Earlier this week Commissioner Ray Powell released a video that Powell claims is “The rest of the story on the Dixon Apple Orchard”. The poorly-made video featuring a nervous, blinking, defensive Powell as he attempts to refute the Mulane Family Dixon Apple Orchard story. I have previously written about that story, and how Powell called the orchard owners liars in a Facebook post, which he is doing once again in this week’s ad.
The Dixon Apple Orchard story is sad– due to careless [mis]management of land by Commissioner Powell, brush grew up in the woodlands surrounding the Dixon Apple Farm, this led to a woodland fire, then rains washed away the burned trees, eventually leading to complete devastation of a family farm as erosion washed through destroying the land and the family’s source of livelihood! Powell didn’t do his job, and instead of aiding those depending on him, he chose to allow the land to erode and destroy the farm.
The choice is CLEAR– New Mexicans need to rid the state Land Commissioner’s office of Ray Powell and his irresponsible “management” of state lands– vote Aubrey Dunn for Land Commissioner!
The Mullane’s have a letter they have shared about the destruction of their family orchard due to Powell’s neglect for his job and mismanagement of state lands:
Powell’s video is a poor attempt to weasel out of the consequences of being a poor land manager. His weak response speaks for itself, but a letter from the Mulane Family who operated the Dixon Apple Orchard gives more perspective into what really happened:
We cannot write about what happened to a beloved New Mexico icon without feeling
pain and frustration. The Dixon Apple Orchard was a very special place for all of New
Mexico for over 60 years.
The last 3 years has been a nightmare for the Mullane Family. First there was the fire in
June of 2011. In August of 2011, flooding of biblical proportions destroyed the rest of
the farm and orchard. After that came politics at its worst from Ray Powell and the
State Land Office. Below we have tried to outline what has occurred the last 3 years.
For several months after the fire, Jim and Becky Mullane rented a house in Cochiti Lake
while they evaluated what was left of the orchard. Their hearts were still buried in the
orchard and land, and they wanted to try and fix it. During this timeframe, they also
tried to get commitments from the State Land Office to help stabilize the creek area so
they could save the remaining trees, well house, and the historic cabin from further
damage. The State Land Office refused their request. What should be mentioned here
is that the State Land Office received several million dollars from the State Insurance for
the losses incurred to the orchard from the fire and flood. It was our understanding that
this insurance money was supposed to be used to stabilize the creek and restore the
orchard. It should be noted that the State did not build any of the buildings on the
property nor did the State have anything to do with the establishment and running of the
When the State of New Mexico and UNM did their land swap (Mesa del Sol) a few years
before, all of the assets on the property became the property of the State Land Office.
The Dixon/Mullane family had always maintained the buildings at the ranch and some
had even been built by Fred Dixon; the trees were purchased, planted, and maintained
by them as well as were all pipelines for irrigation, wells, roads, and walls. The State
Land Office didnʼt have any financial involvement in the orchard other than to collect the
funds for the lease and a percentage of each yearʼs profits on the apple crop. They
inherited everything and then took all of the insurance money for all the losses.
When Jim and Becky Mullane realized the State Land Office did not want to put any
money into the orchard, they decided to try and sell the lease to Cochiti Pueblo. The
Pueblo had long expressed an interest in the property. In December of 2011, after a few
months of negotiations, Cochiti Pueblo told the Mullane family they did not have the
funds needed to buy the lease.
Jim and Becky Mullane then asked the Santa Domingo and San Felipe Pueblos to see if
they were interested. San Felipe Pueblo was interested and put down 10 percent
earnest money. An agreement was drafted, signed, and submitted to the State Land
Office. A meeting was held with Ray Powell and his legal staff. Mr. Powell indicated
that he would not approve the transfer because San Felipe Pueblo did not have
experience operating an orchard. Ray Powell refused to even take any additional
phone calls or meet with the Mullanes. And, “WHY” were people from the Cochiti
Pueblo present at the meeting. WHY?
For the record, many members of the San Felipe Pueblo had worked at the
orchard in various capacities over the years. They may not have been making
decisions, but they knew orchard work and what to do.
The Mullanes were then forced to hire an attorney to overturn Ray Powellʼs decision.
Legal requirements demanded a hearing before a judge. The first hearing was before a
retired district judge who listened to arguments from both sides. In his written
decision, the judge blasted the State Land Office and Ray Powell for allowing this
matter to continue. He ruled in the Mullaneʼs favor on every legal issue. In other
words, Ray Powell did not have the authority to stop the lease exchange. However, and
this is a big however, Ray Powell was not obligated to abide by the judgeʼs ruling. This
was the first hearing of two that were necessary before the Mullane family could sue the
State of New Mexico. (We suggest people read the transcript of this hearing and learn
During this time, the San Felipe Pueblo again submitted their request to purchase the
lease, and once again it was denied by Ray Powell. The only option for the Mullane
family was to proceed with their lawsuit.
Finally in the spring 2014, the Land Office decided to allow Cochiti Pueblo to purchase
the lease. Cochiti Pueblo would pay $1.8 million and the Land Office would pay
$200,000. The Land Office knew they did not have a case and were worried about
losing and having the negative publicity just before the elections. Of course Ray Powell
was concerned for his reelection and agreed to the sale. The family did have the option
to proceed with the lawsuit; however, it was going to take years to resolve. The Mullane
family decided to accept the offer and try to get their family settled.
Points to Consider:
How could Ray Powell agree to Cochiti Pueblo buying the lease and yet refuse to allow
the San Felipe Pueblo to buy the lease? Members of Cochiti Pueblo never worked at
the orchard and knew nothing about orchard business while the San Felipe Pueblo had
years of experience working at the orchard. The agreement Cochiti Pueblo signed is
the same agreement drawn up 2 years before with the San Felipe Pueblo.
The Mullaneʼs settled for $2 million which sounds like a great deal of money. However,
due to Ray Powell, the family incurred huge legal debts of over $600,000. Then there
are Federal and State taxes to consider.
During the fall of 2013, the Mullane family actually debated about trying to make the
orchard work again. They hired their former foreman to prune trees, water, and do
whatever was needed to keep the trees alive. Again the family requested help from the
State Land Office, but their request for assistance was again denied. A rock company
was contacted by the family to take rock from the canyon to start the clean up process
and make enough money to put in a small pond, and get water to the trees. The rock
request was denied. The family contacted a pumice company to mine the pumice on
the land and bring in funding to work on the canyon. This request was also denied.
Ray Powell made it very clear that he wanted the Mullane family out of Cochiti Canyon.
These mining operations would have provided the Mullaneʼs with capital to make
improvements to the orchard and also would have provided the State Land Office with
Ray Powell did everything he could to prevent the orchard from continuing. He forced
the Mullane family to go through 3 years of hardship. He is not a person we can trust
with State assets nor should he be trusted to manage State lands.
Patrick and Sue Mullane