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Plan to sell state land on border is canceled

New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn stands at the site where he posted a "no trespassing" sign Tuesday

In this March 2018 photo, New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn stands at the site along the U.S.-Mexico border where he posted a “no trespassing” sign aimed at the federal government. (Angela Kocherga/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn said Wednesday that he is scrapping the planned sale of a roughly 7-acre parcel of state trust land along the Mexican border, saying it should be up to his successor to decide how to proceed.

The auction had been set for next week – with a minimum bid of $400,000 – after Dunn rejected an August offer from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to buy the land for $8,736, according to the State Land Office.

But the outgoing land commissioner said Wednesday that he decided to cancel the planned sale and let Commissioner-elect Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat, decide how to handle the situation.

“I believe it’s in the best interest of the trust to defer action on this trespass until the new land commissioner has taken office,” Dunn said in a statement.

Garcia Richard, who defeated ex-Land Commissioner Pat Lyons, a Republican, and another candidate in this month’s general election, will take office Jan. 1. She did not immediately respond Wednesday to questions about how she plans to handle the issue.

The trust land in question is just east of the Santa Teresa border crossing and contains an existing border barrier and roadway used by federal immigration agents.

Its proposed sale raised legal questions about the state’s authority to sell borderland to a private buyer, though the State Land Office has maintained Dunn does have the power to do so.

Dunn, a Republican-turned-Libertarian who did not run for re-election this year, announced the planned sale in September after previously setting up a “no trespassing” sign along the same stretch of state trust land and demanding that the federal government pay for the right of way to access it.

He said Wednesday that he remains concerned about federal authorities’ activities on state trust land, despite his decision to cancel the planned auction.

The area in question, along with other federal land, was granted to the Territory of New Mexico under the 1898 Ferguson Act. That means it predates a 1907 proclamation by President Theodore Roosevelt that established a 60-foot strip of borderland for the federal government as a protection against the smuggling of goods.

In all, New Mexico shares nearly 160 miles of border with Mexico, including some urban areas that are already fenced with 18-foot steel columns and rural stretches of low vehicle barriers.

Any revenue generated from New Mexico state trust land – from grazing leases, oil extraction and other uses – goes into a state permanent fund that helps fund public schools, universities and other beneficiaries.