By Xi Chen
The House voted overwhelmingly Monday to approve a bill to fix a federal surveying error that had put homes of some residents of the Mountainaire subdivision partly in the Coconino National Forest.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, and Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, would allow 25 Coconino County homeowners to buy back those parts of their property that are currently on federal land.
The bill passed with no debate Monday evening on a 395-1 vote.
"These folks have been in limbo for too long, so today's House vote is a big step forward," Kirkpatrick said in a statement after the vote.
"Congressman Gosar and I are working together to offer a common-sense solution, and we are eager to get this done for the people of Coconino County," she said in her statement.
The issue began in 1960, when a federal survey of the national forest incorrectly listed some of the land as private, not federal, property. Based on that survey, homes were built and sold in Mountainaire for decades.
The error was only discovered in 2007 when a second federal survey was done. It determined that the correct national forest's boundary passed through some people's property and in some cases through parts of their homes.
Coconino County Supervisor Matt Ryan has been expressing concerns about the issue since the bill was approved in committee and sent to the full House in April.
"This action by the full House of Representatives provides much-needed relief to the residents of the Mountainaire subdivision," Ryan said after Monday's House vote.
Ryan said it has been tough for the property owners in Mountainaire, who "have lived and developed these parcels as their own and have no assurance that they own their land or the home."
"Passage of this legislation provides these homeowners hope that this issue could be resolved in their lifetime," he said in the statement.
The bill does not cede the federal land to the homeowners. It merely allows them to buy back the pieces of land that they mistakenly thought they had owned all along.
Despite the overwhelming House vote, the measure must still be approved by the Senate. A similar bill passed the House last year but died in the Senate where it was never brought up for a vote.