Department of Justice accuses city of trespassing on Pueblo lands

Santa Clara Pueblo operates the Santa Claran Hotel in Espanola, New Mexico. Photo from Santa Clara Pueblo

The Obama administration filed suit against the city of Espanola, New Mexico, on Friday for allegedly trespassing on the reservation of Santa Clara Pueblo.

Rights-of-way agreements for water and sewer lines that pass through the reservation expired in 1994 and 2002. But the city has continued to use the lands without the tribe's consent.

Attempts to resolve the impasse failed to result in a new agreement. So the Department of Justice said it had no choice but to file the lawsuit.

“The filing of today’s complaint is intended to bring the city of Española into compliance with federal law,” U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez said in a press release. “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.”

The tribe at one point demanded $1 million for the continued use of its lands, The Rio Grande Sun reported last October. But the city has refused to pay.

"To date, the city has not remedied its trespass by establishing that the city is, in fact, not in trespass, or by seeking to bring its water and sewer lines into conformity with the requirements of the ROW Act," the complaint states in reference to the Indian Right-of-Way Act.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs had been attempting to negotiate a solution since November 2013, the complaint states.

Related Stories
Santa Clara Pueblo seeks payments for use of land for utility lines (10/2)

Join the Conversation