Ongoing settlement negotiations have resulted in an interim agreement wherein Lexam Explorations would divest itself of its mineral rights in the San Luis Valley if a $ 9.7 million deal can be inked by May 17, 2010.  Most of these mineral rights are beneath the public lands contained within the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, originally part of the historic Luis Maria Baca Grant #4, former Baca Ranch, which was purchased on behalf of the American public for $33 million. Final appropriation occurred in 2004.
“This is a historic opportunity to protect a naturally diverse and pristine area at the base of the  Sangre de Cristo Mountains for future generations. We are pleased that Lexam and the Fish and Wildlife Service are willing to engage this ongoing effort to address the split-estate situation in a manner which protects land and water at the headwaters of the Rio Grande by reuniting its resources once again on behalf of the American public,” states Christine Canaly, Director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council.
Before passage of the 2000 Congressional act that established the Baca Public Lands Complex, efforts were underway to purchase the mineral rights and reunite them with the surface.  It became clear that acquisition of the mineral rights would be a lengthy process, so the Act’s sponsors decided to move the legislation expeditiously, in anticipation that the mineral rights would be acquired later.
Now, the critical step to acquire the mineral rights has been set in motion. This effort is the continuation of a long-term grassroots
effort to restore long-term protection for the region.  This started 20 years ago with American Water Development (AWDI) filing a water court challenge in the late 1980s for the right to pump 200,000 acre ft. per year under the former Baca Ranch from the Valley aquifers. After being barraged by a decade of water court challenges, state ballot initiatives & legislative manipulations, the citizens of the San Luis Valley sought a long term solution.
Bi-partisan support led to the passage of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, resulting in the surface protection of over 150,000 acres, a significant amount of those lands becoming Colorado’s largest and newest national wildlife refuge  (Baca NWR).
In 2006, Lexam Explorations announced its intent to conduct exploration activities on a portion of the Baca NWR, and to drill two 14,000 ft. wildcat oil and gas wells. After reviewing the Fish and Wildlife’s Negotiated Operations Plan, which included no public input, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, joined later by the Citizens for San Luis Valley Water Protection Coalition, filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the agency must complete a full environmental analysis of the planned exploration through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“The interim agreement allows the grassroots groups to openly engage the public and public officials in an effort to identify and secure the necessary funding to accomplish this long-desired outcome,” said Travis Stills, attorney for the Energy Minerals Law Center.  “In the coming days and weeks, we are hopeful that with the assistance of our conservation partners and elected officials, this opportunity will be converted into the long-term protection of the San Luis Valley.”
In September 2009, U.S. District Court (for Colorado), Senior Judge Walker Miller granted a Preliminary Injunction (PI) which recognized the likelihood that conservation groups would prevail in their lawsuit.  Among several reasons given, Judge Walker Miller recognized that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “… did not really consider the possibility of acquiring Lexam’s mineral rights as an alternative, as evidenced by the Final EA’s boiler plate and incomplete statement on the subject, lacking even an analysis of the likely cost of acquisition.”
“This is an important opportunity in that the purchase of these mineral rights is now being pursued on a willing seller basis,” said Matthew Crowley, Co-Chairman of the San Luis Valley Watershed Protection Coalition.  “After 2 decades of work from local grass roots to a literal act of Congress, we now have the chance to complete this work.  Our goal is that the public/private partnership can move swiftly to meet the challenge of purchasing these rights on behalf of the American public and having them retired in perpetuity.”