Thursday, May 26, 2016

SLO vs CBP - Battle over easement fees

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it wants to pay to repair roads in New Mexico’s borderlands but wants the state Land Office to first waive what could amount to about $400,000 in easement fees – a request the land commissioner opposes. CBP is requesting rights of way on 27 miles of mostly dirt-and-gravel roadways that cut through state trust lands in Hidalgo and Luna counties. Most of the roads – so bumpy, gutted and overgrown they require a four-wheel drive vehicle – are in a corner of the Bootheel where the Mexican border lies to the east. Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says he thinks the federal government should pay for access, given that the easement fees go to a trust fund supporting public education in the state. “I have an obligation to the schoolchildren of New Mexico,” Dunn said. “They haven’t said they don’t have the funds. If the funds are available, I think they should pay for the right of way.” It’s not clear how much CBP would invest in maintenance and repairs in New Mexico annually; the agency did not respond to a request for comment. CBP has paid the $175 application fee but is requesting that the Land Office waive other fees. The Land Office calculates the $400,000 in fees – a rough estimate – based on the 60-foot right-of-way easement requested by CBP across 27 miles. In its April application to the Land Office, CBP argues that the fees should be waived because the agency intends to repair the roads “for the sole purpose of enhancing the safety, security and efficiency of law enforcement personnel,” which “will reduce waste and trespass and enhance the safety and security of the general public.” It is seeking rights of way for 35 years. The disagreement could have implications for border security in a sprawling, rugged borderland where roads are few and far between and many are poorly maintained. Drug running and illegal immigration from Mexico remain intractable problems in the area...more

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