TUES: State Expects $1B From State Trust Lands, + More

Aug 18, 2020

$1B In Revenue Expected From New Mexico's State Trust Lands - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

New Mexico land managers say the state is on track to have another banner year as a result of oil and gas drilling and other activities on state trust lands.

The State Land Office announced Tuesday that revenue for the recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, is expected to top $1 billion. Officials say back-to-back billion-dollar years are breaking revenue records despite a decline in oil prices and economic uncertainty resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

While the agency saw a 5% decrease in oil and gas royalty payments, it reported more than $885,000 — or a 118% increase — in revenue from wind energy projects and lease payments.

It also reported a nearly 60% increase in revenue from right-of-way easement payments, totaling $39 million.

Livestock grazing leases, permits and other fees also are part of the mix, with the money benefiting public schools and other institutions.

But officials warned that based on unpredictable prices and a decrease in production, the 2021 fiscal year is expected to have a different outcome and the agency plans to prioritize renewable energy projects, economic development opportunities and outdoor recreation partnerships as a way to diversify revenues from state trust lands.

The State Land Office earlier this year adopted a new rule to allow for oil producers to temporarily shut-in wells until prices stabilize. Companies that seek such permission are asked to pay an annual shut-in royalty payment in lieu of royalties on what is produced.

Previously, there was a penalty for shutting in a well, resulting in the potential to lose leases.

New Mexico Planning For COVID-19 Vaccine DistributionAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Top New Mexico health officials say it's too early to say whether a COVID-19 vaccine — once available — will be mandatory for certain people in the state.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham expects there to be a population for whom the vaccine will be required, noting that health care workers, educators, nursing home residents and emergency responders could be among that population.

The governor's administration has authority under a 2003 state law to issue vaccine orders during a declared public health emergency. The Journal reported that those who decline a vaccine for reasons of health, religion or conscience can be ordered to isolate or self-quarantine under the same law.

The governor's office did not say whether the Lujan Grisham administration would invoke that law once a coronavirus vaccine is available.

It also will depend on availability. Pharmaceutical companies are racing to have a vaccine ready by early next year.

New Mexico has seen its daily COVID-19 case counts improve in recent days. On Tuesday, health officials reported an additional 79 cases to bring the total since the pandemic began to 23,579.

About half of New Mexico counties reported additional cases, with Bernalillo County topping the list at 20 cases for the day.

Five deaths were also reported Tuesday, bringing that total to 723.

Washington, Pennsylvania Lead Lawsuits Over Postal Changes - By Gene Johnson, Associated Press

The attorneys general of Washington and Pennsylvania say they are leading states that are suing to block service changes at the U.S. Postal Service.

They made the announcement Tuesday as the U.S. postmaster general announced the reversal of some postal service changes amid a national outcry. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro are both Democrats.

Ferguson filed his lawsuit in U.S. court in the Eastern District of Washington President Donald Trump, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the postal service. A dozen other states signed on, including New Mexico.

In filing the lawsuit, they cited policy changes that included limiting worker overtime and late or extra shifts. They say the postmaster general ignored rules requiring the postal service to follow procedures before making changes that affect national service.

Dan Budnik, Who Photographed Civil Rights Movement, DiesAssociated Press

Acclaimed photographer Dan Budnik has died in Arizona at age 87. He's noted for documenting the civil rights movement and Native American culture.

A nephew says Budnik died last Friday of natural causes at an assisted living facility in Tucson. In 1958, Budnik photographed a youth march for integrated schools in the capital and the Selma to Montgomery March in Alabama in 1965.

He's known for striking portraits of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. just moments after the "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington. By the late 1960s, Budnik began to devote much of his time to Native American causes.

Budnik also befriended famed painter Georgia O'Keeffe and often stayed with her at the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. He shot a series of iconic images of O'Keeffe, which were published in People magazine in 1975.

High-Altitude Airships Company Picks New Mexico For Base - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

A technology company aiming to send up high-altitude airships to monitor crops and bring broadband has chosen New Mexico for its U.S. production center.

Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes announced Tuesday the Switzerland-based Sceye picked the state as its U.S. base for stratospheric flights for earth observation and communication.

The company founded by global humanitarian Mikkel Vestergaard is expected to create 140 high-paying manufacturing and engineering jobs.

Sceye is negotiating a deal to provide better broadband access to the Navajo Nation and other underserved areas in the state. 

The airships are controlled by pilots on the ground who move them as weather and the Earth's atmosphere changes.

Sceye was founded in 2014. In recent years, the company has conducted research and development of its technology at Roswell and Moriarty, New Mexico, airports.

Last year, the state gave the company a $2 million loan to help it to rebuild following a windstorm that caused extensive damage to its hangar and airship.

Lack Of Oversight Hobbles New Mexico's Broadband Efforts - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

New Mexico legislative researchers and others say efforts to expand high-speed internet in the rural state are being hobbled by a lack of oversight.

Some $325 million in federal and state funding has been leveraged since 2014 to expand broadband to every school district in the state and many libraries.

But New Mexico has missed out on funds due to poor staffing and coordination, according to a report by legislative researchers Monday.

Some emergency measures have been put in place to get internet devices and Wi-Fi connections to students as online-only classes resume. It's unclear how many have been connected since March, when half of public school students failed to attend online classes.

State legislators are considering bills for the next session to fund long-term internet infrastructure projects.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the lack of broadband access in low-income and rural areas of the U.S. and created a new imperative for leaders to meet the needs of the estimated 3 million students nationwide who are without internet at home.

An AP analysis last year of census data showed an estimated 17% of U.S. students do not have access to computers at home and 18% do not have home access to broadband internet.

New Mexico Daily COVID-19 Count Drops Below 100KUNM, Associated Press

For the first time in many weeks, the daily number of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico dropped below 100 on Monday.

State health officials reported 95 additional cases, including 6 among federal inmates at the Cibola County Correctional Center.

There were also four more deaths, including a man in his 40s from Curry County who had underlying conditions. The total number of New Mexicans who have died from COVID-related illnesses is 718.

New Mexico has had 23,500 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

State officials have been pressing for residents to stay home and avoid gatherings in order to keep the numbers low. They have been monitoring the average daily case counts along with other factors to determine whether public schools can begin some limited in-person classes after the Labor Day holiday.

Despite the trend downward, the number of infections is thought to be higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

There continue to be cases in numerous long-term care facilities. State health officials have identified at least one case among staff and/or residents in 56 such facilities over the last month.

According to the Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, the largest number of cases have occurred among people in their 20s. The next largest group is among those in their 30s.

Hispanics and Latinos account for nearly 43 percent of cases and Native Americans make up nearly 34%.

AP Survey: Most States Uncommitted To Trump's Unemployment Boost - By Geoff Mulvihill Associated Press

President Donald Trump's plan to offer a stripped-down boost in unemployment benefits to millions of Americans amid the coronavirus outbreak has found little traction among the states, which would have to pay a quarter of the cost to deliver the maximum benefit.

An Associated Press survey finds that as of Monday, 18 states have said they will take the federal grants allowing them to increase unemployment checks by $300 or $400 a week. The AP tally shows that 30 states have said they're still evaluating the offer or have not said whether they plan to accept the president's slimmed-down benefits. Two have said no. 

New Mexico was the first state to apply for the aid last week and one of the first to be announced as a recipient by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But Bill McCamley, secretary of the state's Department of Workforce Solutions, said it's not clear when the money will start going out, largely because the state needs to reprogram benefit distribution systems to make it work.

"People need help and they need it right now," McCamley said. "These dollars are so important, not only to the claimants, but because the claimants turn that money around, sometimes immediately to pay for things like rent, child care, utilities."

Trump's executive order keeps the program in place until late December, though it will be scrapped if Congress comes up with a different program. It also will end early if the money for the program is depleted, which is likely to happen within a few months.

Stay-At-Home Order Lifted As Navajo Nation Starts ReopeningAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation has lifted its stay-at-home order but is still encouraging its residents to leave their homes for only emergencies or performing essential activities and errands.

The stay-at-home order was rescinded Sunday, when 24 additional coronavirus cases and zero deaths were reported. The numbers are a vast change from earlier this year, when the tribe had one of the highest per-capita rates of infection in the U.S.

Last week, the tribe released its reopening plan, including letting popular tourist destinations such as Canyon de Chelly welcome back tourists Monday.

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

The tribe's plan allows hair salons and barber shops to open by appointment only, businesses to operate at 25% of maximum capacity, and the reopening of marinas and parks with safeguards.

In all, 9,400 cases and 480 deaths have been recorded on the Navajo Nation since the pandemic began.

New Mexico Officials Report Hantavirus Case In Taos CountyAssociated Press

A northern New Mexico man in his 50s is in the hospital after contracting hantavirus.

The New Mexico Health Department says the Taos County man reported that he had cleaned a rodent-infested shed about three weeks before he began to feel sick.

Hantavirus is a severe and sometimes fatal respiratory disease that is transmitted by infected rodents through exposure to their urine, droppings or saliva.

Early symptoms may look and feel like the flu or a stomach bug and include fever and muscle aches, possibly with chills, headache, nausea, vomiting. Two of the three people who became infected in New Mexico last year died.

Although there is no specific treatment for HPS, health officials say the chances for recovery are better if medical attention is sought early and the health care provider is told about the exposure to rodents or their droppings.

Stranded Hiker Survives After 2 Weeks In Santa Fe ForestKRQE-TV, Associated Press

A father and his two children helped rescue a man who was stranded in the Santa Fe National Forest for 14 days.

KRQE-TV reported John Utsey launched an unexpected two-day rescue mission Saturday after hearing a call for help while hiking with his kids toward the Santa Fe Baldy. Utsey gave the man food and water before hiking back to the trailhead to call 911.

Santa Fe firefighters arrived within the hour, but called off the unsuccessful search after eight hours. Utsey then returned to the spot Sunday, called 911 again and led crews to the man.

The man hurt his back while hiking and is now recovering at a local hospital.

Lost Hiker Reportedly Survived 14 Days In New Mexico Woods - KRQE-TV, Associated Press

Authorities say a hiker has survived after being stranded in a forest near Santa Fe for 14 days. 

KRQE-TV reports the lost hiker was rescued Sunday after he called out to another hiker on the Windsor Trail. 

Santa Fe firefighters arrived within the hour armed with the exact GPS location of the hiker on Saturday but he wasn't located until the next day.

Santa Fe Fire Department Captain Nathan Garcia says the lost hiker is in his 50s and has chronic back pain and hurt it again while out hiking, making him unable to stand or walk. 

Garcia says rescuers brought up his body temperature with a fire when they found him, and gave him food and water. He'd been without food for over a week. 

His name was not released. He was recovering in a hospital.