After nearly three years of uncertainty over property rights and the future of a burnt and flooded home and orchard, the legal dispute between the State Land Office and Jim and Becky Mullane of Dixon’s Apple Orchard has finally reached its conclusion [Cover, Feb. 5, “Angry Orchard”]. Land Commissioner Ray Powell announced May 19 that the Mullanes’ long-term lease on the orchard land will be relinquished to Cochiti Pueblo.
Yet, it’s unlikely that visitors will ever buy apples there again. The 2011 Las Conchas fire has left the area susceptible to flooding for a decade, making commercial endeavors on the orchard impractical and dangerous, Powell says. Roads, bridges and irrigation systems were wiped out and won’t all be replaced. “The orchard is done,” he says.
Under the terms of the new deal, Cochiti will give the Mullanes $1.8 million for the 75-year lease rights to an area that holds significant cultural artifacts for the pueblo, and the State Land Office will kick in an additional $200,000 for the value of the apple trees planted and raised by the Mullane family. The pueblo must also buy land to trade to the Land Office that the state agency can use to earn revenue for education, its primary mission. Road access for private property owners in the area will remain open, he says.
Powell calls the resolution fair and equitable. It also puts an end to a court case between the office and the Mullanes. “For Cochiti,” he says, “this is a profoundly important piece of land in terms of their cultural and historical interests.”