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Shiprock court to continue hearing on Friday for hemp farm case

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
A sign along U.S. Highway 64 in Hogback shows support for growing hemp on Sept. 16.

FARMINGTON — The court hearing for the Navajo Nation's motion to stop alleged hemp farming by Shiprock resident Dineh Benally will continue Sept. 18.

Shiprock Judicial District Judge Genevieve Woody called for recess on Sept. 17 after listening to witness statements over alleged hemp farming activities that the tribe says have developed in Shiprock and the surrounding area.

The tribe filed its motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on June 29 and requests that farming activities cease while the court determines the June 12 complaint that claims Benally and his businesses, Native American Agricultural Company and Navajo Gold Company, are illegally growing and marketing hemp plants.

Materials to build a hoop house are pictured on Sept. 16 on land north of Shiprock High School.

Woody heard testimony for more than six hours and from at least eight witnesses, including Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency Executive Director Oliver Whaley, Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco and community members from Shiprock.

The hearing was held by teleconference due to the court building being closed to the public over concerns about the coronavirus.

Whaley answered questions about a visit the agency made on Sept. 9 to one of the farm sites in Shiprock.

He said several violations were noticed at the location, including those involving environmental regulations and the lack of permits for activities such as construction, but a full inspection did not occur because the group was asked to leave.

More:Court denies Benally's motion to dismiss hemp farm case

Francisco said the police department started receiving complaints about the farms about a year ago.

Complaints have focused on safety, water usage, the rate the farms have developed, farming activities emitting odors, encroachment on land and the increased presence of non-Navajos working at the farms.

Dineh Benally

The issue of race became a topic during testimony by a tribal member when she talked about her concern about the non-Navajo workers, who were described using a politically incorrect term for the Asian community.

Benally's attorney, David Jordan, repeatedly pointed out that it is not illegal for non-Navajos to work or reside on tribal land.

The hearing will resume at 8 a.m. Sept. 18 with Benally among those scheduled to testify.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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