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  The Gauntlet
 
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letters, opinions, editorials

Opposing views regarding state of Dixon Apple Orchard

Orchard was given a “Sweetheart Deal”

—Ray Powell New Mexico State Land Commissioner

Dixon Apple Orchard was a New Mexico treasure, and I have great compassion for the Mullane family. Losing the orchard to last year’s fires and floods is tragic. The family did not purchase insurance to protect their business, which makes it very tough to rebuild, and they plan to move to Wisconsin.

I dispute the Mullanes’ recent claims that the State Land Office has not done enough to help them through this ordeal. I approved spending more than $300,000 and over 600 person hours to help. Our employees often worked shoulder to shoulder with the family filling sandbags, moving burned trees and widening channels to save the orchard when floods were in the offing, even while the fire still burned.

Everything that can be done to find a fair legal solution will be done. I offered another piece of trust land for a new home for the orchard. The Mullanes declined. I offered to waive their rent, invest our insurance proceeds and seek assistance from FEMA if they chose to stay. I gave them as much time as needed. Only recently they informed me of their decision to leave New Mexico.

I further offered insurance proceeds we receive plus FEMA money to save the orchard, while we find a qualified operator to take over. The Mullanes would be paid fair market value and could use that money to start over.

I have given thoughtful consideration to the Mullanes’ request to assign their lease to San Felipe Pueblo, which would give them $2.8 million. Lease terms set by the previous land commissioner restrict assignments to people who “can demonstrate at least 20 years’ experience in the successful management of an apple farm,” a clause benefiting the Mullanes in the original public bid process. San Felipe does not meet this requirement and has stated the same. San Felipe has acknowledged that operating the apple orchard is not their objective; rather, it is the protection of cultural and religious assets in the 8,500 acres in this lease.

As the Mullanes know, this lease—entered into by former Commissioner Patrick Lyons—charges only a $100 per year rental on the 8,500 acres adjoining the orchard. In December 2005, the University of New Mexico Regents approved trading the orchard and adjoining 8,500 acres to the State Land Office in exchange for 3,000 acres of prime real estate at Albuquerque’s Mesa del Sol. The percentage payment of the lease was reduced from 33 percent of net profits paid to UNM to a 10 percent return to the State Land Office.

Had I been land commissioner, I would never have approved such an unfavorable exchange, as the revenue potential and actual earnings of the acquired lands are severely limited compared with the developable urban land at Mesa del Sol. Through the current lease the Mullane family has enjoyed free housing, water, irrigation privileges and no property taxes.

In summary, I will do everything in my power to protect this special orchard. However, another flood may wipe out these efforts. It is unfortunate that the exchange occurred and the lease was approved; fire and flooding hit the orchard; and the Mullanes did not purchase business insurance.

My foremost responsibility as state land commissioner is to protect the beneficiaries of the trust and taxpayers by ensuring a reliable and fair revenue stream for our public schools, special hospitals and universities. Our citizens cannot be asked to subsidize the family’s move to Wisconsin, and I will not break the law and sign an illegal transfer of this lease. Every dollar our working lands earn is a dollar that our taxpayers do not pay in taxes.


Dixon’s deal with state—No “Sweetheart”

“Family running Dixon orchard did not benefit as much as land office would have you believe”

Patrick H. Mullane
I just read Ray Powell’s article titled: “Orchard was given a sweetheart deal.” He sounds like a typical politician, always telling half-truths. 

When the State Land Office and the University of New Mexico made the land swap, the owners of Dixon’s Apples did not have a say in the matter. They were pawns. 

When the negotiations for the lease began, the owners of Dixon’s Apples wanted to lease only the 65 acres where the farm is located. However, the land office asked them to lease the other 8,500 acres in order to keep the ranch together. The owners agreed as long as the cost was not too high. That is when the land office offered them the rest of the ranch for an additional $100. 

Let’s be quite clear about the condition of the rest of the land. There is no oil or gas on the ranch. There are not enough resources for lumbering. The land has suffered from the drought and cannot support grazing. The only part of the ranch that is of any value is the valley where the farm is and the apple trees themselves. And, the family maintained the fences and provided security for the entire ranch. 

Another issue the land office forgot to report was that any structures, including the house, packing shed, maintenance shop, waterlines, irrigation systems, wells and apple trees, all became state property when the land trade was completed. 

The state had nothing to do with the purchasing, or development, of the orchard. All of these structures, except the house, were purchased, built, and installed by Dixon’s Apples. 

In fact, several new orchards were planted before the fire in 2011 and paid for by Dixon’s Apples. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent over a seventy-year span of time, improving and expanding the orchards. There were no state or federal funds spent on the orchard. 

All of these improvements became state property with the land trade. It is ironic that after the fire and flood the land office received insurance money for the property that was lost, yet the state had nothing to do with the development of the orchard. 

Powell states, “I offered another piece of trust land for a new home for the orchard.” This is not entirely true. The owners of Dixon’s Apples did find a location for a residence that was away from the creek and out of flood areas and discussed building a new home. However, if they built it on state property, it would become another state asset. The owners of Dixon’s Apples did not want to build a new home using their money if it became a state asset. They were told they would have to buy private land adjacent to the orchard and do a land swap for the land needed for a new home. They were not asking for free state land as Powell indicates. 

All of the sweat, tears, and money that the owners of Dixon’s Apples poured into the orchard and the surrounding land was washed away in August 2011. The State of New Mexico received insurance money for the damages that occurred to the buildings, trees, pipelines, roads, rock fences, ponds, etc. Dixon’s Apples did not receive any part of the insurance money collected by the State of New Mexico. 

It’s time for Ray Powell to do what is right, and what he should have done months ago, and let the owners of Dixon’s Apples transfer their 72-year lease to the San Felipe Pueblo. 

I hope all apple customers will remember what has occurred two years from now during election time. 

Powell indicates Jim and Becky Mullane were getting to live in the house free and use water for free. This home and the rest of the structures on the farm were part of the lease agreement. Use of stream water to irrigate was also part of the lease. 

For seventy years, the owners of Dixon’s Apples have farmed this land while it continued to change ownership. The home Powell mentions is a one hundred-year-old structure which Fred Dixon fixed up. It originally had only a dirt floor. Fred put in a floor, electricity, etc. 

Dixon’s Apples also put in and maintained the wells and irrigation system on the farm. Again, no state funds were used. 

There was no free ride as Powell indicated. 

Patrick H. Mullane is the father of Jim Mullane, an owner of Dixon’s Apples. 


  Junebug

“Junebug” and Angela Stell

re: Thanks for helping us find “Junebug”

On the night of April 26, I received one of the worst calls a dog rescuer could receive. A recent addition to the New Mexico Dogs Deserve Better “pack” had escaped from the family that had her on a trial adoption, and she was lost in the cold dark night, alone in the unfamiliar hills of Placitas. We rallied the troops, and an hour after receiving the call, we had formed quite the search party—dog lovers on foot carrying flashlights, in four wheel drive vehicles with mounted search lights all calling, “Junebug! Junebug! Where are you?”

We searched until the early morning hours and found nothing. For the next 36 hours, the NMDDB Village converged upon the Village of Placitas looking for a lost member of our family. By noon the next day, we had printed and distributed five hundred flyers and narrowed our search to the Juniper/Yucca drive area as directed by sightings. Members of the community embraced our efforts; they welcomed us to sleep in our vehicles on lookout. They allowed us to set up feeding stations near their houses and led us through the winding streets, cul de sacs, arroyos, and canyons. Folks stood on their roofs yelling out the most recent sighting, called the phone number posted on the flyer and talked to their neighbors.

At approximately 2:00 p.m. on April 28, while we in hot pursuit (but had still not actually laid eyes on Junebug ourselves), the phone rang to lead me to Cajon Canyon Road, through two properties and  into the arroyo. A lady was standing in the middle of the road, and I was on the phone with her husband. I threw the rescue van into park as she pointed in the direction Junebug had just run. As I rounded the corner, there she was. She had jumped into the yard of two very friendly dogs to seek refuge from “all of these crazy people chasing her.” Once she realized it was me calling her name, her tail began to wag in typical Pibble style! Junebug was a dog that had been forced to live a horrible life. Confined to a small, feces-filled crate all of her five years, she was recently seized by Rio Rancho Animal Control in a cruelty case and taken to the shelter. NMDDB was called and  we got her out just in the nick of time. Despite her discouraging past and  all the harm done to her by the humans she trusted, Junebug is nothing but a lovebug!

We cannot say enough words of gratitude to the Village of Placitas for their involvement in our search and for the hospitality we were shown along the way. So we would like to take this opportunity to thank you publicly! It takes a village to rescue a dog.

—Angela Stell, President/Director of New Mexico Dogs Deserve Better (NMDDB)


re: demand justice for America’s horses now!

Horses are denigrated by opening horse slaughter houses in the U.S. again. To provide horse meat for human consumption is barbaric. Eighty percent of the American People are against horse slaughter.

Horses are synonymous with freedom and grace. A perfect subject for artists and photographers; exquisite in form in motion—kinetic sculpture; one of the most beautiful living creatures.

November, Congress failed to provide a longtime safeguard against horse slaughter in the U.S. The Agriculture Appropriations had barred the USDA from taxpayer money for horse-meat inspections approving meat from inhumanely killed and shrink-wrapped, to be sent to Belgium and Japan for a high-priced appetizer.

Preventing horse slaughter saves money. Resurrecting an expensive Federal program for inspections will cost taxpayers money, much more than the five million paid when the program was shut down in 2005. Not only will it cost much more, but require an increase in Federal bureaucracy and regulations, all for the benefit of foreign interests.

Please ask you members of Congress to immediately pass “The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act” H.B.2966/S.1176. We also must ask President Obama to issue an executive order to prohibit horse slaughter and their transport out of the U.S. for slaughter. Protecting horses should be a bi-partisan issue and our youth can be involved!

—Betty J. Pritchard, Bernalillo


re: no pictures please

Dear Friends Back East,

I hope this letter finds everyone well, and that the usual city squalor and urban offal aren’t too awful. It is summer-like here, and I am again assaulting regional hiking trails after a winter layoff. I enjoy my solitary treks in the Sandia foothills, but am off to a bad start this year.

As you recall, when I retired here from the squalid east, I approached hiking with apprehension. I eventually concluded that most of our trails are safer than a round-trip walk from your Big Apple apartment to the corner mailbox at high noon. 

The only weaponry I bring along is my hefty wooden walking stick, supplemented by a vile, loathsome personality, and, on many occasions, my teeth have neither been flossed nor brushed.  

These feelings of security have been repeatedly bolstered by New Mexicans telling me that coyotes and bobcats won’t bother me; that bears and cougars won’t be in the lower reaches where and when I walk; to simply keep my eyes and ears open for snakes, etc. So, I’ve had little reason to feel nervous when taking my solo hikes….until last week.

At the entrances to my favorite trailheads, a well-intentioned organization has posted warning posters telling me that I am entering bear and cougar country, and that I may well live to regret it, although not for very long. There are things I am advised to do slash not do if I encounter either of these formidable creatures, e.g. not to run or play dead (my first two choices). I am also advised to “…make myself larger.” This is an appealing notion, but I believe it simply means that had I only consumed all of the Flying Star éclairs, and Range Café cinnamon rolls I’ve denied myself over the years, I might well have prevented my slaughter on the trail.

The sad impact of these postings on my neurotic self is far greater because they contain colored photos of these impressive creatures, each bearing a glowering, snarling Clint Eastwood/John Boehner/Jimmy Cagney facial expression. Why did they have to include photos?! Photos are, indeed, more effective than a thousand words but also bring one closer to dreaded reality. It’s so comfy only to believe things which make me feel correct, safe, and authoritative—only that which corresponds to my ego’s biases and wishful thinking. (This trait is particularly handy around election time.) It’s unnerving to look into the faces of my potential murderers.

So now, thanks to those scary pictures and somber official admonitions, I have reverted back to the original timid behavior of an eastern big city retiree. Once again, I envision a massive, steroidal mountain lion perched above me on every rocky promontory, methodically timing his or her leap onto my person. I can easily picture myself clumsily walking between a trio of little bear cubs and their enormous guardian mama, plagued from birth by excessive growth hormones—irritable, nasty, and hateful of eastern transplants except for their organ meats.

Yes, it’s possible I’m over-reacting, and that I will regain my hiking confidence. In the meantime, please keep the matter to yourselves, as I would like to retain my positive local image as a slightly stalwart fop prone to sun poisoning. 

Even Patrick is puzzled at my sudden tendency to repeatedly check the length of his claws and to carefully screen what he watches on the National Geographic channel. He stares quizzically at me as if to say, “Boss, don’t worry. There’s no mistaking you for a wildebeest. Go easy.”

—Your Friend, Herb


re: New Mexico Bureau of Land Management “likes” Facebook

Like most organizations these days, BLM-New Mexico has embraced social media sites like Facebook as a new tool to better connect with the public and tell our story. As summer nears, we’re excited about using our Facebook page to engage the public and promote the many outstanding and diverse recreation sites we have available across New Mexico, as well as the many public events we’re offering, such as guided hikes. While our traditional blm.gov website remains an important outreach tool, we’re finding that posting fresh content daily to our Facebook page provides a much more dynamic and interactive experience. We’re excited about what we’re doing and eager to strengthen these outreach efforts.

If you haven’t already, please check out and “Like” BLM-New Mexico’s Facebook page to stay up-to-date with BLM recreation opportunities, public events, and news at www.facebook.com/BLMNewMexico.

Also, if there’s something you’re interested in seeing on our Facebook site, or if you have a suggestion for content ideas, please let us know. We’re always looking for new ideas on content and better ways to connect with the public.

—Donna Hummel, Bureau of Land Management

 
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