SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The legal mess that resulted after a historic northern New Mexico apple orchard was destroyed by wildfire and flooding in 2011 has been resolved.
According to a deal finalized Monday, former orchard operators Jim and Becky Mullane will receive $2 million to relinquish their 75-year lease on the orchard site and an adjacent 8,800 acres, the Albuquerque Journal reported (http://goo.gl/MhpJY9 ). Their family has run the Dixon's Apple Orchard for decades.
Cochiti Pueblo, which borders the apple farm site, is paying $1.8 million to the Mullanes.
The other $200,000 comes from insurance proceeds that the State Land Office received after the massive Las Conchas wildfire burned through Dixon's and monsoon rains over the burned landscape completed the orchard's ruination three years ago.
The Land Office has signed a new five-year lease with Cochiti Pueblo. The 8,800 acres adjacent to Dixon's includes cultural and historic sites that are "highly significant" to the pueblo, State Land Commissioner Ray Powell said.
During the five-year lease term, Powell said, Cochiti and the Land Office will work on a land exchange under which the Dixon's site and the adjacent land would be given to the pueblo. In return, the Land Office would receive property that would be better suited to commercial development and generating funds for the state land trust, Powell said.
The trust generates funding for public schools and other public entities.
After the orchard was ruined, the Mullanes wanted to move on — they now live in Wisconsin — and assign their lease on the orchard plot and the other 8,800 acres of adjacent state to San Felipe Pueblo for $2.8 million.
But Powell rejected the proposal twice — the second time after a former district judge serving as a hearing officer this year found Powell's decision-making process was "not rational and is arbitrary and capricious as a matter of law."
The Mullanes were irate that the Land Office was blocking their effort to get compensation for generations of running and building up the apple farm on public land.
Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com