Trouble at mill: Serious accident at legal grow-op site raises local concerns
Police investigate a marijuana grow operation and serious accident at former sawmill
Residents of a remote B.C. valley want to know how licences to grow marijuana were issued at a troubled mill site.
The mothballed Meadow Creek Cedar sawmill, located 100 kilometres north of Nelson, was raided by police at the end of August after a serious industrial accident. The mill is owned by Daljit (Dale) Singh Kooner from Surrey, a controversial businessman who bought it off a Japanese company in 2005.
The former mill sat idle for years following several investigations including a 2014 fire. Kooner was accused of not paying workers for overtime and statutory holidays in 2011, and ordered to pay out $50,000 dollars in back wages.
The Forest Practices Board initiated several investigations, and in 2012, the Ministry of Forests fined Meadow Creek Cedar $42,000 dollars for not adequately replanting trees.
Then, last month, on Aug. 26, RCMP were called to the mill in tiny Cooper Creek — which is a cluster of homes, farms and a mill — after reports that a 46-year-old man was tampering with a live BC Hydro line.
Accident sparks search
The boom crane he was using to access the line had collapsed and the worker fell to the ground seriously injuring himself.
He was taken to hospital and police obtained two warrants to search the sprawling mill site. RCMP say they found around 11,000 marijuana plants growing in buildings around the mill, including the former dry kiln.
Police say there were five licences to legally grow marijuana connected to the mill.
Dale Kooner did not respond to CBC's inquiries.
Police began seizing the marijuana from the operation, and said the amount seized was higher than the amount allowed on the licences.
"There were multiple buildings there with multiple licences," said RCMP Sgt. Brett Turner of the Kootenay Boundary RCMP.
"Adding up all the licences, the amount seized was significantly higher than the legal amount that was allowed to be grown," said Turner.
He said it took 10 officers a week to haul away all the bud and investigate.
Meanwhile, RCMP are investigating the crane accident and the grow operation, and have sealed off the site. No charges have been laid and the allegations have not been proven in court.
Although Kooner is the owner of the site, it's not known if he has the five licences to grow marijuana.
Local residents, meanwhile, have complained to the regional district director, Aimee Watson, asking how anyone with connections to the Meadow Creek Cedar mill could get a licence to grow marijuana.
"Given how remote this area is there was literally no one investigating or paying attention to what they were supposed to be doing," Watson said.
Over the years, there were numerous civil suits brought against Meadow Creek Cedar and, 2013, Kooner was fined $12,000 for running an unsafe work site.
The Ministry of Forests eventually suspended the mill's licence and the forest tenure was sold to other companies.
Not long after the fire, Kooner turned the mill site itself into a marijuana operation.
In response to resident complaints about the marijuana operation, Watson said she contacted Health Canada, but got nowhere. "I was getting all sorts of reports that there was way more plants than there should be. It was out of control," she said.
"I had no support from Health Canada to have anyone investigate."
Watson said she thinks RCMP in the area don't know how to deal with Health Canada because of confusion with regulations. "No one was doing anything about it."
Health Canada will not comment on the situation at the Meadow Creek Cedar site, or say who has the five licences there.
"Due to privacy concerns, Health Canada cannot confirm the status or terms of a licence," says Tammy Jarbeau with media relations at Health Canada.
Along with the criminal investigation there is also an investigation by WorksafeBC into the injured worker. RCMP says he suffered serious lower body injuries.
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the Forest Practices Board fined Meadow Creek Cedar. In fact, the FPB conducted the investigation, but the fine was issued by the provincial Ministry of Forests.Sep 12, 2019 5:18 PM PT
with files from Liam Britten