According to State Rep. Brian Egolf
, D-Santa Fe, the White Peak land swap issue is far from over. In what Egolf calls a cooked deal
devoid of transparency, New Mexico stands to lose thousands of acres
of state trust wildland—and, Egolf says, a cool $170,000 a year
. In the midst of a recession and a budget crisis, that doesn't seem like the best plan.
"Right now, the Dept of Game and Fish is paying the trust $170,000 a year to [permit] hunters and fishermen to go on the state land. We're losing that income, and [Land Commissioner Pat] Lyons has not explained how he's going to make that up."
White Peak, once a quiet hunt-and-fish district in northeastern New Mexico, has become synonymous with a controversial series of deals in which state trust land is being swapped for private ranch land. State Land Commissioner Pat Lyons has called the deals a way to resolve conflict among ranchers and public land users (hunters, fishermen, etc.), but just before the first deal was sealed in November, conservationists and outdoor-recreation groups cried foul, calling the process closed and corrupt. See SFR's coverage here.
One problem, Egolf says, is that the person who appraised the land isn't a state appraiser. To wit:
"Pat Lyons told me, during the committee hearing, that the appraiser was paid by UU Bar and Stanley Ranch, which is really weird. It'd be like me trying to sell you my car, and being like, ‘Hey, my buddy says it's worth $1 million,' and you're like, 'Oh, OK.' It's a totally cooked deal."
The bidding on the first piece of land closed on Nov. 24, and to almost no one's surprise, the only bid entered was one by Stanley Ranch. In the meantime, Egolf says he's planning to send a letter to State Auditor Hector Balderas
this week in hopes that he'll investigate the land deals. And New Mexico's money problems grow steadily uglier.