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Landowner access denied

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Ribera-area property owners no longer have access to property

By Ryan Lowery

Just off State Highway 3 near Ribera, south of the San Miguel del Vado Church, sits a dirt road gated with barbed wire.

The adjoining barbed wire fencing is adorned with two signs typically found in rural areas. One reminds people to keep the gate closed. Another advises that dumping is not allowed.

However, several weeks ago, some who use the road to access land they own noticed a new addition to the fence: a large blue sign from the State Land Office indicating the road beyond the gate is on state trust land and is accessible only by purchasing a permit from the state.

“It appeared after we wrote some letters that they never answered,” said Henry Ortiz, whose family has used the road for decades.

Ortiz estimates there are about eight people who own land that is accessible only by the road. He said the Land Office is asking each of the landowners to purchase an easement that would give them right of way to access the road. The cost, he said, is nearly $10,000.

“Right now, we’re being labeled in violation essentially,” Ortiz said. “We are trespassers. We are unauthorized. My great-grandfather used to go through the same place in an oxcart.

“I guess the next step would be enforcing, which would be fines for people going up there. I asked them. I thought, at least I need to know. They don’t seem to want to fine anybody. They simply want people to go up there with their checkbook and write out a check for $10,000.”

Kenny Baca with the State Land Office told the Optic he could not comment on the specific road without being able to research the matter further.

“Anybody who uses state trust land must have some type of permit or easement,” Baca said. “However, like I said, without more information, I don’t know if this is a public road. Maybe this property we’re talking about is on private land. I don’t know.”

The idea of state trust land is as old as the United States. State land managers lease and sell access to trust land in order to generate revenue for essential public institutions, most commonly public schools. In the case of a road being located on state trust land, anyone wishing to use that road needs to apply for a right of way easement.

This right of way gives the purchaser the right to travel through a defined area on trust lands.

The dispute near Ribera stems from the Land Office, or someone authorized by the Land Office, recently posting the sign near the road. Ortiz and others feel that since they’ve been using the road for years prior to being notified it’s on trust land, access to the road should remain free to them.

As for any potential fines or penalties landowners who continue to use the road without paying for right of way might encounter, Baca said it’s possible they could face a trespassing charge.

“What the penalty would be is not the big issue” he said. “What we’re trying to do is get people to comply so that we can have that revenue for the common schools, or whatever beneficiary is tied to that piece of land, if in fact it is state trust land.”

Ortiz said he knows of one landowner who paid for the easement. She had planned to sell access to the road to other landowners, but Ortiz said the state wouldn’t allow it.

“The Realtor was under the impression that the lady could sell a subpart of her easement fee. We were going to get it at a bargain at $2,000,” Ortiz said. “That real estate guy told her she could do that, but the state was adamant that everybody needs a separate easement. They’re dead-set on getting $10,000 out of each landowner out there.”

According to the State Land Office’s website, those with right of way can assign their right of way “in full or in part to someone else.”

The Optic attempted to contact the Land Office’s rights of way manager about its policy on selling part of an easement, but did not receive a response by press time.