Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Christmas Mountains Sale Postponed till November

Results of today's hearing on the Christmas Mountains Land Sale. Wild Ed

After hearing from more than 3,000 of you, today the School Land Board rejected all six private bids for the Christmas Mountains. Their official reason was that a "mistake in the map that delineated the area in the original bid specifications" forced the rejection. Now, the Mountains will go up a second auction with a decision to be made in November.

This is a great short-term victory and we couldn't have done it without you -- thanks especially to the folks who attended and spoke at the hearing today! This decision buys us some more time to rally public support and identify a better solution that keeps the land publicly owned, well-managed and provides for responsible public access.

This editorial by the San Antonio Express-News ran yesterday:

Editorial: West Texas ranch should stay public Web Posted: 09/17/2007 05:28 PM CDT

A plan by Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson to sell 9,000 acres of rugged West Texas mountain land to a private bidder should get a second look.

The austere Christmas Mountains Ranch, located near the small town of Terlingua in the Big Bend region, was given to the state in 1991 to be protected forever. Patterson is planning to sell the land to one of six private bidders, claiming the agency is not equipped to act as steward of the land.

The General Land Office was unable to sell the plot to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department two years ago, so Patterson has turned to the private sector. The State Land Board, which considers such sales, is scheduled to meet and possibly decide on the deal today.

We urge Patterson to postpone the vote and heed the request of Congressman Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, who represents the region and has sent a letter asking for time to consider alternatives.

It's true there are deed restrictions on the property that make the area difficult, if not impossible, to develop for either the state or a private entity.

But that is precisely the point.

The land was deeded to the state for the purpose of its "conservation and protection in perpetuity." The deed states that the donor, the Virginia-based Conservation Fund, must consent to any transfer of property.

Patterson said such restrictions are unenforceable in court.

If that is unenforceable, one wonders if the deed's other elements -- such as a prohibition on commercial or industrial activity -- are unenforceable, too.

According to Patterson's estimates, the state stands to make less than $500,000 from the sale. The state will, however, retain ownership of all oil, gas, coal and other mineral substances, as well as groundwater development and leasing rights.

As some have pointed out, the state's refusal to abide by previous agreements could discourage future donors from deeding land to the state for the purpose of preservation.

That would be troubling, considering that more than 95 percent of Texas land is privately held.

Patterson has a fiduciary responsibility to maintain Texas land to produce revenue for the state's Permanent School Fund, which is one of the Land Office's main functions.

But as a representative of the state, he should also ensure that lands donated to the people for preservation remain as such.

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