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KUNM News Update

MON: Army OKs $1.5M settlement for pollution at former depot in NM, + More

Fort Wingate
Northland Pioneer College
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Entrance to Fort Wingate

Army OKs $1.5M settlement for pollution at former depot - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

The U.S. Army has reached an agreement with Zuni Pueblo, the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico to pay $1.5 million toward restoring environmental damage done at a former munitions depot.

The proposed settlement filed in federal court involves Fort Wingate, a former Army installation near Gallup that was used as a munitions storage and disposal site before being closed in 1993.

Under the proposed settlement announced by state officials last week, about $1 million would go for restoration projects, $117,000 for cultural services damage and $314,000 to cover past and future costs of the state Natural Resources Trustee's Office.

The restoration work will be in addition to ongoing cleanup at the site, which the state Environment Department has overseen since 2005.

"This has been in the works for a long time, and we're excited about getting the settlement completed and the dollars on the ground for those communities that have been affected," Natural Resources Trustee Maggie Hart Stebbins told the Santa Fe New Mexican.

The agreement is subject to court approval following a 30-day comment period.

Hart Stebbins said she expects the court to sign off on it fairly quickly because there are no points of contention. Restoration work then will go out to bid, she said.

Zuni Pueblo Gov. Val Panteah lauded the settlement, saying the tribe looks forward to working with the state's natural resources trustee and the Navajo Nation to "restore the health and productivity of these ancestral lands."

Both tribes have long-standing historical ties to the lands in and around the former munitions depot, which sits on about 24 square miles that is almost entirely surrounded by federally-owned or administered lands, including both national forest and tribal lands.

The site includes earth-covered igloos and earthen revetments that were used to store munitions as well large areas of buffer zones. It also has an industrial area and another area that held offices, housing and warehouses.

Pollution problems at the site include soil and water contaminated by hazardous waste and unexploded ordnance. The cleanup work involves finding, disarming and removing explosives.

Special session agenda includes direct financial relief for New MexicansKUNM News, Santa Fe New Mexican

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leaders announced the agenda for a special session expected to begin Tuesday morning.

In a statement, the governor’s office says the session will focus on economic relief efforts amid rising gas prices and inflation.

The statement cites a proposal for direct relief of two payments across the spring and fall totaling $500 for individuals, and $1000 for those who file taxes jointly.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the session will also include a revamped spending plan for $50 million that was contained in a bill vetoed last month by Lujan Grisham.

The legislation would fund hundreds of initiatives in lawmakers’ districts. House Speaker Brian Egolf said lawmakers have worked with the governor on the bill and the goals of the legislation remain the same. He said changes ensure more transparency and resolve issues over recurring and non-recurring funding.

Lawmakers will also consider cutting ticket prices for the New Mexico RailRunner over the next few months to help commuters with high gas prices.

Ex-Navajo VP hopeful announces he'll seek presidential post - Associated Press

A former Navajo Nation vice presidential candidate announced Monday that he is seeking the tribal president's post.

The announcement from Buu Van Nygren, 35, comes a month before the deadline for candidates to file. He's the first to publicly announce his candidacy.

The primary election is Aug. 2. The top two vote-getters move on to the November general election.

More than a dozen people typically run for president of the Navajo Nation, which has the largest land mass of any Native American tribe in the U.S. and is second in population with about 400,000 tribal members.

Current Navajo President Jonathan Nez has not said whether he'll seek reelection but is expected to.

Nygren and his wife, Arizona state Rep. Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, rode on horseback into Window Rock where he told a small crowd about his plans to improve the Navajo Nation.

Nygren's first language is Navajo, and he's from the Utah portion of the reservation. His father was Vietnamese.

Nygren recently resigned as the chief commercial officer at the Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority to run for tribal president.

Nygren was former Navajo President Joe Shirley's running mate in the 2018 election. The two lost to Nez and current Vice President Myron Lizer, who now is seeking the Republican nomination for Arizona's 2nd Congressional District.

Tribes seek more inclusion, action from US officials By Susan Montoya Bryan And Felicia Fonseca  Associated Press

It was a quick trip for U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland with stops to hike through desert scrub near the U.S.-Mexico border and to marvel at the jagged Organ Mountains before soaking in what life was like in one of the oldest settlements along a historic trade route.

For Haaland, the time spent in West Texas and New Mexico over recent days helped to highlight the work being done to conserve parts of the borderlands.

But it also marked an opportunity for Haaland — as head of the agency that has broad oversight of tribal affairs — to deliver on promises to meet with Native American tribes that have grown increasingly frustrated about the federal government's failure to include them when making decisions about land management, energy development or the protection of sacred sites.

Haaland's selection as the first Native American to serve in the position opened a door for tribes who pointed to a history fraught with broken promises.

"I want the era where tribes have been on the back burner to be over, and I want to make sure that they have real opportunities to have a seat at the table," Haaland said on March 17, 2021, her first day on the job.

Haaland has since met with nearly 130 of the nation's 574 federally recognized tribes as she seeks to overhaul a federal system that has limited Native American relations to a check-the-box exercise.

And while some tribes say her aspirations are admirable, others remain skeptical they will see real change and say they have yet to experience meaningful dialogue with the federal government or key decision makers.

Haaland's department has developed a plan for improving formal consultations with tribes and established an advisory committee that will aid with communication once it's up and running. In an effort to make consultation a hallmark of her tenure, Haaland has said she wants integration of tribal input to become second nature for her employees.

There has been some success as tribes felt heard when the Biden administration restored the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and when the U.S. Department of Agriculture pulled back an environmental impact statement that paved the way for an Arizona copper mining operation to consult further with tribes.

But frustrations persist among tribal leaders who say their conversations with the federal government have not resulted in action on the ground.

For the Ute Indian Tribe in Utah, those frustrations lie in management of the Colorado River basin as western states grapple with less water amid a megadrought and climate change. Tribes were not included in a century-old compact that divvied up the water, and the Ute tribe says it's seeing the same exclusion now.

The tribe's Business Committee has spent hours in meetings and preparing formal comments and says it's tired of having to reiterate its position that the federal government must protect the tribe's water rights or support development of water infrastructure to serve the reservation.

Committee Chairman Shaun Chapoose said he's seen proposals, but "actual where-the-rubber-meets-the-road stuff hasn't occurred yet, and the drought gets worse."

There are similar sentiments among Navajo Nation lawmakers who are concerned about Haaland's plans to make oil and gas development off-limits on federal land surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico.

Advocacy groups sent a letter to Haaland on Thursday, saying more needs to be done to include tribes as her department charts a path forward for protecting culturally significant areas in northwestern New Mexico.

The Interior Department said more meetings with the Navajo Nation and other tribes are planned in April and that Navajo-language translators will be present.

In Nevada, several tribes and the National Congress of American Indians have asked the Interior Department and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to uphold a duty to engage in "robust and adequate" tribal consultation regarding plans for a massive lithium mine at Thacker Pass. So far, the tribes say that hasn't happened.

Under the U.S. Constitution, treaties and statutes, the federal government must consult meaningfully and in good faith with Native American and Alaska Native tribes when making decisions or taking action that is expected to impact them.

However, a 2019 report from a government watchdog found some federal agencies lacked respect for tribal sovereignty, didn't have enough resources for consultation or couldn't always reach tribes.

Another top complaint from tribes is that they are brought in when a course of action already has been set, instead of including them in the earliest phases of planning.

"The federal government says all the right words, but their mentality is one in which they are not really doing this in a way that reflects the proper government-to-government relationship that I think tribes are orienting to when they enter into these conversations," said Justin Richland, a professor at the University of California-Irvine School of Social Sciences who specializes in Native American law and politics.

Consultation doesn't always lead to action or create any substantive rights on the part of the tribes, making it somewhat of a "toothless tiger," said Dylan Hedden-Nicely, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who directs the Native American Law Program at the University of Idaho.

He said it's reasonable, although incorrect, to think things would move quickly with Haaland — a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico — because she had a base of knowledge about Indian Country when she took the office. But the groundwork is still being laid to effectuate real change, Hedden-Nicely said.

"It's not immediate, but it's going to be worth the wait, I'm hoping," he said.

During Haaland's confirmation hearings, Interior staff consulted with tribes on how to improve the process.

"Secretary Haaland and the entire department take our commitment to strengthening tribal sovereignty and self-governance seriously, and we have affirmed that robust consultations are the cornerstones of federal Indian policy," department spokesman Tyler Cherry said in a statement to The Associated Press.

President Joe Biden issued a memo during his first month in office, reaffirming previous executive orders on tribal consultation and directing federal agencies to spell out how they'll comply. That set in motion Haaland's efforts to give tribal leaders a direct line of communication to the Interior Department.

A congressional committee is scheduled next week to consider a bill by Democratic U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona that would codify a framework for tribal consultation that supporters say would insulate the process from changes in administration.

The legislation faces an uphill battle, and some tribes want to ensure that it includes a pathway not only for the federal government to initiate consultation, but for tribal leaders to start conversations, too. Similar legislation introduced in the past has failed.

For Amber Torres, chair of the Walker River Paiute Tribe in Nevada, consultation should be more than a generic letter or email.

"I want true, meaningful, face-to-face dialogue with a timeline, intent and follow-up and next steps agreed by both parties," she said. "Making the tribal consultation process a law is long overdue, and it would be a step in the right direction to ensure tribal nation sovereignty is protected."

Fire engulfs home of retired Santa Fe assistant fire chief – Associated Press 

A retired Santa Fe assistant fire chief continues to recover from severe burns after his own home was decimated last week in a blaze.

Ted Bolleter remains in the University of New Mexico Burn Center, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

His daughter, Savannah Bolleter-Baca, told the newspaper Saturday he was in stable condition but "in a lot of pain." He suffered second- and third-degree burns to his hand, feet and face.

Bolleter, 55, was also a former fire marshal with the Santa Fe Fire Department.

The fire broke out just before 6 p.m. Friday. Fire officials determined wind had blown an ember from a fire pit, setting wooden patio furniture on fire.

Bolleter-Baca says the fire then caused two propane tanks to explode.

There were eight people in the home at the time, including five children. Bolleter's daughter said everyone was able to get out safely except Bolleter, who ran through the blaze and around the back of the house.

Several crews responded. One firefighter suffered burns to his shoulders, chest area and neck. He was later treated at a hospital and released.

The blaze was finally brought under control by 1 a.m. Saturday.

Bolleter-Baca says her parents' home will have to be rebuilt.

Santa Fe Fire Chief Brian Moya says the fire definitely hits close to home.

Police: 3 men wounded after shooting in downtown Albuquerque - Associated Press

A shooting in the downtown Albuquerque area early Sunday left three men wounded, police said.

Officers responded to a shots fired call around 2 a.m.

Police said when they arrived on the scene, they found three men with gunshot wounds.

All were transported to hospitals. Their conditions weren't immediately known.

Police said the names and ages of the men haven't been released.

A search for possible suspects in the shooting was ongoing, according to police.

Man accused of causing Albuquerque bus crash remains jailed - KOB-TV, Associated Press

A case against a man accused of causing a school bus crash two months ago in Albuquerque has been moved to district court.

Prosecutors say 49-year-old Mario Perez was injured in the Feb. 23 crash and made his first court appearance Saturday.

Albuquerque TV station KOB reported that Perez was in a wheelchair and had braces on both his legs.

Police say Mario Perez allegedly was racing his car at more than 100 mph when it crashed into a school bus carrying more than 20 students.

Nine of the students were taken to a hospital for treatment of injuries and police say two suffered broken bones including a 13-year-old girl who had a pelvic fracture.

Police say Perez is facing two counts of causing great bodily harm with a motor vehicle.

A judge will decide if Perez will remain in custody until his trial. That court hearing will take place in the next 10 days.

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

NY bail law fight emblematic of Democrats' debate on crime - By Michelle L. Price Associated Press

It's hard to find anyone on board with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's plan to toughen the state's bail laws, two years after they were retooled to keep people from being jailed because they are poor.

Reform advocates say the system should be left alone. Police leaders and even some of the governor's fellow Democrats say the proposal doesn't go far enough to roll back what they consider soft treatment of criminals.

The debate over bail in New York is emblematic of a fight taking place elsewhere in the U.S.

A spike in violence during the COVID-19 pandemic has Democrats eager to show they're tough on crime ahead of this year's midterm elections, from the White House on down, but the party is struggling to find a common message with progressives pushing the need for police reform and moderates focusing instead on rising crime rates.

Hochul's attempt to stake out a middle ground has provoked criticism from all points of the political spectrum.

"I think that's a sign that you're in the right place," she said of her plan in March. The proposal would continue to limit instances in which people would be required to post bail, but make more crimes eligible for detention and give judges more discretion to consider a defendant's criminal history.

New York changed its bail laws in response to public outcry over prisoners accused of minor crimes being held in jail for extended periods while awaiting trial because they couldn't afford to pay bail — a system where a person puts up cash as a guarantee that they will return to court.

The state's answer was to eliminate cash bail for many nonviolent offenses — a reform that frustrated some law enforcement officials who warned that people released back to the streets would commit new crimes.

But with violent crime up across America, crime rates have been an easy target and longstanding bogeyman for Republicans, who have wasted no opportunity to make it a campaign issue in races around the U.S., including governor's races in Illinois, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Democrats, bracing for tough midterm elections, are striving to prove they're responding, in some cases emphasizing efforts to provide more money to police departments while making scant mention of reforms they embraced a few years ago.

In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz is up for reelection and has been touring the state promoting his $300 million public safety plan. He has not focused on the reform measures he signed after police killed George Floyd in the state almost two years ago.

Wisconsin's Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is also running for reelection this year, has been hammered by Republicans over crime and like Hochul, is facing bipartisan pressure to toughen bail laws.

A record-setting spate of homicides in Albuquerque has ratcheted up pressure on New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, including from some fellow Democrats. The first-term governor has joined efforts to ban pretrial release for certain violent crimes, though some legislators in her own party have balked at rolling back reforms that largely ended money bail.

President Joe Biden in his budget this week highlighted funding for police — for body cameras, crime prevention strategies, drug treatment, mental health and criminal justice reform.

This winter, he made a trip to New York City to stand with the city's new mayor, Eric Adams, a former police captain.

"The answer is not to defund the police," Biden said. "It is to give you the tools, the training, the funding to be partners, to be protectors and know the community."

In comparison, while campaigning for president, Biden instead spoke more about criminal justice reforms and the need to reverse some of the toughest measures of the 1994 crime bill he helped write.

In New York, the fierce debate over bail has been one factor that caused legislators to miss an April 1 deadline to pass a new state budget.

Hochul initially said she didn't want to touch the state's bail laws until she saw data indicating the reforms were responsible for a crime spike. Democrats who control the state Legislature likewise said they were uninterested in unwinding reforms.

A recent report from New York City's fiscal watchdog found that the percentage of people who committed new crimes after being released from jail hasn't budged since the bail reform measure passed.

But now, some Democrats have joined Republicans in calling for a repeal. They include U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi of Long Island, who is challenging Hochul in the governor's race; Adams, who has made cracking down on crime in New York City a top priority; and former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has started criticizing the bail reforms he signed as he contemplates running for office again.

At some point in recent weeks, Hochul changed her mind and drafted a plan to tweak the law. She avoided talking about it publicly, though, for days after it leaked to the media.

Nearly a week later, Hochul defended the plan in an op-ed, saying that while the state's bail laws were not the main cause of a rise in shootings during the pandemic, they needed to be changed.

Democrat Jumaane Williams, New York City's public advocate who is also challenging Hochul in the governor's race, said the governor "should show courage and leadership on this issue, or at the very least pick a side between fearmongering and facts."

It's unclear if Democrats controlling the statehouse will meet the governor somewhere in the middle as they continue negotiating, but the pressure has ratcheted up in recent days.

New York City's police commissioner visited Albany to press for reforms. Defenders of the current law were arrested for demonstrating outside the governor's office and one lawmaker, Democratic Assembly Member Latrice Walker of Brooklyn, was on day nine Thursday of a hunger strike to protest any rollbacks as negotiations continued.