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FRI: $10B transmission line will carry more energy than the Hoover Dam, + More

The SunZia transmission line will stretch about 550 miles from central New Mexico, funneling electricity from massive wind farms to metro areas in Arizona and California.
Courtesy Pattern Energy
The SunZia transmission line will stretch about 550 miles from central New Mexico, funneling electricity from massive wind farms to metro areas in Arizona and California.

Powered by wind, this $10B transmission line will carry more energy than the Hoover Dam - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

An energy infrastructure project bigger than the Hoover Dam is how Hunter Armistead describes the $10 billion venture his company will be overseeing during the next three years.

As the chief executive of one of the world's largest wind and solar development companies, Armistead said breaking ground on Pattern Energy's SunZia transmission line marks a major milestone as the United States looks to make good on promises to address climate change and bolster the nation's already overwhelmed power grids as demand increases and weather events become more extreme.

It is also a cautionary tale, he told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of Friday's ceremony on the open plains of north-central New Mexico.

The U.S. can't afford to take 12 years to "create this type of solution" given the growing need for more energy infrastructure, Armistead said.

He pointed to Europe and China, where billions of dollars are being invested in new high-voltage lines to connect power plants to cities where demand is high.

"They all recognize the need to build out bulk transmission, to create inter-regional transfer points in order to create greater reliability," he said. "It also creates diversity in resources and diversity in dealing with weather, which is now the new most important factor driving both our load and our generation."

The Biden administration has set a goal to eliminate carbon emissions from the power sector by 2035. The effort faces numerous challenges, including the lack of transmission.

The U.S. Department of Energy has cited independent estimates that indicate transmission systems need to expand by 60% by 2030 and may need to triple by 2050. The agency is working with two national laboratories on a transmission planning study, with findings and recommendations expected later this year.

The Biden administration is just the latest to promise speeding up the development and modernization of the nation's energy infrastructure through expedited federal permitting and regulatory reforms. Former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump also vowed to roll back bureaucracy.

More than a decade in the making, the SunZia project will stretch about 550 miles — funneling renewable energy from central New Mexico to more populated areas in Arizona and California. Developers say it will be capable of transporting more than 3,500 megawatts of new wind power to 3 million people in the West.

After an initial review over several years, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management authorized a right-of-way grant on federal lands. That was revisited when developers in 2021 submitted a new application modifying the route after the U.S. Defense Department raised concerns about the effects of the high-voltage lines on radar systems and military training operations.

Environmentalists also were worried about impacts on wildlife habitat and migratory bird flight patterns in the Rio Grande Valley.

Final approval came in May, with U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland saying the latest application was reviewed in record time as the administration has tried to fast-track more projects.

In Arizona, there are still concerns about potential ecological damage from SunZia where it will cross the San Pedro River Valley. Critics plan to appeal a recent court decision affirming regulatory approval in that state.

"I disagree with those who believe that poorly planned projects like SunZia should now be used as the pretext for granting the federal government even greater authority to sidestep legitimate state and local concerns over federal powerline siting decisions," said Peter Else, chair of the Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance.

Haaland said the Bureau of Land Management consistently sought collaboration to develop the best possible route for the line. She doubled down Friday on the administration's promise to permit at least 25 gigawatts of onshore renewable energy by 2025. She said New Mexico, her home state, stands to play a big role in production given its supply of sunshine and wind.

Other projects in the works include the Southern Spirit transmission line that would link Texas with other grids in the southeastern U.S., the proposed Greenlink West Transmission Project in Nevada, and a set of high-voltage lines that would span from central Utah to east-central Nevada.

Aside from addressing climate issues, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said such projects represent one of this generation's greatest economic opportunities. He and other officials have pointed to construction jobs and tax revenues for local governments and states.

The New Mexico Democrat earlier this year introduced legislation to improve the planning, permitting and financing of transmission infrastructure. The proposals include a 30% investment tax credit for large-scale projects as well as coordinated agency reviews and early stakeholder engagement. While Heinrich still is working to line up support in Congress, industry groups including the American Council on Renewable Energy have voiced support.

Armistead said developers historically have tried to avoid federal lands because of the bureaucracy involved. The irony is that the federal government actually wants developers to build more transmission lines, he said.

SunZia will cross varied terrain, from a riparian area along the Rio Grande to rugged canyons and cactus-dotted valleys.

While rerouting the line around sensitive areas in New Mexico took more time and money, Armistead said he believed it was the right thing to do.

"I believe that is a model for how it should be done in the future. And that's what I'm so proud of," he said. "I think this creates the credibility and the reality of what is possible, and we better keep building on from there."

Monument to Kit Carson in Santa Fe vandalized - Alice Fordham, KUNM news

On the night of Thursday Aug. 31, the Santa Fe Police Department responded to a 911 call that an obelisk honoring Kit Carson had been damaged. The obelisk is on federal property and police are working with federal law enforcement to investigate.

Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber condemned the act, saying in a statement that he was outraged and that there is no place for this kind of criminal conduct in the community.

In 2020, however, Mayor Webber said that he intended to call for the obelisk, located in front of the Santa Fe Courthouse, to come down.

His statement then came during protests that led to the removal of several monuments glorifying the Spanish conquest of the Indigenous people and the land that is now New Mexico.

Kit Carson was, among many other things, a federal Indian agent in New Mexico in the 1800s. During conflict between the US and tribes, he sent forces to burn Navajo crops, kill livestock and destroy homes. He played a key role in the Long Walk of the Navajo and Mescalero Apaches in the 1860s, to the desolate Bosque Redondo, where thousands died.

For years, his legacy has been debated. In 2014, there was an ultimately unsuccessful effort to rename a park named after him in Taos.

CORRECTION 9/1/23: This story has been corrected to reflect that the name of Kit Carson Park in Taos remains unchanged.

New Mexico reports man in Valencia County is first West Nile virus fatality of the year - Associated press

New Mexico has seen its first fatal case of West Nile virus this year, health officials said Friday.

The state Department of Health reports a Valencia County man's recent death is related to the virus. Statewide, 36 people have been diagnosed in 2023 with West Nile virus, which typically spreads to humans through a bite from an infected mosquito.

Experts say it varies in how severe it can be. In some cases, infections can go unnoticed while others generate flu-like symptoms. Those can include West Nile fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, nausea and fatigue.

There have been cases where the virus affects the brain and nervous system and resulted in death. More intense symptoms can span tremors, convulsions or paralysis.

State data shows for the last five years, between one and six residents has died from it annually.

Residents can take extra precautions such as using insect repellent and not leaving out water-holding containers, which can attract mosquitos to lay eggs. Homeowners should also drain bird baths, wading pools and even saucers under potted plants.

Albuquerque police arrest man in 3 shooting deaths during apparent drug deal - Associated Press

An Albuquerque man has been arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of three people after an apparent drug deal, authorities said.

Police announced late Thursday that 32-year-old Thomas Clark Jr. has been booked on three counts of first-degree murder, tampering with evidence and shooting at or from a motor vehicle.

The two men and one woman killed were found with gunshot wounds in an apartment parking lot about 5 a.m. Thursday.

Authorities have identified them as 31-year-old Jonathan McGaughy, 35-year-old Genea Oliver and 40-year-old Randy Lovett.

Officers detained Clark after he was found hiding on the roof of a nearby building. He was initially taken into custody for an outstanding felony warrant.

Clark later admitted to shooting all three. He told investigators he opened fire out of panic because the victims were all armed and threatened to kill him over some stolen items. He also alleged someone was shooting at him as he fled so he returned fire.

No phone number was listed for a person matching his name and age in public records.

According to the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender, Clark has a public defender for an unrelated case. It has yet to be determined if that attorney will also represent him in this case, spokesperson Maggie Shepard said.

Police Chief Harold Medina said officers found drugs and some guns at the shooting scene.

"This appears to be some sort of narcotics transaction that resulted in some type of shootout in the neighborhood," Medina told the Albuquerque Journal.

Smugglers are steering migrants into the remote Arizona desert, posing new Border Patrol challenges — Anita Snow, Associated Press

Border Patrol agents ordered the young Senegalese men to wait in the scant shade of desert scrub brush while they loaded a more vulnerable group of migrants — a family with three young children from India — into a white van for the short trip in triple-degree heat to a canopied field intake center.

The migrants were among hundreds who have been trudging this summer in the scorching sun and through open storm gates in the border wall to U.S. soil, following a remote corridor in the sprawling Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument that's among the most desolate and dangerous areas in the Arizona borderlands. Temperatures hit 118 degrees Fahrenheit (47.7 degrees Celsius) just as smugglers abruptly began steering migrants from Africa and Asia here to request asylum.

Suddenly, the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, which oversees the area, in July became the busiest sector along the U.S-Mexico border for the first time since 2008. It's seen migrants from faraway countries like Pakistan, China and Mauritania, where social media is drawing young people to the new route to the border that begins in Nicaragua. There are large numbers from Ecuador, Bangladesh and Egypt, as well as more traditional border crossers from Mexico and Central America.

"Right now we are encountering people from all over the world," said Border Patrol Deputy Chief Justin De La Torre, of the Tucson Sector. "It has been a real emergency here, a real trying situation."

The patrol is calling on other agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration, for help in getting migrants "out of the elements and into our processing centers as quickly as possible," De La Torre said.

During a recent visit, Associated Press journalists saw close to 100 migrants arrive in just four hours at the border wall near Lukeville, Arizona, inside Organ Pipe, as temperatures hit 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 degrees Celsius). The next morning, several hundred more migrants lined up along the wall to turn themselves in.

"Welcome to America, that's good person," a young Senegalese man said in his limited English, beaming as he crunched across the desert floor after Tom Wingo, a humanitarian aid volunteer, gave him some water and snacks. "I am very, very happy for you."

The storm gates in the towering steel wall have been open since mid-June because of rains during the monsoon season. Rushing water from heavy downpours can damage closed gates, the wall, a rocky border road, and flora and fauna. But migrants get in even when the gates are closed, sometimes by breaking locks or slipping through gaps in the wall.

Agents from the Border Patrol's small Ajo Station a half hour's drive north of the border encountered several large groups the first weekend of August, including one of 533 people from 17 countries in the area that includes the national monument, an expanse of rugged desert scattered with cactus, creosote and whip-like ocotillo. The Tucson Sector registered 39,215 arrests in July, up 60% from June. Officials attribute the sudden influx to false advertising by smugglers who tell migrants it's easier to cross here and get released into the United States.

Migrants are taken first to the intake center, where agents collect people's names, countries of origin and other information before they are moved to the Ajo Station some 30 miles (48 kilometers) up a two-lane state highway.

Arrests for illegally crossing anywhere along the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border soared 33% from June to July, according to U.S. government figures, reversing a plunge after new asylum restrictions were introduced in May. President Joe Biden's administration notes illegal crossings were still down 27% that month from July 2022 and credits the carrot-and-stick approach that expands legal pathways while punishing migrants who enter illegally.

De La Torre said most migrants in the area request asylum, something far from guaranteed with the recent restrictions.

The Ajo Station's area of responsibility is currently the busiest inside the Tucson Sector, De La Torre said. It includes the border areas of Organ Pipe and the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge, isolated areas with rough roads and scarce water and shade. They include the Devil's Highway region, where 14 border crossers in a group of 26 died in 2001 after smugglers abandoned them.

CBP rescues by air and land along the border are soaring this year, with 28,537 counted during the 10-month period ending July 31. That compares with 22,075 for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2022, the agency said. There were 2,776 migrant rescues in July.

The rescues continued in August, including one especially busy day when a Black Hawk helicopter hoisted a 15-year-old Guatemalan boy from a remote southern Arizona mountain to safety. A short time later, the chopper rescued a Guatemalan man who called 911 from the vast Tohono O'odham Nation just east of Organ Pipe.

Some activists recently protested outside the Ajo Station, saying migrants kept in an outdoor enclosure there didn't have enough shade. Patrol officials say that only adult men waiting to be transported to bigger facilities for processing are kept outside for a few hours, and under a large canopy with fans. Women, children and vulnerable people stay inside. The average wait time the facility is 15 hours.

The influx has also presented challenges for humanitarian groups.

Wingo, a retired schoolteacher working with Samaritanos Sin Fronteras, or Samaritans Without Borders, travels to the border several times a week to fill bright blue plastic barrels at six water stations. He and other volunteers distribute hats, bandanas, snacks and ice-cold bottled water to migrants they encounter.

"A lot of these people go out into the desert not knowing the trouble they are getting themselves into," said Wingo.

During a recent border visit, Wingo handed bottled water to people from India waiting for help by the wall after a woman they were traveling twisted her ankle. He gave water and granola bars to a Guatemalan couple with three young children who were traveling with a Peruvian man.

Wingo said he pays especially close attention to those who may be more susceptible to the torrid heat, such as pregnant and nursing women and the elderly. He recently encountered an 89-year-old diabetic woman from India about to go into shock. When he called Border Patrol agents on that especially busy day, he said, they asked him to bring the woman himself to their intake center for medical care. The woman is recovering in a Phoenix hospital.

Many others don't survive.

The remains of 43 suspected border crossers were found in southern Arizona in July, about half of them recently dead, according to the non-profit organization Human Borders, which works with the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office to track and map the numbers.

They included two found in Organ Pipe: Hilda Veliz Maas de Mijangos, 36, from Guatemala City, dead about a day; and Ignacio Munoz Loza, 22, of the Mexican state of Jalisco, dead for about a week. Both succumbed to heat exposure.

New Mexico authorities raid homes looking for evidence of alleged biker gang crimes — Associated Press

Federal and state authorities in New Mexico carried out raids in towns around the state Thursday, searching for evidence to link the Bandidos Motorcycle Club to a racketeering conspiracy and other crimes.

FBI and state police units executed search warrants targeting 25 alleged biker gang members. Federal court records state that the investigation comes as the Bandidos allegedly intensify their search for rivals to kill or seriously injure.

Informants have told authorities that Bandidos leadership is concerned about looking weak for not avenging the shooting deaths of two members in May during a motorcycle rally in Red River.

No one has been prosecuted to date in connection with the shootout between members of the Bandidos and a much smaller motorcycle club, the Water Dogs, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

The violence at the rally was linked in part to a photo taken at a wedding that showed the leader of the New Mexico-based Water Dogs standing with at least one member of the Mongol Motorcycle Club. The Mongols have been trying to increase the club's presence in New Mexico. Historically, the Bandidos have considered the state part of their territory.

In an affidavit, FBI Special Agent Bryan Acee stated that the Bandidos who were targeted in the searches "have been the most aggressive proponents of violent conflict." He suggested that the search warrants would mitigate the current threat and result in the seizure of valuable evidence.

Court documents also state that over the past four years, law enforcement officials in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma have observed a sharp increase in violence between the Bandidos and the Mongols Motorcycle Club.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the district of New Mexico confirmed Thursday afternoon that searches took place in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Los Lunas, Belen, Tomé, Grants, San Rafael, Gallup, Farmington, Hobbs, Alamogordo, Ruidoso, Capitan and Arabela.

Officers seized 151 firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition, numerous ballistics vests, as well as fentanyl, meth and cocaine. A stolen police radio also was recovered.

At least two people were arrested on state charges, and authorities said charges were pending against a third.

3 people fatally shot during apparent drug deal in southeast Albuquerque, police say — Associated Press

Three people were killed in a shooting in southeast Albuquerque that stemmed from an apparent drug deal early Thursday, authorities said.

City police did not immediately release the names of a woman and two men who were found with gunshot wounds around 5 a.m.

Police spokesperson Chase Jewell said two of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene while the other person died at a hospital.

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said officers found drugs and some guns at the shooting scene.

"This appears to be some sort of narcotics transaction that resulted in some type of shootout in the neighborhood," Medina told the Albuquerque Journal.

Officers detained a man who had a felony warrant and was in the area of the shooting but Medina said it was unclear if that man was involved.

Police said the department's homicide unit was taking over the investigation.