Friday News Roundup: Report Says Nuclear Waste Dump Truck Fire Was Preventable

Mar 14, 2014

Report: Nuclear Waste Dump Truck Fire Was Preventable - The Associated Press

The truck that caught fire a half mile underground at a southeastern New Mexico nuclear waste dump was 29 years old, improperly maintained and operating without an automatic fire-suppression system.

Those are some of the conclusions of a report to be released Friday into the accident last month at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) near Carlsbad.

The report also will detail a number of deficiencies in emergency training and responses to recent back-to-back incidents at WIPP.

A U.S. Department of Energy official previewed the findings Thursday evening at a community meeting, saying the fire was preventable.

An investigation of a radiation release nine days later that contaminated 17 workers is expected in a few weeks.

Also Thursday, the contractor that runs the site said Farok Sharif has been replaced by Bob McQuinn as president and project manager at WIPP.

Martinez: State DWI Fatalities At Record Low - The Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez says alcohol-related traffic deaths in New Mexico have reached a record low.

Martinez said Thursday preliminary numbers show the state saw 133 fatal alcohol-related crashes last year, a nearly 14 percent drop from 2012. Officials say that's the lowest number of alcohol-related traffic deaths in the state's recorded history.

The state's previous low was in 2008 when New Mexico saw 143 alcohol-related traffic deaths.

Martinez attributed the recent decline to aggressive programs by law enforcement agencies and better awareness from the public.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation also said preliminary numbers show that New Mexico saw 309 traffic deaths last year. That's a drop from 2012 when state officials reported 367 cases.

Increase In Chickenpox Cases In Albuquerque Area - The Associated Press

State health officials say there's an increase in chickenpox cases among school-aged children in the Albuquerque area over the past few weeks.

The New Mexico Department of Health has investigated eight reported cases since Feb. 3.

That's compared to three total cases reported in the same age group during the first two months of last year.

Officials say the children in seven of the eight cases had not received two doses of varicella vaccine.

Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus and is a highly contagious disease.

It causes a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness and fever.

The disease spreads easily from infected people to others who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine.

AG Appeals 'Right To Die' Ruling - The Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King is appealing a court ruling that terminally ill patients can seek a physician's help in dying.

King tells the Albuquerque Journal that one of the problems with District Judge Jan Nash's January ruling is that it doesn't apply statewide.

King also says he wants to protect the assisted suicide law. That law classifies helping with suicide as a felony.

The case centers on Aja Riggs, a Santa Fe resident who was diagnosed with an aggressive uterine cancer. Her cancer is in remission, but doctors expect it to return.

Nash ruled that terminally ill patients have the right to aid in dying, and that "such deaths are not considered 'suicide' under the assisted suicide law.

Land Commissioner Unhappy With Governor's Veto - The Associated Press

State Land Commissioner Ray Powell is objecting that Republican Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed money for a feasibility study about New Mexico buying some federal land.

Martinez eliminated $250,000 for the study from a budget bill this week using her line-item veto powers.

Powell contends that New Mexico could generate more money for education if the Land Office acquired "disposal land" from the Bureau of Land Management. He says the land could be used for grazing leases, commercial development and energy production.

Powell said Thursday that "politics as usual in Santa Fe must end."

A Martinez spokesman said the governor understands the importance of the land acquisition issue, but thought the study was too expensive and the Land Office could pay for it rather than using the state's main budget account.

Rio Rancho To Begin Watering Restrictions - The Associated Press

Rio Rancho is warning residents that outdoor water restrictions will soon take effect and fines will be levied against repeat violators.

The restrictions begin April 1 and will continue through the end of October. They prohibiting watering with sprinklers and other automated spray systems between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Officials say hand water will still be allowed.

A first violation will result in a warning for customers with smaller meters, but a second one will cost $25. A fifth violation comes with a $100 fine.

The fines are higher for customers with larger meters.

The city has also set up a water waste hotline for residents to call if they see violations.

Many New Mexico communities have imposed watering restrictions as the state continues to wrestle with drought.

Error Results In $39K Loss For NM Space Program - The Associated Press

A storage mix-up at New Mexico State University has cost the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium some of its historical records and equipment used to prepare student experiments for rocket flights into space.

University officials say employees were clearing an area the consortium used for storage when they mistakenly threw out the equipment and took documents and other materials to be shredded and recycled.

Consortium officials found out about the error Feb. 13, the day after the items were cleared out.

Consortium executive director Pat Hynes says it's sad some of the original documents from the start of the program are gone, but she's thankful NMSU has agreed to replace the equipment.

Banners and signs used for the annual space flight symposium will also be replaced.

Hynes valued the lost materials at about $39,000.

Bueno Restocking NM Shelves With Green Chile - The Associated Press

A family-owned food company in Albuquerque has announced it is restocking grocery store shelves with its green chile products.

Bueno Foods says it began supplying frozen green chile to restaurants and other food service customers a few weeks ago. The grocery stores began getting their supplies Thursday.

The new product has a different sticker, and company officials say the chile flavor is more concentrated and intense.

In February, Bueno Foods announced a voluntary recall of its frozen non-ready-to-eat green chile products, saying the products had the potential to contain low levels of the common bacteria Listeria monocytogenes in its uncooked state.

Bueno Foods says it is now investing millions of dollars in equipment to adjust to stricter federal standards that may be on the horizon for frozen products.

NM School Library May Lose Ex-legislator's Name - KRQE-TV

Albuquerque's school board wants to remove the name of a disgraced politician from a school library.

The district board voted Wednesday night to remove former state legislator Manny M. Aragon's name from the library at Lowell Elementary School.

KRQE-TV reports that the 4-2 vote was preliminary and subject to another vote by the board next week.

Aragon secured state funding to build the library but he later was convicted of pocketing more than $600,000 during the construction of an Albuquerque courthouse.

School board President Esquivel says Aragon did a lot for the community and the state but that it's now inappropriate to have his name on the library.

Aragon spent over four years in prison but is now finishing his term in his Albuquerque-area home.