Medical marijuana firms show interest in Mystic Monsanto site
Stonington — The controversial Mystic plant-research site that Monsanto Co. plans to shut down this year has drawn the interest of two groups looking into using the modern facilities for growing medical marijuana, First Selectman Rob Simmons said Monday.
Simmons' revelation came soon after a state website indicated that Monsanto had issued a formal notice of the closure, which will occur in two phases starting Oct. 29. The shutdown, announced last year, will result in the loss of 40 jobs locally, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification dated Aug. 29 and released Monday to The Day by the state Department of Labor.
Since Monsanto's initial announcement, Simmons said, two organizations have indicated an interest in Monsanto's Maritime Drive site for growing medical marijuana. He has advised the groups to talk with Monsanto officials about their plans as well as check in with state authorities to determine what kinds of permits would be required.
"It's an ideal place for that kind of activity," Simmons said in a phone interview.
Simmons said he didn't know whether current zoning laws specifically addressed the issue of having a medical-marijuana growing facility in town. But he said Monsanto's security systems and growing facilities, which currently focus on genetically modified corn seeds, could be attractive for marijuana growers.
Monsanto in the past has been the focus of protests because of the company's emphasis on genetically modified seeds intended to help farmers grow more corn in less space. Protesters have questioned the safety of the enhanced seeds, and at one time several of them pressured the nearby Denison Pequotsepos Center to renounce a Monsanto gift to the nonprofit.
Monsanto had announced the site's closure last year, but did not give an exact date. The company said at the time that it expected about half of its local salaried employees to relocate to Chesterfield, Mo., but only one worker took Monsanto up on the offer, according to the company's closure notification.
"Many other employees declined relocation offers," said Monsanto's letter, signed by Jennifer K. Scheessele, global human resources compliance lead for the company.
Monsanto said severance packages included a lump sum payment, extended benefits, planning assistance and job-search help. It added that 39 people will get severance packages, including those who refused to transfer.
Last year's announcement that the former DeKalb Genetics Corp. plant would be closing caught Stonington officials off guard because Monsanto never informed the town of its decision ahead of time.
"It came as a complete shock to me," said Simmons on Monday.
The company said the closing was part of a downsizing that will lead to 3,600 job losses worldwide by October 2017. Work currently being done in Mystic and other company facilities in Wisconsin and North Carolina will be transferred to Monsanto's R&D Center for Excellence near St. Louis.
Monsanto said in its notification letter that 35 people would be laid off Oct. 29, but another four will stay for an unspecified period to shut down the facility. It said the closure was related to advances in technology and the need for a more centralized approach to research.
Monsanto did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment about its plans for the building, but in the past it has indicated it would be seeking a buyer for the laboratory, greenhouse and fields on 16 acres. The interior space totals 79,000 square feet, with 28,000 square feet devoted to the greenhouse.
Simmons said the only specific plan for the site he has heard other than for medical marijuana would involve turning it into a school. He said Blunt White, chairman of the town's Economic Development Commission, has been actively scouting new tenants and new uses.
"What a great location for a research-oriented company to relocate," he said.
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