FRI: Panel Touts Potential Of State's Outdoor Recreation Industry, + More

Sep 11, 2020

Panel Says New Mexico's Outdoor Future Tied To Access, Education - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico officials say the key to boosting the economics of outdoor recreation will require educational initiatives for school children as well as improved access and a new workforce.

State Forester Laura McCarthy, Outdoor Recreation Division Director Axie Navas and others touted the state's potential for growing its outdoor industry during a panel discussion Thursday.

They said efforts are underway to develop what they called a cradle-to-career outdoor education plan that will begin with pre-kindergarten programs.

Federal data shows the outdoor recreation industry supports more than 33,000 jobs in New Mexico and nearly $1.2 billion in income.

Business leaders, educators and others will be meeting over the next few months in an effort to solidify the education plan and a set of recommendations that will cover the youngest of students through higher education.

Another piece of the equation is access. Citing high poverty rates, state officials say they hope to set an example for other states through a special grant program designed to create equal opportunities for experiencing the outdoors by working with community groups, tribes, municipalities and others on projects that balance conservation and recreation.

The Outdoor Recreation Division is expected to announce the first round of grant recipients next week. The awards will range from $5,000 to $25,000 and will require a match.

Wasted Kicks: Porta-Potty Seen Rolling On Route 66Associated Press

A portable toilet in Albuquerque fell victim to another kind of whiff after strong winds blew it along Route 66.

A virtual video this week shows the porta-potty rolling down a busy intersection of the Mother Road as curious motorists looked on.

Severe gusts appeared to have dislodged the mobile toilet and forced it down a journey through a road that once connected Chicago to Los Angeles. The traveling portable toilet was seen by a number of motorists and passengers.

No injuries were reported and it was unclear if anyone was inside. Route 66 was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985.

Navajo Nation Weighs Mandatory Sentences For Curfew OffensesGallup Independent, Associated Press

A proposal to require mandatory sentences for people caught breaking the Navajo Nation coronavirus curfew is awaiting consideration by the Navajo Nation Council.

The Gallup Independent reported that currently, judges have the option of sentencing offenders to 30 days in jail or with a fine worth up to $1,000. One judge in Chinle, Arizona issued a warning to a curfew offender.

Under the new guidelines, first-time rule-breakers of the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will pay $500 fines.

Second-time culprits will pay $1,000 fines. Third-time wrongdoers will be subject to $1,000 fines and prison sentences of up to 30 days.

There have been 9,933 confirmed cases and 530 confirmed deaths on the Navajo Nation since the pandemic began, according to the Navajo Department of Health.

New Mexico Governor Considers Easing Sports Restrictions - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

It's possible that restrictions on youth sports and training could be eased if New Mexico continues to make progress in limiting the spread of COVID-19. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham indicated during an online briefing Thursday that there's an opportunity to review the current restrictions but also acknowledged that the first priority is education and the safe reopening of schools. 

The current public health order will expire next week. 

The governor and state health officials say New Mexico's seven-day average case count has reached one of its lowest levels in months. 

On Friday, officials reported 137 new COVID-19 cases. Two southeastern counties had the most cases. Chaves County had 40 cases, followed by Lea County with 16.

There were also two more deaths, including a female in her 30s in Lea County. Both had underlying health conditions. The death toll stands at 818.

State officials were pleased with the numbers and congratulated residents for wearing face masks, keeping their distance from one another, avoiding large gatherings and staying home as much as possible.

There are some areas of the state where improvements are still needed if school districts want to reopen their classrooms to teachers and students, officials said. This marked the first week of limited in-person learning for nearly 50 schools — and about 3,600 elementary students.

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said the state has set a high bar for bringing back students under a hybrid model, which involves both time in the classroom and virtual learning from home. That includes making infrastructure improvements at schools and ensuring they're all stocked with the necessary personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

"We are really bringing in every resource from across the state to make sure that we get this right," he said. "New Mexico wants to be a model for how you reopen schools, how you keep schools open, how you contain any infection that happens."

Fire marshals from around the state have been helping with the effort by providing guidance to school districts on the use of protective gear and social distancing. Testing surveillance also will be expanded, with the aim of reaching at least 5% of the staff a week.

The Public Education Department also is planning next week to start a series of focus groups for teachers and families to get feedback on how the reopening is going and where there might be room for improvements. 

Governor Lauds Progress In Fighting VirusAlbuquerque Journal

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged New Mexicans to remain vigilant in fighting the coronavirus while also celebrating a continued decline in caseloads on Thursday.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that during a remote press briefing from the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, Lujan Grisham noted the rolling average of daily cases has dropped to 89 cases a day.

Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said the rate of spread is now 0.76, below the state’s target of 1.05.

There were 161 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 26,429. Chaves County in southeastern New Mexico had the most new cases at 31, followed by Bernalillo County with 27.

There were also three more deaths, including a man in his 20s in Bernalillo County who had underlying health conditions.

The total number of deaths in New Mexico related to COVID-19 is now 816.

The state has eased some business restrictions recently, including allowing indoor dining at limited capacities and easing quarantine requirements for some travelers entering the state.

Scrase said it may not be clear until October if loosening those restrictions results in a spike in case numbers.

Albuquerque Police Chief Stepping Down This FallKOB-TV, Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Albuquerque's police chief is stepping down. Mayor Tim Keller announced Thursday that Police Chief Michael Geier will retire this fall, with Deputy Chief Harold Medina taking over as acting chief next week.

Geier has served as police chief since December 2017 and Keller's statement said Geier brought in a new leadership team, restructured the department, revamped the use of force training and policies and hired additional officers.

Keller credited Geier with "righting the ship through our first year, getting new leadership in place, focusing on gun violence and getting reform efforts on track."

KOB-TV reported that Geier had been "forced out," and Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, told the Albuquerque Journal that the rank and file had lost confidence in the chief.

The city plans to conduct a search for a long-term replacement, according to the statement released by Keller aide Jessica Campbell.

Before becoming Albuquerque's police chief, Geier served as Rio Rancho's police chief after working as a Chicago-area police officer and then with the Albuquerque department.

Republicans Spar With Democrat Over Federal Tax Lien, Loan - Associated Press

New Mexico state House speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe says he has paid roughly $10,500 to the IRS, denying allegations of outstanding debts. 

In a news release Thursday, Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce and allied House candidate Raye Byford of Santa Fe accused Egolf of hypocrisy for neglecting to pay taxes while his law practice benefited this year from a pandemic hardship loan. 

Egolf said he made an error in drafting a check to the IRS and paid off a lien promptly. 

Egolf accused Pearce of trying to distract from "deceit, dishonesty, and dereliction of duty" by President Donald Trump and the president's handling of the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

NRA Backs Republican In New Mexico Race For U.S. Senate - Associated Press

A prominent lobbying group to the firearms industry has endorsed Republican candidate Mark Ronchetti for U.S. Senate in New Mexico. 

Ronchetti announced the National Rifle Association's endorsement on Thursday in a tweet. 

The former television meteorologist is running against Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján to succeed Sen. Tom Udall, who is retiring. 

Ronchetti campaign spokesman Jeff Glassburner said the first-time political candidate is a strong supporter of 2nd Amendment rights and also supports instant background checks. 

Luján says he favors comprehensive gun safety laws that get "weapons of war off the street" and voted in 2019 to broaden federal background checks to more private and online sales.

He voted in favor of a House bill in February 2019 to expand background checks nationwide to most private and online gun sales. 

That measure has been shunned by the Republican controlled Senate and President Trump.

Amid stalemates in Washington, New Mexico's Democrat-controlled Legislature has adopted a series of gun control laws since 2019 that expand background checks, restrict gun access through judicial proceedings on domestic violence and allow court orders to seize firearms from people who present a danger to themselves or others.

Africana Studies Ex-Director Sues University Of New Mexico - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

The former director of Africana Studies says the University of New Mexico retaliated against him for demanding that his program be elevated to a department. 

An attorney for Charles Becknell Jr. filed a whistleblower lawsuit in state district court last month alleging the school removed him from his position after he complained about the program's status and failed to adequately investigate a series of racist and threatening emails he received.

According to court documents, a dean told Becknell that the university was focused on elevating Chicano Studies to a department. But the lawsuit says after Africana Studies got state funding to become a department, Becknell was removed. 

The school did not immediately respond to an email.

Becknell is seeking unspecified damages and his old position.


New Mexico Approves Settlement Over Groundwater Violations Associated Press

State officials have reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Defense Department over groundwater violations at Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico.

The agreement announced Thursday addresses a compliance order that was issued over Cannon's lack of a groundwater discharge permit. The base also was accused of not providing state environmental regulators with information about chemicals left behind by past military firefighting activities.

Under the agreement, the Defense Department will pay the state more than $250,000 and monitoring of contamination linked to chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, will be part of the new permit.

Environment Secretary James Kenney said in a statement that federal facilities in New Mexico have a history of disregarding state environmental laws and that the Defense Department must comply with permitting requirements to ensure protection of drinking water supplies that residents rely on.

The agreement does not affect the state's pending lawsuit against the U.S. government over PFAS contamination at Cannon and Holloman air bases.

States Ask Judge To Reverse Changes At US Postal Service - By Gene Johnson Associated Press

A group of states suing over service cuts at the U.S. Postal Service is asking a federal judge to immediately undo some of them, saying the integrity of the upcoming election is at stake. 

In a motion filed late Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Yakima, Washington, the 14 states, including New Mexico, asked the judge to restore or replace decommissioned sorting machines at processing facilities, require election mail to be treated as first class mail, and to end the so-called "leave behind" policy, requiring that postal trucks leave at certain times, whether or not there is additional mail to load. 

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has said handling election mail is the organization's top priority.

Along with Washington, those suing include New Mexico, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin — all led by Democratic attorneys general.

Pennsylvania and New York are each leading separate coalitions of states suing over the changes. Montana filed its own lawsuit Tuesday.


Navajo Nation Reports 18 New COVID-19 Cases, 3 More Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Thursday reported 18 new confirmed cases of coronavirus and three additional deaths. 

The latest numbers increase the total number of people infected to 9,933 with the known death toll now at 530. 

Tribal health officials say 98,408 people have been tested for COVID-19 and 7,169 have recovered. 

Much of the Navajo Nation has been closed since March as the coronavirus swept through the vast reservation that extends into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. 

Tribal officials are extending partial weekend lockdowns and daily curfews through September to help control the spread of the coronavirus.


Snow, Wind Damage RV Campground In Chama, Force Evacuation KOAT-TV, Associated Press

Damage from snow and wind forced the evacuation of about 50 people staying at an RV campground in Chama, sending dozens of people to hotels and an emergency shelter at a church.

KOAT-TV reports snow caused tree limbs to fall down, knocking down power lines and damaging camper trailers. The danger prompted the campground's operators to order an evacuation early Wednesday morning.

No serious injuries were reported but one camper vehicle was reportedly severely damaged when a tree limb fell on it.

The campground's operators hoped to get power restored and downed tree limbs cleared in time to reopen for the weekend.

George R.R. Martin Can't Build Castle Library In New Mexico - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Author George R.R. Martin, whose books inspired the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” won't be able to build a seven-sided, castle-style library at his compound in Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the city's Historic Districts Review Board denied a request Tuesday to allow Martin to exceed the building height limit in the historic district where he lives.

Neighbors objected to the project, saying they didn't want a visible castle in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

Officials also denied a similar proposal early this year, saying the project didn't meet height and style standards and didn't fit in with the character of the historic district.