Council clears land transfer hurdle

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Another milestone in a long process of settling pueblo land claims

By Roger Snodgrass

Los Alamos County Council took what councilors considered an important step in a complex process of settling land claims among several parties including the federal government and neighboring pueblos.

At the request of the Pueblo de San Ildefonso, county council held a special meeting at noon Monday to sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) related to an historic land transfer process.

The MOA was approved unanimously after discussion.

As summarized by County Attorney Mary McInerny, the agreement fulfills a requirement in the congressional settlement act that resolved longstanding land claims by San Ildefonso. The settlement act was signed Sept. 27, 2006, opening the way to negotiations between the Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service, Santa Fe National Forest, The New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officer, Los Alamos County and the two pueblos about numerous procedural details.

The agreement addresses potential adverse effects to the historic properties associated with the conveyance of the Water System Land to the county.

Among other provisions, the memorandum spells out the responsibilities of the county, including nominating an inventory of historic properties to the New Mexico Official Register of Cultural Properties.

A mechanism for protecting cultural sites of special importance to the pueblos is included in the agreement, spelling out a consultation process that requires the county’s notice to the State Historic Preservation Office of any proposed changes. Former state historic preservation officer Tom Merlin has consulted with the county and gave an assessment of the communication process among the parties.

Tim Glasco, deputy utilities manager for the county, said the wells on the property that will eventually be owned by the county are significant.

“We provide water for the laboratory, White Rock, Bandelier and the townsite,” he said. “The Guaje wells provide about a third of the county’s water, and half of the water for the townsite.”

Pueblo de San Ildefonso Governor Roybal was expected to be present for the signing but did not attend.

“He may not make it due to some family issues,” Council Chair Michael Wheeler said as the meeting began.”

During the discussion, dissenting statements were made by two representative of Santa Clara Pueblo Rights Protection Office objecting to what they considered a subordinate status afforded Santa Clara in the memorandum. While San Ildefonso is given explicit recognition by the agreement, including an easement to access the county’s Water System Land, Santa Clara’s access is less explicit, covered under a general public access provision.

“We are being treated as the public,” said Ben Chevarria of Santa Clara Pueblo. “We should have the same rights as our neighbor. We are as Tewa as they are.”

The business of the meeting was an outgrowth of an act of Congress settling longstanding land claims by San Ildefonso and Santa Clara pueblos.

The motion to approve the memorandum was made by Councilor Robert Gibson.

“It’s not a perfect result, but quite acceptable,” he said, noting that it had been in the works for “a half-dozen years.”

He compared it to the Louisiana Purchase, 196 years ago.

“That only took 2 years to negotiate and they were going back and forth across the Atlantic,” he said.

Councilor Sharon Stover gave special credit to Gibson for his work improving relations with the pueblos over the last few years and to Gibson and Wheeler for “staying the course.”

Wheeler said, “This agreement does satisfy the needs of all the parties.”

The vote was 6-0 with Councilor Nona Bowman absent.