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Dunn challenges feds over state land access

SANTA TERESA – New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn stood at the border fence on a dirt road used by U.S. Border Patrol agents and posted a “no trespassing” sign Tuesday.

“They do not have access to come across our lands now,” Dunn said, referring to the federal government.

Dunn came to the border between New Mexico and Mexico to demand that the U.S. government pay for the right of way for a one-mile stretch where the border barrier was built on state trust lands.

“We’d like to bring attention to the border wall and the federal government taking away property rights without paying for it,” he said.

Dunn sent a letter to the federal Department of Homeland Security on Feb. 15 saying, “I launched an investigation which revealed that the federal government has installed a border wall, infrastructure, and roads on state lands without the state authorization and without compensation to the state trust.”

Borderland just east of the Santa Teresa port of entry was granted to the Territory of New Mexico under the 1898 Ferguson Act. It predates a 1907 proclamation by President Theodore Roosevelt reserving a 60-foot strip of borderland for the federal government “as a protection against smuggling of goods between the U.S. and Mexico.”

New Mexico is seeking $19,200 for a 35-year permit to use the 60-foot easement on the borderland held in trust for New Mexico public schools.

“What we’re after today is that we get compensation for the schools, because that’s who we represent,” Dunn said.

Dunn’s letter asks that Homeland Security and the Border Patrol work with the state to obtain the right of way.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it is “diligently evaluating the concerns outlined by the New Mexico Land Commissioner’s Office” in a statement released by the agency in Washington, D.C.

“CBP values its relationship with the New Mexico state trust lands. An important part of CBP’s strategy to successfully secure the nation’s borders includes developing and leveraging partnerships and dialogue with state and local stakeholders to ensure that the unique operational needs of each region are effectively met,” the statement says.

After Dunn posted the “no trespassing” sign, Kris McNeil of the State Land Office stretched yellow and red plastic tape from the sign across the road used by Border Patrol agents and tied it to the border fence.

“I’m sure it will end up being more symbolic than keeping the Border Patrol off of it,” Dunn said. “But they do not have access to come across our lands now. I think only in the event if they were in an actual chase.” Dunn is running for U.S. Senate as a Libertarian.

Last month, Dunn asked the Air Force to pay the state $25 million he says it will lose due to military flight training plans that threaten to dramatically downsize a planned wind turbine farm in Torrance County.

Mick Rich, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, called closing New Mexico land to U.S. Border Patrol agents “a dangerous stunt” in a statement released by his campaign office.

Both Dunn and Rich are challenging the Democratic incumbent, Martin Heinrich.