,’ Williams added. There will also be a six foot high chain link fence with barbwire on top. La Veta resident Chip Kraynyk asked, “Why so much security?” Williams said the lab will house about 70 million in lab equipment and intellectual property. “Our tools of the trade are very expensive,” stated Williams.

There are plans to landscape around the fence. “We understand that a six foot chain link fence could be difficult to look at,” said Williams. He also addressed a concern about outdoor security lighting as it could affect La Veta’s dark skies. “We like astronomy and will respect the dark skies,” Williams said.

“By this time next year, the lab will employ around 34 people and within a few years up to 45 or 50,” Williams told the board. The firm hopes to hire about half the staff locally. The budget for 2018 is $6 million and the current five year budget projection will be over $40 million. Once back in regular session, the board unanimously approved the project.

No bids were awarded for the Ryus Avenue Bridge project, as the engineer from the Colorado Department of Transportation is on vacation and has yet to complete his review. Mayor Doug Brgoch expects bids will be awarded at the November 21 board meeting.

La Veta School Board of Education member John Albright, who serves as the director on the facilities committee, provided the town board with an overview of their work thus far. The BOE is considering three options: remodel, partial remodel or rebuild. Possibly, an entire new campus could be build adjacent to the new football field at the north entrance to town. Albright said he had been under the impression the school could not vacate Garland Street, where the school campus is currently located, but had recently spoken with Mayor Brgoch and learned the road could be vacated.

Brgoch and Albright went on to explain the advantages to being able to keep the schools in the heart of the town. Brgoch said, he had read literature pertaining to keeping small communities strong and that keeping the schools near the town center was crucial to that goal.

Albright said the committee had asked their architectural firm to draw up an additional sketch using land on Garland for buildings. “This design could make our campus safer,” said Albright. These drawings will be reviewed at a meeting on December 6, and Albright encouraged to community to attend.

It was noted by Trustee Mickey Schmidt there are water and sewer utilities that run under Garland which would have to be rerouted.

In the end, the board approved a motion to allow the school, if needed, to vacate Garland Street between Main Street and Birch Street, with the condition that the utilities be relocated.

In other business the board:

• Approved the payment of two invoices in the amount of $318.81 and $2,323.16 to Bohannan-Huston for their work on the Ryus Avenue Bridge.

• Approved paying one invoice for engineering work done by GMS, the town’s engineering firm. The invoice was for work performed on the town’s new sewage treatment plant totaling $48,565.76.

• Noted the town’s budget hearing will be held November 21 at 6:15 p.m.

• Approved a special events liquor license for the La Veta School of the Arts for the Annual Holiday Art Walk on December 1.

• Heard this year’s Spanish Peaks Music Festival was a success and would be donating $1,500 each to the Cuchara Valley Parks and Recreation Program and the La Veta 4-H program.

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