Water and Power Bills: S 2370

Statement of Robert J. Quint

Director of Operations, Bureau of Reclamation

U.S. Department of the Interior

Before the

Subcommittee on Water and Power

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

On S. 2370

To Clear Title to Certain Real Property in New Mexico Associated With the Middle Rio Grande Project, and for Other Purposes

February 28, 2008

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I am Robert J. Quint, Director of Operations, Bureau of Reclamation. Thank you for the opportunity to appear today to present the Administration's views on S. 2370, which would transfer title to real property in New Mexico associated with the Middle Rio Grande Project and for other purposes.

The Department is not opposed to the concept of transferring ownership of the lands described in this legislation to another entity. However, given current circumstances including ongoing litigation and lack of any excess-lands determination or appraisal of the lands identified for transfer, the Department feels that this proposed legislation is premature.

A history of the ownership of this property will help explain the circumstances leading to the introduction of this bill. The Bureau of Reclamation acquired interests in Middle Rio Grande Project works through a conveyance document granted by the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District (MRGCD) on November 24, 1953. The lands involved with the proposed legislation were included in that conveyance, and the United States has not relinquished its interest in those specific parcels. On November 25, 1997, MRGCD and the City of Albuquerque (City) entered into a real estate sales agreement through which the MRGCD sold the City approximately 65 acres of land associated with San Gabriel Park and Tingley Beach for $3,875,000.

Article 7 of the sales agreement recognizes that the United States holds an interest in the properties, and MRGCD agreed to obtain a release of this interest from the United States. The sale was completed but the United States has never executed any release.

The Department has been a defendant in litigation that sought to quiet title to properties associated with the Middle Rio Grande Project. While the litigation did not specifically name the properties associated with Tingley Beach or San Gabriel Biological Park, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico found in July 2005 that title to all Middle Rio Grande project properties is vested in the United States. This decision is now being considered on appeal to the 10th Circuit.

In light of the litigation and the uncertainty that surrounded the title question before the District court's recent decision, the City of Albuquerque initiated improvements on this property under a License Agreement with Reclamation. The City has developed and improved San Gabriel Park and has created fishing ponds, a snack bar and other recreational facilities at Tingley Beach. They have also installed a small train which runs between the Albuquerque Biological Park (BioPark) and Tingley Beach. The BioPark has been fully developed by the city into an aquarium, botanic garden, a small farm and a refugium for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow.

The City of Albuquerque developed the Park and associated properties for public uses that benefit Albuquerque's citizens. The manner in which the City of Albuquerque obtained the property from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District was inconsistent with established procedures for conveying title to federal property to another party. Nevertheless, the Department does not believe this was the result of carelessness or neglect on the part of the City of Albuquerque, nor does the Department believe this was an intentional encumbrance of federal property.

The Department is reluctant to support transfers of title to federal property when those transfers circumvent existing procedures provided by generally applicable legislation. Federal policy generally requires that adequate consideration be paid to the United States before title is transferred.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my remarks and I would be happy to respond to any questions the Committee may have.

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