Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Hearing officer rejects Powell’s rejection of apple orchard deal

—Ty Belknap

On April 12, 2013, former District Judge James A. Hall, serving as hearing officer, ruled that state Land Commissioner Ray Powell acted improperly in rejecting assignment of the orchard lease to San Felipe Pueblo. On May 11, 2012, Dixon Apples filed an appeal with the New Mexico State Land Office regarding the decision by Powell to deny a lease transfer deal between the Mullane family and San Felipe Pueblo. Flood and fire destroyed much of Dixon Apple orchard in the summer of 2011.

Hall found that Powell’s rejection of the lease transfer was primarily based on an erroneous assumption that he had the authority to separate a substantial portion of the leased land from the lease if it was in the best interest of the state, and that rejection of the transfer was arbitrary and capricious. The Dixon family has cared for land containing 345 archeological sites on eight thousand acres adjoining the orchard since long before it became state trust land. Hall recommended that Powell reconsider the options for reassignment of the lease.

Although the Mullanes had found great success in operating their iconic seventy-year-old family business, they decided that continuing was neither safe nor economically feasible after the orchard was severely damaged by the Las Conchas Fire and ensuing floods; much of the irrigation system and other infrastructure was completely destroyed. They arranged to transfer the State Land Office lease to San Felipe Pueblo last year for a reported $2.8 million.

Powell issued an emphatic public denial of the transfer, saying allowing reassignment of the lease would perpetuate a “sweetheart deal” and would waste taxpayer dollars. He said San Felipe lacked the orchard experience required by the lease and were motivated by an interest in cultural sites in eight thousand acres of Land Office land surrounding the orchard.

Powell can accept or reject Hall’s findings and told the Signpost, “I will assess the report and try to be as fair and responsible as I can be and fulfill my role to take of care of the beneficiaries of state trust land revenue and taxpayers.” He said that he will issue his decision by the end of May.

If Powell again denies the lease assignment, the Mullanes can appeal to state district court. Meanwhile, Powell said, his office has been irrigating the trees to keep them alive until a lease operator can start producing apples. He said that there won’t be apples for sale this year, because the trees will not be pruned or sprayed with insecticide. San Felipe has since announced that they are no longer interested in the lease.

The Mullane’s attorney, Thomas Hnasco stated, “The whole matter is unfortunate and could have been avoided by honoring the Mullanes’ right to assign their lease, allowing the San Felipe Pueblo to assume control of the orchard and surrounding lands, and then proceeding with a land transfer so that San Felipe would receive title to the leased lands and the Land Office would receive in exchange commercially developable lands from the Pueblo. That would have been a win for all parties. We’ll see if that or something like that can now be resurrected, but I don’t know if it can.”

Public comment period extended for uranium mine

On May 10, the Cibola National Forest and Grasslands extended the public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Roca Honda Mine.

The project is located on the Mt. Taylor Ranger District, approximately 22 miles northeast of Grants, New Mexico. The proposed action would approve development of what could be the nation’s largest uranium mine on about 218 acres of National Forest System and State land. The mine is a joint venture proposed by Japanese and Canadian companies. It would extract high-grade uranium deposits and provide hundreds of jobs, but it faces strong opposition from environmental and Native American Groups.

The draft EIS and supporting documents can be found at: The final EIS and the record of decision should be published in the summer of 2014.

Comments can be sent to:, or mailed or delivered by hand to: Cibola National Forest & Grasslands; 2113 Osuna Rd. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113

For additional information, contact Diane Tafoya, Project Manager at or 346-3900.

Fire Restrictions on public lands

Signpost Staff

The Cibola National Forest and Grasslands’ Sandia and Mountainair Ranger Districts began Stage II fire restrictions effective on May 13. “Due to ongoing drought conditions and increasing fire danger, these restrictions are necessary to decrease the likelihood of human-caused wildfires and to protect public health and safety,” said Acting Forest Supervisor Joe Norrell. “In addition, the National Weather Service’s outlook has predicted that drought conditions in the region will persist through July.”

Stage II fire restrictions include:

  • Building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, charcoal, coal, or wood stove anywhere on the Mountainair and Sandia Ranger Districts, with the exception of petroleum-fueled stoves, lanterns, propane grills, or heating devices, provided such devices meet the fire underwriter’s specification for safety and has a turn-off valve.
  • Smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, at a developed recreation site, or while stopped in an area at least three feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable material.
  • Possessing, discharging, or using any kind of firework or other pyrotechnic device.
  • Discharging a firearm, air rifle, or gas gun.
  • Operating a chainsaw, or other equipment powered by an internal combustion engine from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • Operating, or using, any internal or external combustion engine without a spark arresting device that is properly installed, maintained, and in effective working order. They must meet either USDA Forest Service or appropriate Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) recommended practice
  • Welding or operating acetylene or any other torch with an open flame.
  • Possessing or using a motor vehicle off National Forest System roads, except when parking in an area devoid of vegetation within ten feet of the roadway or overnight parking in Forest Service-developed campgrounds and trailheads.

For more information, call Ruth Sutton, Public Affairs Officer at 34603900, or e-mail to

The Bureau of Land Management Albuquerque District Office implemented similar fire restrictions on BLM administered public lands in Bernalillo, Catron, Cibola, McKinley, Sandoval, Socorro, and Valencia Counties on May 20.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced Stage Two fire restrictions for Pueblo de Cochiti, Pueblo of Acoma, Pueblo of Isleta, Pueblo of Jemez, Pueblo of San Felipe, Pueblo of Sandia, Pueblo of Santa Ana, Pueblo of Santo Domingo, Pueblo of Zia, and Pueblo of Zuni.


SC bans open burning

The Sandoval County Fire Department has stopped issuing burn permits for the unincorporated areas of Sandoval County. In recent days, the county fire department has responded to several wild land fires. In addition, several county residents who are accustomed to performing agricultural burns have reported their fires getting out of control.

“We realize that agricultural burning is crucial for certain farming operations,” said Sandoval County Fire Chief James Maxon. “However, the risk of having a fire get out of control is too great at this point.”

As a result, all open flame sources such as campfires and agricultural burns will be banned until further notice.

“I strongly encourage everyone to be vigilant about fire prevention so a catastrophic fire does not occur,” Chief Maxon added.

In addition to the ban on open burning, the use of fireworks is prohibited in any wild land area in Sandoval County. The use propane grills is still allowed, though smoking outdoor is discouraged.

The fire ban and fireworks restrictions will be enforced by the Sandoval County Fire Marshal and the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office. Anyone found to be conducting an open burn or using illegal fireworks will be subject to arrest and or fine. County residents should report illegal burning or fireworks to 891-7226


Top of Page

Ad Rates  Back Issues  Contact Us  Front Page  Up Front  Animal News   Around Town  Sandoval Arts   Business Classifieds  Calendar   Community Bits  Community Center  Eco-Beat  Featured Artist  The Gauntlet Health  Community Links  Night Sky  My Wife and Times  Public Safety  Real  People  Stereogram  Time Off  Youth