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Drought Expands Across The Southwest, NM Town Seeks Awareness On Nuke Test Harm

Mar 29, 2018

Drought Expands Across Southwestern USThe Associated Press

Drought is tightening its grip across a wide swath of the American Southwest as farmers, ranchers and water managers throughout the region brace for what's expected to be more warm and dry weather through the spring.

The federal drought map released Thursday shows dry conditions intensifying across northern New Mexico and into southwestern Arizona.

On the southern high plains, Oklahoma is ground zero right now for the worst drought conditions in the United States.

Federal agriculture officials say crop conditions in some areas are declining. In New Mexico, about three-quarters of the winter wheat crop is in poor to very poor condition as meaningful moisture has been scarce.

Along the Rio Grande in southern New Mexico, the irrigation allotment will be less than half of what farmers received last year.

Another New Mexico Town Seeks Awareness On Trinity Test HarmThe Associated Press

A small, New Mexico railroad town that received a large part of the residue from the world's first atomic test wants to share its story.

The Alamogordo Daily News reports advocates seeking recognition for the harms caused by the 1945 Trinity Test are trying to gather stories from residents of Carrizozo, New Mexico.

Members of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders say many who lived in the area weren't told about the dangers of the test and later were diagnosed with rare forms of cancer. They are seeking acknowledgment and compensation from the U.S. government.

Scientists working in the then-secret city of Los Alamos developed the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. The bomb was tested in a stretch of desert near towns with Hispanic and Native American populations.

US Nuke Dump Logs 180 Shipments Since Resuming OperationsThe Associated Press

More than 180 shipments of radioactive waste from sites around the United States have been sent to the federal government's only underground nuclear waste repository since operations resumed last year following a 2014 radiation release.

U.S. Energy Department officials who oversee operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico provided an update on shipments and other work at the repository during a recent conference in Phoenix.

The shipments have ramped up to about eight a week. They have come from Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico and installations in Idaho, Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas.

Mining also is underway to create more disposal space in the ancient salt formation where the repository is located. The idea is that shifting salt will eventually entomb the waste.

Tribes Get Funding Boost For Crime VictimsThe Associated Press

Roughly $133 million is expected to be made available to tribes to help Native American and Alaska Native crime victims who advocates say had been largely left out of a federal funding program for decades.

The appropriation for tribes is tucked into the $1.3 trillion federal spending measure that Congress passed last week. The omnibus bill overall has brought increases in funding for federal Native American programs and services this year, including many that not long ago faced the prospect of drastic funding cutbacks.

Juana Majel Dixon is the co-chair of a National Congress of American Indians taskforce on addressing violence against women. She says that for nearly two decades she and others have sought to have Congress set aside money for victim services in Indian Country under the Victims of Crime Act fund.

New Mexico Voters Warm To Idea Of Professional LegislatureAssociated Press

Voters in New Mexico may be warming to the idea of professionalizing the nation's only unsalaried Legislature.

A poll commissioned by the watchdog group Common Cause found that just over half of registered voters statewide support paying state lawmakers a yearly salary so that they can focus more on public service and less on other employment.

New Mexico reimburses lawmakers for some expenses but provides no salary in a citizen legislature that brings together active or retired teachers, engineers, lawyers, ranchers and others for 30- and 60-day sessions in alternating years.

Poll results Wednesday also show nearly two-thirds of respondents favor lengthening legislative sessions to address policy and budgetary issues.

Albuquerque-based Research and Polling surveyed 452 registered voters by phone in January, with an error margin of 4.6 percentage points.

Highlands University To Raise Tuition Rates AgainLas Vegas Optic, Associated Press

Highlands University is raising its student tuition — again.

The Las Vegas Optic reports the northern New Mexico college's board of regents recently voted to increase tuition by around $4.84 per credit hour, or 2 percent, to about $247 next year.

Meanwhile, in-state graduate tuition and fees will increase by about $13.14 per credit hour, or 5 percent, to $276.

The regents also adopted a hike in meal plan and housing rates to around $52 per semester.

The increases come a year after the board voted to increase tuition and fees by 7.5 percent.

They also come as universities in New Mexico face declining state funding and increased costs to operate.

Another New Mexico Town Seeks Awareness On Trinity Test HarmAlamogordo Daily News, Associated Press

A small, New Mexico railroad town that received a large part of the residue from the world's first atomic test wants to share its story.

The Alamogordo Daily News reports advocates seeking recognition for the harms caused by the 1945 Trinity Test are trying to gather stories from residents of Carrizozo, New Mexico.

Members of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders say many who lived in the area weren't told about the dangers of the test and later were diagnosed with rare forms of cancer. They are seeking acknowledgment and compensation from the U.S. government.

Scientists working in the then-secret city of Los Alamos developed the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. The bomb was tested in a stretch of desert near towns with Hispanic and Native American populations.

US Nuke Dump Logs 180 Shipments Since Resuming OperationsAssociated Press

More than 180 shipments of radioactive waste from sites around the United States have been sent to the federal government's only underground nuclear waste repository since operations resumed last year following a 2014 radiation release.

U.S. Energy Department officials who oversee operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico provided an update on shipments and other work at the repository during a recent conference in Phoenix.

The shipments have ramped up to about eight a week. They have come from Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico and installations in Idaho, Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas.

Mining also is underway to create more disposal space in the ancient salt formation where the repository is located. The idea is that shifting salt will eventually entomb the waste.

After 20 Years Mexican Wolf Program Still Mired By FrustrationsAssociated Press

It was in a blizzard in a remote area near the Arizona-New Mexico border that a team of biologists opened the gates to three pens, letting loose 11 Mexican gray wolves that had the distinction of being the first of their kind to roam the wild in decades.

Thursday marks the 20th anniversary of that initial release of the endangered predators.

In the months following the 1998 release, five wolves were poached and the remaining animals had to be captured and paired with new mates before being released again.

The population has fluctuated over the last two decades, only recently reaching a high of 114 wolves.

The tortured and costly effort to return Mexican wolves to the American Southwest and Mexico has been fraught with much frustration fueled by a flurry of lawsuits, poaching and livestock deaths.

Congressman Seeks To Recover Legal FeesSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce's campaign for governor of New Mexico is seeking to recover $160,000 in legal costs in a dispute with state election regulators over the transfer of federal campaign cash to the state race.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Pearce campaign spokesman Kevin Sheridan said Wednesday that it is appropriate for the state to pay those legal costs based a decision by the Secretary of State's Office to block the transfer of federal campaign funds. He says that decision ran contrary to a prior ruling allowing Bill Richardson to access federal campaign dollars in a successful 2002 run for governor, citing a judge's recent opinion.

The Secretary of State's Office initially said that only $11,000 can be transferred by Pearce, based on a New Mexico law that limits campaign contributions to $5,500 in a primary election and again in the general election.

A proposed settlement agreement in the case would ensure Pearce can continue to use more than $900,000 that he raised while in Congress on his campaign for governor.

Official Seeks Cheaper Expansion For University HospitalAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The head of the University of New Mexico's Health Sciences Center says officials should consider less costly alternatives to expanding its Albuquerque hospital.

The Albuquerque Journal reports university regents last year decided to proceed with architectural planning of a new 120-bed medical facility that has been estimated to cost up to $250 million.

Dr. Paul Roth told regents last week that they should look into less expensive options to address the current hospital's bed shortage.

Roth says he's not convinced of the reliability of financial projections for the next five to 10 years. He says the university needs a clearer revenue picture.

University officials say the request for hospital architectural and planning proposals was issued last fall and a firm should be selected in the next 60 days.

Audit Finds $1M Missing From New Mexico Broadband ProjectAssociated Press

A state audit has found that officials in charge of a federally funded project that brought broadband services to parts of northern New Mexico cannot account for nearly $1 million in spending and nearly $200,000 in missing fiber optic cable.

The New Mexico State Auditor's Office on Tuesday said that the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District was unable to provide documentation on the missing funds and cable for the REDI Net project.

State auditor spokesman Enrique Knell told the Santa Fe New Mexican that three contractors that worked on the project will be subpoenaed to provide records. He did not identify the contractors.

Knell says the missing funding "doesn't necessarily mean it went into somebody's personal pocket."

District officials did not return the newspaper's call requesting comment.

Former Navajo Nation Official Pleads No Contest To TheftsGallup Independent, Associated Press

A former manager of a Navajo Nation chapter in Tuba City, Arizona, has pleaded no contest to charges stemming from the theft of more than $1 million in chapter funds.

The Gallup Independent reports Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch announced this week that Priscilla Littlefoot pleaded no contest to 18 counts of theft.

The tribal Department of Justice in May filed 86 criminal charges against Littlefoot, accusing her of fraud, theft and falsification committed over several years.

Authorities say she directed the funds to herself and her family and forged documents to conceal the thefts.

Authorities say the funds were largely taken from the chapter's tax revenue earmarked for scholarships, grazing operations, capital improvements and other public purposes.

The tribe is seeking a repayment more than $1 million.

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