County Officials Say State 'Blackmailed' Them, Public Hearing To Focus On Lab's Plutomium Work

Jun 7, 2017

County Officials Say State 'Blackmailed' Them For Well Study – The Associated Press & The Current-Argus

Eddy County officials say they were "blackmailed" by the state of New Mexico into approving a $125,000 study of a brine well to prevent it from collapsing.

The Current-Argus reports county commissioners said Tuesday they had no other choice but to contribute the funds to get the Carlsbad Brine Well problem solved, despite their insistence that the state is to blame for the danger posed by the brine well.

The state collected profits from the well, which it licensed and ultimately decided to close in 2008 when the ground was found unstable.

County Manager Rick Rudometkin says the state wanted "some skin in the game." He says he thinks the county will be sued whether or not the well collapses.

Public Hearing To Focus On Los Alamos Lab's Plutonium WorkThe Associated Press

Members of an independent federal oversight panel are in New Mexico to discuss the risks associated with ramping up plutonium work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where past problems have resulted in safety concerns and costly fines.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has scheduled a public hearing Wednesday evening in Santa Fe. The board advises the president and the U.S. Energy Department.

Los Alamos last year restarted development of the plutonium cores used to trigger the explosion in nuclear weapons. The U.S. Energy Department wants to ramp up production to 80 pits per year by 2030.

The board is looking at actions the lab and the National Nuclear Security Administration have taken to minimize risks as well as the adequacy of safety systems for current and future operations.

New Mexico Domestic Violence Programs Leave Victims At RiskAssociated Press

An evaluation of New Mexico's programs for addressing domestic violence describes a fragmented system that may put victims including children at risk.

The report from staff at the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Committee was presented to lawmakers on Tuesday in the state Capitol.

It says coordination on domestic violence issues is lacking in a state where nearly one-fourth of adults have experienced domestic violence and 48,000 have been arrested on abuse charges between 2008 and 2015.

The report casts doubts over the effectiveness of state-funded batterer intervention programs that treat people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses to reduce recidivism. Fewer than half of enrolled offenders complete the programs.

Authors of the report say a state domestic violence leadership commission apparently has not met since 2010.

Man Gets $4,000 Ticket For Illegal Possession Of Elk AntlersThe Associated Press & The Silver City Sun-News

A judge has ordered a New Mexico man to pay the state Department of Game and Fish $4,000 for illegal possession of a set of trophy elk antlers.

The Silver City Sun-News reported Monday that 40-year-old Michael C. Aguirre was issued the fine in a civil case that stems from a November 2015 traffic stop.

Aguirre was questioned by game wardens about a trophy set of elk antlers found in the bed of his pickup during the traffic stop.

Aguirre told the officers he picked up the antler rack while deer hunting with his son. The antlers were still attached to part of the animal's skull and Aguirre was cited for illegal possession of game animal parts out of season. The antlers also were seized.

New Mexico Preschool Garden Mistakenly Destroyed By WorkersThe Associated Press

A garden cultivated by New Mexico preschoolers believed to be ravaged by thieves was actually mistakenly destroyed by maintenance workers, school officials said Tuesday.

In a statement, Eastern New Mexico University said police looked at surveillance footage of the school's Child Development Center and discovered that physical plant employees inadvertently decimated the garden while mowing.

School officials initially believed the Portales school's garden was raided by vandals of its green beans, peas and squash planted by 3- and 4-year-olds before students returned for the summer.

Staff discovered the missing plants Monday before taking the children out to tend to the garden. The only surviving plants were an overlooked squash plant on the side, and two heavily damaged bean plants clinging to life, officials said.

Because of a previous vandalism of the school's pumpkin patch, the preschool staff thought it was another case of theft. School officials did not know about the mowing accident. 

Sandoval County Sheriff's Office: 1 Hiker Dead, 2 RescuedAssociated Press, KOB-TV

Authorities say one hiker is dead and two others have been rescued after they became stranded in a mountainous area of northwestern New Mexico.

Sandoval County Sheriff's officials say one of the hikers suffered a medical episode and collapsed after an eight-hour hike Monday in the area of Mount Taylor, located about 60 miles west of Albuquerque.

KOB-TV says the other hikers called 911 and tried to give their fallen friend CPR before moving him under a tree while they waited to be rescued.

The two survivors were airlifted to safety around 6 p.m. Monday and a second helicopter recovered the body of the dead hiker around 11:30 p.m.

The names and ages of their hikers weren't immediately released Tuesday.

Testing Time For New Mexico Students To Be Reduced - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The time New Mexico students spend taking standardized tests will be further reduced starting next school year and they'll have an additional two weeks of learning thanks to a shorter testing window.

State Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera announced the changes Tuesday, saying they're in response to feedback received from parents, teachers and school administrators during a statewide listening tour.

Skandera said to push for the changes, she worked with education officials in several other states that administer the assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

New Mexico officials also expect the results to be available much sooner this year so teachers, schools and parents can begin preparing for the fall.

The assessments have been the focus of criticism since being adopted in 2015.

New Mexico AG Sues Discount Chain Over Obsolete Motor OilAssociated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is suing the discount chain Dollar General for false advertising and unfair trade practices for selling what he describes as obsolete motor oil.

The lawsuit was filed late Monday in state district court. It follows numerous other legal complaints filed against the company in recent years in Texas, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

The New Mexico lawsuit claims the Tennessee-based chain knowingly marketed, distributed and sold its own brand of oil from 2010 through February 2017 although it was not suitable for modern engines.

The state contends the oil can damage engines and deactivate emissions control equipment.

Balderas wants Dollar General to notify customers and pay for any repairs or replace vehicles if necessary.

Dollar General did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the latest lawsuit.

New Mexico Lawmakers Sue To Block VetoesAssociated Press

Leading New Mexico lawmakers have filed a lawsuit aimed at invalidating the recent vetoes of 10 bills by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Filed on Monday, the lawsuit was authorized by a panel of high-ranking Democratic legislators. They say the governor failed to specify her objections to vetoed legislation as required by the state constitution.

Martinez says the bills dealing with hemp research, expansion of high-speed internet, drug testing for racehorses and other matters were vetoed properly and that lawmakers are wasting public resources on the court challenge.

In April, the Legislature unsuccessfully requested the Supreme Court intervene in a feud with the governor over a state budget crisis, after Martinez vetoed funding to state colleges and the Legislature itself. That funding was restored during a special legislative session in late May.

Ex-Santa Fe County Sheriff's Deputy Facing 3rd Murder TrialAssociated Press

A former New Mexico sheriff's deputy charged in the 2014 shooting death of a fellow deputy during what authorities described as an alcohol-fueled dispute is facing a third trial.

State prosecutors announced Tuesday that they intend to retry Tai Chan on murder charges after two previous trials ended in mistrials.

Chan was charged with first-degree murder in the October 2014 death of Jeremy Martin.

The two Santa Fe County deputies had stopped in Las Cruces for the night after transporting an inmate and had been drinking before the shooting.

Chan claims he acted in self-defense.

His first trial ended in a hung jury in June 2016.

Jurors also couldn't reach a unanimous verdict in the second trial that ended last month.

New Mexico Man Who Fatally Shot Customer Acquitted Of Murder – Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

A 12-person jury has acquitted a former New Mexico car wash owner who shot and killed a customer in 2015 during a fight over dog feces.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports 59-year-old Leo Molina was found not guilty on Monday after a five-day trial. He was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of 39-year-old Gregory Fernandez.

Molina shot Fernandez three times in the chest with a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun during a fight at the car wash, where Fernandez had rinsed away dog feces from the bed of his pickup.

Molina testified Friday and maintained that he shot Fernandez in self-defense as Fernandez attempted to gouge his eyes during their confrontation. Prosecutors argued Molina had deliberately killed Fernandez after becoming enraged about the feces.

Navajo Nation Panel Backs Lease Change For Coal Power PlantAssociated Press

A Navajo Nation Council committee has endorsed tribal legislation to extend the lease on a coal-fired power plant in northern Arizona so it can operate through 2019 and preserve jobs held by Native Americans.

Tribal officials say the Health, Education and Human Services Committee voted 2-1 for the legislation on the Navajo Generating Station during a special meeting Monday.

Two other committees will consider the legislation before it is considered by the full council.

The owners want to bow out, saying they can get cheaper power from natural gas sources.

The owners have asked the tribe to decide the proposed lease extension by July 1. Otherwise, the owners say the plant will have to close at the end of this year so it can be torn down by 2020.