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Coconino hopes to fix 50-year-old error that put homes on federal land

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WASHINGTON – Coconino County Supervisor Matt Ryan urged a House committee Friday to grant “much-needed relief” to county residents who recently learned that their homes were built on federal land because of a 50-year-old surveying error.

A 2007 U.S. Bureau of Land Management survey found that a 1960 private survey erroneously marked some federal land near Coconino National Forest as private property.

Those 2.67 acres of land would become the Mountainaire Subdivision, where 27 people bought what they thought was private property and where some now live. Some residents said they have had multiple property surveys over the years and it came as “a shock” when they learned that their homes had always been on federal land.

Under a bill considered Friday by the House Natural Resources Committee, the 27 property owners would be able to buy the land from the Forest Service for $20,000.

“We believe this is a small price to pay to grant these homeowners the peace of mind of knowing the property they live on is their own,” Ryan said.

The property owners are willing to pay the money in order “keep the land under private ownership,” Ryan said.

The money from the sale of the land would be used by the government to buy forest land in Arizona, according to the bill.

Ryan said the bill, introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, would allow the land exchange to take place faster and at a lower cost than if the Forest Service and the homeowners went through the existing process laid out in the Small Tracts Act for exchanging federal land.

A Forest Service official testified that the agency supports the intent of the bill, but would first like to see an appraisal of the property done and see the homeowners pay the appraised value.

But Gosar said the homeowners should not have to sacrifice too much for an error that was not their fault.

“It shouldn’t cost these people an arm or leg,” Gosar said.

Ryan said the property owners have agreed to divide the $20,000 bill into proportionate shares.

“This is a community driven together for a common solution,” Gosar said.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said that his only concern was the $20,000 figure and how it was arrived at, but that he would work out a solution with Gosar if necessary.

“This is a piece of legislation I can’t argue with Mr. Gosar about,” said Grijalva, a member of the committee along with Gosar. “And since we enjoy so much arguing with each other (the bill has) brought us to an opportunity where we can’t do that today.”

Noting Grijalva’s general support, Gosar said he expects the bill to pass with no major objections.

“This alternative is quick and effective,” Ryan said of the bill.