COCHITI PUEBLO, N.M., -- In a ceremony during a Corps-Pueblo de Cochiti partnership meeting June 5, 2014, the Corps relinquished land acquired during the construction of Cochiti Dam, returning it to the Pueblo.
During construction of the dam in the 1960s, the Corps acquired the land for flowage easements. It was later determined to be in excess to the Corps’ needs. While the Pueblo had access to this land, there were restrictions on how they could use it. Returning it reduces paperwork on both sides and reduced potential conflict between the District and the Pueblo by allowing Cochiti Pueblo unencumbered control over the land.
In the interest of public safety the Corps has control of activities on easement lands around the dams and other flood control structures around the nation that it operates. However, because of the unique situation of Cochiti Dam being built on Cochiti Pueblo land, and because the District’s relationship with the Pueblo has grown and trust has deepened over time, it was decided that now was a good time to relinquish the land back to the Pueblo.
While it’s not common for the Corps to relinquish land like this, this isn’t the first instance it’s happened. In July 2010, the district returned 310 acres, which were acquired to build Galisteo Dam, to the Kewa (formerly Santo Domingo) Pueblo.
The partnership meeting was also significant in other ways. It was the first time a Cochiti Tribal Council meeting was held in conjunction with a Corps-Cochiti Pueblo partnership meeting. The emergency council meeting was held as part of a regularly scheduled Corps of Engineers/Pueblo de Cochiti Partnership meeting.
Returning the land wasn’t the only item on the agenda. The District also entered into an agreement to do a small flood risk management project for the Pueblo. After the 2011 Las Conchas wildfire, flooding became a threat to the Pueblo’s ancestral village. This project is aimed at reducing the flood threat.
It was also the last partnership meeting for Albuquerque District commander Lt. Col. Antoinette Gant, who is departing the District June 26, for her next position at the Pentagon. Cochiti Governor Joseph Suina presented Gant with a blanket made by the family of one of the Tribal Council members.
“The relationship that we have with our Corps today, as compared to say 10-12 years ago, is like night and day … Working together has made all the difference for both of us,” Gov. Suina said.