Water for Roads
Water for Roads: San Ildefonso governor accuses Santa Fe County of 'inability to act in good faith'Local NewsThursday, August 27, 2015
San Ildefonso Gov. James Mountain, whose pueblo is at the epicenter of a roads dispute that has now put an entire water delivery system in jeopardy, on Thursday accused Santa Fe County Commissioners of acting irresponsibly with the recent decision to withdraw $30 million of the county's funding toward the project.
The county's financial obligation is part of a 5-year-old federal court settlement from a case known as Aamodt. But Commissioner Henry Roybal wrote in a resolution that it was “imprudent” for the county to invest in a water delivery system while the legal status of all roads in the county are in limbo, as they pass through all four pueblo territories.
Other commissioners agreed with Roybal, passing the resolution on Tuesday in a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Miguel Chavez the lone dissenter.
Speaking out for the first time since the county's action, Mountain, in an interview with SFR, says, “It shows their inability to act in good faith. I don’t know what the county’s line of thinking is, but I do know that the settlement agreement is a separate matter versus the trespass matter, and the county appears to have intertwined the two, which is very inappropriate.”
Now, instead of getting on track and preparing for the construction of a long-awaited water delivery system that will bring potable water to the entire Pojoaque Valley, the four pueblos and the thousands of non-native residents who live within or on the periphery of the pueblo boundaries will either have to wait or run the risk of never actually receiving water.
“There is that potential,” says Mountain, 42, a graduate of Los Alamos High School and now in his second term of governor for San Ildefonso, which has a population of just under 1,000.
Yet the county is still holding out hope that a compromise can be met without having to take the matter to court, and now the ball is in the court of the four pueblos at hand: Nambé, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso and Tesuque.
The question most paramount, in the eyes of the county, is whether property values will decline in those pockets where the ownership of roads are under dispute, something that the county is contending has occurred already in El Rancho, a small community that sits east of San Ildefonso.
The entire confusion, and the subsequent devaluation of property values, started occurring a little over a year and a half ago, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs wrote a letter to the county, accusing it of trespassing every time residents used County Roads 84 and 84B—essentially access roads to the small community of El Rancho, just east of the pueblo's boundaries.
That assertion unleashed a chain reaction of events that led to a reduction in property values, which in turn spawned an uneasy housing market in which lenders will no longer write mortgages, because the roads that lead to the properties can no longer be insured due to their legal limbo.
While county officials have long maintained that they have the rights of way to the roads under the decades-old Pueblos Land Act agreement, the contingency being that they always maintain them, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Interior contend that the roads have belonged to the pueblo as far back as the late 1600s, during Spanish rule.
And they now want them back. They'd like to rename them. They simply want the county to acknowledge the fact that the pueblo is the rightful owners if they want cost-free access to the roads, something that will last in perpetuity.
But instead of accepting these conditions, which were presented to the county last week, the county said they'd first like to protect further declining property values across the Pojoaque Valley by coming to a compromise over all county roads, not just those in San Ildefonso.
Such a rejection was not handled well by San Ildefonso officials, who walked away from the negotiations, which led to the drafting of the resolution that was passed two days ago. The measure drew a packed county chambers, the majority of whom were El Rancho residents who testified about their financial problems and the losses they've incurred as a result of the legal dispute over ownership.
"We need to protect taxpayer dollars and need security of roads before this big investment," Commissioner Liz Stefanics tells SFR, in explaining why she voted for the resolution.
What's more, the county may now need to save money to pay for the legal costs that will certainly arise from the standoff between the county and San Ildefonso.
But to Mountain, the way he sees the situation, he's just protecting the sovereignty of his pueblo.
"You have to define the borders of your property, if you're interested in prosperity and future investments," he says, although he did not say the pueblo, a nongaming tribe, was contemplating adding a casino at some point in the near future.
Held hostage and certainly in limbo now is the water itself. The Pojoaque River has seen better days, Mountain says. And those who have first dibs on water rights are the four pueblos, which was acknowledged in a federal court settlement five years ago. Santa Fe was a party to that agreement, which was, by design, obligated to help the pueblos financially while helping its Pojoaque Valley residents as well.