Sandia Labs Aims To Improve Farmers' Crops, Lawsuit Targets Former "Breaking Bad" Actor

Dec 21, 2016

Sandia Labs Project Aims To Improve Farmers' CropsThe Associated Press

Sandia National Laboratories is getting $2.4 million to help identify crops that are more environmentally friendly.

The project funded by the Department of Energy and by ROOTS, or Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration, seeks to find crops that use less water, reduce need for nitrogen fertilizer, trap carbon deep in the soil and improve soil quality.

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced the project on Wednesday.

Heinrich said in a news release that the project could help farmers who deal with challenges of climate change such as drought. Udall says the project will help New Mexico farmers develop crops that are stronger in drought conditions and more environmentally friendly.

Lawsuit Targets Election Of Bernalillo County CommissionerThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

The losing candidate for a commissioner's seat in New Mexico's most populous county is asking a state district judge to overturn the election results and declare her the winner.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the complaint was filed this week on behalf of Republican Patricia Paiz. It accuses "Breaking Bad" actor and commissioner-elect Steven Michael Quezada of failing to sign the paperwork needed to declare his candidacy in March.

Quezada said the allegations are false. His campaign released photos showing him holding up election forms as he posed for pictures with county staff.

Paiz's lawsuit includes an affidavit from a handwriting analyst who says Quezada's wife, not Quezada himself, appears to have filled out the declaration of candidacy.

Quezada won more than 60 percent of the vote in November.

Espanola District Superintendent Contests State's ConcernsThe Associated Press

The superintendent of Espanola Public Schools says most of the state Public Education Department's concerns about the district are unfounded.

The Public Education Department last month said it was taking over the district's finances and otherwise criticized Superintendent Eric Martinez's leadership. The agency gave Martinez 30 days to submit a corrective plan.

In a letter received by state education officials on Monday, Martinez called the department's allegations of his oversight inaccurate and said that the district is complying with state and school board policies.

The letter did not appear to contain a corrective plan.

Among the state's accusations are claims that Martinez helped create an atmosphere of intimidation and bullying, in part by rehiring the school's basketball coach, who was accused of verbally abusing players.

Public Education Department spokesman Robert McEntyre says the department is reviewing Martinez's letter.

New Mexico Appoints Former Oil Executive To Top Energy PostAssociated Press

The Republican governor of New Mexico has appointed former oil and natural gas industry executive Ken McQueen to lead the state's Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources Department.

Gov. Susana Martinez announced the Cabinet secretary appointment Tuesday in a written statement. She said McQueen brings a valuable background in petroleum engineering to the post and will be in charge of a state energy plan that emphasizes job creation and supporting national efforts toward energy independence.

McQueen previously served as vice president of Tulsa-based natural gas and oil producer WPX Energy. He has managed the company's assets in the San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

Environmentalists greeted the appointment with wariness. Martinez says she is confident McQueen will responsibly manage the state's natural resources.

Sheriff's Department Says At Least 20 Stolen Vehicles RecoveredAssociated Press

The Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department says detectives have recovered at least 20 stolen vehicles during a raid on a property and made several arrests.

Sheriff's Deputy Felicia Romero says the department's property crime unit served a search warrant Tuesday morning at the property on the 200 block of Prosperity Avenue.

Photos released by the department showed numerous vehicles in a commercial lot surrounded by a chain link fence.

Feds To Pour $225M Into Water Projects Around The USAssociated Press

The federal government will be pouring nearly a quarter-billion dollars into several dozen projects aimed at tackling the effects of drought in the West and restoring watersheds that provide drinking water to communities around the nation.

The $225 million in funding will be shared among 88 projects, from California's Central Valley to centuries-old irrigation systems in northern New Mexico and thousands of square miles of fragmented streams in Maine.

The head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, Jason Weller, said Wednesday that in addition to the federal funds, the projects will leverage close to $500 million from state, local and private partners.

Weller acknowledged there's a lot of work to do given that drought persists and public and private forests across the U.S. are under stress.

Incoming Prosecutor: Albuquerque Shooting Case To Get Review - 
By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Metro Albuquerque's incoming district attorney has announced plans for an independent review of the case involving two former Albuquerque police officers accused in the shooting death of a mentally ill homeless man during a 2014 standoff.

It will be up to District Attorney-elect Raul Torrez to eventually decide if former Officer Dominique Perez and now-retired Detective Keith Sandy should be retried in the fatal shooting of James Boyd following an October mistrial due to a hung jury.

Torrez says the case needs a prompt, thorough review and that it'll be conducted by a team of senior trial prosecutors from around the state.

The review is expected to be done early next year. The team will then make a recommendation to the 2nd Judicial District Attorney's Office.

State Uses Reserves To Balance 2016 BudgetAlbuquerque Journal

State officials have drained most of New Mexico’s reserves to fill a deficit in the 2016 budget.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the state Board of Finance had to find nearly $600 million to make up a deficit and authorized the use of $485.4 million from cash reserves. It also voted to use $109.1 million from a tobacco settlement fund, which is not typically used for general spending.

When lawmakers convene in January for the legislative session they also face a projected $69 million deficit for the current fiscal year that began in July.

The state’s revenues have been hit hard by the drop in oil and natural gas prices. This has led to budget cuts and a lower bond rating.

Albuquerque Police Identify Victim In Gruesome Death Associated Press

Police have identified the man who was found beheaded and mutilated behind an Albuquerque store over the weekend.

Police say 42-year-old Clifford Miller of McAlester, Oklahoma, was found behind a store on the city's northeast side.

Police spokesman Fred Duran says the body was discovered on Saturday. He said Miller had gone to New Mexico within the past few months with plans to find work in Albuquerque.

Miller was found nude and had been castrated. Police are still investigating and are looking for any information about the killing.

Grand Jury Indicts Accused ArsonistKOB-TV

A federal grand jury has indicted a man accused of arson at an Old Navy store in Albuquerque.

KOB-TV reports the jury charged David Hickman with intentionally starting a fire last month at the retailer. It was one of several fires around the city that took place over a week in November. However, Hickman has not been charged in those other fires.

Those took place at three Starbucks, a Barnes and Noble bookstore, a paper supplier, an anti-abortion organization and a condominium complex under construction.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney said the case against Hickman will now move towards a trial. District Judge Judith C. Herrera will preside over the case.

Roswell Asked To Take Over Long-Disputed Cemetery Roswell Daily Record, Associated Press

Descendants of some of Roswell's founding families are asking the city to take over ownership of a cemetery where their relatives are buried.

The Roswell Daily Record reports that a letter from the descendants' attorney Jimmy Craig was hand-delivered to the City Council on Dec. 7, asking that officials take over ownership of the long-disputed Memory Lawn Memorial Park.

The City Council's Infrastructure Committee on Monday afternoon was formally asked to take ownership of the cemetery. The committee voted to investigate the topic further before making any recommendations.

Memory Lawn was placed in receivership with Chaves County commissioner Bob Corn in 2011. Corn was charged to maintain the property and take care of it through its legal and financial struggles.

Department Of Health Staff Fall Ill After Holiday LunchSanta Fe New Mexican

Staff at the state agency tasked with ensuring food safety at restaurants in New Mexico may have been sickened by a food-borne illness.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports about 70 staff at the Department of Health had gastrointestinal issues after a catered holiday lunch last week. Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher told her staff the culprits appear to be toxins related to food poisoning. Lab results are pending.

A spokesman said the event was catered by a local company but he declined the name of the business.