Landowners quarrel over access to road

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By Ryan Lowery

North of Ribera, just off an I-25 frontage road, lies County Road B55 — a narrow dirt road that provides access to a handful of properties in rural San Miguel County.


The road also connects to the Santa Fe National Forest. At least it used to. Now a locked gate blocks the road.

“It’s really frustrating,” said Tony Hackebeil who recently purchased property in the area. “There’s no warning of the gate, and once you get to the gate, there’s no place to turn around.”

Part of the reason he and his wife bought the property was the easy access to the national forest the road provided, Hackebeil said. He and his wife had hoped to use the road to access the forest for horseback riding.

Prior to purchasing the property, they decided to explore the road by vehicle. A couple miles up the road, they stopped to inspect two posts, one on each side of the road. Hackebeil then met the landowner who’d placed them there.

“This was a guy named Jordan Hosea,” Hackebeil said. “He was extremely friendly.”

Hackebeil said Hosea told him he was in the process of putting up a gate, and that he’d gotten permission from the county and the National Forrest Service. According to Hackebeil, Hosea said he would make sure the Hackebeils had access to the forest if they ended up buying the property.

Soon after purchasing the property, the Hackebeils wanted to drive up to the national forest, so Hackebeil texted Hosea to let him know they’d be using the road.

“(Hosea’s) quick response was, ‘Gate is up,’” Hackebeil said.

Sherry Christiaens sold the the Hackebeils the property, and according to Christiaens, families in the Ribera Valley have had access to the road for hundreds of years.

“They hunt, they fish, they have access to the forest, and they can’t do that anymore because these people have blocked that road off,” she said. “It’s a shame that people come in from outside and just think they can appropriate what has belonged to the community forever.”

Christiaens said the gate has upset many in the Ribera Valley, and that it’s causing lots of anger and animosity. “I’m afraid it’s going to get violent,” she said.

The simple brown gate bears two signs: a red no trespassing sign and a blue sign that warns the area is under video surveillance. According to Christiaens, the signs aren’t just for show.

“They have cameras in the trees,” she said. “When they see somebody come out to that gate, they come out armed.”

After speaking with several other landowners in the area about the gate, Christiaens said she began collecting signatures for a petition.

“We have almost 300 signatures on a petition from people in the valley that want that gate down,” she said. “The county put a sign up that says no through access, and I don’t see how you do that.”

San Miguel County Manager Vidal Martinez did not return repeated phone messages seeking comment.

Hosea, the man who erected the gate, said he has a lot of support for it and that the road beyond the gate is a private road owned by the Dead Horse Ranch, not a county road.

“The county road ends about two and half miles up,” Hosea said. “We’ve spoken to the county and everyone about that … it becomes a private road where there’s a right of way easement for the people that own property on that private road.”

Hosea said he and other landowners beyond the gate have had problems with poachers killing coyotes and people illegally cutting firewood. Authorities even located a large marijuana grow operation in the area. According to Hosea, before police busted the grow operation, people with AK-47s were driving up the road.

“Basically the gate has gone up to keep the crazy riff raff out,” Hosea said. “It’s not keeping locals out, there’s people that live on this road that have keys to that gate.”

Meleah Hosea, Jordan’s wife, said they had initially put up chain at that crossing to stop national forest traffic from coming onto their land. She said the chain was up for three weeks before it was cut near both ends, and that someone left behind a sign that read “(expletive) you.”

According to the Hoseas, they also received a call from someone threatening their lives, along with a threat to burn down their home. While Meleah Hosea acknowledges she has gone to the gate armed, she said it was only after hearing some noises on their property at night. She also said she has never made threats or pointed a firearm at anyone.

The 2014 San Miguel County Map Book does indicate County Road B55 ends just about two and a half miles from the frontage road, but what the road can be used for beyond that point is now the center of debate. Even if the road beyond the gate is a private road, according to Hackebeil — who is a lawyer in another state — right of way could be granted under what’s called a prescriptive easement.

“One can acquire a prescriptive easement by simply using a roadway continuously for a period of time,” Hackebeil said. “And once that easement by prescription has been established, then you can’t be denied access.”

Hackebeil said he has a decades-old document proving previous landowners had signed a mutual easement agreement, granting use of the road by landowners on both sides of where the gate is now located.

“It looked pretty clear to me that this easement was established for the benefit of every landowner that lived up and down (the road),” Hackebeil said.

The Hoseas said they’ve given keys to the gate to four neighbors who live on the road, giving them access the national forest. They also said several other national forest accesses points exist as well.

“There are other roads into the area that they can access,” Meleah Hosea said. “It just takes longer to get there because they'd have to go in from San José or Pecos, and the Forest Service doesn't seem to use many of our tax dollars to make those roads more usable.”

Hackebeil, Christiaens and others have now hired a Las Vegas-based attorney to handle the matter, and to possibly serve the petition. Hackebeil said the attorney has also sent a letter to Hosea and the Dead Horse Ranch requesting the gate be removed. To Hackebeil’s knowledge, they have not received a response from either.

“It looks like we’re going to have to file the lawsuit in order to shake this lose,” Hackebeil said.






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