LAKEPORT, ONT.—On a slate-grey Friday afternoon, the snow drifting through the Lakeport Cemetery is the liveliest thing in sight around this Northumberland County hamlet.Then a glance in the rear-view mirror reveals a yellow school bus swinging north onto Townline Rd. with its final load of the week. Lawyer Bill Gale, pictured at his Toronto office, has a weekend home in Lakeport. He’s not happy about his new neighbour, a company planning to produce cannabis. (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)Just before turning off County Rd. 31, however, the bus and its scholars would have passed right by a tin-and-cinderblock factory, which sits on the border between Cramahe and Alnwick/Haldimand townships and is the only visible place of business in this town east of Cobourg, near Lake Ontario.And the business that’s emerging in the former canning plant has many in Lakeport angry that it will change the nature of the hamlet.“They’re going to put a cannabis growing operation in there,” says Femma Norton, a leader of the Defend Lakeport residents association that has sprung up in opposition to the facility. “When you see the history of Lakeport, it changes the whole dynamics of the quaint little hamlet that we have here.”As the legalization of recreational pot takes hold in Canada, plants like this planned Sharpshooter Industries Inc. operation are opening across the country, prompting several bouts of citizen concern, including recently in Hamilton and Pelham, Ont.The 31,000-square-foot plant — which will produce cannabis flower, extracts and oils — would be Sharpshooter’s first.“Ultimately, the question to ask is: would there even be an issue if the operation was to grow and process roses and rose oil, versus cannabis and cannabis oil?” says Sharpshooter CEO Omar Fattah, in an emailed response to questions from the Star.The company’s origin story tells of founder Scott Hamilton helping to cure a pseudonymous Canadian veteran of the war in Afghanistan — named as John Smith on the company website — of post-traumatic stress disorder with his cannabis extract formula. The story goes that in late 2014, Hamilton, also a veteran, had given Smith a dose of CBD, an active component of the cannabis plant with reputed healing properties, to stunning effect.“John burst open the door to Scott’s office with tears of joy rolling down his face. He had managed to leave the house for the first time in months. CBD had cured him!” the story goes. “He was free of his emotional prison. He could function again. He got his life back.”But Lakeport’s introduction to the company — which hopes to begin operations in the summer of 2020 and employ 15 to 25 people — has been marked not by joy and revelation, but by secretive end runs that have kept even local politicians in the dark, many here say.Defend Lakeport members Cinnamon Combs, left, Femma Norton and Gritt Koehl in front of the proposed Sharpshooter Industries pot plant in the hamlet of Lakeport, east of Cobourg, Ont. (Toronto Star)While the Sharpshooter plans received an initial nod of approval from Cramahe Township last April, for example, Alnwick/Haldimand Mayor John Logel says he knew nothing about them until December.“The only thing that brought it to our attention, really, as much as anything was neighbours … coming to us and saying there is a fence going up,” says Logel, who kept his mayoral job by acclamation in last fall’s election. “We have never been approached regarding any planning or thoughts” of setting up the new plant.Fattah says his company, which bought the plant in 2017, has kept all parties abreast of its plans. He said the company is addressing all the concerns the residents have raised over the past few months.Read more:What it takes to be a cannabis sommelierOttawa unveils legislation on pardonsOntario launches cannabis retail trainingThrough a quirk of cartography, the hamlet of Lakeport spans two townships, and thus two local governments. To the west is Alnwick/Haldimand. To the east is Cramahe. But almost all the residents of Lakeport live to the west, in Alnwick/Haldimand.The townships’ borderline cuts through the Sharpshooter property, which is 1.6 hectares (four acres). And the actual plant building — on the eastern part of its property — lies entirely in Cramahe.Logel says the company will have to seek his Alnwick/Haldimand council’s approval before going forward. The plant’s border placement has emerged as a critical part of the controversy that’s grown up around the enterprise, says Gritt Koehl, another leader of the Lakeport pot rebellion.Koehl, a local activist, says the company has cultivated politicians and prominent citizens in Cramahe Township while leaving Alnwick/Haldimand residents — the bulk of the hamlet’s population — in the dark.“It’s one parcel of land with a building on it that sits over two townships,” Koehl says, “but Sharpshooter chose to shut Alnwick/Haldimand out.”Says Norton: “We knew nothing about it.”The first indication Toronto employment lawyer Bill Gale had that a cannabis plant was being built beside his weekend home was when he and his wife, Marna, approached their driveway along County Rd. 31 on a Saturday in late November last year, he says.“There was this huge chain-link fence probably 100 yards long down the side of the road,” Gale says. “And my wife — she’s a big Stephen King fan — she just shouted out, ‘It’s Shawshank,’” a reference to the horror writer’s fictional prison.The new, 2.4-metre-high fence surrounded a property that was once undulating. But it had been bulldozed flat; trees and vegetation no longer hid the factory from Gale’s wedge-shaped acre of tranquillity.“Until recently we just loved the solitude and the peacefulness of the place,” he says.Of course Gale knew he was buying a property beside an industrial plant when he purchased it — along with its 19th-century home and a barn — back in 2009.“It was an industry. They made electric wire (at the time and) the person who sold us the house said ‘very nice neighbours, quiet, you won’t even notice they’re there,’” he says. “And that turned out to be the case.”Gale’s property — bordering in the north and east on the Sharpshooter land — is now fully exposed to the factory. For Gale, Norton and Koehl, potential disruptions include a depletion of the local water table, increased traffic and crime, harm to a nearby wetland and a pervasive smell of weed. Norton worries the water-intensive undertaking will tap out the community’s groundwater supply. Despite Lakeport’s location on the Lake Ontario shore, its well water supply — which all residents tap into — has proven iffy in the past.“We already have a problem with wells going dry around here,” Norton says.In response to all these concerns, Fattah says his plant will be a big improvement over the heavy industry uses that were there in recent decades. Until recently the facility produced vehicle brakes.“The transition from machinery-focused operations to cannabis production is a benefit,” Fattah says. “First, we have cleaned up the premises by removing all kinds of unsightly industrial debris that was visible to residents,” he says. Photos supplied by Sharpshooter show its site in Lakeport before the company cleaned it up to prepare for a cannabis plant. (Sharpshooter)Second, Fattah says, Sharpshooter’s operation will be very quiet compared to previous industrial usages and will comply with all Health Canada regulations.“This calls for very strict and extremely high standards of cleanliness and emissions that are on par with any food-grade manufacturing operation,” he says.“Third, with the direction of a qualified hydrogeological firm, Sharpshooter will review the existing well and groundwater levels to determine what volume of water can be used from the aquifer.”Fattah says previous plant operators used large quantities of water without a community uproar and that the contemplated design of his operation would have it capture and reuse most of its water.“So actual water consumption is quite low,” he says.As for the smell, Fattah says the Health Canada rules the plant must adhere to will minimize the wafting scent of weed — with activated charcoal and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters mandatory.The plant’s Shawshank impression and potential to attract crime are being overstated, says Fattah, who promised “multi-level security systems.” He said the current plan is not to sell to the public from the facility. Regarding concerns for the wetlands, he said Sharpshooter must abide by conservation authority rules, and would be cleaner than the previous brake-pad manufacturing operations there. Still, a recent petition — conducted by Norton and fellow committee member Cinnamon Combs at 44 of Lakeport’s 70-odd homes — collected 54 signatures opposing the plant, with only three residents refusing to sign.What bothers Gale, the Toronto lawyer, most is the general feeling that the company is being dismissive of its Lakeport neighbours and that the plant just doesn’t fit in with the rural scape of a place first settled in 1793.“It’s just ugly and it’s just counter to the whole community there,” he says. “I know Sharpshooter has said they want to work with the neighbours, but they have not once reached out to me as the neighbour who is surrounded on two sides by them.”Cannabis plant opponent Femma Norton, with piles of protest-related papers at the kitchen table of her Lakeport home. (Toronto Star)This lack of outreach has stretched across the entire community, says Norton of Defend Lakeport, amid the mounds of protest-related papers straining the kitchen table in her pretty, plant-filled home.“They’ve ignored us completely,” she says.But Fattah says his company has given the required public notice on both sides of the township border.“Sharpshooter has been diligent in informing all necessary parties of the company’s intentions, as dictated by Health Canada regulations,” he says.He says that in August 2017, Sharpshooter sent a letter to Cramahe and Alnwick/Haldimand municipal offices, as well as the local OPP unit and the Brighton Fire Department, to notify them of the intention to open a cannabis production operation.Recently elected Cramahe Mayor Mandy Martin says Sharpshooter approached that township’s council last April — under her predecessor Marc Coombs — seeking its “support in principle” to go ahead with Health Canada licensing approval.“A municipality has to indicate that they are willing to listen to these people before they will be considered for approval, for example from Health Canada,” says Martin. She says Cramahe’s response was that Sharpshooter was welcome to apply.Cramahe Mayor Mandy Martin says Sharpshooter will need to fulfil extensive site-planning requirements before it gets her township’s final green light. (John Campbell/Metroland)While Martin says industries score “extra points” with regulators for such municipal nods, she says the company must still meet extensive township site-planning demands before it receives the final go-ahead on her side of the line. She maintains Cramahe has no idea how the company will propose to meet those demands — on water, sewage and parking issues, for example — and that the enterprise is no sure thing.The company “hasn’t presented us with anything,” Martin says. “They have made no applications, they have not come before my council.”In general, however, Martin says she would not oppose a cannabis grower on the hamlet’s edge if the company passes her municipal muster. “In principle it’s zoned industrial. The land has been industrial for decades,” she says, adding she needs to see the details.Martin adds that the plant specs will also have to satisfy county planners, the county health department, conservation authority personnel and officials with Canadian Pacific Railway, which runs a line nearby.“It will have to fly through all kinds of hoops,” she says, adding the company has given her no timetable for submitting its site approval plan.Gale, the facility’s neighbour, says he’s been disturbed by the approach of Martin and other Cramahe officials. Cramahe officials “have a very laissez-faire, let-them-eat-cake sort of attitude,” he says.Gale says Martin’s assertion that there’s little her council can do to bar the plant if it meet planning regulations — given the industrial zoning — is nonsense. He dismisses the argument that this would be unlawful discrimination.“That’s their job. They discriminate every day — ‘we’re going to discriminate against this building application, we’re going to discriminate against this or that.’”The nearby communities of Brighton and Cobourg have enacted zoning bylaws dictating where cannabis production facilities can be built — in particular away from schools and residential areas. In Cobourg, a cannabis plant has been retrofitted into a former Kraft factory in an industrial park, Gale says.Cannabis industry expert Rod Elliot says the province’s marijuana licensing act applies to retail stores only. But when it comes to a cannabis production facility, not mentioned in the act, Elliot believes municipalities are required to deal with it as with any other industry applying for a permit.“It would be the same as if a Coca-Cola plant was applying there,” says Elliot, a senior vice-president with the Toronto consulting firm Global Public Affairs. “They need to treat it like any other business.”While Elliot says there has been some resident backlash, most municipal governments have an open-arms attitude — especially having seen how the cannabis giant Canopy Growth transformed the town of Smiths Falls, Ont.The Sharpshooter Industries facility in Lakeport. The proposed pot production site has been home to many different industries, including a brakepad manufacturer.Sharpshooter chose Lakeport because of its proximity to large population centres in the province, according to its website. Fattah, the CEO, says the company’s founder wanted it to be close to Belleville — about 50 kilometres east — and saw the plant for sale on a Multiple Listing Service.“Since it was listed in the municipality of Cramahe, he called the municipal office and confirmed that the industrial zoning was suitable for cannabis,” he says. “Later in the purchase process, it was discovered that part of the property was in Alnwick/Haldimand, which is why this municipality also received a letter to inform it of the building’s intended use.” Martin, the Cramahe mayor, says residents mounting the Sharpshooter fight are ignoring several relevant details. For one, she says, there are already a number of odoriferous pot growers in the neighbourhood.“Like there are 10 … Quonset huts which are so much closer to these people, and they’re growing,” Martin says. “That’s a (medical) grow-op and that one has smell. But these (Lakeport) people don’t seem to have any bother with these other grow-ops.”Martin says such plants tend to spring up like weeds in the area.“Out here in these rural municipalities it’s like the Wild West,” she says. “It’s the grow-ops that are really a problem. And the stink is unbelievable when it’s ready.”As well, Martin says, the prospective Sharpshooter facility has not been a pristine presence in Lakeport since its days as a canning facility for local produce decades ago.“The brake-pad company that just left in January (was) not a very clean industry.”Like Martin, Logel, mayor of Alnwick/Haldimand township, sees potential positives, especially in jobs for residents. But he says several steps would be required before his township approved the plant. Those include proper hydrological studies showing it would not deplete the water table. He also says the zoning on his side of the line calls for light, shop-like operations on the Alnwick/Haldimand side of the property.But in the end, Logel says Lakeport’s Sharpshooter opponents might well be out of luck should the company come in with acceptable site plans.“That’s a tricky one … I’ll be perfectly honest with you,” he says. The cannabis laws “are confusing and seem to change from one day to the next … but my understanding is you can’t restrict growing or handling cannabis in areas just because it’s cannabis.”And Martin also maintains her hands will be tied if the company files acceptable site plans.“I can’t just turn it down because it’s cannabis,” she says. “Some people they are just anti-cannabis … It’s legal now so it qualifies as an industry. Just think of it as a widget factory. ”Joseph Hall is a Toronto-based reporter and feature writer. Reach him on email: email@example.comTOP STORIES, DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX.