Hobbs News Sun

State Land Commissioner Dunn says no to offer from US border agency

State Land Commissioner Dunn says no to offer from US border agency

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s top land boss has rejected a proposal from the federal government to settle a dispute over land along the U.S.-Mexico border as work continues to bolster security throughout the region to stem illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn contends the government never received authorization to access state trust land that borders the international boundary via an easement and has not compensated the state for using the property. An easement is a right to use or cross over land owned by someone else for a specific purpose.

After months of negotiations, Dunn said Wednesday he’s disappointed that the government’s appraisal of the land amounts to less than $9,000. He said that’s a fraction of the easement fees the state would receive for allowing a section existing border wall and a road on the property near Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

Dunn had hoped to sell the one-mile (1.6-kilometer) stretch of barren desert near where the borders of New Mexico, Texas and Mexico meet to the U.S. government for a “reasonable price.”

“I’m disappointed with the federal government’s confiscation of state trust lands and the compensation offered,” he said in a statement. “President Trump continues his push to funnel billions of dollars to construct a border wall, yet his administration seems bent on shortchanging our beneficiaries.”

The parcel is among millions of acres around the state that are held in trust, with the proceeds of any easements, development or leases helping to fund public education.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in an email Wednesday it takes its relationship with stakeholders along the border seriously. The agency continues to coordinate with Dunn’s office but it declined to comment further on the on-going discussions.

The New Mexico land office earlier this year posted no trespassing signs in the area, but Customs and Border Protection spokesman Doug Mosier said the dispute has not affected border security operations.

The fight over access to the land erupted in February when Dunn, a Libertarian, sent federal officials a letter outlining concerns about sovereignty and the federal government’s failure to compensate the state. Some criticized Dunn, describing the move as a political stunt because he was running for the U.S. Senate at the time. He has since ended his campaign.

Dunn, elected in 2014 as a Republican, argued that the land commissioner’s responsibilities to collect revenue from trust lands are clear and that making the issue public was the only way to get the federal government’s attention.

It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether the land office would push forward its trespass claims against the federal agency. The office had sent a letter to Customs and Border Protection saying the land was undervalued but Dunn said there has been no response.

According to the land office, the parcel east of the Santa Teresa U.S.-Mexico border crossing was conveyed to the territory of New Mexico by the U.S. government under an 1898 act and continues to be held in trust to benefit public schools.

New Mexico officials contend the parcel was never part of the buffer zone established by a 1907 presidential proclamation to ensure federal authorities could patrol along the southern border.