Monday, August 18, 2014
Federal tribal easement proposal raises some concerns in N.M.
George Gomez, like thousands of other people in the Pojoaque Valley, is bracing for higher electricity bills in coming years under new agreements Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative has signed to run its power lines through tribal lands. The co-op, which provides electricity to some 31,000 customers in five Northern New Mexico Counties, has already inked deals with five pueblos and is negotiating with two more pueblos and two tribes. The deals, hammered out through often tense negotiations, have up to now led to modest increases for co-op customers. But now, Gomez and other co-op customers are worried that proposed changes to a federal rule could open the door for the pueblos and other tribes to sharply increase the fees they charge electrical providers, railroads and other companies to go through their lands. Thousands of miles of utility, telecommunication and sewer lines, as well as railroad tracks and public roads, crisscross tribal lands throughout the United States. Federal law allows tribes and pueblos to negotiate rights-of-way leases and prices. For decades, tribal leaders say, the easement deals favored utilities and companies, not the tribes. But over the last decade, tribes have taken a stronger stance in renegotiating deals. Under proposed changes to the federal rule, the tribes would be allowed to charge what they want for easements without a review by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as required by the current rule, according to an analysis by the law firm Modrall and Sperling. Tribes currently have no limit on how much they charge for easements, but the bureau can reject the deals. The new proposal would also allow the tribes to expand the menu of things they charge for, including lost property value around power lines or electrical substations...more