by WorldTribune Staff, July 23, 2023
Government officials are now investigating concerns that foreign interests could be behind the investment group which has bought thousands of acres of land on three sides of a California Air Force base that is considered the “gateway to the Pacific.”
A mysterious company named Flannery Associates has spent nearly a billion dollars buying up thousands of acres of dry farmland around Travis Air Force Base in Solano County, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Local, state, and federal officials have said they do not know who is behind the investment group which has pumped over $800 million into buying the land. Travis is home to the largest wing of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, which provides planes to refuel other aircraft and those to transport military personnel and supplies.
“Who are these people?” said Democrat Rep. John Garamendi, whose district Travis AFB resides in. “Where did they get the money where they could pay five to ten times the normal value that others would pay for this farmland? The fact that they’re buying land purposefully right up to the fence at Travis raises significant questions.”
“I have every reason in the world to believe that this land is adjacent to a critical national security platform Travis Air Force Base. Therefore, an area where spy operations or any other nefarious activity could take place…that could detrimentally impact the ability of Travis Air Force Base to operate in a moment of national emergency,” added Garamendi.
The concerns raised by the Flannery purchase is similar to those sparked by a Chinese-owned company’s plan to develop land 12 miles from the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. The plan was halted after the Air Force said it posed a national security risk, and lawmakers have continued to introduce bipartisan legislation restricting foreign ownership of U.S. farmland or increasing transparency around these acquisitions.
Related: States take lead in fighting China’s buying U.S. farmland, often near strategic sites, April 6, 2023
The Chinese company’s U.S. arm said at the time the planned facility wouldn’t be used to spy on the U.S.
Solano County officials who have been trying to determine the investors in Flannery and their plans for the land for years, said Bill Emlen, the county administrator.
County supervisor Mitch Mashburn said if Flannery intends to develop the land, it would make sense for the group to engage with local officials — but it hasn’t.
“The majority of the land they’re purchasing is dry farmland,” Mashburn said. “I don’t see where that land can turn a profit to make it worth almost a billion dollars in investment.”
Flannery, which has been buying up the land since 2018, has offered various explanations for the purchases, including “new types of crops or orchards,” renewable energy and related projects, and olive growing.
“Nobody can figure out who they are,” said Ronald Kott, mayor of Rio Vista, Calif., which is now largely surrounded by Flannery-owned land. “Whatever they’re doing—this looks like a very long-term play.”
The Wall Street Journal cited an attorney representing Flannery as saying the group is controlled by U.S. citizens and that 97% of its invested capital comes from U.S. investors, with the remaining 3% from British and Irish investors. Flannery previously told Solano County the entity “is owned by a group of families looking to diversify their portfolio from equities into real assets, including agricultural land in the western United States.”
“Any speculation that Flannery’s purchases are motivated by the proximity to Travis Air Force Base” is unfounded, the attorney said.
The statement that it is U.S.-owned can’t be confirmed or denied by federal agencies at this time, the Journal cited a congressional aide as saying.
The Air Force’s Foreign Investment Risk Review Office has been investigating Flannery’s purchases of roughly 52,000 acres for about eight months and has yet to be able to determine who is backing the group.