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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Union Pacific, New Mexico agree to land swap for hub

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The state of New Mexico and Union Pacific Railroad agreed on a land swap that will enable Santa Teresa, N.N., to become a major commercial and industrial hub, officials said Nov. 10, according to the El Paso, Texas, Times. Under the agreement, Union Pacific is trading a large ranch property in exchange for land near the Santa Teresa industrial park for its intermodal facility.

The parties will sign documents to seal the deal Nov. 12 in Estancia, N.M., concluding a complex land transaction that began more than 20 months ago.

"By acquiring these lands, the land office can create new business and jobs, improve the tax base, and generate revenue for public education," said Patrick Lyons, the New Mexico commissioner of public lands in Santa Fe.

Union Pacific had identified 2,219 acres of state trust lands for its intermodal or train-to-truck transfer facility. The state was seeking a bid of at least $9.5 million in cash or land of equal value for the Santa Teresa site. Union Pacific offered the 60,000-acre Lucy Ranch property, which is about 100 miles southeast of Albuquerque and had an appraised value of $11.1 million.

State officials said the ranch probably would be leased for grazing, which will continue to generate revenue for a trust that the State Land Office manages.

To make the transaction possible, the New Mexico State Land Office first had to acquire the Santa Teresa parcel from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which in return received other state trust properties in Chaves and Dona Ana counties. The site is near the Dona Ana County/Santa Teresa airport, the border crossing, the Santa Teresa Industrial Park and a proposed 21,000-acre planned community.

Nobody had to pay any cash because all the transactions were based on land swaps, said Kristin Haase, New Mexico assistant commissioner of public lands.

The State Land Office manages nine million acres of surface estate and 13 million mineral acres held in trust primarily for public schools and other institutions.

In June, Union Pacific officials said the initial $150-million projected cost for the project could double, depending on how much the railroad had to pay for the land. The railroad's plans include moving its core operations from El Paso -- fueling, switching and maintenance -- to New Mexico, and finishing the intermodal facility by between 2010 and 2015. When complete, the facility is expected to employ 285 people.

Union Pacific will keep its El Paso rail yards and its cross-border rail service between El Paso and Juarez.

The last part of the project will be to construct an intermodal ramp for trains to transfer cargo directly onto trucks. When finished, the facility will be able to process up to 100,000 containers each year.

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