Facebook Data Center Facing Surprise $39M Utility Bill, Regulators Ratify Racino Settlement

Apr 18, 2019

New Mexico Panel Surprises Facebook With $39M Utility Bill – Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

A powerful New Mexico regulatory authority is requiring the state's largest utility to bill Facebook $39 million for a new transmission line construction.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Public Regulation Commission's on Tuesday ordered Public Service Company of New Mexico to charge Facebook for nearly half the cost of the $85 million transmission project for its New Mexico data center that opened this year.

The Menlo Park, California-based Facebook says the ruling could affect its long-term operations in the state. It says the requirement raises costs and puts in doubt plans to use 100 percent renewable energy to run the facility.

State officials and economic development professionals say the decision could be seen as reneging on the commission's previous commitments and hurt New Mexico's efforts to attract more large companies.

Water Managers Expect Improved Spring RunoffAssociated Press

Federal water managers in New Mexico say cities and farmers along the Rio Grande can expect above average spring runoff this year.

Officials with the Bureau of Reclamation and other federal, state and local water agencies gathered Thursday in Albuquerque to go over forecasts and predictions about how much water will be released from reservoirs along the river.

They're more optimistic, following a year in which record-low flows threatened to leave the Rio Grande dry through New Mexico's most populous region.

April's streamflow forecast predicts flows into El Vado Reservoir will be 142% of average. That's up from just 18% last year.

Jennifer Faler with the Bureau of Reclamation's Albuquerque office calls it a complete turnaround.

The runoff also is expected to improve storage supplies and help the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow.

Water Managers Hopeful For Better Rio Grande FlowsAssociated Press

Federal water managers in New Mexico are ready to unveil their management plans for the Rio Grande for the rest of 2019.

Officials with the Bureau of Reclamation and other federal, state and local water managers are gathering Thursday in Albuquerque to go over forecasts for the coming year and predictions about how much water will be released from reservoirs along the river.

Coming off a year in which record-low flows threatened to leave the Rio Grande dry through New Mexico's most populous region, officials are more optimistic.

They say snowpack is close to average in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico and a good spring runoff is expected.

US climate experts say drought conditions are expected to continue to improve across New Mexico in the coming months.

720 Migrants Arrested In New Mexico In 24 HoursAssociated Press

More than 700 migrants have been taken into custody in less than 24 hours along the border in southern New Mexico.

The U.S. Border Patrol says a group of 230 people was encountered at the Antelope Wells port of entry after midnight Tuesday. A second group of more than 360 people was reported minutes later just west of Mount Cristo Rey near Sunland Park.

Another group of more than 130 people later came through Antelope Wells.

Authorities say the El Paso sector, which includes part of West Texas and all of New Mexico, documented over 1,800 apprehensions on Tuesday.

The surge caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico after a militia group posted a video of the migrants. The civil rights organization contends the group had no authority to ask the migrants to stop while Border Patrol was called

Police Say Arrest Follows Theft Of Vehicle From Fire Station – Associated Press

Police say a man is accused of stealing an Albuquerque Fire Rescue SUV from inside a fire station, driving the vehicle in a reckless manner with lights and siren on and taunting police before being arrested.

Officer Simon Drobik says Anthony Pacheco made at least one obscene gesture at officers before stepping down from on top of the vehicle and mooning the officers before lying on ground and submitting to arrest Thursday.

Drobik said the incident ended on a dead-end street near an intersection where the stolen SUV collided with another vehicle. The other driver wasn't injured.

Drobik says Pacheco was being booked into jail.

It wasn't immediately known what charges Pacheco could face or whether he has a defense lawyer who could comment on the allegations.

Hopi Appeals Court Denies Challenges Against Tribal ChairmanAssociated Press

The Hopi Appellate Court has upheld the dismissal of two cases that alleged the tribal chairman was improperly seated.

Timothy Nuvangyaoma has been chairman since December 2017.

His immediate predecessor, Herman Honanie, alleged Nuvangyaoma wasn't qualified to seek the post because he had been convicted of felony drunken driving within 10 years of declaring candidacy.

The appeals court said this week that Honanie's challenges were untimely because they weren't filed while Nuvangyaoma was a candidate. They were filed after he was sworn in as chairman.

The court noted the Hopi Election Board did not include a question about felony convictions on candidate applications, despite a change in the tribal constitution. The court says the board also might have missed the state court conviction in a background check because Nuvangyaoma was misspelled.

Regulators Ratify Settlement In Racino CaseAssociated Press

The New Mexico Racing Commission has ratified a proposed settlement aimed at ending a legal dispute related to the state's sixth and final license for a horse racetrack and casino.

The commission voted to approve the agreement with Hidalgo Downs after meeting behind closed doors Tuesday. The commission did not make any public statements other than to say a special meeting would be called April 30 to discuss the racino license.

It would be up to a state district judge to approve the settlement.

Attorneys for the four other companies vying for the license want to intervene in the case.

They've raised concerns that the proposed settlement was presented to the court weeks ago without first being voted on by the full commission. They questioned whether open meeting laws could have been violated.

The commission contends that the panel's chairman had authority to sign the settlement before it was voted on by commissioners.

Top New Mexico Emergency Official Assesses Asylum Influx - Associated Press

New Mexico's top emergency management official is scheduled to tour shelters for the homeless in the south of the state that are overflowing with international asylum seekers.

State Homeland Security and Emergency Management Secretary Jackie White announced plans to visit the Gospel Rescue Mission and Community of Hope facilities Thursday in Las Cruces and meet with Mayor Ken Miyagishima.

The U.S. Border Patrol last week began dropping off hundreds of immigrants in need of temporary shelter as arrangements are made for them to reach relatives or other long-term sponsors.

The city of Las Cruces is spending $75,000 on humanitarian supplies and using a community center to provide overnight housing and meals to immigrants.

U.S. Border officials say they are struggling to cope with an influx of Central American families.

Lawsuit: Corrections Officers Sexually Abused Inmate - By Mary Hudetz Associated Press

An inmate has sued the New Mexico Corrections Department, saying authorities retaliated against her after she reported being sexually abused by an officer in 2017.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of the inmate and accused prison officials of fostering "a culture that emboldens and empowers" officers to abuse women at Western New Mexico Correctional Facility — a 440-bed prison in Grants.

As a result, women serving time at the facility frequently choose not to report sexual assault because they fear their reports will not be taken seriously, the lawsuit says.

The woman who reported abuse to authorities in 2017 did so after investigators pressed her for more information about the conduct of Officer Eluid Stan Arguello, according to the lawsuit.

But instead of protecting her, authorities revoked her phone privileges, placed her in solitary confinement and took away a year of her good time, the lawsuit states.

Interim Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero said the Corrections Department made sure law enforcement had all the information needed for an investigation of the matter.  However, she said she could not comment on the pending litigation.

Study Finds US Plutonium Plan Comes With Budget, Scheduling Risks- By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Consultants are warning that every option considered by the U.S. government to ramp up production of the plutonium cores that trigger nuclear warheads will have cost and scheduling risks.

The findings are part of a study done by the Institute of Defense Analyses that was delivered to Congress on Tuesday. The report was not made public, but officials acknowledged that it recognized the challenges of restarting production.

The National Nuclear Security Administration has proposed splitting the work between Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Savanna River Site in South Carolina.

According to the assessment, if enough time and resources are focused on the effort, the plan would be "potentially achievable."

Nuclear watchdogs, government accountability advocates and other critics are concerned given a history of safety lapses and unchecked spending within the nation's nuclear complex.

Former Tucumcari Fire Chief Pleads No Contest To 5 Charges - Eastern New Mexico News, Associated Press

A former fire chief in eastern New Mexico accused of drugging and sexually assaulting a city employee has been convicted of five criminal counts.

The Eastern New Mexico News reports 42-year-old Shane Warner pleaded no contest Tuesday to charges that included assault with intent to commit a violent felony, attempt to commit extortion, felony tampering with evidence and misdemeanor embezzlement.

Prosecutors say the former Tucumcari fire chief drugged and sexually assaulted a female ambulance worker in March 2016.

Prosecutors are expected to recommend a suspended sentence and five years of supervised probation.

A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled for Warner.

Warner was hired as fire chief in January 2015. The city fired him in March 2017.

High-profile Defense Lawyer In New Mexico Faces DWI Charge - Associated Press

A high-profile defense lawyer who also served as a former prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico has been arrested on a drunken driving charge.

Court records show Robert Gorence was arrested late Saturday in Albuquerque after an officer spotted his vehicle swerving and going below the speed limit on Interstate 25.

Officer Keith Curry wrote the 61-year-old Gorence had bloodshot and watery eyes and had an odor of alcohol coming from his breath. Curry says Gorence then performed badly on a field sobriety test.

Police also reported finding a partially empty bottle of Jim Beam under the driver's seat of Gorence's BMW.

Gorence was charged with DWI and possession of an open container.

He was later released on his own recognizance.

Gorence did not immediately return phone messages.

Body Of 10-year-old Boy Found After Apartment Complex Fire - Associated Press

Albuquerque authorities say a child found dead after a fire in an Albuquerque apartment complex was put out was a 10-year-old boy whose two siblings ages 2 and 13 were hospitalized in critical condition for smoke inhalation.

Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos says discovery of the boy's body accounted for all 31 residents, some of whom jumped from balconies and windows to escape the flames early Tuesday morning.

No identities were released.

Police and firefighters went to the complex in response to a call about a fire and that the call included a voice saying, "Please don't hurt me."

Lt. Tom Ruiz, of Albuquerque Fire Rescue, says officials don't know who made the statement or anything about its origin.

Cause of the fire is under investigation.