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NMSU professors to speak at open space conference

Three New Mexico State University professors will speak Wednesday, Dec. 6, at a public meeting on the preservation of open space in Dona Ana County, discussing the effects of sprawl and an innovative proposal on preserving farm land in the Rio Grande valley.


The meeting, co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Associated Students of NMSU and the university departments of geography and biology, is scheduled to run from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the East Ballroom of the Corbett Center on NMSU's main campus.

Sandra Geiger, a college associate professor of mathematics at NMSU and co-chairwoman of the League of Women Voters' subcommittee on open space, said the purpose of the meeting is to present the public with the options and opportunities available for preserving open space in Do¤a Ana County.

Geiger said the League of Women Voters' interest in open space issues was aroused in 1999, after its land use committee received two proposals for the creation of regional parks, one in the Mesilla Valley and another on the West Mesa.

"After studying various documents describing the city's and county's comprehensive plans, we decided both entities have tremendous visions about the need to preserve open space in various forms. The question was how do you implement these plans?" she said.

Geiger will speak Dec. 6 on the need for a countywide open space plan and on a multijurisdictional model for such a plan, based on neighborhood involvement, stewardship and citizen group support.

Robert Czerniak, an NMSU professor of geography and planning, as well as a member of the Extra Territorial Authority, will discuss the impact of urban sprawl and its relationship to quality of life issues.

"My main concern is the proliferation of large-lot development -- lots of an acre or more -- which develops without the infrastructure to support it, few paved roads, sewers, parks and recreation facilities or an adequate system to provide water for fire fighting," he said.

"By building at low densities we impose a high cost on taxpayers in the city and county to develop urban services. The solution is to build in the city, at urban densities, and add the infrastructure as the city extends outward," he said.

John Wright, an NMSU associate professor of geography, said he has developed a proposal for the purchase of development rights to farmers' lands in the valley and has discussed the proposal with New Mexico's legislative delegation.

Under the proposal, a non-profit organization, or an existing agency serving as lead agency in the program, would buy from farmers the right to subdivide their lands, meaning they could not develop the lands for commercial purposes. A landowner could continue to farm the land, could sell the land in the future at market prices, and, if the water rights attached to the land were lost in the future, the landowner could buy back the development rights, Wright said.

A possible source of funding for the program would be money earned from the sale of surplus Bureau of Land Management land on the East and West Mesas, much of which has already been identified as land that should be sold or traded, he said.

The point of Wright's plan is to keep 60,000 acres of farm land in the valley under cultivation in the future, which will help control environmental degradation and retain a vital sector of the area's economy. River restoration and other environmental benefits are also part of the overall concept, he said.

"This is compensation, not regulation. People have been telling us all along, 'If you don't want me to subdivide, pay me,' and we've listened," he added.

Jack King
Nov. 20, 2000