JUDGE SIDES WITH COUNTY IN CONDEMNATION OF WELL AND WATER RIGHTS

JUDGE SIDES WITH COUNTY IN CONDEMNATION OF WELL AND WATER RIGHTS

Doña Ana County has received formal notification from District Judge John W. Pope that its condemnation of a water well and 200 acre feet of water rights in Santa Teresa will be upheld, despite protests by the City of Sunland Park, Santa Teresa Service Company and the Phyllis Crowder Bankruptcy Estate.

The condemnation originally was filed in December of 1998 to further the county’s interests in building infrastructure and utilities for industrial and residential development in the Santa Teresa area. An evidentiary hearing was held in May of 1999 to review the county’s arguments and the protestors’ positions.

According to County Manager Fernando Macias, the judge’s findings of fact and conclusions of law strongly support the county’s contention that the condemnation is a necessary step toward building an affordable, competitively priced water and wastewater utility to serve the growing needs of Santa Teresa.

“The county is in the best position to provide these services in a timely and professional fashion,” Macias said. “Further, Judge Pope’s reasoning makes it unlikely that Sunland Park and Santa Teresa Service Company (STSC) will prevail in their attempts to obtain an injunction against the county’s issuance of bonds to continue building water and wastewater projects in the Santa Teresa area.”

Judge Pope found that:

* The County made a good-faith attempt to negotiate a purchase for the well and water rights, but its negotiations were rebuffed by the Crowder Estate, which made no counter-offer.

* Neither STSC nor Sunland Park nor the Crowder Estate has any legal interest in the condemnation.

* The condemnation adds to the County’s existing infrastructure in the area for purposes of providing county-wide, regional water and sewer service to County inhabitants, which justifies the designation of “public use.”

* Doña Ana County has presented substantial evidence of immediate need and immediate possession of the well in order to develop infrastructure in the area.

* Acquisition of the condemned property will allow the County to develop its regional infrastructure for water and wastewater services that have never been achieved for the affected portion of the County.
* STSC’s treatment plant is already at capacity, and it provides services outside the area the county seeks to serve.

* The County has the statutory authority to condemn the property and water rights under several provisions of New Mexico law, and the manager acted within the scope of his authority as mandated by the Board of County Commissioners to take whatever action necessary to establish, construct and operate a county-wide water and wastewater utility.

* The condemnation filing did not impair any obligations or contracts to which the Crowder Estate, STSC or Sunland Park is a party.

* The condemnation has not interfered with Sunland Park’s separate condemnation of STSC’s assets.

* The condemnation has not violated any ruling(s) set forth in Sunland Park v. Concerned Citizens, and Doña Ana County is not prohibited in that case from providing utility services outside Sunland Park’s municipal boundaries.

* The County can take immediate possession of the well and 200 acre feet of water rights upon presenting $345,000 to the court.

* None of the parties who protested the condemnation is entitled to reimbursement of attorney’s fees or legal costs.