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MON: APD is in full compliance with reforms after nine years of court oversight, + More

The Albuquerque Police Department headquarters is seen, Feb. 2, 2024, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Susan Montoya Bryan
FILE - The Albuquerque Police Department headquarters is seen, Feb. 2, 2024, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Albuquerque Police Department is now in full compliance with reforms ordered by the U.S. Department of Justice and that paves the way for the end of nine years of court oversight, authorities said Monday, May 13.

After nine years of court oversight, Albuquerque Police now in full compliance with reforms - Associated Press

The Albuquerque Police Department is now in full compliance with reforms ordered by the U.S. Department of Justice and that paves the way for the end of nine years of court oversight, authorities said Monday.

The assessment came from a court-appointed, independent monitor who has been overseeing compliance with the Justice Department decree since 2015.

The DOJ released findings of its Albuquerque police investigation in 2014, the same year the department came under intense scrutiny for use of force and the number of officer-involved shootings.

But over the past nine years, authorities said Albuquerque's police force made major strides toward achieving compliance with all officers equipped with body-worn cameras, increased crisis intervention training and a new policing reform office.

The city and the police department will now enter a two-year period during which they must demonstrate their ability to sustain the reforms mandated by the agreement.

Police officials said the department can start monitoring itself as long as it sustains compliance with the requirements.

"The road to get here has not been easy, but we never gave up," Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement. "We believed that real reform was possible."

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico emphasized the crucial need for continued vigilance by Albuquerque police to safeguard the protection of community members' rights and safety.

Keller and police Chief Harold Medina plan to hold a news conference Friday to discuss the DOJ settlement agreement and the city's next steps for reform.

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to show an independent monitor was court-appointed and not hired by the city.

State Supreme Court rules in favor of PNM in 'revenue decoupling' case - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of the state's largest electric utility in its interpretation of a 2020 amendment to the state's Efficient Use of Energy Act.

As the Santa Fe New Mexican reports, the court ruled unanimously the law allows for "full revenue decoupling." That's complete separation of a utility’s revenues from its sales of electricity or natural gas, as a way to encourage utilities to promote energy efficiency.

Justice Michael E. Vigil wrote in a 36-page opinion a full revenue decoupling mechanism was the "clearly expressed legislative intention" of the 2020 amendment to state law.

The ruling represents the first decisive victory for PNM in the state Supreme Court in years.

The court ruled against PNM last year in an appeal concerning the closure of the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant. An appeal of the Public Regulation Commission's rejection of a merger with Connecticut-based energy company Avangrid was pending when Avangrid backed out of the deal early this year.

Jicarilla Apache Nation President Edward Velarde dies - Alice Fordham, KUNM News

The president of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, Edward Velarde, has died.

In a statement, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham called him a committed and effective leader who sought to strengthen state and tribal relations.

She said that he worked to improve rural economic development in the nation in northwestern New Mexico which is home to about 2,500 people.

In a statement posted to social media, the tribe said that Velarde's "kindness, wisdom and dedication touched the lives of all who knew him".

The statement said that Velarde was a veteran of the Vietnam war, who served with courage and commitment.

He had been president of the tribe since 2019, before which he was vice president.

Wildfire potential ‘above normal’ through much of NM’s central mountains this summer - By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

Forecasters with the National Interagency Fire Center are expecting wildfire risk to be above normal for much of the state this summer, citing ongoing drought and a potential transition this summer from El Niño to La Niña conditions.

Significant wildfires are burning in Mexico and Canada. Several small fires have started and burned so far this year in New Mexico, though fire activity is far less active than this time two years ago.

Two years ago today, the Black Fire started in the Gila Wilderness before going on to become the second-biggest wildfire in New Mexico history. The biggest-ever state fire, the Hermits-Peak Calf Canyon Fire, also started two years ago in April.

A forecast released earlier this month shows fire risk to steadily increase throughout July, with New Mexico the potential hotspot throughout the Southwest for wildfires.

The elevated fire risk will cover much of New Mexico’s central mountain chain by June and then increase across most of the state by July, according to risk maps produced by the National Interagency Fire Center.

Forecasters there said drought conditions in New Mexico are expected to persist at least through the end of July, which heightens the risk. Another factor is that April precipitation varied between 0% and 70% of normal across the state, according to the forecast.

One wildcard that could make conditions in New Mexico even more ripe for wildfire is a potential transition from El Niño to La Niña later this summer, which would mean a higher likelihood of warmer, drier weather patterns across the Southwest.

Forecasters with the Climate Prediction Center say there’s a 60% chance of La Niña being in full-swing between June and August this summer.

Researchers found a history of cooler temperatures and more precipitation in seasons where the transition between El Niño and La Niña occurred, especially in the northwestern part of the Southwest.

That finding could mean some areas of the Southwest – excluding the central mountains of New Mexico and southern deserts of Arizona – are at normal fire risk throughout the summer, according to the forecast.

Read the forecast here.

New Mexico governor seeks hydrogen investment with trip to Netherlands - Associated Press

The governor of New Mexico has announced plans to court new investments in hydrogen fuel development at a business summit in the Netherlands over the coming week.

In a news release Friday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she'll lead a delegation to an industry summit exhibition in the port city of Rotterdam seeking the "opportunity to sell New Mexico as a dynamic and thriving place for hydrogen industry investment." She led a similar mission last year to Australia to talk with hydrogen entrepreneurs.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has been a vocal proponent of investments in hydrogen as a transition fuel that can replace fossil fuels with cleaner-burning hydrogen as an energy source for vehicles, manufacturing and generating electricity.

Some environmentalists call hydrogen a false solution because it frequently relies on natural gas as a fuel source. Several New Mexico-based groups have resisted proposed state incentives for hydrogen development, citing concerns that it would prolong natural gas development and increase demand for scarce water supplies.

Hydrogen also can be produced through electrolysis — splitting water molecules using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, as well as nuclear power.

New Mexico is a major energy producing state with extensive natural gas reserves and broad recent investments in electrical transmission lines aimed expanding renewable energy production from sources including wind and solar.

The Biden administration last year passed over a four-state bid by New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for a share of $7 billion aimed at kickstarting development and production of hydrogen fuel. It chose instead projects based in California, Washington, Minnesota, Texas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Illinois.

The hydrogen summit in Rotterdam has an array of public and private sponsors. Lujan Grisham is traveling with office staff, New Mexico cabinet secretaries for the environment and transportation, and husband Manny Cordova. The New Mexico delegation also includes Rob Black, president of a statewide chamber of commerce.

New Mexico to stand in for California as McConaughey stars in film about a 2018 deadly wildfire - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico is standing in for California in a new film as Jamie Lee Curtis' production company and others tell the story of a bus driver and a school teacher who rescued students during the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California's history.

The 2018 blaze killed 85 people and nearly erased the community of Paradise in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Some residents have returned to help make something new, while others are still haunted by their memories.

Curtis was among those marking the five-year anniversary in November when she posted on social media about the people of Paradise having suffered an unimaginable inferno and talked about the bravery of residents and the heroes who suited up and responded.

She said at the time she was proud to be producing a film based on the stories in Lizzie Johnson's novel: "Paradise: One Town's Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire."

"The Lost Bus" was a project that started in 2022. Now, filming is underway in and around Santa Fe and Española and in Ruidoso, a mountainous area of southern New Mexico that also has seen its share of wildfires — including a deadly fire in 2022 that was sparked by a downed power line.

From California to New Mexico and other parts of the West, wildfires have become more volatile amid drier and hotter conditions that have been exacerbated by the effects of climate change. So far this year, more than 2,812 square miles have burned — more than double the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The film will star Matthew McConaughey and America Ferrera under the direction of Paul Greengrass. Emmy Award winner Brad Ingelsby, Greg Goodman and Jason Blum's production company Blumhouse will join Curtis' Comet Pictures in producing the film.

"The Lost Bus" will focus on bus driver Kevin McKay and teacher Mary Ludwig, who helped navigate a bus full of children through the deadly wildfire.

In an interview in 2018, Marc Kessler, a science teacher at a Paradise Unified School District middle school, told The Associated Press he arrived at work early that Thursday morning and saw smoke plumes that soon grew uncomfortably near.

Teachers, aides and bus drivers loaded more than 100 students into cars and school buses as the fast-moving wildfire approached, Kessler said. They drove hours through smoke and flames to safely reunite the children with their families.

In McKay's case, he responded to an emergency call and picked up 22 students from Ponderosa Elementary School as the flames approached. Ludwig and fellow teacher Abbie Davis helped to comfort the children.

Curtis in a 2022 interview with Deadline said as a lifelong California resident, she watched with profound sadness as the ferocious fire consumed Paradise. She had said she wanted to be able to turn the stories in Johnson's novel into a film that would explore the human elements, tragedies and bravery that stemmed from the wildfire.

The production will employ 480 New Mexico crew members and 2,100 extras, according to the New Mexico Film Office.

New Mexico State University campus sit-in ends in arrests - Justin Garcia and Algernon D'ammassa,The Las Cruces Bulletin viaSource New Mexico

Thirteen people were arrested at New Mexico State University’s Las Cruces campus Thursday evening after a group of protesters, angry over the death toll and humanitarian crisis in Gaza, held a sit-in for two hours.

Approximately 12 to 16 people sat close together in the middle of the floor, chanting and singing in the main hallway of the Hadley administration building, which houses the president’s office and other executive and administrative offices. Outside, a group of supporters chanted, some drumming on the entrance doors in solidarity as campus police inside prevented access to the building.

Campus protesters had recently organized a week-long encampment on the main campus and issued a list of demands of the university’s governing board of regents, including a cease-fire resolution, disclosure of the university’s investments and divestment from institutions profiting from Israel’s military response in Gaza or affiliated with the Israeli government.

The regents did not take up a cease-fire resolution and NMSU’s interim president, Mónica Torres, informed the camp via letter on May 5 that the university had not located any investments responsive to their demands. She then requested they break camp, citing university policies and safety concerns. The camp, which consisted of more than a dozen tents on a patch of grass east of the Corbett Center student union building, cleared the area on Monday morning, May 6.

On the “Las Cruces for Palestine” Instagram account, the group responded to Torres’ letter, writing that the administration’s response was a “blatant circumvention of the needs of Palestinians and the demands of New Mexico State University students,” and stated that they would regroup: “The fight is not over, the front has changed.”


An organizer of the group told the Las Cruces Bulletin, outside Thursday’s sit-in, that the action followed a meeting with administration earlier in the day that did not present progress on the group’s demands.

The sit-in proceeded at about 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, as finals week neared its end, with Friday the last day of classes. Outside Hadley, students played frisbee on the lawn by the U-shaped driveway leading into campus known as “the Horseshoe.” On a nearby bench, a student posed for a photograph wearing a commencement sash.

By 5:30 p.m., after business hours, Hadley Hall was occupied.

Singing songs and chanting chants, the group was slowly being surrounded by NMSU police, who were, in turn, surrounded by more protesters.

Reporters were not allowed inside the building. Officers, including NMSU PD deputy chief Justin Dunivan, told the Bulletin early during the incident that he might have allowed the media inside.

“We’re working our due diligence to try and de-escalate this situation as much as possible,” Dunivan said. “Obviously, we’re working with the group.”

Outside on the west side of the building, another group of protesters gathered. The group inside, who had broadcast much of what happened on an Instagram live stream, had called for supporters to show up and help the occupation. But those supporters were not allowed inside. The doors were locked and the police stood guard.

So, the group outside banged on the windows and repeatedly chanted “Viva! Viva! Palestina!” The banging was hard enough to shake the windows but not hard enough to cause damage. One protester began chalking slogans on the ground calling for a cease-fire and stating, “NMSU supports genocide.”

A handful of administrators were also inside the building for at least some of the protest. Some watched what was happening elsewhere in the building via the live stream. More protesters arrived, and both the east and west ends of Hadley were crowded with people peering inside, watching their comrades as police exchanged zip-tie handcuffs and discussed their next move.

At 6 p.m., everything changed.

“That building closes for business at 5 p.m.,” NMSU spokesperson Justin Bannister said in a written statement. “Over the course of an hour, the group was repeatedly asked to leave. Shortly before 6 p.m., the group was told that if they did not leave the premises, they would face arrest.”

Word had spread among the crowd outside that police inside, outnumbered by the peaceful protesters inside 2-to-1, was going to start a mass arrest. Then they did, as the protesters outside watched helplessly but not silently: Harder and louder, the protesters banged on the doors and windows, shouting at the police inside: “You don’t keep anyone safe! … You don’t protect the students; you protect the money!” and cursing the officers.

As the protesters inside were cuffed and removed from view, a half dozen Las Cruces Police Department officers arrived along with New Mexico State Police. Two protesters locked arms, pressed against the door and argued with officers who were seeking entry, even as the shouts of others drowned them out.

Finally, more officers filed in and pulled the protesters apart, pressing against one protester’s neck before whipping him around. It’s unclear if the protester was injured here, but the same individual was later taken to the hospital after collapsing. His condition is unknown.

Over the next half hour, police began removing the arrested protesters. Some students walked while others were dragged or carried from the building. Bannister confirmed a total of 13 individuals arrested.

Close to midnight Friday, Doña Ana County Detention Center records had posted booking information for 11 people arrested at NMSU, ranging in age from 19 to 26, booked on misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass and resisting or obstructing an officer. One was additionally charged with a felony county of battery on a peace officer. Bannister said some could also face felony charges of criminal damage to property.

“The building was cleared and will be open for business Friday,” he said.

This is a developing story that will be updated as more information becomes available.

City Council committee listens to budget concerns from residents - Carolyn Carlson,City Desk ABQ

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ 

Housing, community safety services, Explora and funding for disc golf topped the list of public comments at a meeting of city leaders to hear city budget concerns.

What’s COW?

The Albuquerque City Council’s Committee of the Whole (COW) met Thursday to hear resident input on the mayor’s proposed $1.4 billion budget for fiscal year 2025.

Three speakers asked the committee to restore $250,000 that was omitted from the Explora Science and Children’s Museum budget proposal.

“As a member of the Explora board, I have seen firsthand how Explora makes Albuquerque a better place. Please restore the $250,000 to maintain current funding,” said John Bell, summing up the comments of the other Explora advocates.

Several people from the Albuquerque Affordable Housing Coalition spoke about continued funding for affordable housing and vouchers.

“Housing is a cornerstone of dignity and opportunity,” said Anita Cordova, past president of the affordable housing coalition.

Other speakers echoed her request for no cuts to affordable housing or the city’s voucher program.

“Obviously, Albuquerque is in the midst of a housing crisis with hard-working families living with housing insecurity,” said Terry Storch.

A couple of people spoke about the importance of funding for Albuquerque Community Safety.This division allows 911 dispatchers to send trained professionals with backgrounds in behavioral and mental health and social services to non-violent and non-medical calls. This relieves police officers of taking some of these types of calls.

“The ACS model has been proven effective,” DeVante Watson said. “The long-term savings will foster a healthier community.”

Another speaker encouraged the committee to fully fund re-entry programs for those being released from prison.

“Re-entry is a huge issue in New Mexico,” Natasha Garcia said. “We need to show them another way of living.”

One speaker thanked the councilors for their support of the popular sport of disc golf in the community.

“I would like to thank the City Council for working with the group and for the recent grant that was approved for a 20-hole disc golf course at Puerto del Sol,” said Marcus Eye, a founding member of Albuquerque Disc Golf. He encouraged the council to follow through with the grant project and for improvements at Ladera Dam and the other disc golf courses.

At COW meetings, all nine council members act as a committee considering the budget and the capital improvement program. The committee also meets with the mayor and department heads to review and make recommendations about the priority, ranking and implementation of policy priorities in the budget. The committee will work out an amended budget proposal at a May 16 meeting and then send it on to the full council for approval on May 20.

US dedicates $60 million to saving water along the Rio Grande as flows shrink and demands grow - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The U.S. government is dedicating $60 million over the next few years to projects along the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico and West Texas to make the river more resilient in the face of climate change and growing demands.

The funding announced Friday by U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland marks the first disbursement from the Inflation Reduction Act for a basin outside of the Colorado River system. While pressures on the Colorado River have dominated headlines, Haaland and others acknowledged that other communities in the West — from Native American reservations to growing cities and agricultural strongholds — are experiencing the effects of unprecedented drought.

Water users and managers can't afford to waste one drop, Haaland said, sharing the advice her own grandmother used to give when she and her cousins would carry buckets of water to their home at Laguna Pueblo for cooking, cleaning and bathing.

"She was teaching us how precious water is in the desert," Haaland said, standing among the cottonwoods that make up a green belt that stretches the length of the river from the Colorado-New Mexico border south into Texas and Mexico.

Haaland noted that parts of the river have gone dry through the Albuquerque stretch in recent years. In fact, a decades-long drought has led to record low water levels throughout the Rio Grande Basin.

"When drought conditions like this strike, we know it doesn't just impact one community, it affects all of us," she said, pointing to the importance of investing in water projects throughout the basin.

One of the longest rivers in North America, the Rio Grande provides drinking water for millions of people and supplies thousands of farmers with water for crops. Management of the river has sparked legal battles over the decades, with the most recent case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court as New Mexico, Texas and Colorado seek approval of a settlement that will help ensure they have more flexibility in the future.

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a New Mexico Democrat, said improving sustainability along the Rio Grande will help the state meet obligations under a decades-old compact to deliver water downstream to Texas and ultimately Mexico.

Irrigation districts in southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, will work with the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to develop projects that will benefit the river and endangered species that inhabit the basin.

The work will range from capturing more stormwater runoff to improving existing infrastructure. Officials said the savings could result in tens of thousands of acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is roughly enough to serve two to three U.S. households annually.

In all, the Inflation Reduction Act provides $4 billion for mitigating drought in 17 western states, with the priority being the Colorado River Basin. However, the legislation also carved out $500 million for water management and conservation projects in other basins that are experiencing similar levels of long-term drought.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said funding for other basins will be announced later this year, with the goal of putting the money to use over the next four years.

On the Rio Grande, prolonged drought and heavy reliance on groundwater pumping has reduced surface water supplies, resulting in decreased efficiency and lost wildlife habitat.

By capturing more stormwater and increasing storage, officials said they could recharge aquifers and reduce irrigation demands.

Some of that work already is happening in the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, which serves about 5,000 farmers in southern New Mexico. Near the farming village of Rincon, officials are working to slow down runoff and keep sediment from clogging channels that feed the river.

It's among several projects that the irrigation district has proposed to federal officials to save water, protect communities from seasonal flooding and restore habitat.

Irrigation district manager Gary Esslinger and Samantha Barncastle, a water attorney who represents the district, traveled to Albuquerque on Friday to participate in a briefing with Haaland and other officials. They described the efforts as "re-plumbing" the West with irrigation and flood control systems that can accommodate the changing conditions.

"It's quite a large vision," Barncastle said, "but it's what everyone should be doing — thinking big is the only way to resolve the climate crisis."