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A hemp headache

For 38 years, Arnie Abrams has enjoyed his quiet country life outside of Ashland with idyllic views of the valley below him.

That peace and quiet was upended over the past year when hemp grows began surrounding his house, and he fears that what remains of his rural lifestyle will be completely undermined if a Jackson County-approved hemp processing plant is built on farmland across the street.

“These people have no interest in being good farmers,” said Abrams, who has joined forces with other neighbors to oppose the project, even as work has gotten underway to prepare the concrete pad for the building.

The 66-year-old has appealed the Jackson County Planning Department’s approval of a 100-by-100-foot commercial hemp oil-extraction plant on the Magu Maiden Farms property off Valley View Road.

At 10:30 a.m., Oct. 21, the Jackson County Hearings Officer will hold a public hearing on the appeal at the county courthouse, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford.

Abrams said the processing plant is the latest battle over a number of issues including the “circus tents” used for drying hemp, generators running 24 hours a day, the odor of hemp, the plastic used on the fields and other farm operations during the night.

Abrams, who voted to legalize marijuana in Oregon, said he realizes it may be a losing proposition to fight the hemp facility because state laws generally favor agricultural operations.

“Any way I look at it, I’m going to lose,” he said. “We want to get out of here, the Rogue Valley.”

While he contemplates moving to the Willamette Valley, Abrams said he hopes county officials adopt regulations to make hemp farming more compatible with the surrounding community, and he has expressed concern about increasing the fire danger in a rural area from processing plants.

He said there appear to be four different operations on various portions of the property, and he’s had some unpleasant encounters over the past year.

“This one women said, ‘I’m going to make your life a living hell,’” he said.

He’d like to sell his property, which he’s lived on for 38 years, but thinks no one would buy it because it’s surrounded by hemp fields.

“We’re just stuck here,” Abrams said.

Referring to many of the claims made about CBD, the active ingredient in hemp used for pain, sleep and other maladies, as “snake oil,” Abrams said he might have to ride out the hemp craze.

He said the property the hemp is grown on, formerly owned by former Sheriff Mike Winters, formerly was used for cattle, an agricultural use Abrams preferred.

The company that is trying to build the processing plant was featured in a trade article recently, particularly a five-year deal with Khrysos Industries Inc., which produces hemp extraction equipment.

“Extraction and post-processing fulfillment and revenues are anticipated to begin in the fourth quarter of 2019, with revenues forecasted at $60 million through 2024,” according to an Aug. 24 release from Youngevity International Inc., a subsidiary of Khrysos.

The dollar estimate is based on the ability to secure buyers for the product and the timeframe needed to build the extraction and processing facilities.

The application for the hemp processing plant was made by Maria Rubiano, co-founder of Magu.

In the Youngevity release, Rubiano said the new facility should enable her company to scale up operations over the next five years.

Rubiano could not be reached for comment.

Alan Nussbaum, co-founder of Magu, said his operation has attempted to be a good neighbor while it scales up its operations.

“We’re doing everything by the book,” he said.

Jackson County planning records for the hemp operation describes in some detail the process for converting raw hemp products into CBD (cannabidiol) oil, which doesn’t produce the “high” of its molecular cousin, THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, found in recreational marijuana.

The hemp is received in 500-pound super stacks and stored in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse inside the 100-by-100-foot processing facility.

Raw hemp is ground up and sifted in a 500-square-foot room, and then the material is baked in preparation for extraction. After baking, the CBD oil from the material is extracted under pressure using carbon dioxide, or CO2.

Jackson County planners decided against the use of ethanol to extract CBD because of concerns about flammability and the potential for ground contamination.

Last year, Jackson County denied an application for a CBD processing plant in Eagle Point, partially because of fire risks from using ethanol and partially because it was considered a higher impact industrial operation.

Processing hours at the Magu facility on Valley View are 6 a.m. to sunset, and about 50-percent of the hemp biomass that will run through the facility will be grown on the surrounding acreage.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Arnie Abrams says that a hemp farm adjacent to his property has affected the value of his home in Ashland.