Land Commissioner lays groundwork for future public meetings

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New Mexico Land Commissioner Ray Powell is making the rounds and was in Socorro on April 2 to visit with city and county officials, and administrators at New Mexico Tech.

“I made promises during my campaign to visit with people and show them of the trust land maps in their areas, so I’m here to do that,” Powell said during a stop at El Defensor Chieftain.

The land commissioner said his visit was to lay the groundwork for public meetings that will be held this fall.

He said the maps show a checkerboard pattern of trust lands in the Socorro area and it’s important for people to know where they are before, rather than after, land transactions take place.

“We want to make sure how we use trust lands fits with the vision of the community,” he said. “We want to try to respond with what makes sense.”

In New Mexico, there are approximately 9 million surface acres of trust land and another 13 million mineral acres.

“Most of it is leased for grazing, but some of it is smack dab in the middle of communities,” Powell said of the surface acreage.

New Mexico Tech in Socorro is beneficiary to 163,641 surface acres, or about 1.7 percent of what’s available in the trust land fund.

Public schools, which include the Socorro and Magdalena school districts in Socorro County, are the biggest beneficiary at 73.1 percent.

About 94 percent of venues are generated through gas and oil royalties, rentals and interest bonuses. At $495 million per year, Powell said revenues are at an all-time high.

“We’re earning more than we ever have, and we’re looking for opportunities that help institutions like New Mexico Tech and the public schools,” he said.

Powell said the state needs to think about stewardship of its lands and funds need to be set aside to maintain them.

“Now is the time to take that small fraction of money and spend it on the health of the land,” he said. “If the land isn’t healthy, people won’t live there. We must take care of our land.”

In talking about renewable energy, Powell said he thought New Mexico Tech could play an important role in the state’s overall plan.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t lead with the intellectual capital we have here and why New Mexico can’t be a home base,” he said. “New Mexico Tech, with its Petroleum Institute and its renewable energy focus, that ought to be a reason to come.”

Powell said New Mexico has been successful elsewhere in the state developing business parks.

“We’re targeting renewable energies. We’re looking at New Mexico companies and how to leverage jobs so we’re not just selling at rock bottom, we’re trying to get jobs here,” he said. “Sandia Science and Technology has created 2,500 new jobs, Mesa del Sol had 2,500 new jobs. That’s 5,000 jobs that wouldn’t have otherwise been there.”

While trust lands have been dedicated to oil and gas, Powell said natural gas should be factored into the equation too.

Asked about natural gas as an energy source, Powell said he didn’t consider it the solution to the country’s energy concerns. But it would play a part in relieving America’s reliance on gas and oil.

“The future for natural gas looks really bright and New Mexico is well positioned,” he said, adding that the same can be said for the state’s movement toward power generated on wind farms.

Powell said natural gas can be used as a bridge and can keep wind turbines turning when the wind isn’t blowing.

Before visiting the newspaper office, Powell had breakfast at Sofia’s and talked with County Commissioners Phillip Anaya and R.J. Griego.

“Their major concerns had to do with fire danger,” Powell reported.

The land commissioner said he was disappointed the Legislative didn’t come through with $800,000 his office had asked for to put toward the effort. A budget adjustment provided $200,000.

“That’s just a drop in the bucket,” he said, adding that it will be spent on reducing fuel loads. “We’re working with the National Guard to store wood and cure it and distribute it to people that need it.”

Powell said he also spoke to the county commissioners about the feral pig problem. Not many people are aware of the wild swine that have immigrated into the state from the east. They’ve already spread to about half the counties in the state, ravaging range and farmland along the way.

“They’re like vacuum cleaners,” he said. “They eat lizards, quail, snakes, toads and carry something like 27 infectious diseases. These will be a real problem. We’re trying to stop them before they do more damage.”

Powell said the commissioners had heard about the feral hog problem but weren’t aware of any reports of them in Socorro County at this time.

 


-- Email the author at tslast@dchieftain.com.