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Environmentalists Seek To Block Border Wall Work, NM Educators Focus On School Safety

Mar 22, 2018

Environmentalists Seek To Block New Mexico Border Wall WorkThe Associated Press

A coalition of environment groups is seeking to stop work to replace existing vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border in southern New Mexico.

The groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Thursday, claiming the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not have authority to waive environmental laws as a way to speed construction along a 20-mile stretch near the Santa Teresa port of entry.

The $73 million contract for the work was awarded to a Montana company in February, but it's unclear when construction will start.

Environmentalists also sued over border wall work in California. A federal judge sided with the Trump administration in the case, rejecting arguments that the administration overreached by waiving laws requiring environmental and other reviews before construction could begin. An appeal is pending.

New Mexico Lawmakers, Educators Focus On School Safety - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Top law enforcement officials, administrators from a New Mexico school district where two students were shot and killed in December and some of the state's most influential lawmakers are looking for strategies to make schools safer.

Officials are gathering Thursday at the State Capitol for a hearing before the Legislative Finance Committee on school violence and what can be done to limit the risks.

Lawmakers recently approved $46 million for public school security projects over the next four years, but officials acknowledge that it will take more than building upgrades and surveillance cameras to restore a sense of security in the classroom.

According to a briefing prepared by the committee's analysts, there's no one strategy or combination of strategies that can provide a guarantee against another school shooting.

Budget Deal Includes Wildfire Disaster Fund To End BorrowingThe Associated Press

A spending bill slated for a vote in Congress includes a bipartisan plan to create a wildfire disaster fund to help combat increasingly severe wildfires that have devastated the West in recent years.

The bill sets aside more than $20 billion over 10 years to allow the Forest Service and other federal agencies end a practice of raiding non-fire-related accounts to pay for wildfire costs, which exceeded $2 billion last year.

Western lawmakers have long complained that the current funding mechanism — tied to 10-year averages for wildfire — makes budgeting difficult, even as fires burn longer and hotter each year.

The new plan sets aside $2 billion per year — outside the regular budget — so officials don't have to tap money meant for prevention programs to fight wildfires.

Budget Deal Includes Wildfire Disaster Fund To End Borrowing - By Matthew Daly, Associated Press

A spending bill slated for a vote in Congress includes a bipartisan plan to create a wildfire disaster fund to help combat increasingly severe wildfires that have devastated the West in recent years.

The bill sets aside more than $20 billion over 10 years to allow the Forest Service and other federal agencies to end a practice of raiding non-fire-related accounts to pay for wildfire costs, which exceeded $2 billion last year.

Western lawmakers have long complained that the current funding mechanism — tied to 10-year averages for wildfire — makes budgeting difficult, even as fires burn longer and hotter each year.

The new plan sets aside $2 billion per year — outside the regular budget — so officials don't have to tap money meant for prevention programs to fight wildfires.

Dry Conditions Prompt Burn Ban In New Mexico CountyEastern New Mexico News, Associated Press

Dry conditions across eastern New Mexico have prompted officials in one county to impose a burn ban.

The Curry County Commission adopted the ban during a meeting earlier this week. The resolution prohibits open flames outside of a building in the unincorporated portions of the county, with some exceptions.

The Eastern New Mexico News reports there is an agricultural exception that allows landowners to burn off crop stubble or other vegetation after receiving prior approval.

Any violators would be subject to a fine not to exceed $300 and imprisonment for not more than 90 days.

The resolution took effect immediately and commissioners have the option of renewing it every 45 days depending on the conditions.

Curry County Fire and Safety Director David Kube described the area as "tinderbox dry."

Youth Soccer League Probing Slurs, Choking Of Girl By AdultAssociated Press

A New Mexico youth soccer league is investigating reported racial slurs and an assault on a girl by an adult during a game.

The Duke City League said Tuesday it's looking into allegations that a white man choked and groped a 14-year-old Hispanic female player following a match Saturday in Bernalillo.

Ana Garcia, coach of Alameda, a largely Latina under 19 team, says a parent from the opposing team Rio Galaxy ran onto the field, grabbed an Alameda player and choked her after a players' brawl broke out. She says throughout the match Rio Galaxy supporters shouted anti-Mexican epithets.

But Rio Galaxy coach Steve Kokulis says his players also reported hearing anti-white slurs. Kokulis says he did not see any parent physically attacking a player.

The league suspended both teams for a game.

University Of New Mexico Group Recommends Raising TuitionAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

University of New Mexico's budget proposal recommends raising tuition next year to cover costs for campus safety measures and employee raises.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Tuesday that the budget proposal includes a 2.5 percent tuition increase and a 2.39 percent increase in student fees.

Officials say it would give many employees their first raise in four years.

Under the proposal, students could pay between $88 and $214 more each semester depending on which classes they take.

The proposal was developed by the university's budget leadership team, which is made up representatives from the student body, faculty, staff and administration.

University administrators will present the plan to the Board of Regents on Thursday.

Regent President Rob Doughty said last month that he is against a tuition increase.

New Mexico Regulators OK Massive Wind Farms Near TexasAssociated Press

New Mexico regulators have approved a plan to build two massive wind farms along the Texas-New Mexico border.

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of a $1.6 billion project that Xcel Energy says will add 1,230 megawatts of wind energy to the regional generating mix.

The utility is still awaiting approval from Texas regulators.

Xcel officials say the proposed wind farms would take advantage of what has become the least expensive generating resource in the region to reduce fuel costs and ultimately save customers money.

Xcel anticipates average monthly fuel savings to be about $2 for a typical residential customer beginning in 2021 once the wind farms are operational.

Wind turbines already dot the plains from central New Mexico to the Texas Panhandle.

Santa Fe Task Force Plans To Not Recommend City Public BankSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A draft report indicates that Santa Fe's public bank task force will not recommend for the city to move forward with the establishment of a bank.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the task force, which met Tuesday to edit its final report, is planning to recommend for the city council to work with New Mexico officials to explore the possibility of a state public bank.

The report says a city bank would likely be swamped with legal and regulatory hurdles. It says possible benefits would likely be "marginal and at worst would carry risk of non-viability because of the relatively small scale of the city's financial means."

The report notes a public bank would ensure the local investment of public dollars, ultimately aiding community projects and small businesses.

Mining Company Challenges EPA Order For Superfund Site StudyAssociated Press

A mining company is formally challenging an Environmental Protection Agency order to pay for an investigation of underground water flows at a Colorado Superfund site.

Sunnyside Gold Corp. said Wednesday it asked for a conference at which the company can ask EPA to modify or revoke the order. No date has been set.

EPA wants Sunnyside to study part of the Bonita Peak Mining District, which includes the Gold King Mine. EPA-led contractors inadvertently triggered a spill of potentially toxic wastewater there in 2015, polluting rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Sunnyside doesn't own the Gold King but has other property in the Superfund site. EPA says previous work at a Sunnyside's mine may have redirected wastewater that found its way into rivers.

Sunnyside says it didn't cause the problems.

Police Agencies Launch Effort To Curb Albuquerque Car TheftAssociated Press

State and local law enforcement agencies are launching a collaborative effort aimed at curbing car theft in the Albuquerque area.

The leaders of New Mexico State Police, the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office and the Albuquerque Police Department announced on Tuesday the Bernalillo County Auto Theft Suppression Effort, an initiative that aims to combine police resources to catch more suspects and recover more stolen vehicles.

Sheriff Manuel Gonzales says the agencies have collaborated for emergency situations, but they do not typically work together on smaller criminal cases.

State Police Chief Pete Kassetas says the departments will better share information, so police resources can be focused. He says he has appointed a lieutenant, a sergeant and four detectives to work in the car theft unit with the city and county officers.

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