Jeannette residents: Hemp-drying warehouse stinks
A new hemp-drying facility delivered jobs to Jeannette, but neighbors are unhappy with the odor that emanates from a large warehouse on Thomas Avenue.
City officials said Patriot Shield Security failed to get an occupancy permit prior to opening a few weeks ago. Solicitor Tim Witt said Thursday that the city is reviewing the operation’s submission for an occupancy permit and working with them to ensure they comply with rules that would protect nearby residents from the odor.
“It’s a good thing if it creates jobs,” but the city needs to make sure those ordinances are followed, Witt said.
Tyler Dickinson, chief risk officer for Patriot Shield Security, said there was a “miscommunication” between the property management company it works with and the city regarding the permit.
“We had the city officials come by within our first week of operations and were given a verbal confirmation for a 90-day temporary permit at that time,” he said.
The company plans to install 18 air scrubbers this week to mitigate the odor, he said.
“We originally chose this warehouse because it was in a heavy industrial zone,” he said.
Farmers from several states bring hemp — tens of thousands of pounds of it — to Patriot Shield Security to be dried into smokable hemp flowers, Dickinson said. About 70 people, mostly locals, work there, he said.
“There’s a large consumer base that enjoys smoking the hemp flower just like marijuana,” Dickinson said.
Many jobs at the warehouse are seasonal, and the workforce likely will shrink to 30-50 employees during the winter, he said. These employees do typical warehouse jobs, loading and unloading the trucks carrying hemp deliveries and hanging the hemp plants to dry.
Mayor Curtis Antoniak said he received more than a dozen complaints in the last week from residents and businesses surrounding the warehouse. Neighbor Robert Lock on Thursday described employees playing music loudly, smoking outside the building and standing in the street.
At 2 p.m. Thursday, a group of about 30 people, a couple of whom were wearing masks, was seen outside the building. A few people were impeding traffic at the Lafferty Street and Thomas Avenue intersection, and several others were seen getting into cars parked in front of homes on Lafferty Street.
The warehouse is separated from Lock’s backyard by an alley.
“When I drive by the front of the building, it just reeks,” he said.
The odor was evident Thursday in front of his house and several blocks away on Route 130. A property maintenance ordinance on the city’s books states that odors shall not be discharged onto neighboring property or tenants.
“We do have an ordinance that you cannot do that,” Antoniak said. “I’m going to fight this tooth and nail for our residents.”
Dickinson said the company has stopped playing music, and supervisors are cracking down on littering by employees.
Fire Chief Bill Frye said the operation is leasing part of the warehouse and other tenants occupy space there.
“We didn’t know about it until it was operating and we started getting calls on it,” he said.
Dickinson said the company has been in contact with the Jeannette Police Department since it opened.
The smoke from hemp flowers tastes like pot and delivers the purported health and relaxation benefits of cannabinoids, without the THC that gets the smoker high, according to Dickinson.
Hemp Industry Daily last year reported that smokable hemp was one of the fastest-growing hemp sectors. Sales in 2018 grew to $11.5 million, or 250% more than the previous year, and accounted for 2% of the overall CBD market, according to Brightfield Group, a Chicago-based cannabis market research firm.
Patriot Shield Security started last year in Colorado, providing transportation and security for hemp and cannabis businesses, Dickinson said. Customers wanted places to store and process their products, which led Patriot Shield to expand its mission, he said.
“We quickly found ourselves an accidental (logistics) company,” he said.
The Jeannette warehouse is the company’s first foray into Pennsylvania.
The Thomas Avenue warehouse is owned by Herzl Real Estate, an Israeli-American company that bought the property for nearly $1.5 million in 2017. Herzl initially hoped to turn the warehouse into a medical marijuana grower/processor, but the state did not grant its 2018 permit application.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the company that owns the warehouse as Herzl Capital. The correct name is Herzl Real Estate.