T-4 Ranch wants out of county

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Secession request filed

By Martin Salazar

CORRECTION - April 16 - An article that appeared in Friday’s Optic about the T-4 Ranch wanting to be annexed into Quay County should have stated that while the Bidegain family has had oil and gas leases in the past, it no longer does, according to Phil Bidegain.

One of the county’s largest land owners is asking the San Miguel County Commission to allow it to leave San Miguel County so that it can be annexed into neighboring Quay County.

Phil Bidegain, whose family owns and operates the sprawling T-4 Ranch in far eastern San Miguel County, made the request during Tuesday’s San Miguel County Commission meeting. The ranch also straddles Quay and Guadalupe Counties.

If he is successful — and state law appears to require the commission to honor his request — San Miguel County will lose about 110,000 acres and abut $18,500 in property tax revenue each year. The move would also visibly change the map of San Miguel County, lopping off a piece on the bottom, east side.

The earliest that the transfer could occur is Jan. 1, 2015.

In an effort to keep the boundaries as simple as possible, Bidegain is not asking that all of the family’s property in San Miguel County be annexed into Quay County.

“It’s not all the land T-4 owns in San Miguel County, but it’s the majority T-4 owns in San Miguel County,” he said.

While Bidegain has been critical of San Miguel County’s moratorium on oil and gas drilling and of the drilling ordinance being considered, he told commissioners that his main reason for wanting to be annexed into Quay County is convenience.

“Our headquarters is on the Quay County part,” he said. “We do all our business in Tucumcari. I want my property taxes to go to the schools my (grandkids) and the cowboys’ kids go to.”

At one point, Commissioner Arthur Padilla asked Bidegain if there was anything the county could do to convince him to stay.

“It’s a big county, eastern San Miguel County,” Bidegain responded. “You probably won’t even miss me.”

The T-4 Cattle Company is the third largest landowner in San Miguel county, with 125,726 acres, according to County Assessor Elaine Estrada. The county’s largest landowner is Singleton Properties, LLC, with 373,802 acres, followed by Silver Spur Land and Cattle LLC, which owns 284,201 acres, Estrada said.

No one lives on property
Annexation of the Bidegain property is relatively simple because no one lives on the land in question. Bidegain told commissioners that there’s only one dwelling on the land in question, and it’s a hunting cabin used one or two weeks out of the year.

Planning and Zoning Supervisor Alex Tafoya notes in a memo that there don’t appear to be any San Miguel County roads within the property.

County Attorney Jesus Lopez told commissioners that because no one resides on the land in question, the property can be annexed by Quay County through the approval of resolutions by both San Miguel and Quay Counties. Those resolutions would then be submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office in Santa Fe. Any aggrieved property owners within the annexed property would then have 90 days to file a lawuit. If no lawsuit is filed within those 90 days, the property would be annexed.

Lopez noted that Bidegain does have to satisfy both counties in his description of the land being transferred and the boundaries.

Bidegain said that the Quay County Commission is in favor of his request.

Under state law, if there were a request to annex a piece of San Miguel County where people reside, a petition process would be required. At least 51 percent of those voters would have to sign a petition asking that the county call a special election on the issue. If the measure to leave San Miguel County were to be approved by those voters, the county would be bound by it.

Among the concerns commissioners expressed Tuesday is that the annexation of the Bidegain property could lead to others making the same request.

“I wonder if we’re not going to have another request come forward,” Commissioner Ron Ortega said. “I can see that county line moving to the west. I see the big picture, and I wonder, do we want it? Do we not?”

“That is a likely possibility,” Lopez responded. “After today, there may be a move to go the petition route and ask that you call an election there. That is a really big possibility.”

Bidegain also weighed in on that issue.

“I don’t think you have to worry about Conchas,” he joked. “I don’t think they can agree on anything.”

Lopez said there have been inquiries from Quay-area lawmakers about what would be required to annex part of Eastern San Miguel County into Quay County. He said those lawmakers have relayed that their constituents want to be part of Quay County.

“This has been something that has been a concern in the eastern part of the county for years,” Lopez said.

Among largest landowners
An article that appeared in the Optic in March 2010 reports that Bidegain asked the commission to rescind its moratorium on oil and gas drilling. That same article reports that Bidegain told commissioners he had leases with companies for possible oil and gas drilling.

But when asked by the Commission whether he had oil and gas leases on the San Miguel County land he was wanting to transfer, he said no.

“I have no oil leases, and that is by choice,” Bidegain said. “My main argument with the ordinance is it takes away my choice as to what to do with my land.”

The Bidegains are among the largest land owners in the state and the United States. The property has been in the family for generations.

Leger uneasy with proposal
Bidegain’s annexation request isn’t sitting well with all commissioners.

“It just leaves a funny feeling for me,” Commission Chairman Nicolas Leger said. “I was elected to protect the county. Giving away part of it feels funny to me.”

He and Commissioner Marcellino Ortiz asked whether the county could reject the request.

Lopez said he would research that question, though it doesn’t appear that the commission does have discretion.

The Commission directed staff to make sure that the description and boundaries that Bidegain provides are adequate and that the Quay County Commission is on board with the request.