State DOT sues Taos veterans group for land sliver

By Jesse Moya
jmoya@taosnews.com
Posted 5/9/19

The New Mexico Department of Transportation has named Taos veterans organization Not Forgotten Outreach as a defendant in a claim for condemnation of land for the …

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State DOT sues Taos veterans group for land sliver

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The New Mexico Department of Transportation has named Taos veterans organization Not Forgotten Outreach as a defendant in a claim for condemnation of land for the agency's Paseo del Pueblo repaving project.

NFO was served with a court summons April 18 after negotiations with the state faltered over a small piece of property in the organization's southeast corner of Corral No. 5 - on the corner of Paseo del Pueblo and Camino de la Placita. Corral No. 5 has recently become a place for agricultural innovation for the organization and an aged, dry irrigation ditch on the property is the subject of the NFO's concern, according to director Don Peters.

"We thought we were in good faith negotiations, and the state sued us," Peters said. "We were really surprised the state did not want to negotiate."

According to Peters, the state is trying to acquire the property corner as part of the repaving of Paseo del Pueblo, scheduled to happen sometime soon. The state is looking at a safer, updated redesign of the corner of Camino de la Placita and Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

NFO said the 76 square foot corner has a portion of a dormant acequia that the organization has planned to revitalize for their work on the property. According to Peters, the DOT is unable to retain the old Lomos Abajos acequia in their reconstruction of the corner. NFO had suggested a culvert be placed under the road so the water may be able to run through, but the court summons states the "department has been unable to agree with one or more of the defendants having an interest in a particular parcel."

Not Forgotten Outreach is a nonprofit veterans assistance organization and is unable to respond to a lawsuit or summons without first hiring a lawyer. Peters said the cost to hire legal aid would be extensive and is worried the organization may not get the money back in return.

"We're stuck between a rock and a hard place," said NFO Programs Director Elizabeth Coontz. "We want the acequia."

The Taos County Board of Commissioners is also named in the court case, however the county does not own the land and the section of land in question is not under county jurisdiction.

"The New Mexico Department of Transportation has filed numerous condemnation cases along New Mexico Highway 68 for right away acquisition in conjunction with the road construction project," said Taos County Manager Brent Jaramillo. "Taos County has been named as interested party but we do not own any of the land except at the County Complex."

The DOT has valued the corner of property at $500 and will be using the corner to update the sidewalks and roadway in the future.

"The project on Camino de la Placita requires making the sidewalks ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant," said Marisa Maez, spokesperson for the DOT. "The property owner did not accept the $500 offer to temporarily use the property for construction, which is the owner's right. In order to move forward on the project, on March 20, 2019 the petition for condemnation was filed and the $500 was deposited to the court clerk. The amount is available to the owner and can be drawn upon while litigation continues."

Maez said the acequia on the property was diverted some time ago before the veteran's organization owned it. Now NFO wants to restore the ditch. While the DOT said the acequia would not be part of the work on Paseo, but will work with the town of Taos in the future should a similar situation arise.

The DOT must seek condemnation if a property owner does not abide by their offer in order to continue construction on a project. If the department wins the lawsuit, the state will gain control of the piece of land and construction will go on as planned.

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