KUNM

High Court Will Not Hear Mine Spill Suit, 2 More Plague Cases Hit Santa Fe County

Jun 26, 2017

Supreme Court Declines To Hear Arguments In Mine Spill SuitThe Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court won't hear arguments on New Mexico's lawsuit against Colorado over a 2015 mine waste spill that polluted rivers in both states and Utah.

The nation's high court made the announcement Monday, but justices did allow the lawsuit to move forward.

Colorado Attorney General Coffman says New Mexico should not have sued Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court because the Environmental Protection Agency caused the disaster

However, James Hallinan, a spokesman for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, says the Supreme Court's ruling only limited the venue in which Colorado can be sued for the harm done to New Mexico.

New Mexico sued Colorado in June 2016, saying Colorado should be held responsible for the contamination as well as decades of toxic drainage from other mines.

Officials Report 2 More Plague Cases In Santa Fe CountyThe Associated Press

New Mexico health officials have documented two more human cases of plague in Santa Fe County.

The Health Department says the two recent cases involve a 52-year-old woman and a 62-year-old woman. A case involving a 63-year-old man was reported earlier this month.

All three cases have required hospitalization but there have been no deaths.

Health workers are conducted environmental investigations around the homes of the patients to look for ongoing risk and to ensure the safety of the families and neighbors.

Plague generally is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected fleas but can be transmitted by direct contact with infected animals including rodents and pets. Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache and weakness.

New Mexico had four human plague cases in 2016 with no fatalities.

New Mexico Land Commissioner Cites Fresh Water CrisisThe Associated Press

State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says parts of eastern New Mexico are in crisis mode as the depletion of the Ogallala aquifer continues.

Dunn says the depletion and the lack of alternatives for fresh water is helping devalue state trust land in the region.

Starting July 1, the Land Office will review hydrological information before renewing or approving new land access to drill water wells on trust land that involve the use of fresh water from the Ogallala aquifer for oil and gas production and related activities.

Dunn says non-fresh sources are available that can be used for production.

Dunn says under the new policy, individuals aren't prohibited from applying for an easement that might involve the use of fresh water for oil and gas production, although additional documentation and hydrologic information are now required with all applications.

House Ethics Panel Launches Inquiry Of New Mexico DemocratThe Associated Press

The House Ethics committee says it is investigating complaints against two veteran Democratic lawmakers and a top aide to a third Democrat.

The ethics panel says it is investigating complaints against Reps. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and John Conyers of Michigan, senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. The panel also is investigating Michael Collins, a top aide to Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics recommended the investigations, although the exact nature of the allegations is not clear.

The ethics panel says in a statement that the inquiries do not in themselves reflect any judgment of wrongdoing.

The panel says it will announce further steps in each case by Aug. 9.

New Mexico Land Commissioner Cites Fresh Water CrisisAssociated Press

State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says parts of eastern New Mexico are in crisis mode as the depletion of the Ogallala aquifer continues.

Dunn says the depletion and the lack of alternatives for fresh water is helping devalue state trust land in the region.

Starting July 1, the Land Office will review hydrological information before renewing or approving new land access to drill water wells on trust land that involve the use of fresh water from the Ogallala aquifer for oil and gas production and related activities.

Dunn says non-fresh sources are available that can be used for production.

Dunn says under the new policy, individuals aren't prohibited from applying for an easement that might involve the use of fresh water for oil and gas production, although additional documentation and hydrologic information are now required with all applications.

New Mexico Ethics Commission Remains Work In ProgressAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The New Mexico legislature approved the creation of an independent ethics commission during this year's legislative session, but there's still much unsettled about how the body would work.

The Albuquerque Journal reported lawmakers approved the framework for an ethics commission, with the assumption specific powers and procedures would be set at a later date.

Some groups are pushing lawmakers to start talking details in interim legislative committee hearings this summer and fall.

Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, says it is unlikely the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee will end up recommending legislation when the committee meets in the coming months.

As currently proposed, the seven-member independent ethics commission would review complaints against elected officials and certain government employees.

New Mexico is one of eight states without an ethics commission.

Kidnapped Border Patrol Agent Says He Feared For FamilyEl Paso Times, Associated Press

An off-duty U.S. Border Patrol agent in Texas tells investigators he got into a vehicle with two men who then allegedly kidnapped and attacked him to get them away from his family.

The El Paso Times reports Border Patrol Agent Lorenzo Hernandez told authorities he was helping his mother at her food truck June 9 when the men asked for a ride, saying their car broke down.

According to federal court records, Hernandez said he agreed to give them a ride because he noticed one of them had a handgun.

Hernandez said he was forced to drive from El Paso to nearby Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he was assaulted and stabbed.

The two suspects, Fernando Puga and Sergio Ivan Quiñonez-Venegas, have been arrested and face federal kidnapping charges.

State Settles Medicaid Dispute For Sliver Of Original DemandAssociated Press

The New Mexico Human Services Department has settled with a former Las Cruces behavioral health provider for a sliver of the amount it originally demanded.

More than four years ago, the department accused Southwest Counseling Center of overbilling the state by $2.8 million in Medicaid reimbursements. The state, however, lowered its demand to just under $485 — the amount both parties have settled at.

The settlement is part of a four-year dispute that shook up New Mexico's behavioral health network. It began in 2013 when the state Human Services Department cut off Medicaid and other funding to 15 providers, citing allegations of overbilling, mismanagement and possible fraud.

The state claims it demanded the $2.8 million after the group had failed to provide proper documentation for its billing. Officials say the state lowered its demand once correct paperwork came through.

New Mexico Man Slammed By Jail Officer Settles For $500,000Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

Doña Ana County has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by a man who was body-slammed by a jail officer in 2015 while being booked into the detention center.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports Timothy Black agreed to settle his lawsuit against the county.

Black's lawsuit accused an officer of battery at the Doña Ana County Detention Center. Black had been arrested on a charge of resisting a police officer. While being booked, he was slammed to the ground and claims to have been knocked unconscious. The entire incident was captured on surveillance video.

Officer Luis Ruiz is still employed at the detention center and faces criminal charges. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison. He previously pleaded not guilty to one count of aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm.

New Mexico Group Unveils Estimated $20M Homelessness ProjectSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A local architect and a pair of organizations that serve Santa Fe's homeless population have been working for nearly two years to develop a long-term solution to homelessness that extends far beyond a bed and a meal.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported earlier this week that the group's estimated $20-million proposal just lacks two primary ingredients: funding and a site.

The proposed 400-bed facility is modeled after a 1,500-bed facility in San Antonio, Texas, called Haven for Hope.

The project's leading architect Suby Bowden says Haven for Hope has success in getting people off the streets, but also in transforming people's lives.

Haven for Hope spokeswoman Laura Calderon estimates the 7-year-old facility has led to more than $90 million in savings and has reduced homelessness in downtown San Antonio by 80 percent.

Feds Investigate After Lab Improperly Ships Nuclear Material - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Federal regulators are launching an investigation into the improper shipment of nuclear material from Los Alamos National Laboratory to other federal labs last week.

The National Nuclear Security Administration said Friday it was informed by the lab that procedures weren't followed when shipping what was only described as "special nuclear material" to facilities in California and South Carolina.

The material had been packaged for ground transport. But instead it was shipped aboard an air cargo service, which isn't allowed by federal regulations.

Officials say that once the investigation is complete, any responsible parties will be held accountable.

This marks just the latest gaffe by Los Alamos, the lab that created the atomic bomb. Criticism has been intensifying over the lab's history of safety lapses as work ramps up to produce key components for the nation's nuclear weapons cache.

University Professor, 2 Students Overcome By Heat Near HatchAssociated Press

Border Patrol agents say they had to rescue a university professor and two of her students who were overcome by heat near Hatch, New Mexico.

Agents from the Las Cruces station responded to a call from the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Office requesting assistance in locating three people who were in distress Wednesday afternoon.

The three people were located about seven miles south of Hatch.

Agents say one student was severely dehydrated while the professor and the other student showed signs of heat exhaustion.

The three were taking soil samples when they were overcome by the heat.

The dehydrated student was taken a Las Cruces hospital for evaluation while the professor and the other student were treated at the scene.

Their names and ages haven't been released.

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