Officials Plan To Seal Part Of WIPP, Santa Fe Schools Could Face Job Cuts

Oct 14, 2016

Feds Plan To Seal Part Of Nuke Waste RepositoryAssociated Press

A top U.S. Energy Department official in southern New Mexico says the agency plans to close off part of the federal government's underground nuclear waste repository due to contamination and stability concerns.

Carlsbad Field Office manager Todd Shrader said during a public meeting Thursday that officials are considering plans to close the south end of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in phases.

He says barriers would be built to seal off the area from other parts of the underground complex, eliminating about 60 percent of the areas that were contaminated by a February 2014 radiation release.

Three ceiling collapses have also been reported in the south end in recent weeks, prompting concerns about worker safety and the ability of the plant to reopen before the end of the year.

Shrader acknowledged that the closure plan would eliminate some of the space that could have been used in the future for more waste storage rooms.

Santa Fe Schools Could See Job Cuts The Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

The Santa Fe school district could face job cuts after New Mexico lawmakers called for public education to take on a share of the state's financial pain.

The New Mexican reports that legislators have asked for a decrease in operating funds provided to districts on a per-student basis, which they hope will eliminate about $38 million in spending. Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, has not yet signed the legislation and has until Oct. 26 to make a decision on the measure.

Lawmakers are expected make more spending cuts when they convene in January to deal with the state's fiscal crisis.

Santa Fe Superintendent Veronica Garcia this week called staff cuts a "very real possibility," but she vowed to keep the job losses away from the classroom.

Fed Grant To Highlands University Aims To Help ESL TeachersThe Associated Press

A new federal grant aims to help educators earn second language education degrees at Highlands University.

The northern New Mexico school announce this week that the U.S. Department of Education recently awarded Highlands a $2.2 million grant to help students with tuition, books, and related professional development.

Under the five-year grant, 30 educators who work with students, in the Santa Fe and Española school districts will earn their associate degree at Santa Fe Community College and then transfer to Highlands.

Students will take classes from Highlands University School of Education faculty at either the university's Santa Fe Center in the Higher Education Center or at an office in Espanola..

Feds: Possible Violations At Ex-Uranium Mill In New MexicoGallup Independent, Associated Press

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has identified five "apparent violations" at a former uranium mill in western New Mexico.

The Gallup Independent reports the commission said in a recent letter to Homestake Mining Co. of California that it is considering escalated enforcement action. The letter cited a failure to obtain monthly composite samples and the discharge of liquids among the alleged violations.

But the commission stopped short of issuing a notice of violation because it hasn't made its enforcement decision. It is offering the company 30 days to respond.

Jesse Toepfer, a closure manager for Homestake's parent company, said the commission's actions were "pre-decisional" and he couldn't comment.

The site near Grants has been on the national list of cleanup priorities since the early 1980s.

New Mexico Eyes 'Safe Program' For Those With WarrantsAssociated Press

Those with bench warrants in New Mexico may be able to avoid arrest thanks to a "Safe Surrender Program" next week.

Officials say those with an outstanding bench warrant issued by any magistrate court in New Mexico or the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court can turn themselves in at the Barelas Community Center in Albuquerque on Oct. 14 to 15.

The program offers individuals an opportunity to appear before a judge to clear a warrant and potentially resolve their case.

By surrendering, officials say people with an outstanding warrant can seek favorable consideration of their case.

Magistrate courts and the Metropolitan Court have limited jurisdiction and handle DWI cases, misdemeanors, traffic violations and civil actions up to $10,000.

Attorneys Want AG To Investigate Former Environment SecretarySanta Fe New Mexican

A group of attorneys has asked the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether former Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn violated state law.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports attorneys challenging regulations governing copper mining and other industries contend Flynn may have revealed confidential state information as part of his current job leading the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

Flynn oversaw the creation of what’s known as the Copper Rule when he was environment secretary. He filed several public records requests in September regarding the rule on behalf of the Oil and Gas Association.

The New Mexico Environmental Law Center and other attorneys are citing a law that prohibits former government officials from lobbying for a year after they leave office and from advising on issues they dealt with while in office.

The attorneys also want to know if employees at the Environment Department have shared privileged information with Flynn. A spokeswoman for the department called the complaint “ridiculous.”

Feds: 500,000 Acres Of Land Returned To Tribes Under ObamaBy Mary Hudetz, Associated Press

Federal officials say more than 500,000 acres have been returned to the control of tribes under the Obama administration, which made restoring tribal homelands a key part of its Indian Country policy.

The Obama administration says it surpassed the half-million acre benchmark last week with the transfer of a 71,000-acre swath of federal land to tribal control in Nevada.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says the administration's goal of returning 500,000 acres, or roughly 780 square miles, of land represented a shift from federal policy that historically resulted in U.S. tribes losing millions of acres of land over hundreds of years.

The government's move to place land into trust for tribes essentially ensures the tracts can't be taken from them or sold because only a congressional vote can remove the land from tribal ownership or jurisdiction.

Alamogordo Officials Vote To OK Off-Road Vehicles On StreetsAlamogordo Daily News, Associated Press

Alamogordo officials have voted to allow the use of off-road vehicles on city streets.

The Alamogordo Daily News reports that city commissioners voted in favor of the change but it won't be official unless it is finalized at the Nov. 1 commission meeting.

Southwest Suzuki Kawasaki owner Tyler Johnson says many of his customers have asked about Alamogordo's law. He says he supports the change, explaining that it simplifies things for ATV users who need to go slightly down a paved road to access another dirt trail.

Johnson says the change might also help with tourism, pointing out that the practice has long been legal in other states, like Arizona.

Albuquerque Mayor Introduces Anti-Crime Proposals - Albuquerque Press, Associated Press

The Albuquerque mayor has put forward an anti-crime agenda that focuses on keeping repeat offenders locked up longer.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Mayor Richard Berry's proposals include better screening of people released from pretrial detention and changes in procedural rules that authorities say lead to charges being dismissed.

Berry says he hopes to contract a retired team of police officers to handle lower priority calls to free up the city's understaffed police department. He is also advocating state-level measures, such as reinstating the death penalty for some cases and strengthening the three strikes law.

Some officials, however, say Berry might be oversimplifying the cause of a recent crime increase. County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins says reasons behind the increase are complex and require a carefully considered response.