Judge Happy With APD Reform, Forecasters Warn Of Fire Danger

Mar 16, 2018

Judge Happy With Commitment In Albuquerque Police ReformThe Associated Press

A New Mexico judge says he is satisfied with the commitment leaders have shown in addressing excessive force issues at the Albuquerque Police Department.

The Albuquerque Journal reports officials have been working for three years to solve issues highlighted in a Department of Justice investigation, which found a pattern of excessive force.

At the latest hearing on the reform held by U.S. District Judge Robert Brack on Thursday, officials and community advocates say they are impressed with Mayor Tim Keller and Police Chief Mike Geier's approach to the reform and their willingness to talk to the community.

Both took office in December.

The reforms were expected to last between four to six years and cost about $4.5 million during the first four years.

Brack says although the project is behind schedule, he is optimistic.

Forecasters Warn Of Fire Danger, Crop DamageThe Associated Press

Forecasters and climatologists say the amount of moisture received across the United States' southern high plains since October has been ridiculously low, resulting in critical fire danger and winter wheat crops being reduced to stubble across several states.

Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said Friday during a national briefing that some areas in the region have received less than one-tenth of an inch of rain in the past five months.

He said the lack of rain has combined with above normal temperatures across parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas to make for record dry conditions in some spots.

He warned that the warm and dry weather is expected to continue through the spring, resulting in continued crop damage, dwindling irrigation supplies and more wildfires. He showed satellite maps that show smoke and dust plumes moving across the region.

Allsup's Employees Get $1,000 Bonus Thanks To New Tax BillThe Associated Press

Allsup's Convenience Stores, the chain that operates throughout New Mexico and Texas, is giving its employees a little extra money.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the chain gave all full-time, non-executive employees a one-time time cash bonuses of $1,000 on Thursday.

Owners of the Clovis, New Mexico-based company said a statement that the windfall was "a result of the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed" in December.

The bonus went to employees who have been with the company at least a year.

The company operates 317 stores in New Mexico, West Texas and Oklahoma and employs 3,200 full-time and part-time employees. It did not say how many of its employees received a bonus this week.

The convenience store chain is known for its chicken chimichanga and beef burrito.

EPA May Be Overstating Claims From Mine SpillThe Associated Press

The Environmental Protection Agency says it has almost finished a review of damage claims from a Colorado mine spill the agency accidentally triggered.

But an internal agency accounting of those claims could be off by tens of millions of dollars.

It's the latest in a series of complications and setbacks since EPA contractors unleashed 3 million gallons of wastewater, turning waterways in three states a bright yellow-orange.

An EPA spreadsheet says the claims totaled more than $2.5 billion for economic losses and personal injuries from the 2015 spill. The Associated Press obtained the document under an open records request.

The spreadsheet appears to overstate by $100 million the value of claims submitted by a law firm for a dozen clients.

The EPA didn't immediately respond to an email asking whether it could verify the accuracy of its list.

US, States Agree To Collaborate On Mexican Wolf RecoveryAssociated Press

The U.S. government and state officials have signed an agreement that furthers their intentions to work together to recover an endangered wolf that once roamed the American Southwest.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish announced the agreement with Arizona and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday. The agreement is aimed at getting Mexican gray wolves to the point where they can eventually be removed from the endangered species list.

As part of the effort, a field team that includes members from the states' wildlife management agencies will provide input to determine the timing, location and the circumstances for releasing wolves into the wild in Arizona and New Mexico.

New Mexico Game and Fish Director Alexandra Sandoval called the new agreement an act of good faith. But Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that has pushed for more wolf releases, was critical of the deal.

Robinson said federal law trumps state law and the federal agency has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to recover the animal.

Report Says 2 Mexican Wolves Found Dead In ArizonaAssociated Press

Federal wildlife managers are investigating the deaths of two endangered Mexican gray wolves.

The animals were found dead in Arizona in February. Authorities did not release any details about the circumstances or the locations where the animals were found.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman John Bradley said Thursday the carcasses were sent to a lab in Oregon for examination.

One of the wolves, a female, was reported in January to be traveling alone in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. The male wolf was spotted that same month making wide movements from the Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves forests to the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

The two deaths are the first to be reported in 2018.

Efforts to reintroduce the endangered wolves in Arizona and New Mexico have been ongoing for two decades.

Feds Review New Mexico Land Boss' Concerns On Border AccessAssociated Press

Real estate experts with U.S. Customs and Border Protection are looking into concerns raised by New Mexico's top land manager about rights of way and easement issues along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Federal officials sent Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn a letter earlier this month about his concerns regarding the installation years ago of a border wall, infrastructure and roads on New Mexico state trust land. The letter was made public Thursday.

Dunn contends the federal government never got authorization to access the trust land and has not compensated the state for using the property near the Santa Teresa port of entry.

The letter was sent to Dunn after he posted signs and cordoned off the land along the border.

There are indications federal and state officials could meet in April to discuss the issues.

Dallas, French Companies Form Venture For Nuke Waste PlantHobbs News-Sun, Associated Press

A Dallas company and a France-based multinational corporation are forming a joint venture to license an interim storage site in West Texas for high-level nuclear waste.

The Hobbs News-Sun reports Orano USA and Waste Control Specialists announced on Tuesday their intent to form the joint venture.

Waste Control Specialists had notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission three years ago of its plan to seek the license to build the facility in rural Andrews County, Texas, that would store spent fuel rods from power plants. There's currently no such disposal site in the U.S.

The proposed site is five miles east of Eunice, New Mexico.

Orano USA is part of the Paris, France-based Orano that specializing in nuclear power and renewable energy.

NTSB Sets April 10 Meeting On Fatal New Mexico Rail WreckAssociated Press

Federal safety officials have rescheduled a meeting to determine the probable cause of a fatal 2015 collision involving two freight trains in New Mexico and issue safety recommendations aimed at preventing similar wrecks.

The National Transportation Safety Board reset the meeting in Washington for April 10 after a meeting that was scheduled for earlier this week was canceled due to a fatal helicopter crash in New York City.

An engineer was killed and a second crew member was seriously injured when their Southwestern Railroad train struck a train parked on a siding near Roswell on April 28, 2015.

A preliminary report said the moving train went through a misaligned switch and that the parked train's crew went off duty before the wreck and weren't present when it happened.

Drought Marches Across US Southern High Plains - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Federal and state experts in drought assessment and long-range forecasting are expected to provide an overview of the critical situation facing much of the United States' southern high plains.

They're meeting Friday as dry conditions intensify from the plains of eastern New Mexico to the Texas Panhandle and parts of Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.

The latest map shows swaths of red covering the Four Corners Region and the southern high plains, indicating extreme to exceptional drought — the worst categories of drought.

For Oklahoma, this marks the first time exceptional drought has made an appearance since May 2015.

In New Mexico, the lack of water and an unseasonably warm winter have already resulted in a run on hay reserves and some livestock owners have been forced to trim their herds.

Agency Re-Designates 12 Counties As Natural Disaster AreasMohave Valley Daily News, Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the re-designation of 12 Arizona counties as primary natural disaster areas due to losses and damages caused by recent drought.

The Mohave Valley Daily News reports farmers in eligible counties have eight months to apply for emergency loans to help cover part of their actual losses.

The designation immediately offers the availability of low-interest Farm Service Agency emergency loans in all primary and contiguous counties.

Farmers and ranchers in the neighboring counties of La Paz, Yavapai and Yuma also qualify for natural disaster assistance, as do farmers and ranchers in the counties of San Bernardino, California; Montezuma, Colorado; Clark and Lincoln counties in Nevada; Catron, Cibola, Grand, Hidalgo, McKinley and San Juan counties in New Mexico; and Kane, San Juan and Washington counties in Utah.

Judge Says Man Who Killed Family To Stay JailedAssociated Press

A New Mexico judge has ordered a young man who killed five family members as a teenager to remain in custody while his juvenile sentence is reviewed.

Judge Michael E. Martinez on Thursday ordered Nehemiah Griego to be transferred immediately to an adult jail pending the outcome of his case.

Griego previously had been set for release on Tuesday, his 21st birthday, under a ruling two years ago that found he had been receptive to treatment while in state custody and could be sentenced as a juvenile.

But an appeals court recently overturned that sentence, resulting in a new round of hearings. Those proceedings could take weeks, if not months.

Prosecutors sought to have Griego remain in custody until his case is resolved. Griego's attorneys argued that he has received hundreds of hours of individual, group and family therapy while in state custody.

This item corrects that Judge Michael E. Martinez presided over the court hearing, not Judge John Romero.

Feral Cats Make Western Governor's List Of Invasive SpeciesDan Elliott, Associated Press

Western U.S. governors have compiled their first region-wide list of the worst invasive species for their states.

The Western Governors' Association Thursday released a compilation of 50 pests ranging from weeds and wild boars to insects and amphibians.

The governors want to prioritize efforts to defend against the intruders.

Pests that have been in the headlines before include water-gulping salt cedar trees and quagga mussels, which clog water and sewer pipelines.

Others may be surprises, including feral cats.

At least two diseases made the list: white nose syndrome, which infects bats, and whirling disease, which attacks fish.

The association says salt cedars are the worst land-based invasive species. The Eurasian watermilfoil is the worst in the water.

The list is based on a survey of state invasive species coordinators.

Lone Middle School Student Suspended After WalkoutKOB-TV, Associated Press

The only student to walk out of a suburban Albuquerque middle school as part of a nationwide protest against gun violence was suspended for the action.

KOB-TV reports 12-year-old Ryan Barber was immediately placed on in-school suspension after returning to Mountain View Middle School on Wednesday.

Rio Rancho Public Schools officials say middle school students who walked out were considered to be ditching, which is punished by in-school suspensions.

District officials say the high school students who walked out received an unexcused absence.

The sixth-grade student says she accepts the punishment, but she defended her right to protest.

Thousands of students in Albuquerque participated in walkouts Wednesday for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 people killed during a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Mayor Says Exempt City Employees Must Reapply For JobsSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A newly elected mayor in New Mexico is asking every exempt employee at City Hall to reapply for their job.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports a release Wednesday says Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber and City Manager Brian Snyder made the decision to "ensure the city has the best possible people in place in each position, and that the city is delivering service at the highest level of efficiency."

The release also states the Webber administration will consider the "full spectrum of qualified and interested candidates for each position."

Webber also announced Wednesday his council appointments to the city's three legislative committees, six advisory committees and five joint powers boards with other public entities.