Santa Fe County taxpayers could spend between $7 million and $8 million to settle long-standing disputes with four area pueblos over rights of way on county-maintained roads within tribal boundaries.
The roadway disputes have been a source of bad blood between the pueblos, which assert county roads trespass on tribal land, and non-Native American residents who live on private property surrounded by pueblo land.
County Manager Katherine Miller said in an email Friday that the proposed settlement agreements are a “reasonable compromise” in the decades-old issue. “The alternative would have been a lengthy and costly litigation process,” she said. “This is a notable accomplishment between all parties involved.”
The agreements would offer long-term security to both residents and the county government, county spokeswoman Kristine Mihelcic added, saying, “This brings resolution related to trespass for the next 198 years.”
The total cost of the proposed settlements includes road upgrades and just over $3 million in payments to three of the four pueblos involved in the disputes.
“We are using funding sources that currently fund road construction and other capital needs,” Mihelcic said in an email. “We are realigning our project priorities over the next five years to prioritize the 34 miles of roads outlined in the settlements and don’t anticipate a negative impact on our operating budget.”
Pojoaque Pueblo, which has more county-maintained roads within its boundaries than any of the other three pueblos, is poised to receive the most money. The agreement with Pojoaque calls for an initial settlement payment of $1.75 million, plus two additional payments of $500,000 each “on or before the 25th and 50th anniversaries of this agreement.”
Nambe Pueblo would receive a one-time, lump-sum payment of $1 million, and Tesuque Pueblo would receive a payment of $185,000.
The agreement with San Ildefonso calls for the construction of new roads within the pueblo’s boundaries. But the pueblo will not receive any money under the proposed deal.
“The Pueblo de San Ildefonso had been planning for a long time to realign and construct new roads as a way to fix the trespass and road access issues and planned to use any money it may have been able to receive for roads rights-of-way for the construction,” said San Ildefonso Pueblo Gov. Terrence K. Garcia.
“The Pueblo and County agreed that instead of monetary compensation, the County would realign and construct new roads that will resolve the access and gap issues,” he said in an email.
The roadways issue threatened to derail a regional Pojoaque Basin water system, part of the settlement in the long-running federal Aamodt water-rights litigation. County commissioners had passed a resolution to withhold funding for the project until the roadway disputes were resolved.
The issue is not unique to county government.
Late last year, Santa Clara Pueblo Gov. J. Michael Chavarria sent the state Department of Transportation a letter requesting $600,000 in exchange for easements for a road in the San Pedro community outside Española.
Emilee Cantrell, a department spokeswoman, said the state has not yet responded to the request but continues to survey the rights of way for highways near Santa Clara Pueblo.
The department has received a similar request from Picuris Pueblo to research the right of way for N.M. 75. Cantrell said.
Garcia, the governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo, said that by providing legal access to homes on private land within the tribe’s boundaries, the proposed settlement with the county will allow title companies and lenders to issue title insurance and offer financing.
“It will also address the problem of unauthorized roads and access over the Pueblo’s lands, which has been rampant,” he said. “It is our hope that the agreement — that took a long time to reach — will help the Pueblo and the community to move forward.”
The Board of County Commissioners has scheduled a special meeting Jan. 23 to consider the proposed settlement. The board initially planned to take action at its Jan. 9 meeting but tabled the decision until all five commissioners would be present.
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 505-986-3089 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.