Land commissioner says he hopes to help make better use of state trust land

Tonjia Rolan

State Land Commissioner Ray Powell hopes to partner with local officials to make better use of state trust land in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

Curry County has 45,640 acres of state trust land, and Roosevelt county has 181,691 acres, according to Land office District Manager Erik Nelson.

Cannon Air Force Base leased 11,000 acres of state land in Roosevelt County in January, and Tres Amigas leased 14,401 acres of state trust land in Curry County in 2010.

Most of the other land is leased for livestock grazing.

Monies from the leased trust lands fund education, save taxpayers money, and create jobs for the area.

“My job is basically problem solving and doing research,” said Powell, who visited eastern New Mexico to educate people about the functions of the State Land Office. “I want to understand the community’s vision and goal for local trust lands, so we can use them in a way that reflects the passion and needs of the community.”

Powell called attention to a 640-acre plot of state trust land, just west of Clovis, that he called “an incredible asset.” The land, now leased for farming and grazing, could be developed to benefit schools and create jobs, Powell said.

Powell, an elected official responsible for administering the state’s land grant trust, initiated the Community Partnership Program in 2000 that allows communities with state trust lands to actively participate in their development. He wants people to be aware of the benefits of the program.

“When people don’t realize (state trust land is) here,” Powell said. “It usually gets lost or turned into a dumping site.”

The partnership program has been used in Albuquerque, Edgewood, Las Cruces, Sante Fe and other cities to build sports complexes, business parks, schools and housing developments on trust lands leased from the State Land Office.

“Long term leases make (the land) affordable, and adjoining lands become more valuable,” Powell said.

Eighty-four percent of trust land royalties go to public schools, Powell said. New Mexico has nine million acres of state trust land that generate $499 million for its beneficiaries annually.

Other regional trust land uses include wind farms near Fort Sumner and Elida. Nelson said the land office has leases for communications towers and oil and gas production.

“He has really gone out of his way to work with us,” City Commissioner Bobby Sandoval said. “I am really pleased with his vision. We are looking for other opportunities to work with him in Clovis and Curry County.”

Powell said he will schedule public information forums later in the year and encouraged local residents to contribute ideas for the development of nearby trust lands.

“We’ve gotten some of our best ideas from people who live near state trust lands,” Powell said.