$2.5B Los Alamos Contract Awarded, Utility Shuts Down Power Lines

Jun 8, 2018

Universities, Research Firm Win $2.5B Los Alamos ContractThe Associated Press

The U.S. government has awarded a team of two universities and a research firm with offices around the world a $2.5 billion-a-year contract to manage Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The National Nuclear Security Administration said Friday the winning bidder is Triad National Security LLC, made up of Battelle Memorial Institute, Texas A&M University and the University of California.

The University of California has played a role in management since the lab's inception. The once-secret northern New Mexico lab was the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

Following serious concerns about management more than a decade ago, the university formed a consortium with Bechtel and other private companies to become Los Alamos National Security LLC.

Problems persisted and federal officials announced in late 2015 that the contract wouldn't be renewed, prompting the bidding process.

Utility Shuts Down Power Lines For Several TownsThe Associated Press

A New Mexico utility says firefighting efforts in southern New Mexico prompted it to shut down power lines for several communities.

PNM says it planned to shut down the lines early in the afternoon Friday to allow for air tankers to drop retardant on the wildfire on the Mescalero Apache Reservation.

The lines provide power to the Village of Ruidoso, and the villages of Mescalero and Tularosa. The utility planned to restore power as quickly as possible after clearing the retardant from the lines.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs says the fire has burned nearly 4 square miles since Thursday afternoon and that it's about a half-mile north of the town of Mescalero.

It has forced the evacuation of 100 homes.

A top-tier incident management team and additional crews of firefighters are being deployed.

Woman Wrongly Jailed After ID Stolen, Refused LawyerThe Associated Press & The Hobbs News-Sun

A New Mexico woman wrongly jailed for weeks after someone stole her identity is suing a New Mexico county and a city that ignored her pleas that they had the wrong person.

The Hobbs News-Sun reports lawyers for Joy Morales recently filed a lawsuit against Lea County and the city of Hobbs for refusing to believe Morales was a victim of identity theft and for erroneously holding her over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in 2015.

The lawsuit says Morales begged for an attorney but New Mexico officials told her to write a letter.

Authorities then extradited Morales to Arizona on a bench warrant. Arizona officials released her after 49 days in jail when fingerprints showed they had the wrong woman.

Lea County and Hobbs officials declined to comment.

Carlsbad Schools See Effects Of Housing ShortageThe Associated Press and The Carlsbad Current-Argus

The Carlsbad school superintendent says a housing shortage in southeastern New Mexico's oil patch is an obstacle to recruiting educators and retaining students.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports Superintendent Greg Rodriguez told members of the state Legislative Finance Committee on Wednesday that the district's academic achievement was "lacking."

Rodriguez says the district is expecting up to 200 new students for the next school year, but the recent oil and gas boom in the area has caused a shortage in housing.

Rodriguez says the housing shortage doesn't just affect students but also educators. He says when he hires new teachers they struggle to find a place to live.

Republican state Rep. Cathrynn Brown recognized the superintendent's concerns at the meeting, suggesting the shortage could be mitigated by providing apartments for teachers.

New Mexico Public Pension Foresees HeadwindsAssociated Press

Administrators of New Mexico's main public pension fund for state and municipal workers say the $15.5 billion trust is struggling to catch up with unfunded obligations and to ensure long-term solvency.

Chief Investment Officer Dominic Garcia of the Public Employees Retirement Association said Thursday odds are against the pension fund catching up soon with its financial obligations to current and future retirees.

He told a panel of lawmakers that combined retirement plans are 75 percent funded, and that there is an 11 percent chance that assets will catch up with liabilities over the next decade.

The fund's oversight board is evaluating whether its predictions for future investment returns are too rosy.

The boards at New Mexico's two major pension funds for teachers and public employees are weighing possible solvency reforms.

New Mexico Voter Participation Increases By 29 Percent Associated Press

Voter participation in New Mexico's primary election this week was 29 percent greater than four years ago.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced Thursday an uncertified election tally of 261,615 in the primary election that narrowed competition for two open congressional seats, the governor's office, several statewide offices and the state House of Representatives. In 2014, voters cast 202,327 primary ballots.

More than twice as many Democrats voted as Republicans in the closed primary. Many Republicans including gubernatorial candidate and Congressman Steve Pearce ran unopposed, while Democratic candidates crowded into primary contests for governor, congress and public land commissioner. Democratic Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham advanced in the governor's race.

Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, will face Libertarian Sandra Jeff and Republican Johanna Cox in the general election.

New Mexico Gun Shop Owner Pleads Guilty In Firearms CaseAssociated Press

The owner of a New Mexico gun shop has pleaded guilty to selling firearms to minors and convicted felons.

Prosecutors say 56-year-old Robert Real had a change of plea hearing Thursday in federal court in Albuquerque.

Real is a licensed firearms dealer and the owner of Shooter's Outpost in Española.

He pleaded guilty to seven of eight counts of an October 2017 indictment.

Prosecutors say Real attended gun shows around New Mexico between March 2016 and February 2017 and admitted to falsifying sales records and selling firearms other than shotguns or rifles to persons under age 21.

Real faces up to five years in federal prison. His sentencing hearing hasn't been scheduled yet.

Real's wife and stepdaughter also were indicted in the case, but both have pleaded not guilty.

New Professional Soccer Team Coming To New MexicoAssociated Press

The United Soccer League, the second-highest professional soccer level in America behind Major League Soccer, announced it will bring a team to Albuquerque.

USL Commissioner Jake Edwards and USL New Mexico President and Owner Peter Trevisani said Wednesday that the team will begin play in March.

Public input will establish the formal club name.

New Mexico is one of five new USL teams for next season. It will join expansion clubs in Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas to bring the league to 40 total teams in the United States and Canada in 2019.

Larry Espinoza, the general manager and interim president of the Albuquerque Sol, a Premier Development League soccer team, says the Sol could become a feeder program to the new USL New Mexico team.

2 Western Senators Want To Repeal Trump's Solar Tariffs - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Two U.S. senators from western states want to repeal President Donald Trump's tariffs on imported solar panels, saying the higher taxes on foreign producers are jeopardizing jobs in the U.S.

Republican Dean Heller of Nevada and Democrat Martin Heinrich of New Mexico introduced legislation Thursday that calls for duties and tariffs to revert to previous rates and to allow for companies affected by the tariff hike to seek reimbursements.

The senators say the higher tariffs are stifling investment in the domestic solar market.

They join a bipartisan contingent of House members from Nevada, South Carolina and California who filed similar legislation earlier this year.

The Trump administration has argued that U.S. manufacturers were being crushed by an influx of cheap solar cells and modules from China and moved in January to impose higher taxes on imported panels.

Republican Gov. Martinez Attacks GOP Nominee For CongressAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez says the GOP candidate in a closely watched Congressional race in southern New Mexico may not fairly represent the state.

Martinez told the Albuquerque Journal on Wednesday, Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican who won the GOP nomination in the 2nd Congressional District, faces questions "with reference to her ability to represent New Mexico in a fair and reasonable way."

She made the remarks after testifying on oil and gas leasing in a U.S. House committee in Washington, D.C.

Herrell beat former Hobbs Mayor Monty Newman in a heated GOP primary. Jay McCleskey — a longtime ally of Martinez's — did media consulting work for Newman's campaign. Herrell faces Democratic attorney Xochitl Torres Small in the general election.

A Herrell spokesman declined to comment.

Operations Resume At Underground US Nuclear Waste RepositoryAssociated Press

Routine operations have resumed at the U.S. government's only underground nuclear waste repository following an evacuation in May that was prompted by the discovery of a misaligned drum of waste.

Officials at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico confirmed this week that processing and handling resumed June 2.

In disposing the waste, seven 55-gallon drums are wrapped together in a tight formation to go deep inside the ancient salt formation where the repository is located. The idea is that the shifting salt will eventually entomb the waste.

Work was halted when employees found one drum wasn't aligned with the others that made up the waste package. The package was eventually repacked and disposed of underground.

Officials say no radiation was released and no injuries were reported.

Closure Order Lifted In Wake Of New Mexico WildfireAssociated Press

Forest officials have lifted a closure order put in place as the result of a wildfire that has charred more than 57 square miles in northeastern New Mexico.

The Valle Vidal area in Colfax County is now open as authorities say the Ute Park Fire is no longer a threat. The fire, burning south of the Valle Vidal area, is 35 percent contained.

The west side of the Valle Vidal in Taos County remains closed due to elk calving season.

Fire restrictions remain in place across the Carson National Forest, meaning campfires are prohibited and smoking is allowed only in vehicles or buildings.

Despite a few instances of illegal campfires, authorities say people have complied with the restrictions. That has allowed crews to focus on recent lightning-caused fires.

New Mexico Primary Defeat Won't Halt Harassment ProbeAssociated Press

The defeat of New Mexico state Rep. Carl Trujillo in the Democratic primary election has not halted an investigation by the Legislature into allegations of sexual harassment against the Santa Fe-area lawmaker.

The Legislature's lead attorney, Raul Burciaga, said Wednesday that an investigation continues against Trujillo by a panel of four lawmakers and outside counsel.

Trujillo vehemently denies accusations by animal welfare activist Laura Bonar that he inappropriately touched and propositioned her as the two worked together on legislation in 2014. He lost Tuesday's Democratic primary election to Andrea Romero of Santa Fe in a race with no Republican contenders.

Bonar said Wednesday through her attorney Levi Monagle that she will pursue her complaint with the Legislature to its conclusion under an anti-harassment policy adopted earlier this year.

Fire In Southern New Mexico Prompts EvacuationsKRQE-TV

A fire that started Thursday on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in southern New Mexico has grown to more than 2,500 acres, prompting mandatory evacuations.

KRQE-TV reports the evacuations from the Soldier Canyon Fire affect 100 homes and shelters are being set up at the Mescalero Community Center, Mescalero Reformed Church and the Inn of the Mountain Gods Convention Center.

US 70 is closed between Tularosa and Mescalero. An official with Mescalero Forestry said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

Northern New Mexico Wildfire Now Two-Thirds ContainedAssociated Press

A northern New Mexico wildfire that has threatened two communities and a Boy Scouts camp is now contained around two-thirds of its perimeter.

The incident management team assigned to the fire between Ute Park and Cimarron reported Thursday night that it was 66 percent contained and has burned 57.4 square miles.

No homes have been destroyed since it start May 31 but the fire burned 14 outbuildings on the Philmont Scout Ranch.

Over 600 firefighters and other personnel are assigned to the fire, which at times forced evacuation of Cimarron. Ute Park remains evacuated.

The fire's cause is under investigation.