Monday News Roundup: Wildfire Burns In Santa Fe National Forest

Jun 30, 2014

Wildfire Burns In Santa Fe National Forest – KUNM News

The Diego Fire continues to burn in the Santa Fe National Forest. As of yesterday afternoon the fire was reported to be around 200 Acres.

It’s in the Coyote Ranger District, nine miles southeast of Coyote.  The fire was caused by lightning and was first detected on June 15th.  

At last report no structures were threatened and the fire was primarily on federal land.  Some private land may now be burning. 

For updated information visit NMFireInfo.com.  And send your fire photos to news@kunm.org and we’ll share the best ones online.  

Arizona Company Paid Before Mental Health Shake-UpThe Associated Press and Santa Fe New Mexican

The state of New Mexico paid at least one Arizona company for salaries, travel and legal fees before it and others were brought in to replace 15 nonprofits that provided behavioral health services to needy New Mexicans.

That's according to documents obtained by The New Mexican.

The newspaper found the state paid Agave Health Inc. more than $172,000 over six months, and half of that was disbursed prior to an audit being done on the nonprofits.

The audit spurred the Martinez administration to shake up the state's mental health system in 2013 by stripping the nonprofits of their contracts over allegations of fraud, mismanagement and billing problems.

Records show the state proceeded to pay Agave over the next several months at higher rates than the ousted providers had received.

A Human Services Department spokesman defended the payments.

San Juan County Struggles With Health Care CostsThe Associated Press and Daily Times

San Juan County health care providers warn that services would be reduced if county officials don't act to avoid deep cuts in funding for uninsured patients' medical bills.

Providers told The Daily Times that consequences would include filled emergency rooms, crowded jails and even death for some patients.

San Juan County is considering cuts to providers' care for uninsured people because of the state's recent creation of a safety net care pool. The county must pay $3 million to the pool.

County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter says the only way to avoid deep cuts to care providers compensated under the county's indigent health care fund would be pursue a belt-tightening plan.

Documents say that plan includes raising taxes, narrowing eligibility for indigent coverage and reducing provider reimbursement rates.

NM VA Health Care System Parent Agency Has ‘Corrosive Culture’New York Times

According to a review presented to President Obama on Friday says the Veterans Health Administration has a corrosive culture that has led to poor management, a history of retaliation toward employees, cumbersome and outdated technology, and a shortage of doctors, nurses and physical space to treat its patients.

The president called for the review just days before he accepted the resignation of the Veterans Affairs secretary, Eric Shinseki.

The story appeared in the New York Times over the weekend.  The article quotes President Obama’s deputy chief of staff writing "the V.H.A. leadership structure is marked by a lack of responsiveness and an inability to effectively manage or communicate to employees or veterans."

Texting While Driving Ban Among New State Laws - The Associated Press

A new law is ready to take effect that will ban texting while driving in New Mexico.

Starting tomorrow, the law prohibits drivers from sending or reading text messages and emails — even while at a stop light.

Drivers also will be prohibited from searching the Internet from smartphones or other hand-held wireless devices.

A first violation will carry a $25 fine and it's a $50 fine for subsequent violations.

There are exceptions in the law, such as summoning medical or emergency aid.

A driver can pull over to the side of the road to send or receive a text message.

More than 40 other states ban texting by all drivers.

New Mexico already prohibits texting by teenage drivers with a learner's or provisional license.

NM Police Officer Hit By Suspected Drunken Driver - The Associated Press

A state police officer has been discharged from a hospital after being struck by a suspected drunken driver while conducting a traffic stop in southeastern New Mexico.

According to state police, Officer Carlos Verdugo was in his patrol car near an intersection in Hobbs on Saturday when he was hit by a vehicle driven by 40-year-old Jason Allred.

Verdugo was initially reported to be in critical condition at a hospital in Lubbock, Texas, but state police say he later was discharged from the hospital to recuperate at home for an undetermined amount of time.

The woman stopped by Verdugo had non-life-threatening injuries.

Allred is facing two aggravated DWI charges and one count each of reckless driving and great bodily harm by vehicle.

Verdugo has been with the department for about 18 months.

Restoration To Begin Along Rio Grande In NM, Texas - The Associated Press

Work to restore river habitat at as many as 30 sites along the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico and West Texas is scheduled to begin soon.

The work is part of a program being implemented by the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission.

Commission officials collaborated with the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, Audubon New Mexico and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to establish a voluntary program to acquire water and water rights to support the establishment of native trees, shrubs and grasslands.

Officials call the program innovative and say it will be a key aspect of the commission's efforts to restore riparian areas along the river.

Officials planned a ceremony Monday in the flood plain near the Picacho Bridge in Las Cruces.

Fire On Navajo Nation Inches Toward Containment - The Associated Press

Crews are close to containing a blaze that has charred nearly 30 square miles of the Navajo Nation near the Arizona-New Mexico state line.

Fire information officers say crews have contained 98 percent of the Assayii Lake Fire and plans calls for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Navajo fire program to take over firefighting efforts tomorrow.  

Authorities say Isolated pockets within the fire's interior may continue to burn until the area gets significant rainfall. Smoke may be seen until that time.

Cibola National Forest ClosureKUNM News

The Sandia and Mountainair ranger districts of the Cibola National Forest are closed. The districts, and their trails, are closed to the public from today until rains improve fire conditions. Sandia Crest Road will also be closed to non-residents.

Sandia Peak Tram and the High Finance Restaurant and Deck will not be affected by the closure.

Bidding To Start Soon On NM Spaceport Road Project - The Associated Press

Dona Ana County officials are getting ready to launch the bidding process to improve the southern road that leads to Spaceport America.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports bidding on the first phase of the roughly 24-mile-long road could begin within the next month.

The timing hinges on the Bureau of Land Management. The federal agency is reviewing construction plans as well as a study on cultural and other important sites in the area.

If the agency doesn't accept the plans, that could mean further delays and more costs for the proposed road.

Many backers of the taxpayer-funded spaceport have said a paved southern route is crucial for county residents and businesses to benefit economically from the spaceport.

Still, county officials say there's not enough money in the current budget for a fully-paved road.