Hemp test proposed for Louisville industrial site cleanup

Published: Feb. 18, 2014 at 5:21 AM EST|Updated: Apr. 4, 2014 at 4:22 AM EDT
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Sen. Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - State agriculture officials announced plans to grow industrial hemp on an abandoned industrial site in Louisville to test its ability to remove toxins from the soil.

The initiative, announced Monday, is one of five pilot projects statewide, some of which would focus on growing hemp in Eastern Kentucky. Besides the environmental benefits, hemp supporters said the crop will create new jobs in the state because of its various industrial uses.

Kentucky is one of nine states where growing hemp is legal. In January Congress approved a farm bill that allows states and universities to grow industrial hemp for research.

"Republicans and Democrats worked together on this," Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican, said at Monday's announcement. "You think we hate each other, we never work together. We did work together on hemp."

Mayor Greg Fischer has been working with state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer for the past two weeks on the environmental test in Louisville, said Chris Poynter, a spokesman for the mayor.

Poynter said the scale and location of the pilot project hasn't been decided. There are hundreds of brownfield sites to choose from, many inside the Watterson Expressway, he said.

If the plan moves forward, University of Louisville researchers would then grow hemp and study how quickly it removed toxins from the ground, potentially cleaning up the site for new development.

"We look forward to hearing from Commissioner Comer, Louisville Metro government officials and others about UofL's potential role in researching new ways to reclaim polluted lands," said Mark Hebert, a university spokesman, in a statement.

Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, urged agriculture officials to move forward on commercial hemp production by 2015. Hornback was the primary sponsor of last year's legislation legalizing hemp in Kentucky.

The state has the opportunity to bring businesses to Kentucky to make everything from car interiors to cosmetics -- all of which use hemp fibers, Hornback said.

"The first one in on a new business venture is the one that's going to get the most benefit out of it," he said.

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