Senators Seek Millions For LANL And WIPP, Tribal Leaders Press Feds On Drilling Plan In New Mexico

Dec 2, 2016

New Mexico Senators Seek Millions More For Nuke Dump, LabAssociated Press

New Mexico's senators are asking for millions of dollars more to help with recovery efforts at the federal government's only underground nuclear waste repository.

Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich also want more money for cleanup projects at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The New Mexico Democrats outlined their nearly $65 million request in a letter sent earlier this month to a Senate appropriations subcommittee.

Most of the request stems from recovery efforts at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The senators cited a backlog of equipment maintenance, repairs and upgrades as well as environmental projects mandated as part of a multimillion settlement with the state of New Mexico.

The repository has been shut down since 2014, when a drum of inappropriately packed waste from Los Alamos resulted in a radiation release.

Tribal Leaders Press Feds On Drilling Plan In New MexicoThe Associated Press 

Leaders from several American Indian communities want federal land managers to consider the cultural significance of a large swath of land surrounding Chaco Cultural National Historic Park as they plan for more oil and gas development in northwestern New Mexico.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors recently passed a resolution calling for the Bureau of Land Management to make permanent a 10-mile buffer around Chaco park to prevent any drilling activity.

They're also asking for the federal agency to develop a master leasing plan that takes into consideration the significance of the region.

The resolution comes as the agency holds the last of several public hearings Friday on the Navajo Nation as part of an expanded review of management in the area that was sparked by concerns over oil and gas development.

No Charges Filed For Rant Against Hijab-Wearing ShopperThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal 

Albuquerque police say charges won't be filed against a woman who yelled at a hijab-wearing shopper in a grocery store, calling her a terrorist. A hijab is a type of headscarf worn by some Muslim women.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that police say charges weren't filed because the Muslim woman was not physically attacked or afraid that she was going to be.

The incident occurred just before Thanksgiving. Employees of the Smiths grocery stepped between the two women, took the yelling woman to the parking lot and later walked the Muslim shopper to her car.

Albuquerque police spokesman Fred Duran says the shopper denies the other woman did anything other than yell slurs, which officers determined was within her right to free speech.

Jury Finds Homebuilder Guilty Of Embezzlement And FraudSanta Fe New Mexican

A Santa Fe jury found former luxury homebuilder William Kalinowski guilty of fraud and embezzlement, capping an eight-year investigation and a 12-day trial.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the judge ordered Kalinowski taken into custody, saying he was a flight risk. Kalinowski, who is 70, faces up to 73 years in prison and $80,000 in fines.

Kalinowski built many high-end homes in the Las Campanas subdivision but his business ran into problems in 2008. He defaulted on bank loans and did not pay subcontractors, leaving unfinished homes and clients who lost lots of money.

He was indicted in 2013 by a grand jury for fraud and embezzlement.

Feds Prepare To Repackage Radioactive Waste In New Mexico - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Energy is preparing to treat dozens of containers of radioactive waste that were inappropriately packed at one of the nation's premier nuclear weapons laboratories.

It was a similar container from Los Alamos National Laboratory that ruptured in 2014, forcing the closure of the federal government's only underground nuclear waste repository.

The chemical reaction that caused the breach was spurred by organic cat litter that was meant to absorb moisture.

The treatment process will involve adding water and an inert material to the 60 containers in question to stabilize them so they can ultimately be disposed of. State and federal officials describe the work as calculated and methodical.

Officials say the work is expected to begin next spring following safety assessments and upgrades to the building where the treatment will be done.

Republican Vows To Reverse Land Planning ChangeAssociated Press

A U.S. Senator from Wyoming says he'll seek to reverse changes in how government officials plan for development across almost 250 million acres of public lands.

The Obama administration announced Thursday an overhaul to an often-cumbersome process that dictates oil and gas drilling, grazing and other activities on lands administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The administration says its new rule will increase public involvement and government transparency.

But Sen. John Barrasso predicted it will take away authority from locally based government workers and increase the influence of officials in Washington, D.C.

The Republican lawmaker said he would work with President-elect Donald Trump to reverse the regulation.

New Mexico Officials Investigate Legionnaires' Disease CasesAssociated Press

The New Mexico Department of Health is investigating a cluster of Legionnaires' disease cases.

The agency announced Thursday that it has identified six patients from Chaves County with confirmed Legionnaires' disease since the first week of October.

Two of the six patients have died — a 69-year-old woman and a 65-year-old woman. But authorities say all six had other health issues that increased the risk of infection.

State health officials are working to determine the source of the bacterial infections that can cause pneumonia.

Outbreak investigations of Legionnaires' disease focus on where patients may have been exposed to contaminated water in the 14 days before onset of illness.

The bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease was first identified in 1976 when people attending an American Legion convention in Philadelphia developed pneumonia.

Public Defender Standoff Reaches Supreme Court Associated Press

A state prosecutor is asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to order public defense attorneys back to work on behalf of indigent defendants at courts in Lea County.

District Attorney Dianna Luce said Wednesday she has submitted an emergency petition that urges the Supreme Court to intervene in cases where legal representation was declined or withdrawn by the Law Offices of the Public Defender.

Chief Public Defender Ben Baur says that state budget restrictions mean his office can no longer effectively provide counsel to people in Lea County who cannot afford an attorney. A Lea County District Judge has found Bauer in contempt.

Luce says Lea County is experiencing a breakdown in the judicial process and that public defenders do not have the authority to decline representation to indigent criminal defendants.

Albuquerque Middle School Gets Donation From James PattersonKRQE-TV, Associated Press

An Albuquerque middle school is getting some help from a bestselling writer.

KRQE-TV in Albuquerque reports James Patterson recently gave Truman Middle School a $6,800 grant to support its library.

Officials say the school plans to use that money to add 40 audio books along with hardcover versions to its collection

The author and literary philanthropist told The Associated Press in March that for a second year he's donating $1.75 million to the country's school libraries.

Patterson, who received an honorary National Book Award last year for his contributions to the literary community, has also given away millions to independent bookstores and to literacy programs. He emphasized in a statement "the vital role reading plays in children's lives."

Doña Ana Treasurer Convicted; Allegedly Made Offer To WorkerLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

Doña Ana County Treasurer David Gutierrez has been convicted of public corruption and gross immorality for allegedly offering $2,000 to a female office employee to have sex with him.

Prosecutors say the District Court jury verdict Wednesday means Gutierrez has been effectively removed from office.

Gutierrez testified that what he said to the employee was a compliment, not a sexual proposition.

District Attorney Mark D'Antonio applauded the jury's decision, saying that Gutierrez has been held accountable for abusing his office.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that defense attorney José Coronado expressed disappointment with the verdict and an appeal is possible.

Gutierrez was entering the last month of his final term in office when the trial began Tuesday. Term limits barred him from running for re-election this year.

Suspect Sentenced In Deadly Road-Rage ShootingAssociated Press

The suspect charged in a shooting that killed a 4-year-old Albuquerque girl during what police say was a road-rage fight has been sentenced to 16 years in prison on a second-degree murder charge.

Tony Torrez apologized to the victim's family at his plea hearing Thursday, a day after he accepted a plea deal with prosecutors.

His jury trial had been scheduled to start Thursday before he agreed to the deal in the October 2015 shooting.

Alan and Veronica Garcia brought photographs of their daughter Lilly to court, with one large image of the victim smiling and wearing pink cowboy boots propped against a courtroom bench.

Through tears, Veronica Garcia recalled in court how she rushed to the hospital the day of the killing, and described the toll the shooting has taken on her family.

Florida Man Gets Prison In New Mexico Identity Theft CaseAssociated Press

A Florida man has been sentenced to four years in prison in an identity theft case in New Mexico.

Prosecutors say 51-year-old Clinton William Yetter, of Gainesville, also was sentenced Thursday to two years of supervised release after he serves his prison term.

Yetter was indicted in May 2013 on two counts of making false statements and two counts of aggravated identity fraud.

The indictment alleged that Yetter made the false statements while applying for U.S. passports in New Mexico's Bernalillo County in October 2011 and May 2012.

Yetter also was accused of using the name of another person in making the passport applications.

He pleaded guilty to the two charges without the benefit of a plea agreement earlier this year.