From The Westerner Blog
On November 3, 2017, Chief Judge Susan Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued a fifty-one page opinion in the lawsuit brought by the Goss Family of Weed, New Mexico. The judge’s ruling found that the U.S. Forest Service had effected a taking under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution of the Sacramento Grazing Association’s (“SGA”) right to beneficial use of stock water sources under New Mexico law that are located within the Lincoln National Forest. The judge decided that SGA and the Goss Family are entitled to just compensation for the taking, which the judge will decide in the next phase of the case. according to a news release.
SGA acquired its grazing permit in 1989 on the Sacramento Grazing Allotment in the Sacramento Mountains near Alamogordo, New Mexico. As early as 1885, the Goss Family can trace the use of the Sacramento Grazing Allotment and its water for cattle grazing to its predecessors. Just recently, the New Mexico State Engineer confirmed the Goss Family’s rights to these water in a water rights license with priorities going back to the 1880s.
In order to protect certain endangered species within the SGA grazing allotment, the Forest Service began fencing off areas where SGA’s water rights were located. At first, the Forest Service continued to allow SGA to water cattle inside the fenced areas. However, in May of 1998, the Forest Service withdrew the fenced areas from the SGA allotment and prohibited SGA’s cattle to access the fenced areas. The result was that SGA was cut off from its most reliable and valuable water rights. In addition, to protect the endangered species, the Forest Service reduced the number of cattle the Goss Family could graze to as low as 230 head.
SGA filed suit against the United States for a taking of its water rights in May 2004. SGA prevailed in a summary judgment against the United States in 2010, with the court finding that SGA had established ownership of stock water rights in the Sacramento Grazing Allotment. Trial was held in 2012 on the issue of whether or not the Forest Service had taken SGA’s stock water rights.
On November 3, 2017, the court issued its opinion and held:
1. That SGA owned the water rights it claims under New Mexico law.
2. That the six year statute of limitations had not run on SGA’s claim because the date of the taking was when the Forest Service amended SGA’s permit to remove the fenced areas from the allotment.
3. The United States Forest Service had effected a taking of SGA’s water rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
4. SGA is entitled to just compensation under the Fifth Amendment for the taking of its water rights.
Spike Goss, SGA’s President stated: “We are pleased and excited to receive the court’s decision and we thank all of our supporters and the Almighty for bringing us this hard fought victory. We look forward to the day when we are awarded our just compensation after twenty years of struggle.”
Copyright 2017 Southern Arizona News-Examiner