Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico is already embroiled in a legal fight with Texas over water rights. Now, there could be a dust-up over dirt.
State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said Thursday that his office suspects road crews from a Texas county have been crossing into southern New Mexico and taking dirt, sand and gravel back into the Lone Star State.
“We have a dirt bandit on our hands, and he is stealing from New Mexico schoolkids,” Dunn said.
He said the site in question – in rural Otero County about four miles north of Dell City, Texas – is designated as state trust land. And any unauthorized mining activities on state trust land would represent a violation of New Mexico’s Constitution, Dunn said.
In addition, Dunn said aerial photography indicates the mining activity likely began sometime from 2012 to 2014.
After the land commissioner sent a letter to Hudspeth (Texas) County commissioners demanding the mining activities be halted until a full review can be conducted, the county’s attorney responded by expressing confusion about the exact location of the border between Texas and New Mexico.
“Once we know exactly where the line is, then we can determine what needs to be done to rectify the situation,” Hudspeth County Attorney C.R. “Kit” Bramblett wrote in his response letter.
The State Land Office replied to that letter last week by sending photographs of survey markers that appear to clearly indicate the mining site is in New Mexico.
New Mexico has a long history of legal struggles with Texas, including a 1927 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that set part of the boundary line between the two states and an ongoing dispute over management of water from the Rio Grande.
The latest issue could be resolved without the courts’ involvement, although it was unclear Tuesday how much restitution the State Land Office might be seeking in the case.
The State Land Office oversees more than 9 million acres of state trust land and roughly 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights that are intended to help fund public schools, higher education and other beneficiaries.
Revenue from state trust land comes from oil and natural gas royalties, grazing rights, mining and other activities.
“Land has been the catalyst for many a range war, and not much has changed here in the Wild West,” said Dunn, a Republican who is running for Congress next year. “Nowadays we just fight our battles in court, and that’s where we’ll see the perpetrators if they don’t pay up.”