THURS: Albuquerque Police Chief To Step Down, Governor Testifies Before Congress, + More

Sep 10, 2020

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.

Governor Lauds Progress In Fighting VirusAlbuquerque Journal

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged New Mexicans to remain vigilant in fighting the novel 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.

New Mexico Approves Settlement Over Groundwater ViolationsAssociated 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.

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.

Snow, Wind Damage RV Campground In Chama, Force EvacuationKOAT-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.

Republicans, Democrats Deeply Divided Over Pandemic Response - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Deep political divisions over responses to the coronavirus pandemic are on display in New Mexico as the governor testifies to Congress in support further federal recovery aid.

In remote testimony Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham described looming state budget troubles and highlighted the continued need for federal support to ensure economic recovery and fight the spread of COVID-19.

Prominent New Mexico Republicans are joining mass rallies in defiance of emergency health orders and advocating for fewer restraints on business and schools that affect the economy.

In Washington D.C., Senate Democrats scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package. They say the proposal shortchanged too many pressing needs.

On Thursday health officials announced 161 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths. That brings the total number of people in New Mexico who have died from COVID-related causes to 816.

New Mexico has had 26,429 cases since the pandemic began.

Republicans, Democrats Deeply Divided Over Pandemic Response - By Morgan Lee

A Republican congressional candidate in New Mexico has endorsed a slimmed-down proposal for a federal COVID-19 rescue package and is urging the state's Democratic governor to provide residents with more discretion to reopen the economy. 

Michelle Garcia Holmes made the comments at a rally Wednesday in support of President Donald Trump's bid for re-election in Albuquerque. 

In remote testimony Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham described looming state budget troubles and highlighted the continued need for federal support to ensure economic recovery and fight the spread of COVID-19. 

The GOP's proposed $500 billion, slimmed-down COVID-19 rescue package was headed toward a procedural vote Thursday, but a Democratic filibuster is assured. Democrats say the GOP bill is far too small and leaves out important priorities, including hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments, along with other provisions in the House Democrats' $3.5 trillion relief bill that passed in May.

The political rally was part of a three-day tour by Garcia Holmes and other GOP political candidates and officials in a pink bus emblazoned with the slogan "Women for Trump."

A small share of people wore masks as more than 100 people gathered shoulder-to-shoulder inside a Trump campaign office to listen to speeches by GOP Chair Steve Pearce and anti-abortion activist Elisa Martinez.

Democratic Party Chair Marg Elliston later called it irresponsible and dangerous for the GOP to hold such events without encouraging masks and social distancing. 

A statewide emergency heath order mandates masks in public and prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people.

New Mexico is anticipating a $990 million general fund deficit for the coming fiscal year, starting June 30, 2021, to meet annual spending obligations of $7.2 billion. 

Without additional federal support, that would exhaust financial reserves that were built over the past three years.

To meet current-year spending obligations, lawmakers tapped $750 million in federal pandemic relief funds and agreed to spend $1 billion in state financial reserves.

New Mexico Frustrated With Slow Cleanup Of Radioactive Waste - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

There's growing frustration among New Mexico lawmakers and environmental regulators about the U.S. government's slow pace in cleaning up contamination from decades of nuclear research and bomb-making at Los Alamos National Laboratory. 

The officials are concerned about taking a backseat to other states, saying legal action might be New Mexico's only leverage against the U.S. Energy Department. 

A federal official told lawmakers that since January, only five shipments of waste had been sent from Los Alamos to the government's underground repository. 

Meanwhile, the Idaho National Laboratory is sending two to three waste shipments a week as part of the nation's multibillion-dollar cleanup program for Cold War-era waste.

Cleanup work at Los Alamos — the birthplace of the atomic bomb — is governed by a consent decree with the state. New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney said his agency would not be opposed to renegotiating that agreement given the growing concerns of lawmakers, watchdog groups and environmentalists.

Free Lunches Continue For New Mexico Students - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

School is still virtual for most students across New Mexico but school lunches are available in person.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided this week that summer lunch programs will continue for all students, even those who haven't qualified for free lunch.

Most of the state's 89 school districts have no in-person learning, though a few elementary schools started Tuesday.

Instead of serving meals in cafeterias, schools are distributing meals using empty buses. The governor's office says 13 million meals have been distributed since March.

Funds remaining from summer food programs can be used until they run out.

State health officials reported 92 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and six additional deaths, bringing the total death toll to 813.

There have been 26,268 COVID-19 cases in New Mexico since the pandemic began.

No COVID-19 Deaths On Navajo Nation For 2nd Time In 3 Days - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Wednesday reported 12 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, but no deaths for the second time in three days. 

The latest numbers increase the total number of cases on the reservation to 9,915 with the known death toll remaining at 527. 

Tribal health officials reported one new coronavirus case Monday and no additional deaths for the first time since March. 

They say 98,068 people have been tested for COVID-19 as of Wednesday and 7,167 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.

New Mexico Agency Seeks Opinion On Spaceport Policies, Taxes - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The state's top economic development officials are asking the New Mexico attorney general to review policies and procedures that govern spending and contracts at Spaceport America.

Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes made the request in an email sent Tuesday to Attorney General Hector Balderas.

The request is a result of her agency's investigation into the conduct of spaceport chief executive officer Dan Hicks. He was placed on administrative leave earlier this summer after a whistleblower complaint accused him of circumventing internal financial controls and accounting procedures.

Hicks has declined to comment on the allegations, citing the ongoing investigation.

Balderas confirmed Wednesday that his office will be looking at whether state law requires the New Mexico Spaceport Authority to approve all procurement and requests for proposals and whether tax revenues meant to support the launch facility are limited to specific projects.

The state Economic Development Department hired an outside accounting firm to review procurement procedures as well as agreements governing the use of gross receipts tax revenues.

The state auditor's office is reviewing financial aspects related to the spaceport, and the spaceport's interim chief executive told lawmakers last week that all capital projects at Spaceport America also are being assessed because of the open investigation.

County Commissioners Appoint State House RepresentativeAssociated Press

Bernalillo County commissioners have appointed Art De La Cruz as the representative for the state House's 12th District. The commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to appoint De La Cruz to the vacant seat over Brittney Barreras, the only other applicant for the position.

The seat was vacant after the resignation of Patricio Ruiloba in August, but voters will pick their representative in the Nov. 3 election.

De La Cruz, a Democrat, is a former county commissioner and one-time county parks director. Barreras, an independent, is a longtime retail worker. Both are currently campaigning in the lead-up to the November election, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

6 Western States Blast Utah Plan To Tap Colorado River Water - By Sam Metz, Associated Press/Report For America

Six states in the U.S. West that rely on the Colorado River have rebuked a plan to build an underground pipeline to transport billions of gallons of water to Utah.

In a joint letter Tuesday, water officials from New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming urged the federal government to halt the approval process for the pipeline until the states could resolve concerns about the potential effect on future water supplies.

Utah has the right to use additional river water under agreements between the states. But critics argue that diverting more water will jeopardize the river as it faces threats from persistent drought and climate change.

If the approval moves forward, state water leaders wrote, "multiyear litigation" would likely be inevitable and could complicate negotiations over the future of the Colorado River, which serves 40 million people but faces threats from persistent drought and climate change that are dwindling the supply of water.

If water levels in either Lake Powell or the other reservoir — Lake Mead — fall farther, states could be forced to limit the amount of water they can send to growing cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas and farmers throughout the region that help stock supermarkets.

Under the agreements between the seven states, cuts would hit Arizona, California and Nevada before affecting New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

Comments on an environmental impact report for the proposed pipeline were due Tuesday, and the Interior Department is expected to issue a final report after its review, which would bring the project a step closer to approval.

Manufacturer Xxentria To Relocate Facility To New Mexico - Associated Press

A Taiwanese manufacturer of metal composite materials has announced it is relocating a distribution facility to a booming New Mexico border town. 

New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes said Wednesday the Xxentria Technology Materials Company has purchased land for its facilities in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, with a production plant planned in Chihuahua, Mexico. 

Keyes says the move was made after she met with company officials in Taiwan last year. 

Xxentria is a major producer of galvanized steel and aluminum composite panels for both the transportation and architecture industries. 

Keyes says the company plans to bring around 35 new jobs to the state.

Drought Prompts Water Shortage Advisory For New Mexico CityAssociated Press

One northwestern New Mexico city is trying to curb water use as the region deals with persistent drought.

The Farmington City Council passed a resolution Tuesday enacting a water shortage advisory that calls for residents to cut their use by 10%. The advisory will remain in place until further notice.

Lake Farmington supplies the city with drinking water. It's fed by the Animas and San Juan rivers. Officials say low stream flows and the likelihood of continued dryness will prevent supplies from being replenished.

The latest map shows severe to extreme drought centered over the area.

The city of Farmington is urging residents to take shorter showers and not let the water run when brushing teeth or shaving. They're also asking people to limit outdoor watering to certain hours, repair any leaks immediately and refrain from washing vehicles at home.