SPRINGERVILLE — Tensions were high Wednesday night as the Springerville Town Council voted unanimously (with Councilor Ruben Llamas, who took a staff position with the farm abstaining) to cancel all lease and development agreements with White Mountains Flower, L.L.C. (WMF).
The decision was announced after several impassioned three-minute commentaries by town residents and the Round Valley School Administrator, Travis Udall and a lengthy recess into executive session to discuss the matter away from the public. Chris Dodge, a principal of WMF, had no comment following the announcement.
In layman’s terms, this means that there will be no cannabis farm in Springerville and a mess will be left in the wake. Time will tell where this saga ends. This has been months in the making and the fallout will leave scars and ripples. Stay tuned as lawsuits could be forthcoming.
In March the prospect of a cannabis cultivation and infusion operation near the Springerville airport took another turn when the Town of Springerville ordered WMF to “cease and desist” building structures until the company gets the permits required by town codes. The operation has run into roadblocks seemingly at every turn.
The project was also challenged by the FAA, due to its proximity to the airport.
The Town of Springerville leased land it owns near its airport to WMF, which built a number of cannabis greenhouses. The town accomplished that by approving a lease and development agreement with WMF, and changed zoning ordinances to accommodate the facility. The town hoped 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 move to accommodate the grow operation has provoked fierce pushback from some 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, (a town councillor took a job as the WMF’s general manager) 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, had poor COVID protocols during town meetings, and finally that the fact that the town manager isn’t there anymore is just another sign of scandal.
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 former town manager and the current town attorney have denied wrong doing.
On top of that, the federal government got wind of the plan and the Phoenix Airport District Office of the Federal Aviation Administration, of the US Department of Transportation sent a letter to the town in January with a copy of an internal memo from the FAA’s Office of Chief Counsel dated October 1, 2020. The letter and memo explained that because marijuana is illegal under federal law, the town could face criminal prosecution, and continued federal funding for the airport could be in jeopardy.
The town promptly responded to the FAA and urged that there is no cannabis “currently” at the airport, so they are not in violation of anything.
White Mountain Independent Justice Reporter RT Lynch contributed to this story.