Otero County commissioners want gates unlocked, debate continues

Water and property rights debate continues in New Mexico

ALAMOGORDO, New Mexico - During the Otero County commission special meeting Monday morning, resident Denise Lang made comments in support of the United States Forest Service's reinforced fencing and locked gates on the Agua Chiquita.

Commissioner Ronny Rardin and others are taking the ranchers' side, by saying the forest service has overstepped its authority, by installing the fencing on private property.

Forest Supervisor Travis Moseley says fencing has been in the area since 1990s, and is needed to protect the creek, its bank and wildlife. He says the creek is on national forest service lands.

"We've provided reasonable access to the water, even if there is a water right on these sites," Moseley said.

"The rancher, in this case, owns the water rights and has a right to provide water to their cattle," rancher John Dalton Bell said.

Although a resolution was passed requesting the sheriff unlock the gates, the U.S. Attorneys' Office in Albuquerque has requested he hold off until they meet on Friday.

"I want to wait and give the U.S. Attorneys' Office a shot at getting this thing resolved," House said.

Although emotions are running high, commissioners and Forest Supervisor Moseley say everyone's being patient and respectful in the process.

"We want to follow the right legal procedures and we need to go through the hoops right," Bell said.

But ultimately, Lang is hoping the forest service comes out on top.

"This is the U.S.Forest Service who is protecting the sustainability of our forest," Lang told commissioners.

Both sides are hoping to solve the issue civilly, but realize it may end up in a court of law, because commissioners feel constitutional rights are being violated.

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