Apples, revenues thriving at the State Land Office

Published: May 4, 2018 11:58 amViews: 29

SANTA FE – Fiscal Year 2018 is turning out to be a banner year for the New Mexico State Land Office (NMSLO). A bumper crop of incoming revenues has lawmakers smiling, but it’s the anticipated yield of a quartet of fruit trees that has Commissioner Aubrey Dunn Jr. tickled to his core.

Dunn, whose term as State Land Commissioner ends at the close of 2018, spent the better part of his youthworking and playing among the apple trees in his father’s High Rolls-based Cider Mills Farm in southern N.M. Aubrey Dunn Sr. – aka the “Ole Apple Picker” – was a modern-day Renaissance man who co-owned the Alamogordo Daily Times, was a Democratic member of the New Mexico Senate (1965-80), and served as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He instilled within his children a strong work ethic and inspired his namesake son to eventually pursue a career in public service.

When he took office in 2015, Dunn Jr. worked tirelessly to get up to speed with the requirements and expectations of the office and to learn as much about projects and policies to ensure that he could cultivate a fruitful legacy of sound land stewardship and of responsibly maximizing State Land Office revenues forthe agency’s beneficiaries.

Planting an important seed

Just prior to the commencement of his term, Dunn’s predecessor and some high profile SLO lessees settleda long-running and contentious dispute regarding the fate of the state’s fabled Dixon Apple Orchard. Theorchard was almost entirely destroyed during the devastating Las Conchas wildfire and subsequent flooding from monsoon rains. Only a small percentage of apple trees survived.

When the dust finally settled on that dispute, lessees Jim and Becky Mullane were paid to relinquish their 75-year business lease and a new lease was issued to Cochiti Pueblo – whose ancestral lands border the orchard and once included the land on which the orchard sat. In all, the pueblo acquired 8,800 acres through the lease and the foundation was laid for a future land exchange.

During Commissioner Dunn’s first year in office, he and his staff built on this foundation and, by the beginning of Dunn’s second year at the helm, an exchange between NMSLO and Cochiti Pueblo was finalized.

In exchange for the aforementioned 8,800 acres, the State Land Office acquired a 2.7-acre parcel of Cochiti Pueblo-owned land in Santa Fe’s historic downtown district, which included the renowned Garrett’s DesertInn. The deal also saw NMSLO staffers transplant a quartet of Dixon apple tree seedlings to the LandOffice’s grounds across the street from its newly acquired commercial property.

Just desserts

Today, the transplanted apple trees are in full bloom heralding a very productive near-future harvest. The significance of which, is not lost on Commissioner Dunn.

“The State Land Office is having a great year with regard to revenue and the apple trees are enjoying what promises to be a very good year as well,” Dunn said. “I wanted to make sure that Dixon’s champagneapples weren’t completely wiped out after the fire and terrible flooding that followed. I’m thrilled that thetrees are doing so well this year – it really is a beautiful sight.”

Equally beautiful to Commissioner Dunn is the fact that SLO’s financial forecast is expected to further sweeten as a result of the exchange with the Pueblo. Revenues from a pending lease for the 2.7-acre property at 311 Old Santa Fe Trail are expected to be 10 times greater than those generated from the old Dixon lease. The University of New Mexico is the designated beneficiary for that property.

Such savvy transactions have become a hallmark of Commissioner Dunn’s time in office. The same can be said of Dunn’s father, who, during his time as a State Senator was instrumental in establishing the state’sseverance tax fund. That endeavor set aside oil and gas revenues to work for future generations and helped make New Mexico as solvent as it is today.

It seems the fiscally responsible apple didn’t fall very far from the tree down on the Cider Mill Farm in Otero County.

In politics these days, establishing a lasting, positive legacy is sometimes an elusive endeavor. State LandCommissioner Aubrey Dunn, however, found a way to build upon his father’s good name and prepares to leave the State Land Office in much better shape than any of his predecessors.

And, if everything goes according to plan, he’ll get to enjoy the fruits of his labor … a homemade,champagne apple pie grown on State Trust Lands via Cochiti Pueblo.