NNMProtects officers presenting their issues to a recent Espanola City Council meeting. Pictured are Vice President David Neal (L), Executive Vice President Heather Nordquist (center), and President Beverly Duran-Cash (R). Valley Daily Post photo
Can NNMProtects Save Us All?
We’ve grown to expect clean drinking water, accessible roads and electricity to power a home but at what cost? Members of the nonprofit, Northern New Mexico Protecting Land, Water and Rights Inc. (NNMProtects) believe decisions made in the Aamodt Case and inflated easement fees and trespass claims by some Northern New Mexico Pueblos are costing the Valley at best higher utility rates and at worst decreased property values and potential water shortages.
Formed officially in July 2014, Northern New Mexico Protecting Land, Water and Rights (NNMProtects) was created to address perceived negative consequences actions taken by Congress and the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission have had on nonnative communities in northern New Mexico.
NNMProtects members at a recent fundraiser. Courtesy image
With over 400 members, NNMProtects has taken on fighting decisions in the Aamodt Case, working to rescind recent Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative rate hikes, and pushing back on Pueblo trespass claims on tribal rights of way. A daunting task that can only be describe as the perfect storm of issues for non-native residents.
The issues facing NNMProtects have plagued New Mexico for centuries. Questions over land claims and rights of way, rights of native versus non-native have never gone away but three things have happened in the last five years that NNMProtects believes will impact the Valley on a scale many residents don’t even realize.
The Aamodt case started in 1966 as a means to settle water-rights claims of four pueblos in the Pojoaque Basin. In 2006, a settlement was reached between the Pueblos, the city of Santa Fe, the county of Santa Fe and the federal government that would mandate the development of a regional water system. Following the passage of the Aamodt Litigation Settlement Act December 8, 2010, Pub.L. No. 111-291, 124 Stat. 3064, 3134-3156, a final Settlement Agreement was signed by all parties in March 2013.
Although this settlement was a means to bring additional resources to the Pueblos, NNMProtects argues the actions taken have damaging effects on water-rights for non-natives and that the regional water system will strip drought-stricken Northern New Mexico communities of much needed water to benefit Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative
Since 2011, Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative (JMEC) has been renegotiating right of way fees of the 8 Northern Pueblos and two tribes to ensure access to the power lines crossing pueblo land that carries electric service to their residential and business properties. Based on changes made to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and ongoing changes to 25 CFR 169, which defines how tribal rights of way are obtained, Pueblo’s were not only given the ability to determine what fair market value is for the use of tribal rights of way but it allowed them to charge more than previous agreements.
In 2012, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and JMEC agreed to an $11,250,000 right of way fee agreement for a 25-year term. The catch? The New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission (NMPRC) agreed to allow JMEC to pass on this fee to its customers in the Greater Española area to recover costs, causing utility rates to increase. NMPRC has continued to support these agreements and rate increases since 2012 and has objected to legislation proposed by Representative Carl Trujillo to address what he calls the unfair financial burden placed on JMEC utility users. According to Trujillo, “it is like paying to get milk delivered to your door and then charging the milkman a fee to drive up your driveway to deliver it. At the end of the day, this comes down to fairness and keeping costs down for all JMEC customers.”
Right of way disputes have impacted the lives of residents for decades but none have been as disruptive as recent decisions by San Ildefonso Pueblo to assert trespass claims over County Road 84 in Santa Fe, despite previous agreements set forth over access to the road.
Since authoring the letter in December 2013, residents of the El Rancho community have been forced to pay higher fees for utilities and telephone access, and land titles have been called into question. For many residents, these homes are their retirement plans but with land titles tied up and banks unwilling to finance the sale of homes in El Rancho, many are stuck living in a home they can no longer afford to physically or financially live in. NNMProtects has spent the last year raising awareness and funding to hire an attorney to file a federal lawsuit. NNMProtects objects to San Ildefonso Pueblo and Bureau of Indian Affairs trespass claims and believe if San Ildefonso is successful in asserting these easement claims on County Road 84 that additional Pueblos will follow suit in bordering, non-native communities that utilize pueblo rights of way.
NNMProtects might be new but they are proving to be a powerful voice in what they call the fight for fair representation and community involvement in easement disputes and agreements. Not all residents agree with them on their interpretation of these issues, but they are forcing a conversation to be held and they are asking for other community members to get involved.
To learn more you may check out their website at www.NNMProtects.org, or NNMProtects meets the third Thursday of each month and their next meeting is Aug. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Nambe Community Center.