East board opposes land swap

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By Don Pace

The Las Vegas City Schools board has come out against the proposed land swap at White Peak, which is near Ocate.

The board, led by  member Gabe Lucero, joins other opponents, including Gov. Bill Richardson, the San Miguel County Commission and area sportsmen groups.

East board members contended that the proposed deal, pushed by Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons, goes against the public interest and lines the pockets  of the recipients of the White Peak land.

Lyons has contended that the exchanges with the ranchers near Ocate would reduce conflicts among landowners, sportsmen and the state by better consolidating state trust land.

But protesters have argued that only a few private landowners will benefit and that the state would lose thousands of acres of pristine forests and meadows in exchange for marginal land.

Revenue from state trust lands benefit schools and universities.

School board member Gabriel Lucero said he had called the attorney general and has been encouraged to bring a resolution before the body that supported access to lands that have belonged to the public for recreation, open space and hunting for generations.

Lucero noted that part of the swap had already been completed.

“Lyons recently did a land swap with the Stanley Ranch, where he gave the ranch over 7,000 acres, in exchange for in the neighborhood of 30 acres, in the first of four land swaps, he wants to make with landowners in the Unit 48 hunting area, the White Peak area,”  Lucero said.

Lucero said by Lyon’s own admission the benefit to the state would be $1,700 a year, in exchange for 400 or 500 public elk tags going to private landowners. He said the tags will likely go to out-of-state hunters who will pay thousands of dollars per tag.

“This equals millions of dollars in revenue for this rancher, and although it may not be an education issue, I truly believe that as an elected body, we need to stand up for the rights of the community. Generations of our families (in northern New Mexico) have had access to this land, and it doesn’t seem right for Patrick Lyons to take this land and swap it, and justify it by saying we are going to give you $1,700 a year,” Lucero said.

Lucero said that money was divided into 22 entities that are beneficiaries of the state land trust money. 

“Part of our kid’s education is taking them to see the wonders of our mountains and let them recreate. I met with Attorney General Gary King, and he said this is an excellent idea (bringing the issue to the board). This is one way the beneficiaries of those who flock to the wilderness to stop Patrick Lyons to do what he’s doing,” Lucero said.

Lucero said the people should have a say in how officials manage public lands. 

Schools Superintendent Rick Romero said after further research, he supported Lucero’s call for a resolution.

“As even the governor suggested, there were back-door dealings that were skeptical at best, and I think that’s why so many people are questioning this particular decision,” Romero said.

Member Elaine Luna asked if other school boards around the state were backing such a resolution.  

Romero said no.

“Is there a conflict of interest because we do gain income from the (Land Office)? Would there be a conflict of interest if we participate in this resolution?” Luna asked.

Lucero said it wasn’t a conflict.

“He (King) said this was a great idea and a good way to stop (giving away public lands),” Lucero said.

Superintendent Romero said, “Public schools have an obligation as beneficiaries to state a position as situations arise.

Board member Patrick Romero asked where the district would send the proclamation.

“Do you send it to the Legislature? Do you send it to Pat Lyons. Who gets our resolution?” Patrick Romero said.

“We send it to all of the above,” Superintendent Romero said. “We send it to the governor’s office, we send it to the New Mexico Schools Board Association, the State Land Office and the Attorney General’s Office,” Romero said.

The board voted unanimously to approve the resolution against the land swap.