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Press Release

United States Files Complaint Against City of Española, New Mexico to Redress Alleged Trespass on Lands of the Pueblo of Santa Clara

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The United States today filed a civil complaint on its own behalf and for the benefit of the Pueblo of Santa Clara in federal court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, against the city of Española, New Mexico.  The complaint alleges that the city lacks valid rights-of-way for portions of its public water and sanitary sewer lines located on the Pueblo’s lands and is therefore trespassing on those lands.  With the Pueblo’s consent, the city obtained rights-of-way in the early 1980s for the water and sewer lines under the Indian Right-of-Way Act and its implementing regulations, which authorize grants of easement across Indian lands.  Those rights-of-way expired in 1994 and 2002.  The complaint seeks to compel the city to comply with the Indian Right-of-Way Act by renewing its rights of way and compensating the Pueblo for the unauthorized use of the Pueblo’s property.

The Pueblo of Santa Clara and Española engaged in negotiations for almost a decade, seeking to resolve these expired rights-of-way.   Those negotiations proved unsuccessful and on Nov. 13, 2013, the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent the city a Notice to Show Cause concerning trespass arising out of the expired rights-of-way. 

On July 21, 2014, U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez for the District of New Mexico, sent a follow-up letter to the city, reporting that the city’s “Response to the Notice to Show Cause” fails to provide evidence or argument to establish a legal basis for the city’s presence on Pueblo property or otherwise establish that it is not in trespass.”  The city disagreed.

In response to that letter, the city stated that no trespass has taken place and no compensation is due.  On April 7, U.S. Attorney Martinez met with Española’s mayor, Alice Lucero and the city’s attorney to determine whether this dispute could be resolved through settlement without filing suit.  The city stressed that its position on the trespass issue had not changed. 

Española’s continuing denial of trespass on lands for which it previously paid and acquired valid rights-of-way and its refusal to comply with federal law precipitated today’s filing. 

“The United States takes seriously enforcement of the rule of law, particularly as it affects Indian Country,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “Compliance with the Indian Right-of-Way Act and other federal statutes is not optional, but a legal requirement that ensures Indian tribes retain control of their lands and resources.”

“The filing of today’s complaint is intended to bring the city of Española into compliance with federal law,” said U.S. Attorney Martinez.  “The complaint was filed only after all other options for resolving this dispute had been exhausted.  While previous discussions among the parties have failed to resolve this dispute, we are hopeful that meaningful discussions will be possible while the federal court action proceeds.”

Trial Attorney Samuel D. Gollis of the Indian Resources Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Howard R. Thomas of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico are representing the United States in this litigation.

Updated March 28, 2024

Indian Country Law and Justice
Press Release Number: 16-540