The conflict over who gets to acquire state trust land in the White Peak hunting area intensified today in anticipation of a Tuesday, Nov 24 deadline for bidding on the 7,000-acre parcel in the northeastern part of the state.
At this morning's meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee, State Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons
came under the prosecutorial gun of State Rep Brian Egolf
, D-Santa Fe, who fired a series of rapid questions at Lyons, who began his meeting with the Committee with a request for a $13.9 million budget appropriation in FY 2010.
The problem, according to Joel Gay, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation
's communications director, is that the process of selling off the land hasn't been public enough.
“This thing has been largely [executed] out of the public eye,” Gay tells SFR. “If the land office wanted the most interest and competition, they would have reached out. We just got the appraisals this morning.”
Those appraisals were just as maddening to Egolf, who spent some time this morning hammering Lyons on why and how he got the land appraised before—technically—he had any idea which exact parcels the state would be selling, or who the buyer would be.
“Why did you do those appraisals if you didn't know the content of the bid?” Egolf asked Lyons, pointedly. “Why did you appraise it?”
Lyons, clad in a leather vest and seated before the Legislative Finance Committee
, softly replied that appraisals are common practice for land that's going to be sold.
“Who paid for the appraisal?” Egolf asked.
“Stanley Ranch and UU Bar,” Lyons replied. (He later clarified that while they paid for the appraisals, neither Stanley Ranch nor UU Bar actually performed them; an outside party was contracted by the state.) So far, Stanley Ranch is the only bidder on the first chunk of public land, for which bidding ends next Tuesday. Stanley has offered 3,336 acres of its land, valued at $6.4 million, for 7,205 acres of state trust land valued for slightly less, and the net loss of 3,800 acres of state trust land is part of what has land advocates in a frenzy.
That, and the fact that even people like Joel Gay, who generally stays on top of this sort of thing, had to wade through public records requests in order to find out even basic details about the proposed deal.
Then there's the question of the quality of the land itself, a topic Egolf pursued in somewhat esoteric references to groundwater and subsurface value, to which Lyons responded in equally esoteric terms.
“[In] the first trade, the public stands to lose nearly 3,800 acres of some of the most beautiful lands in New Mexico,” Jeremy Vesbach, the director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation
, told a handful of reporters during a press conference on the steps of the State Land Office this afternoon. “[In] the second proposed trade, 80 percent of what the public would get is just pastureland near a highway. This is not an equitable trade,” Vesbach continued, “and [it] seems to have happened very much behind the scenes.”
Sandy Buffett, vice-chair of the New Mexico State Game Commission
, noted that selling White Peak would diminish the state's hunting and recreational resources.
“If this is such a great deal,” Buffett asked, “Why hasn't there been meaningful public outreach?”
Gov Bill Richardson even weighed in with a press release
earlier today, calling the process of negotiating the trades “a behind-the scenes deal with virtually no public input or notification, sealed bids, and inadequate opportunity for examination.”
“Until such time as the concerns expressed above are adequately addressed, neither I nor my departments and commissions can support this ill-conceived deal,” Richardson's press release concludes. Be that as it may...we'll see you Tuesday.