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Proposed fix to SF County pueblo road dispute to cost up $8 million

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Proposed settlements between Santa Fe County and pueblos in the northern part of the county to resolve a long-running dispute over roads would cost the county as much as $8 million over the next five years.

Three of the pueblos – Pojoaque, Nambé and Tesuque – would get direct payments totaling about $3 million now as “reasonable compensation” for road rights of way and for any claims the pueblos might make about trespassing on tribal land.

Pojoaque would receive an additional $1 million decades in the future.

The county has also committed to cover the expense of building roads to settle a fight that has clouded the home and real estate ownership titles of non-Indian residents.

Although the issue had reportedly been simmering for decades, San Ildefonso Pueblo set off public controversy about four years ago when it claimed roads in the El Rancho area that have been maintained by the county and are used by non-Indians to access their homes.

The pueblo said trespassing fines could be levied if rights-of-way easements for the roads and access weren’t negotiated and paid for.

In recent months, the County Commission has held closed door negotiations with pueblo leaders, along with representatives of the U.S. Department of Interior, which has an oversight role because of tribal involvement. The roads at issue are in areas within the pueblos’ “exterior boundaries” – pueblo territory that passed into private hands, but which under federal law is still considered part of tribal reservations and within “Indian country.”

The proposed settlements were announced last month, with details about how northern Santa Fe County roads would remain open to the general public and planned new road construction by the county. Some residents will have to make separate agreements to cross Pojoaque Pueblo property, officials have said.

But no mention of the millions of dollars in compensation payments to the pueblos was made at that time.

“I understand any settlement agreement is a compromise, but I believe it is a reasonable compromise for all parties,” said County Manager Katharine Miller in a statement provided to the Journal this week.

“This brings fair and responsible resolution to a decades-long issue. The settlements will give security to the residents and county that we are not in potential past trespass or future trespass for the next 198 years. I believe this is a notable accomplishment between all parties involved.”

Pueblo leaders have expressed support for the four separate settlements at public meetings. The County Commission heard comment on the settlements Wednesday night and has planned a special meeting for Jan. 18 to take action on the agreements.

A county spokeswoman provided a statement that the estimated cost to the county to fully execute the agreements is $ 7 million to $8 million over the next 5 years, including the road costs.

“The County has always anticipated there would be a cost associated with negotiating and executing these agreements to settle the road disputes,” said the statement. “The alternative would have been a lengthy and costly litigation process.

“We are using funding sources that currently fund road construction and other capital needs, therefore we won’t have a negative impact on our operating budget. It should not displace projects we have planned, it is just realigning our priorities over the next 5 years to prioritize the 34 miles of roads outlined in the settlements.” The roadwork would be paid for out of the county’s gross receipts taxes. According to documents posted on the county’s website, Pojoaque would received the most compensation, $1.7 million now and an additional two payments of $500,000 each on the 25th and 50th anniversaries of when the pueblo and the county sign off on a deal. Nambé will receive a $1 million county payment and Tesuque gets $185,000.

San Ildefonso, which set off the controversy in the first place, isn’t getting a compensation payment, according to documents posted on the county’s website, but the county is obligated to build new roads there within five years, the online documents indicate.

In front of the County Commission on Wednesday night, a federal government representative said the settlements represented a way for neighbors in the Pojoaque Valley to “heal.” The roads dispute has been one of a group of issues that have divided the pueblos and non-Indians in recent years.

San Ildefonso Gov. Terrence Garcia said the settlements showed “what true government-to-government relations can accomplish.”

But a few residents who spoke weren’t as supportive. Representatives of the Northern New Mexico Protects citizens group said consideration of the settlements is moving too fast. “There are still some really serious questions,” said Heather Nordquist.

Beverly Duran-Cash said “the healing has not started yet” and that “the trust is completely out the door.”

The county will be responsible for maintaining the roads over the term of the agreements, which are to run for 99 years, then be renewed automatically for another 99 years.

Importantly, the County Commission has refused to provide its portion of the cost of a regional water system that is part of a settlement of decades-old litigation among the pueblos and non-Indians until the roads dispute is resolved.