Two appointees gone from New Mexico cultural review panel

Sante Fe, New Mexico (AP) May 2011

Two appointees to New Mexico’s Cultural Properties Review Committee are no longer on the panel following its recent decision to join an appeal of a court ruling overturning the designation of Mount Taylor as a traditional cultural property.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that Ed Boles left the panel in April and Laguna Pueblo Gov. Richard Luarkie was removed by Gov. Susana Martinez due to a conflict of interest regarding his tribe’s position on the Mount Taylor designation.

The committee voted during a March 17 meeting to join the appeal.

Boles, who had been elected chairman, said the governor’s office had asked him to have the appeal decision reconsidered at the next meeting. He declined reappointment in a letter sent to the governor’s office in early April. The letter indicated he was troubled that his reappointment “seems related to the committee’s vote” on Mount Taylor.

Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said the committee was briefed by one person from one side of the issue. The director of boards and commissions had asked Boles if the committee would discuss the issue at an upcoming meeting, where alternative viewpoints could be shared, Darnell said.

Luarkie had recused himself from the committee discussion regarding Mount Taylor due to his tribe’s interest in the matter. Laguna Pueblo was one of the tribes that pushed for the 2009 designation.

Five tribes – the pueblos of Acoma, Zuni and Laguna, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe in Arizona – initially nominated the protected area and worked to show why it should be preserved.

The area includes about 344,000 acres, or nearly 540 square miles, around the 11,301-foot summit of the western New Mexican mountain down to surrounding mesa tops. It excludes private property within the boundary.

State District Judge William Shoobridge ruled in February that the designation was overly broad in response to a challenge by uranium companies and private landowners. That ruling is being appealed.

News of Boles and Luarkie’s departures was first announced last week by the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance.

Tim Maxwell, a former committee member and president of the Old Santa Fe Association, said he believes “the governor’s staff is concerned only with finding committee members that will vote to distance state government from the Mount Taylor designation.”

Darnell said the governor’s immediate concern was that a state entity would commit resources to join an appeal that was already under way. Martinez also believes there should be balance between cultural designations of land and economic growth, he said.