SANTA FE, N.M. – Residents of the communities in the East Mountains of Albuquerque, NM, have asked a judge to compel disclosure of the attorneys’ fees and costs of Aquifer Science, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of water development company PICO Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ: PICO) that seeks to obtain water rights in the East Mountains.
The non-profit New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) filed the motion for its clients—Deep Well Protest, San Pedro Creek Estates, and North 14—asserting that the fees and costs highlight the fact that PICO and its shell companies Vidler New Mexico and Campbell Farming Corporation (the owners of Aquifer Science) are merely water speculators with no real plan to put the water to beneficial use.
“Given the crucial importance of water here in New Mexico, unmasking water speculation is an important thing to do,” said Jon Block, NMELC Staff Attorney. “The application in this case is merely an attempt by out-of-state speculators to use Aquifer Science LLC to secure New Mexico’s water for their speculative purposes to make profits for the company’s shareholders,” said Block, adding that, “under New Mexico law water speculation is illegal because it substitutes the intent to profit off of holding onto water rights for putting water to beneficial use.”
Aquifer Science, LLC filed the appeal to state District Court in 2014, after it lost its bid to appropriate 717 acre-feet of water in the Sandia Basin. The New Mexico State Engineer denied Aquifer Science’s application on the grounds that there is no unappropriated water available to satisfy the application. At that time, NMELC and volunteer Attorney Paul Hultin, Bernalillo County and dozens of self-represented protestants persuaded the State Engineer to reject the 2012 application.
PICO Holdings, Inc. is a California-based investment holding company and water development corporation that owns Vidler Water Company, which has water holdings in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. Vidler Water Co. owns Vidler New Mexico, LLC, which owns 95% of Aquifer Science, and has no employees.
Campbell Farming Corporation is a 5% partner in Aquifer Science, and owns the Campbell Ranch property. Campbell Farming Corp. no longer has an office or operations in New Mexico.
New Mexico Environmental Law Center is celebrating 30 years of fighting for environmental justice for the people of New Mexico. It is working to prevent water speculation in the Sandia Basin and in the San Augustin Plains. The NMELC’s mission is to protect New Mexico’s communities and their air, land and water in the fight for environmental justice.
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