Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Idiots on the Lake

By Captain Opinion

NOVEMBER 8, 1999:  The answer would be obvious to any third-grader, wino or prison inmate. Brain- damaged druggies could get it right. The most demented among us could figure it out. So could food critics, TV news directors and professional poets.

Would you sink tens of thousands of dollars into building a house on land that you didn't own; on land that you leased from someone; on land off which you could be booted at a moment's notice for no reason at all?

Unless you're a total idiot, your answer would be a big fat "no." It's not smart to put improvements into real estate you don't own or don't have a very long-term lease on.

And if you did sink gobs of money into property you didn't own and then got kicked off the land and then whined about how unfairly you were being treated, you would deserve to be beaten with sticks and locked up in a house for stupid people. You would deserve punishment, not sympathy.

But sympathy for their own selfishness and stupidity is what a bunch of whiny people who've sunk money into land they've been renting from the federal government on the shores of Elephant Butte reservoir now want from us.

Back in the 1940s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began giving short-term leases for property on Elephant Butte's shores for part-time recreational use. Over time, the number of leases has grown, so that now the Bureau rents out 403 lots on the reservoir's shores.

Over the years something goofy happened. People began treating the leased lots as private property and began building permanent homes on them. Some of the homes are now worth well over $100,000.

But something else has also happened at Elephant Butte: it's become popular with tourists. Last year 2.2 million people visited the area. So, to make Elephant Butte more accessible to the traveling public, the Bureau of Reclamation has decided that 25 of those 403 lots must be reclaimed and left open for general public access. The Bureau intends to sell lots to 387 lessees who are currently on them. The people who lease the 25 lots that the Bureau wants to reclaim would be given options to buy lots in other areas near Elephant Butte.

It's a fair plan that gives all of the current lease holders a chance to buy land near the lake and that opens up more public access to the area.

But from the way some of the 25 lease holders who will be given the option to buy land elsewhere near the lake have been whining, you would think that some horrible injustice had just been perpetrated on them.

Take Sherry Mowles and her husband Michael. They lease one of the 25 properties that the Bureau wants to reclaim. Under the plan, they will be given the opportunity to buy another lot somewhere else on Elephant Butte's shores.

Instead of being grateful for having an opportunity to buy land that many people would kill for, these two nitwits are crying. Two years ago the Mowles built a 1,200-square-foot house on the land they leased, the land they did not own. Now they're crying that the home, with its concrete foundation, can't be moved to another location, and they will lose the $75,000 they put into the home. I've had lots of dunces for bosses over the years, but not even they would build a $75,000 house on land they didn't own.

Then there's Don Hedges, an Albuquerque doctor who spends weekends at his Elephant Butte house. Hedges has put $100,000 into the leased property, drilling a well and building a barn and a retaining wall. And Hedges has a hell of a deal on that prime property. He said that 12 years ago he paid $12,000 for the lease, which allows him to rent the prime land from the government for $400 a year. Now he's angry that the owner of the land he leases is telling him to get off the property.

"Before I do that [move]," Hedges said, "we'll let some federal judge make that decision, not some idiot with the federal government."

That must mean that Hedges is going to try to sue the federal government (which could be more difficult than he thinks). But before Hedges goes to court to complain that he put money into property he doesn't own, he should understand one thing. It's not somebody with the federal government who's the idiot in this case.

He is.


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