UNM Launches $180M In Construction Projects, Presbyterian Pulling Out Of NM Health Exchange

Jul 11, 2016

UNM Launching $180 Million In Construction ProjectsAlbuquerque Journal

A new astronomy and physics building is among a number of construction and renovation projects totaling $180 million planned for the University of New Mexico.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the new building will be at the corner of Yale and Central and involved the demolition of an old water reservoir at the site. It will transform that entrance to the campus.

Other projects include renovation of Smith Plaza near Zimmerman Library and remodeling the Johnson Gym. The Farris Engineering Center will also be renovated and the Anderson School of Management will get a larger building as well. The third phase of a health education complex is also underway

The projects will result in the loss of up to 300 parking spaces and change several traffic patterns around the campus.

A mix of sources, including severance tax bonds, UNM institutional bonds and general obligation bonds, is funding many of the projects.

Presbyterian Pulling Out Of New Mexico Health ExchangeThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

Officials with Presbyterian Health Plan say the insurance company will no longer offer individual and family plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace in New Mexico starting next year.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Monday that Presbyterian has sent letters to members notifying them of the changes.

The decision to stop offering coverage will affect 10,000 exchange members, 80 percent of whom now receive federal subsidies.

Presbyterian officials say patients who purchased on the exchange used medical services 30 percent more than other patient groups off the exchange.

In January, Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico stopped offering individual insurance plans through the state health exchange.

Company officials say it lost $19.2 million in 2015 on the 35,000 individuals covered by plans they purchased on and off the exchange.

Taos County Considers Herbicide Ban – Taos News

Taos County Commissioners are considering a ban on herbicides and pesticides following complains by some residents about health impacts they say are tied to the chemicals.

The Taos News reports the commissioners focused on glyphosate, which is used in Monstanto’s Roundup and other products. Some other municipalities around the country have banned glyphosate. But those laws only banned the use, not the sale of the substance.

Any ban would have to go through the town’s legal counsel, said one town councilor, and also be worked out between the town and the county. A 2015 study by the World Health Organization found glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans,” but another report from the United Nations countered that finding.

New Mexico Food-Aid Investigation Ignites New ConcernsThe Associated Press

The first results of an internal investigation into whether New Mexico state officials falsified emergency food benefit applications to meet federal processing deadlines is raising new concerns that aid may not be reaching those in need.

State Democratic Party Chairwoman Debra Haaland said Monday that she and several allied lawmakers want to ensure that emergency food benefits reach eligible residents while the Human Services Department continues its investigation.

The agency's inspector general was told by some food-assistance case workers that applications for expedited aid were altered as an unwritten rule to avoid running afoul of federal guidelines for timeliness.

Advocates for aid recipients say the practice can delay crucial public assistance and want a federal receiver appointed to oversee the program. A federal judge is considering whether that is warranted.

Federal Officials Find Mexican Wolf Program Was MishandledThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal 

Federal investigators have concluded that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has mishandled a program to return the endangered Mexican wolf to the wild.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the Department of Interior Off ice of the Inspector General's investigation backs up claims made by Catron County in a 2013 that the service was not cooperating with cattle ranchers when protecting the wolves.

The investigation found the service protected the wolves even after they preyed on cattle, did not tell residents when wolves were near and did not fully compensate ranchers for cattle killed by wolves.

Fish and Wildlife spokesman John Bradley says the service has been working to improve work with the county and that the issue is considered resolved.

Court Orders Corruption Trial Against Ex-SenatorAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A judge has ruled that former state Sen. Phil Griego will face trial on corruption charges following four days of a preliminary hearing.

The Albuquerque Journal reports District Judge Brett Loveless dismissed a felony fraud count against Griego but ruled he must go to trial on other charges, including bribery and perjury.

Prosecutors allege that Griego used his position as a state senator to profit from the sale of a state-owned building in downtown Santa Fe, pushing the sale through the Legislature without disclosing his personal interest.

Defense attorney Thomas Clark highlighted testimony that Griego's role as a real estate broker in the land deal was known by some state officials and lawmakers.

A trial date has not been scheduled.

Patrols Up Near Santa Fe After Rare Owl Killed Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A federal land management official says more enforcement officers have been put on patrol in the Caja del Rio area near Santa Fe after the reported killing of a burrowing owl.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the species is among those protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Donna Hummel says such a killing is rare and the incident is being taken seriously.

New Mexico Wildlife Center spokeswoman Dawn Wright said the owl's death was related to a gunshot.

Bird watcher Julie Luetzelschwab photographed two burrowing owls on June 27, and three days later one of them was missing.

The owl was found nearby. One leg was missing and the wings were spread as if it had been flying when it was struck.

Could New Mexico Land Proposed Facebook Data Center? Associated Press  

New Mexico's largest electric provider has filed documents with state regulators that reveal plans by social media giant Facebook to build a new data center.

According to Public Service Co. of New Mexico's filing with the Public Regulation Commission, both New Mexico and Utah are in the running for hosting the proposed data center.

Facebook wants to get its energy needs for the center from renewable resources, so PNM is seeking an expedited approval process for recovering from Facebook the costs associated with providing the electricity.

A spokeswoman for PNM Resources, the utility's parent company, says a hearing would have to be held. Approval is being sought by Aug. 31.

Facebook describes its data centers, which deliver all of the company's services to users, as some of the most complex machines ever created.

Police Say Shoplifters Target Albuquerque Target Stores KRQE-TV, Associated Press

Albuquerque police say Target stores around the city have been the target of two alleged shoplifters.

Authorities are seeking 26-year-old Hector Camarillo and his brother, 22-year-old Victor Camarillo.

Officer Simon Drobik tells KRQE-TV that the siblings have stolen $7,000 in merchandise from several Target stores since April.

Police fear that the brothers may escalate.

They say surveillance footage from a recent incident shows a security guard approach them and then back away with his hands raised.

Police say one of the suspects had flashed a gun.

Drobik says they also had a female accomplice, Stevana Tafoya, during some of the alleged crimes.

Gov. Martinez Offers Condolences To TexasAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez says she's heartbroken over the violence in downtown Dallas.

In a statement issued Friday in response to the shooting deaths of five officers following a protest in Dallas, the governor says she called Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to offer her condolences. She told him that New Mexicans are praying for officers in Dallas, their families and law enforcement officials around the country.

The shootings also spurred a statement from APD Forward, a coalition of community groups that has been monitoring the implementation of police reforms in New Mexico's largest city.

The coalition says all the violence around the country this week should help ongoing efforts in Albuquerque to reform the police department. APD Forward member Jenny Metzler says the groups are looking for ways to "heal the divide between police and impacted communities."

Dexter Woman Dead After Car Struck By Oncoming TrainAssociated Press

Authorities say a 44-year-old Dexter woman has died after her car was hit by a train.

New Mexico State Police say the collision happened shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday north of Dexter.

According to investigators, Delefina Chairez was driving on Lupton Road near Old Dexter Highway when she failed to yield at the railroad crossing.

While crossing the train tracks, her vehicle was struck by a northbound train.

Chairez suffered fatal injuries and died at the scene.

The crash remains under investigation.