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SPRINGERVILLE — The prospect of a cannabis cultivation and infusion operation near the Springerville airport has come to the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration and they have asked the Town of Springerville to respond to the FAA’s concerns about that on or before March 1.

Background

The Town of Springerville has leased land it owns near its airport to a company called White Mountains Flower, L.L.C. (WMF) which has begun construction of a number of greenhouses to grow cannabis to be sold to wholesale suppliers. The town accomplished that by approving a lease and development agreement with WMF, and changed zoning ordinances to accommodate the facility. The town hopes to create new jobs and add replacement jobs expected to be lost with the pending closure of two units of a nearby power plant.

Pushback by residents, the group of 10

The move to accommodate the grow operation has provoked fierce pushback from about ten residents whose objections run the gamut. They complain about the road going to the farm not being adequate, that the workers are being mistreated by the company, that the farm will use too much water, that there were not enough environmental studies done, that the town violated open meetings laws and conflict of interest laws, that the town-owned parcel of property at issue is not even in the town but in the county, that town leaders tried to hide official town meetings and having poor COVID-19 protocols during town meetings, and finally that the fact that the town manager isn’t there anymore is just another sign of improper or illegal shenanigans.

The residents claim that their objections are not about marijuana, that they would object even in WMF were growing lettuce there. But they never fail to mention that the Apache County voters did not approve the legalization initiative. The group of residents has also voiced their concerns to the Apache County Board of Supervisors, The Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona.

The Independent is in dialogue with the group and the town to identify the specific basis of the objections and the town’s response. That dialogue is still ongoing, and the matter will continue to be be reported as it develops. The former town manager and the current town attorney have denied wrong doing.

Enter the Federal Government.

The Jan. 29, 2021 letter

But the FAA got wind of the plan when they were alerted to “additional information from the Springerville community regarding marijuana grow activities at JTC,” apparently the federal call letters for the Springerville Airport, according to a January 29 letter to the town from the manager of the Phoenix Airport District Office of the Federal Aviation Administration, of the US Department of Transportation. Now that the federal government has gotten involved in this, they may have the final word, and that raises a constitutional question.

The centuries-old American system of government, specifically the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution, establishes that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Volumes have been written about the Tenth Amendment and state’s rights. Some see a pattern since the founding of the country to be what some call a federal power grab and the dispute about the Springerville cannabis farm fits right into that age-old controversy.

In this case, a town with an airport in a state where marijuana is legal wants to create local jobs. But according to the Jan. 29 letter, Springerville is a “sponsor” of an airport as the FAA calls it. And Springerville has accepted money from the federal government, through the “Airport Improvement Program.”

In order to get the money, the town had to “certify” that it will abide by a set of rules called “Grant Assurances.” Grant Assurance No. 1 requires the town to promise to the FAA that the town first and foremost will “comply with all applicable federal laws, regulations, executive orders, policies, guidelines and requirements as they relate to the application, acceptance, and use of federal funds for a project, according to the letter.”

Well, possessing and cultivating marijuana is still illegal under federal law, so the FAA deems the cannabis farm to be a violation of Springerville’s promise to abide by the Grant Assurances as they pertain to the airport. It may also puts the town in criminal jeopardy, according to an earlier October 1, 2019 internal FAA memorandum to its regional directors.

The October 1, 2019 memorandum

In October, 2019 the FAA sent what appears to be an internal memorandum dated Oct. 1, 2019 to its Regional Airport Directors, a copy of which the Independent reviewed. It was sent to the directors by one Lorraine Herson-Jones, the manager of the Office of Airport Compliance and Management Analysis. The memorandum suggests that Springerville isn’t the only town that has come up with the idea of a grow operation near its airport; the FAA says that it has received “several requests from airport sponsors regarding whether marijuana can be cultivated at federally obligated airports.”

The October memo to regional directors says that the Office of the Chief Counsel has determined that such an operation “violates the Controlled Substances Act and constitutes a felony under Federal law,” and a lease to cultivate marijuana “would subject the sponsor to potential criminal liability.” The FAA attached a copy of the memorandum to its January letter to the town.

The town’s attorney spoke with the Independent on Tuesday about the FAA issue and the on-going dialogue aimed at addressing the objections from the 10 residents. Mr. Timothy Shaffery explained that the town is still in the process of evaluating the matter.

Finally, politics is known to make strange bedfellows. Arizona gave the Biden-Harris team 10 electoral votes. Former state House representative Arlando Teller (D-Chinle) resigned his house seat last month to work for the Biden administration (in the Department of Transportation) and CD-1 voters returned Congressman Tom O’Halloran, a Democrat, to Washington. It is unknown whether the Congress will decriminalize or even legalize marijuana anytime soon, but in this age of rule by executive order, maybe one is in the cards considering the state’s apparent entree with the new administration.

Regarding the Tenth Amendment, this dispute doesn’t seem to involve constitutional rights of states, but simply one over a contractual term: Want the money? Toe the line.

Reach the reporter at rlynch@wmicentral.com

(2) comments

Peter999

These "residents" are lying. They never objected when the greenhouse was for growing tomatoes. Yet suddenly the world will end if marihuana is grown there. Too bad we have citizens they only support freedom if they get to impose their views on others.

White Mountain Resident

Tomatoes were never grown in Springerville. These greenhouses have only recently appeared and are still in the process of being erected. The concern isn't necessarily the growing of marijuana, its the nefarious way the whole process has taken place.

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