Home News Local News Proposed state, BLM land exchange has costs, benefits

Proposed state, BLM land exchange has costs, benefits

New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, right, looks Thursday night at a map showing parcels in Chaves County that would be affected by a proposed swap of Bureau of Land Management and State Land Office acreage. Dunn and a former state director for the BLM first proposed the land exchange about a year ago. State officials think the exchange should be completed by December 2018. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Chaves County could lose up to $38,000 in federal payments when a proposed land exchange between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the New Mexico State Land Office goes through, but government officials say that should be offset by the increases in gross receipts taxes that would be earned once the state is able to use those parcels to generate revenues.

Laura Riley of the New Mexico State Land Office, left, and Melanie Barnes with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management talk Thursday night with the Chaves County Land Council about the proposed exchange of 43,000 acres of state land for 70,500 acres of federal land statewide. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Laura Riley, deputy commissioner with the State Land Office, and Melanie Barnes, deputy director of the Division of Land and Resources with the Bureau of Land Management, talked to members of the Chaves County Land Office at a Thursday night meeting about the proposed statewide swap.

First considered about a year ago, the public comment period ends today and the swap is expected to be completed by December 2018 after required appraisals, responses to public comments, analyses and approvals occur.

The proposal involves swapping 43,000 acres of State Land Office acreage in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Rio Arriba County and the Sabinoso Wilderness Area in San Miguel County for 70,500 acres of federal lands in 13 counties in the state. The 43,000 acres of state land earn about $35,000 a year for trust land beneficiaries, including hospitals and schools, Riley said, but the 70,500 acres of federal land could earn up to $200,000 a year in economic activity, including grazing and oil and gas lease revenues.

Both surface and mineral rights would be transferred with the land exchanges.

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The benefit to the BLM, representatives said, is the agency would have lands in the monument and wilderness area consolidated under their management.

At this time, about 15,063 acres of BLM land in Chaves County would be affected. All proposed parcels are involved in agricultural uses at this time. As a result of the exchange, the county could lose what has been estimated to be $38,108 a year in federal payments or Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT).

Chaves County Manager Stanton Riggs said the county typically receives about $3.1 million to $3.2 million in PILT payments each year. He said that PILT formulas are incredibly complex.

“I don’t know if they can say for sure that is the amount of PILT,” he said. “It is probably around that area.”

Although it might seem like a small amount, he said it will be felt.

“A hit is a hit,” he said. “It will have an impact on us somewhat. But how much, who knows?”

Riley said the State Land Office believes that the county will be compensated through gross receipts taxes and increased economic development.

“Some of the economists in our office have run some numbers and because of the potential in increased in gross receipts taxes and because of the increased activity in economic development that typically happens on State Land that does not typically happen on federal land, as well as the ability of the county to tax anything that goes on above the ground, that it would eventually offset that PILT payment. Again, that is speculative and we understand that.”

Riggs added that the county is also concerned about keeping the rights-of-way on roads that pass through the public lands, with RIley advising him that he should submit a public comment noting his concerns and the roads involved.

Most leases and rights-of-way are expected to transfer as is, with some options being given regarding those, Riley and Barnes said. The State Land Office does charge more for grazing permits than the BLM, Riley acknowledged, but again said that those fees should be offset by benefits to leasing from the state agency.

While this was the first presentation before a Chaves County governing body, according to State Land Office Assistant Commissioner Kris McNeil, presentations have been made before other counties and before stakeholders such as lessees. Notices were also placed in many newspapers across the state, and a BLM staff members indicated that lease holders, permit holders, land owners and lenders with liens were notified by letters.

McNeil said comments would be taken in earnest, but that it would be unlikely that any county would be able to halt the exchange at this point.

Comments can be made in writing, by email or by fax to Debby Lucero, 301 Dinosaur Trail, Santa Fe, 87508, dlucero@blm.gov, (505) 954-2010.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.