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MON: Governor thanks oil industry while pushing environmental agenda, + More

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New Mexico governor thanks oil & gas, cheers hydrogen plans - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico's Democratic governor addressed oil and gas in a speech acknowledging her state's reliance on fossil fuel mining revenues while pledging to enforce pro-environment regulations.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham thanked 300 attendees of the New Mexico Oil And Gas Association meeting on Monday for their contributions to the economy and tax revenues that form the backbone of state education funding.

She pledged to restrict methane emissions at mining sites and continue enforcing regulations requiring reduced use of freshwater and thorough cleanups of environmental spills.

Producers say methane rules will cost billions.

Lujan Grisham reiterated her commitment to drafting and passing a hydrogen fuel bill, pledging to include it on a shortlist of priorities for the state legislative session in February.

"We are working on that as we speak," Lujan Grisham said, adding that it's part of an effort to turn New Mexico into a hydrogen fuel "hub."

Like batteries, hydrogen fuel cells can store energy for cars and industrial equipment. Hydrogen requires lots of energy. The most common, energy source for hydrogen production is natural gas, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

A handful of student climate activists blocked hotel doors after the governor left the event singing "Whose side are you on?"

Las Cruces settles suit claiming 'rough ride' after arrestLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

The Las Cruces Police Department has settled a lawsuit by a man who claimed he was seriously injured during an arrest by a former officer.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported Monday that records show the City of Las Cruces quietly settled with Warren McCowan for $180,000 in March but admitted no wrong doing.

In turn, McCowan filed a motion to dismiss the suit with prejudice.

In the suit, McCowan said Officer Mark Morales arrested him in August 2015 for driving while intoxicated. Enroute to the jail, Morales allegedly placed McCowan in the back seat but did not secure him with a seatbelt. The officer then deliberately drove at a high speed and jerked his vehicle so that McCowan would bounce around.

According to McCowan, he was slammed around "like a ping pong ball." He also said he suffered a torn shoulder when officers yanked him up from the floor. The shoulder injury later required surgery.

McCowan's attorney says Morales had no body camera and cameras at the jail weren't working that day.

Morales resigned from the police department in August 2019. He had been on administrative leave for an unrelated matter.

Authorities searching for escaped inmate in Chaves CountyAssociated Press

Authorities in Chaves County say an inmate has escaped custody.

Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington posted on the agency's social media that 37-year-old Daniel Cobos escaped late Sunday night from Chaves County Detention Center.

He says Cobos is considered dangerous.

He did not say how the suspect was able to leave or why he was in custody.

In May 2019, Cobos was listed as a wanted fugitive by the New Mexico Corrections Department for armed robbery with a deadly weapon.

He was described then as 5-foot-9 and 141 pounds. He also has tattoos all over his scalp and neck.

Brief outage in Albuquerque after 2 balloons hit power lines - KOB-TV, Associated Press

Hundreds of hot air balloons filled the Sunday morning sky over Albuquerque on the second day of the Balloon Fiesta, but two balloons hit power lines and caused a brief outage for some Public Service Company of New Mexico customers.

The company said 1,230 of its customers were without electricity for a couple hours after two hot air balloons hit power lines in the north valley. 

No injuries were reported.

Viewer photos sent to Albuquerque TV station KOB showed one balloon's envelope draped over the power lines near Daniel Circle while another balloon hit power lines closer to 2nd Street and Ranchitos.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta returned this year after a pandemic hiatus.

The nine-day event started Saturday in the predawn twilight with about 540 balloons of every shape and size inflating and lifting off with people aboard.

Balloons of all types, including special shapes, took off Sunday morning from Balloon Fiesta Park.

Mass ascension launches balloon event after COVID-19 hiatus - Associated Press

Hundreds of hot-air balloons created a colorful tapestry against a blue sky Saturday in New Mexico's largest city, kicking off a nine-day annual event that was canceled last year due to the pandemic. 

The 7 a.m. mass ascension was the first of five scheduled for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which draws visitors from around the world.

The 2020 fiesta was canceled as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. 

Organizers said over 540 balloons were registered for this year's event. The 2019 fiesta drew nearly 600 balloons from across the U.S. and 17 other countries. 

Fiesta organizers said they won't be checking for vaccination cards but noted precautions are being taken to preserve social distancing and provide access to hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations. Indoor dining for balloon pilots and VIPs has been canceled. 

More than 80 balloons that come in special ornate or cartoonish shapes will be disbursed throughout the launch field, rather than clustered together — encouraging crowds to spread out, fiesta spokesman Tom Garrity said.

Scheduled events include a chain saw carving display, fireworks, sky divers, musical stage performances and a strolling mariachi band.

Less than a third of NMSU students submit vaccination proof – Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

New Mexico State University says less than a third of its students submitted proof of vaccination for COVID-19 by a Thursday deadline to otherwise undergo weekly testing or leave the university.

While 72.3% of the university's employees provided proof of vaccination, only 30% of students did, officials said Friday.

It's not clear how many students who didn't submit proof of vaccination by the deadline plan to submit weekly test results, officials said.

"We're not where we want to be with our vaccinated students," said Jon Webster, the school's COVID-19 project manager. "We want to make sure we're protecting all of our students."

Failure to submit vaccination information or weekly test results can result in student suspension or staff termination, officials said.

Students can get vaccinated at any point in the semester and cease the weekly required testing once achieving full vaccination, Webster said.

"We are seeing new submissions continue to come in, so we expect our final verified total to be significantly higher than what we're seeing today and to continue to rise over the next several weeks as some students and employees receive their second dose and update their cards," Webster said.

He said the university was continuing to reach out to students through text message, email, social media and other channels.

Several students said Friday they were unaware of the mandate's details, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

Sophomore Alvaro Oliva said he's vaccinated but hadn't heard of the requirement.

"You get a whole bunch of emails from your classes and all that jazz, but the emails slip through," Oliva said.

However, senior Alisa Schott said it would be hard to not have heard about the requirement.

"It's kind of everywhere," Schott said. "My professors talk about it all the time."

Freshman Ester Bocanegra said she's partially vaccinated and didn't know which website to use to submit information. "I'm sure people are confused," she said.

Sophomore Issac Duarte said students are focused on other things right now, especially midterms.

"The vaccination is not really something that's a priority for us," he said.

The university's main campus is in Las Cruces. It also has campuses in Alamogordo, Carlsbad, Grants and elsewhere.

Albuquerque police: Man arrested in death of young daughter - Associated Press

A man has been arrested in connection with the death of his 2-year-old daughter, according to Albuquerque police.

They said 32-year-old Michael David Garcia was booked into jail early Saturday on suspicion of child abuse resulting in death.

It was unclear Sunday if Garcia has a lawyer yet who can speak on his behalf.

Police said officers responded around 3 p.m. Friday to a mobile home park in northeast Albuquerque where the young girl was found dead.

Authorities say the child appeared emaciated and had visible bruising to the majority of her body as well as burns to her back thigh and hands. 

According to the Albuquerque Journal, court records show Garcia petitioned for custody of his daughter and his three other children within a month of being indicted in 2017 for allegedly physically abusing the mother of the kids.

That case was eventually dismissed.

Before Garcia's arrest, police said he told officers he had just won custody of the children.

Police said the other children now are in the custody of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. 

Police: Murder charge sought after woman set on fire dies - Associated Press

Albuquerque police will seek a murder charge against a man now that a woman has died of injuries suffered when she was doused with gasoline and set on fire Sept. 24.

Renee Benally, 42, died while being treated at a Texas burn center, department spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Friday.

With Benally's death, police will work with the District Attorney's Office to charge Sedillo with murder, Gallegos said.

Sedillo was initially charged with aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm.

Benally had severe burns to her face, arms, chest and back when she ran to a neighbor's house to ask for help, police said.

Benally identified her attacker as Sedillo, who lived at a home with Benally and another roommate, police said.

Attorney Heather LeBlanc, listed on online court records as representing Sedillo, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations against Sedillo.

Becoming sustainable: Grant funds Las Vegas farm - By Gwen Albers Las Vegas Optic

For Josette Ulibarri, the chance to garden is a dream come true.

Born without arms or legs, Ulibarri is among 15 people who are learning to raise their own food at the Las Vegas Demonstration and Training Farm behind the closed Las Vegas Middle School. Three days a week, the 36-year-old and her mother, Jeanette Roybal, tend to their 32-square-foot raised bed.

"We're vegetarians and I always wanted to produce our own food and herbs," said Ulibarri, who in 2020 moved back to Las Vegas with her mom after living in Phoenix for 22 years.

New Mexico state Sen. Pete Campos, a Democrat from Las Vegas, helped get roughly $50,000 for the farm's startup, said Michael Patrick, an extension economist with New Mexico State University. 

The project serves residents of San Miguel, Mora and Guadalupe counties, the Las Vegas Optic reported.

"This is a pilot project so hopefully we can secure continued funding to do something similar in other regions," Patrick said. "The long-term goal is to train people to produce food for home consumption and for sale at the farmers' markets and eventually direct sales to restaurants, schools and grocery stores. Right now, this group is just learning to farm."

Part of the grant funds the salary for Karlee Rogers, the farm coordinator. The 25-year-old from Las Vegas has a bachelor's degree in conservation management from New Mexico Highlands University.

The grant also covered one-time expenses including two 5,000-gallon water tanks and storage containers and pays for part-time farm advisor Leonard Ludi of Romeroville. A retired carpenter, Ludi's background is in agriculture; he helped set up the farm.

Rogers teaches participants about small-scale farming while providing fresh fruits and vegetables to families and friends.

"It was a way for me to share my practices and get my community more self-sustainable and bring conservation into this small town," she said. "Everything I can do to get us there is a positive step."

They recently put up a hoop house, which is similar to a greenhouse but taller with high posts. Heat is controlled naturally through door and window openings.

Participants in October will begin planting winter crops like lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, beets, coriander and broccoli, Rogers said.

Retired computer programmer Alfredo Maestas enjoys participating in the program.

"I've learned quite a bit about how to plan and set up drip lines," said the 72-year-old from Las Vegas.

Jurors in airman's murder trial hear from cellphone expert - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

Jurors hearing the case against U.S. Air Force airman Mark Gooch heard lengthy testimony Friday from a cellphone data expert who mapped the route that Gooch allegedly drove the day a Mennonite woman was kidnapped from northwestern New Mexico.

Sasha Krause, who worked at a publishing ministry in the Mennonite community, was found more than a month later with a gunshot wound to the head in a forest clearing outside Flagstaff, Arizona. Gooch, 22, faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder and other charges in her death.

No DNA evidence, eyewitnesses or fingerprints tie Gooch to the crime. 

The prosecutor is asking the jury to look at various puzzle pieces that, when assembled, show Gooch traveled from Luke Air Force Base, where he was stationed in metropolitan Phoenix, to the Mennonite community in Farmington, New Mexico, where Krause was gathering materials for Sunday school when she disappeared.

Testimony from Sev Dishman, a cellphone expert and retired Army sergeant major, took up much of the day Friday. He led jurors through an extensive presentation that explained types of cellphone data, concentration of cell sites and degree of accuracy for location data.

Dishman acknowledged on cross-examination from Gooch's attorney, Bruce Griffen, that none of the evidence directly places Gooch at the church compound or in the forest, nor does it explain what happened at either location. 

The data puts Gooch's cellphone within a half-mile of the church and 1.3 miles from where Krause's body was found based on the phone's communication with cell sites, Dishman said. Gooch's phone also was the only device that communicated with the same sites as Krause's phone before her signal dropped off west of Farmington, Dishman said.

The data created a path from the air base early on Jan. 18 past Flagstaff's snow-capped mountains and through the Navajo reservation, where receipts showed Gooch stopped for food and then for gas in Farmington. Two photos taken on Gooch's phone showed spots along Interstate 17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

Gooch's cellphone records indicated his phone was around the Mennonite church for a couple of hours before returning on the same route, but with a detour in the forest outside Flagstaff after midnight. Surveillance video at the base showed his car returned at about 7 a.m. the day after he left.

Dishman explained gaps in the cellphone data by the lack of cell sites on the vast Navajo Nation and near Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument where a camper discovered Krause's body. Location data would be more accurate, he said, if a cellphone user had GPS on.

Any location data produced by AT&T, which relies on assisted GPS, has to be corroborated, Dishman said. Both Krause and Gooch had AT&T service, he said.

Records showed the Google location history from Gooch's phone had been deleted. Gooch had asked his brother, Samuel, to remotely wipe his phone and SD cards, cancel automatic payments and drain an account, according to a recorded jail conversation between them and testimony from Samuel Gooch earlier this week.

Jurors are expected to hear the entire conversation between Mark Gooch and Coconino County Sheriff's Detective Lauren Nagele, who questioned him at the air base in April 2020, sometime next week. In the interview, Gooch acknowledged traveling to Farmington when Krause was reported missing.

He said he had time for a long drive, wanted to stop at a ski resort outside Flagstaff and then decided to check out a Mennonite church service near Farmington since he already was hours into the weekend trip and craved the fellowship. He denied kidnapping or killing Krause. 

Gooch said he thought he returned to the air base around 2 a.m. the next day, according to the interview. No one else had access to his phone that day, he said, according to sheriff's records.

There's no indication Gooch and Krause knew each other. Gooch grew up in a Mennonite community in Wisconsin but never officially joined the church. Krause, 27, taught school in Texas, where her parents still live, before moving to New Mexico.

The trial continues Tuesday.

 

Navajo Nation reports no COVID-19 deaths for 3rd day in row - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation has reported 35 more COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths for the third consecutive day.

The latest numbers released Saturday pushed the tribe's totals to 34,106 confirmed COVID-19 cases from the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago. The known death toll remains at 1,447.

Based on cases from Sept. 10-23, the Navajo Department of Health issued an advisory for 40 communities due to an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. 

The tribe's reservation is the country's largest at 27,000 square miles and it covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Navajo officials are urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks while in public and minimize their travel. 

Officials said all Navajo Nation executive branch employees had to be fully vaccinated against the virus by the end of September or submit to regular testing.

The new rules apply to full, part-time and temporary employees, including those working for tribal enterprises like utilities, shopping centers and casinos. 

Any worker who did not show proof of vaccination by the deadline must be tested every two weeks or face discipline.

Guided tour offers rare look at great house at Aztec Ruins - By Noel Lyn Smith Farmington Daily Times

Retired archaeologist Jeff Wharton used maps to explain the size of Aztec North, an unexcavated great house at Aztec Ruins National Monument, during a guided tour of a part of the park normally closed to the public.

"We're standing at right about here. Where my fingertip is. We're on the high point of this mound," said Wharton, who retired from the National Park Service after serving 16 years at Aztec Ruins.

Twenty-five people were given rare access on Sept. 25 to Aztec North, which is normally off limits to visitors because of its fragile archaeological resources, park officials explained in a news release.

The guided tour was held in conjunction with National Public Lands Day, the Farmington Daily Times reported.

Various changes have been made to the park's boundaries since the area was declared a national monument in 1923. It now encompasses about 318 acres and consists of Aztec West, Aztec North and Aztec East, another unexcavated great house.

Aztec West is the fully excavated structure that visitors see when touring the park.

This was the first guided tour offered at the park since the coronavirus pandemic caused park officials to revise services, a park ranger explained.

"This part of the monument is relatively new," Wharton said about Aztec North which sits along the terrace north of the Animas River.

He explained that Aztec North predates the main ruins group and likely was built no earlier than 1070, based on analysis of surface ceramics, then abandoned by the 1140s.

The great house is likely one story that consists of cobble and adobe walls, which does not look the same as Aztec West, and likely held between 100 to 110 rooms.

It is unknown how many inhabitants were at Aztec North, Wharton said in response to a question.

"Room counts don't necessarily equate to population counts," he said.

Visible to the group on the surface were cobble alignments that outline the great house or mark rooms, pottery shards and a rubble mound and kiva depression.

"You need to watch your steps on these cobble slopes. They're kind of tricky," Wharton said as the group walked south to the edge of the river terrace.

Down below in a short distance south is Aztec West and the community of Aztec.

The view could have been a reason why the people built Aztec North but, as time passed, they moved closer to the Animas River before leaving the area, Wharton said.

Mary Savage moved to Aztec from Carson City, Nevada, about a month ago but was unaware that Aztec Ruins is a national monument until she signed up for the tour.

"I have a vested interest in archaeology. I've been interested in it even since I was a student four decades ago," Savage said adding that as an undergraduate at Indiana University, she worked at prehistoric mound sites in the state.

During the tour, Savage asked Wharton questions about Aztec North, including methods used for data collecting and about the people who once lived there.

"I wanted to come today just to see the evolution of how this place was created. Because this is a pretty advanced civilization that created this masonry," she said.

When a participant asked if the park service will ever fully excavate the site, Wharton said no.

The park service has a preserve in place philosophy, he said, "so excavation is not going to happen."

He added that in summer 2016 a graduate student in archaeology named Michelle Turner did limited excavation at Aztec North.

"It was an interesting excavation because she was able to identify some cobble footers for the standing wall and that was pretty much about it," he said. "She only had two test trenches here and over there and a couple on the other side of the wall. But that's as close to excavation that this site is going to get."

Arnold Dinet Yazzie registered for the tour to further his understanding of the park.

"I've visited the west ruins probably six, eight times but I was curious about this one up here. That's the reason why I came," Yazzie said.

His interest in archaeology began when he took archaeology and anthropology classes at Fort Lewis College in the late 1960s.

"It was very informative and enlightening to me," he said about the tour.