NatureSweet warns county innovation center could falter without help


Eastern Arizona Courier Article by Sam Ribakoff

At Graham County’s Board of Supervisors meeting Monday morning, Rodolfo Spielmann, the president and CEO of NatureSweet, asked the county to find ways to help them speed up their efforts to sell their greenhouse site to the marijuana growing company Bayacan in order to generate money to build an innovation center in Bonita.

On June 21, the supervisors voted 2-1 to approve a zoning change that makes it possible for Bayacan to grow marijuana upon its purchase of two NatureSweet greenhouses in Bonita.

In July, a group calling itself “Respect The Will of the People” filed enough signatures to get a referendum on the November 2022 ballot to reverse that zoning change.

In September, two Phoenix law firms filed lawsuits demanding the group and Graham County “show cause” as to why the referendum should not be stricken from the ballot.

Those lawsuits and the referendum are currently holding up the sale of the greenhouses.

“Businesses need certainty,” said Skip Hulett, NatureSweet’s general counsel. “We’re sort of caught in the crossfire. We need certainty now.”

Spielmann said waiting until November 2022, after the referendum, will be too long of a wait for the company to start funding and building their proposed innovation center.

If they can’t get the OK to sell their greenhouses in Bonita by February of next year, they’ll look for other locations outside of Graham County to build it.

“I cannot wait another year to figure out funding,” Spielmann said. “We just want a solution.”

Although they’re committed to bringing the project to completion in Graham County, Hulett said, “We cannot wait on the R and D, there are other places that want our business.”

The company is willing to wait to sell their greenhouse site as long as Bayacan is willing to wait to buy them, Hulett said, but “I can’t imagine they’d wait that much longer.”

Heather Dukes, attorney for Bayacan, said she couldn’t confirm or deny the company is willing to wait to purchase the greenhouse site.

“I don’t think worried is the right response we want, I think Bayacan and NatureSweet want people to be hopeful and start taking action to let their elected officials know that this is important to them and to their community,” Dukes said.

The link between the two projects is the innovation center, which will be funded by the sale of the greenhouse to Bayacan, Spielmann said.

People shouldn’t be worried though, Hulett said. “We just need certainty.”

That certainty could come in the form of the county and the company working on ways to move the project forward, despite the lawsuit and the referendum, Hulett said.

“Our hands are tied. The county has done everything we can do. But our hands are tired,” said Graham County Supervisor John Howard, specifically referring to the lawsuit.

“They was really trying to get some help from us building this facility, but at this time, it’s kind of out of our hands. I certainly don’t want to see this opportunity go away,” Howard said, “but now that this referendum is approved, our hands are tied now.”

“The Graham County Chamber of Commerce asks that the County Board of Supervisors continue to support NatureSweet’s and Bayacan’s plans and take whatever action they can as a Board to allow the Sites 5 and 6 greenhouses to be converted to cannabis cultivation and to allow the NatureSweet Innovation Center to move forward,” the Graham County Chamber of Commerce wrote in a statement.

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