After more than four years of work, the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant Commission voted Oct. 27 to end negotiations with Zachary Taylor, owner of the Taylor Ranch near San Luis, Colo.
The commission agreed to remain in
existence in case Taylor ever makes a reasonable sales offer, but
"the state is fed up," said Dan McAuliffe, assistant director of
the Department of Natural Resources.
Made up of
state agencies and local organizations, the Land Grant Commission
was formed by Gov. Roy Romer in 1993 to try to purchase the
77,500-acre ranch known as "La Sierra" on the border of New
"The window for public purchase is
closing. Taylor took advantage of the state and made us look
stupid," McAuliffe said. "If Taylor does not think we are serious,
he is crazy."
Jim Lochhead, chairman of the
commission and executive director of the Department of Natural
Resources, offered Taylor $12 million for the remaining 53,000
acres of the ranch after one-third of the ranch was sold to a
private corporation in August.
An appraisal that
took five months and cost $17,000 valued the remaining portion of
the ranch at $19.6 million.
But according to the
Department of Natural Resources, the sale price of the southern
third of the ranch - $412 an acre - was astronomically high and "an
unusual coincidence" that skewed the appraisal to a lofty
Jack T. Taylor, Zachary's father, paid
$493,000 for the entire ranch in 1960 - roughly $6.40 an
McAuliffe said $12 million was a reasonable
offer because the Taylor Ranch maintains three logging contracts
and litigation is pending over historic land rights which the
appraisal neglects. He also noted that Taylor wanted $20 million
for the entire ranch last January.
Colorado has spent close to $1 million on related expenses and "we
don't know anything more about the property today than we did two
years ago because Taylor has not given the state access. Taylor
thinks we can just get $12 million by asking. It is a lot more
Maria Mondragon Valdez, a
commission member and resident of San Luis, expressed frustration
over the decision because local San Luis members on the commission
were always "left in the dark."
rural areas can't wait on the state," Valdez said. But she hopes
the commission remains as a safety valve as logging on the ranch
continues to create tension in the predominantly Hispanic community
of San Luis.
A week before the commission
meeting, protests and sabotage led to the arrests of two
environmentalists and two armed loggers.
the commission's decision, the tense atmosphere in this oldest town
in Colorado intensified as protesters carried signs blaming both
Taylor and the state for not breaking the stalemate. Some slogans
read "Put Taylor in Prison" and "The State's Solution ... Blah,
The vote of the Land Grant
Commission comes only a few weeks after a judge ruled that Zachary
Taylor's father, Jack, violated the due process rights of certain
property owners in San Luis when he sought to remove their historic
claims to the property in the 1960s.
The Oct. 10
decision by Judge Gaspar F. Perricone, a retired District Court
judge from Jefferson County, came after a week-long hearing in a
packed courtroom. The ruling gives four San Luis residents an
opportunity to be heard in court when the 16-year-old Rael vs.
Taylor case goes to trial, perhaps in May
Jeff Goldstein, one of nine lawyers who
represented the plaintiffs without salary, called Perricone's
ruling a victory. Taylor's attorney, Albert Wolf, also viewed the
decision as a victory, however, since Perricone's ruling refused to
certify a class-action suit brought on behalf of 27 local
plaintiffs. Perricone ruled that the rights of only four San Luis
residents were violated.
"We are almost home
free," Wolf told The Denver Post. "And we should be able to succeed
in establishing that the handful of remaining (access) claims are
Peter McBride is a
writer and photographer in Old Snowmass,