The Mystery of Pai

He came. He saw. He bought a mountain. But can Lou Pai make peace with his neighbors?

After much dickering, the worker got his raise. But he was told not to let other employees know of his two-buck-an-hour windfall so the news wouldn't breed discontent.

"We were told that Lou Pai was losing money in the stock market," the man says, "and that's why we weren't getting any raises."

Jay Bevenour
This land is my land: The Taylor property includes 
Culebra Peak, one of Colorado's prized fourteeners.
photo courtesy of La Sierra
This land is my land: The Taylor property includes Culebra Peak, one of Colorado's prized fourteeners.

After the rally at the gates of the ranch, the protesters head back to a dance hall at San Luis for more speeches. Under dim lights, the crowd milling and thinning, environmental activists and Chicano-rights leaders from around the state offer a series of earnest exhortations not to give up the struggle. Many of the speakers, like the plaintiffs in the 21-year-old land-grant lawsuit, sport gray hair and the complaints of middle age.

To date, no Enron shareholders have filed any formal claims against Pai's Colorado ranch. But the attorney for the herederos fully expects that to happen. "Our claims predate any claims other individuals might have, whether from bankruptcy courts, shareholders or whatever," says Jeff Goldstein. "But this property is going to be involved in many lawsuits if, in fact, Mr. Pai is the owner. That's not a pleasant prospect. Whatever happens, we'll have to deal with it."

And should the Colorado Supreme Court rule in favor of the locals' claims of access, Goldstein notes, the case will still be far from over. "Even if we win, there are other matters that have to be litigated, such as the number of people who will benefit," he says. "If we lose, we'll probably appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on the treaty issues."

Even if the locals ultimately have their rights restored, Maria Valdez concedes that figuring out how to use the mountain fairly and wisely will be a formidable challenge. There would certainly be more competition for the mountain's resources than the informal arrangements that prevailed forty years ago.

"I think that mountain has always been damned," Valdez says. "As long as one person tries to own it, there's been trouble. Beaubien didn't give us the land. He gave us use rights, rights that come from Spain and from Roman law. The best outcome for us would be to have some kind of access rights, but we have to look at it in the context of the 21st century."

Attorney General Salazar still hopes the state might someday engineer a purchase of the ranch that "recognizes the historic use rights of the residents of the watershed." The Taylor Ranch is a prize worth protecting, he says -- not only as an ecological treasure, but as a "cultural crown jewel" of vital historic and economic value to the surrounding community. Since so much of the Sangre de Cristo ecosystem is now under some form of protection, either as state or federal holdings -- like the recently green-lighted acquisition of the Baca Ranch as part of the Great Sand Dunes preserve -- or in the hands of private landowners such as Ted Turner, it only makes sense to pursue the Taylor property as well.

"The linchpin, for us, if the opportunity arises, is to get a coalition together as we did with the Baca purchase," Salazar says. "There was such a jelling of the interests in that situation that we were able to get the legislation through Congress in less than a year."

But at present there is no such coalition and no opportunity to buy. Once a month or so, Salazar says, someone from his office contacts Pai's attorneys to see if he is interested in selling the ranch.

The answer has always been no.

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