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Feds Sue City of Española

Feds Sue City of Española

'The city failed to submit renewal applications for these rights-of-way and has not applied for new rights-of-way' – federal trespass lawsuit

Suit: City Water Lines Trespass on Pueblo Land


The federal government on Friday sued the city of Española, saying it is trespassing on the Pueblo of Santa Clara’s lands by refusing to pay the tribe for the rights-of-way the city uses on those lands for its water and sewer lines.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, said the city obtained four miles of rights-of-way from the pueblo in the early 1980s under the provisions of the Indian Right-of-Way Act. But those rights expired in 1994 and 2002, and the pueblo and the city haven’t been able to come up with a new deal, despite 10 years of negotiations.

“The city failed to submit renewal applications for these rights-of-way and has not applied for new rights-of-way,” the lawsuit said. “The city continues to use the Pueblo lands . . . unlawfully without a valid grant our authority.”

In a news release about the lawsuit, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Mexico said, “The Pueblo of Santa Clara and Española engaged in negotiations for almost a decade, seeking to resolve these expired rights-of-way. Those negotiations proved unsuccessful and on Nov. 13, 2013, the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent the city a Notice to Show Cause concerning trespass arising out of the expired rights-of-way.”

On July 21, 2014, U.S. Atty. Damon Martinez notified the city that its response to the Notice to Show Cause failed “to provide evidence or argument to establish a legal basis for the city presence on Pueblo property or otherwise establish that it is not in trespass,” the release said.

The city disagreed and told Martinez that no trespass had taken place and that the pueblo was due no compensation.

“The filing of the complaint is intended to bring the city of Española into compliance with federal law,” Martinez said. “The complaint was filed only after all other options for resolving this dispute had been exhausted. While previous discussions among the parties have failed to resolve this dispute, we are hopeful that meaningful discussions will be possible while the federal court action proceeds.”

The lawsuit asks a judge to declare that Española has been trespassing on Santa Clara lands and to order the city to pay the tribe damages.


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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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