Drought Forces Choice For NM Ranchers, Las Cruces Student Arrested After School Shooting Threat

Feb 22, 2018

Drought Forces Painful Choices For New Mexico Ranchers - The Associated Press

Some stretches of New Mexico have gone months without meaningful moisture, leaving farmers and ranchers to make difficult decisions as long-term forecasts call for drought to intensify across the already arid state.

Experts with the National Weather Service talked of pitiful snowpack levels in the mountain ranges that feed the state's rivers ahead of the release Thursday of the latest drought map.

The map shows all but a small sliver of southern New Mexico is grappling with some level of dryness, with extreme drought increasing in the northwest corner of the state.

Officials with the federal Farm Service Agency in New Mexico say many ranchers are scrambling to buy up as much alfalfa as they can to supplement feed supplies while others from Cuba to Carrizozo are being forced to cut their herds.

Las Cruces Student Arrested After Snapchat Photo With Rifle – The Associated Press

A Las Cruces high school student has been arrested after allegedly posting a photo of himself holding a rifle and referencing school shootings, making it the third threat arrest of a New Mexico teen.

Las Cruces police said Thursday that 18-year-old Ernest Padilla has been booked on one count of unlawful carrying a deadly weapon on school premises.

Administrators discovered the photo on social media app Snapchat on Wednesday afternoon. An accompanying message stated "Mexican school shooter" along with the abbreviations for "just kidding."

Police found a butterfly knife and brass knuckles on Padilla and recovered a rifle from his home.

Also on Wednesday, a San Juan County teen made a bomb threat and a 16-year-old Belen boy threatened to carry out a school shooting the next day.

Belen Police: Student Into Custody In School Shooting ThreatThe Associated Press

Authorities in Belen say a 16-year-old student is in custody after allegedly threatening to carry out a school shooting at Belen High School, resulting in a two-hour delay of the start of classes Thursday.

Police say the threat was made Wednesday night via social media and that investigators tracked down the student by tracing the social media account.

Police Chief Scott Conner told the Albuquerque Journal that the student said he had no intention of shooting up the school and only made the threat "to see what kind of response he would get from the school and law enforcement."

The Associated Press generally does not publish the identities of juvenile suspects.

Police presence at the school was stepped up Thursday morning.

Belen is 30 miles south of Albuquerque.

Navajos Settle Utah Voting Rights Case Over Mail-In BallotsThe Associated Press

Navajos who once worried they'd have to drive hours to cast their ballots in Utah say a new settlement is a step forward as tribes challenge what they call discriminatory voting practices around the United States.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said Thursday the settlement that requires tribal-accessible polling places and Navajo-language help is a victory for voting rights after a switch to mail-in voting left behind native voters.

Southern Utah's San Juan County says they're committed to fair elections, but took the steps themselves without the lawsuit that they blasted as a waste of taxpayer money.

The county is also appealing an order to re-draw voting districts that a federal judge found discriminated against native voters.

Similar legal clashes have been waged recently in Nevada, Alaska and the Dakotas.

Survey Finds Mexican Gray Wolf Population Grows By 1Associated Press

There are at least 114 Mexican gray wolves roaming the American Southwest.

That's one more than was recorded during the previous survey, and U.S. wildlife managers say lower survival rates among pups are primarily to blame.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday released the findings of its annual population survey, which included tracking wolves in parts of Arizona and New Mexico over the winter and more recent monitoring flights.

The latest figure includes 26 pups that survived through the end of last year. In 2016, the number of surviving pups was nearly double that.

Officials lamented the numbers were not what they were hoping for.

Environmentalists pointed to stagnation in the population over the last few years, saying managers need to rethink their approach to recovering the species.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Settles Lawsuit Over Man's DeathAssociated Press, Albuquerque Journal

Bernalillo County sheriff's documents show the department has paid $1.5 million to the family of an 88-year-old Albuquerque man who died after a confrontation with deputies.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Tuesday that documents obtained through a public records request show the sheriff's office agreed to a one-time payment to Fidencio Duran's family in a lawsuit settled last year.

Duran was carrying a knife in his neighborhood the day after his wife's September 2015 death when he came into contact with deputies.

Deputies fired 60 pepper balls at Duran, and he suffered broken bones after deputies' K-9 knocked him down.

He later died from pneumonia resulting from his injuries.

His family's attorney says they also are considering litigation against the pepper ball gun manufacturer.

A sheriff's spokeswoman declined comment on the settlement.

More Albuquerque Air Traffic Noise Expected Amid Runway FixAssociated Press

New Mexico's largest airport will close a number of runways for repairs and Albuquerque residents will hear the difference for a while.

Albuquerque International Sunport officials announced Wednesday that the airport's primary runway will be closed for repairs for at least 60 days to fix cracking concrete slabs.

Officials say that means southeast Albuquerque will experience an increase in air traffic and noise.

The number of flights in and out of the Albuquerque International Sunport will not be impacted.

The Albuquerque International Sunport is owned by the city of Albuquerque.

Albuquerque Students Rally For Florida Shooting Victims – Albuquerque Journal

Students at a high school in Albuquerque held a rally Wednesday to remember students killed in a mass shooting in Florida and call for stricter gun laws.

The Albuquerque Journal reported hundreds of La Cueva High School students released balloons commemorating school shooting victims around the country.

Student organizers called for better background checks for gun purchasers that include mental health history and juvenile criminal records, as well as limits on weapons like the AR-15 used in the Parkland, Florida school shooting from being available to the public.

The rally came the same day as police and school security officers searched Rio Rancho High School in response to a threat posted on Instagram Tuesday threatening a shooting.

KOB-TV reported that three students at Albuquerque High School were charged with unlawful possession of a firearm on school property after they brought a handgun to the school on Tuesday.

City Launches Investigation Into Bus Rapid Transit ProjectAlbuquerque Journal

Officials confirmed Wednesday the inspector general for the city of Albuquerque is investigating the Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Inspector General George Harper will examine the funding and procurement process for the project, called ART. The city is still waiting on $75 million from the Federal Transit Administration to fund the project, a nine-mile route of dedicated bus lanes mostly along Central Avenue.

Harper said he wants to make sure the city is complying with federal and state laws and local ordinances. Harper began the review in November and is also looking at quality issues around the buses for the project.

Harper said he plans to issue a public report on his findings in four to six weeks. State Auditor Wayne Johnson said his office is also looking into the project. He told KOB-TV he plans to hire an outside accounting firm for that purpose.

Snow Expected In Northern New MexicoAssociated Press

A winter storm warning and winter weather advisories are in effect for parts of northern New Mexico, with more than 10 inches of snow expected in the high mountainous terrain near the Colorado border.

The National Weather Service says a front over the coming days is expected to hover over a wide stretch of the state's northern border.  A winter weather advisory that went into effect Wednesday isn't expected to be lifted until 5 p.m. Thursday.

Three inches to a half-foot of snow also is expected in parts of the San Juan and Jemez mountains, as well as the northern Sangre de Cristo Mountains above 9,500 feet.

Chama and Taos are among towns expected to get snow.

The weather service says conditions will make road travel difficult around Taos, and hazardous — if not impossible — around Chama.

Xcel Energy's Wind Farm Plans Hit Regulatory RoadblockAlbuquerque Journal

A hearing examiner is urging New Mexico regulators to reject an earnings proposal related to Xcel Energy's two planned wind farms along the Texas-New Mexico border.

At issue is a proposal that would allow the utility to recover lost earnings that accumulate between the time when the wind farms actually come online and when the state Public Regulation Commission approves new rates for cost recovery and profits on the projects.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the utility would collect lost earnings through a surcharge on customers' bills once new rates take effect.

Hearing examiner Elizabeth Hurst says the proposal amounts to retroactive ratemaking.

The interim rate design is part of a settlement negotiated with consumer advocates and others. Without it, utility officials say they might have to abandon the $1.6 billion project.