KUNM

Transit Opponents Want Construction Stopped, AG To Pressure Feds Over Mine Spill

Oct 25, 2016

Transit Opponents Seek Halt To ConstructionAlbuquerque Journal

Crews are digging up concrete and removing medians as part of a bus rapid transit project along Central Avenue in Albuquerque, but opponents are still trying to stop construction.

The Albuquerque Journal reports city officials have asked the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to reject an emergency motion to stop the Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project. They argue any stoppage would cost about $147,000 per day.

The project will cost about $119 million and would create nine miles of dedicated bus lanes and stops along Central Avenue. Much of it comes from a federal transit grant.

Critics say it’s creating traffic congestion and the city doesn’t have final federal approval. The Federal Transit Administration said in a court filing it has not yet approved grant that would fund the project, but FTA officials added that doesn’t prevent construction from continuing.

The city is tapping its own funds for construction and is counting on the grant to cover those costs. 

New Mexico AG Vows To Keep Pressuring Feds Over Mine SpillThe Associated Press

The state's top prosecutor, elected officials from northwestern New Mexico and the Navajo Nation are meeting with residents and business owners to talk about possible legal steps following last year's mine waste spill that fouled rivers in three western states.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas on Tuesday urged residents affected by the 2015 Gold King Mine spill to share their stories as the state continues to build its case against the federal government.

A cleanup team led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency triggered the Aug. 5, 2015, spill while working at the mine near Silverton, Colorado. The 3-million-gallon blowout tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with tons of toxic heavy metals including arsenic, mercury and lead.

New Mexico officials said Tuesday they're still concerned about contaminated sediment being stirred up by storm runoff.

Millions In Bonds On The Ballot For New Mexico ProjectsThe Associated Press

It'll be up to New Mexico voters to approve more than $186 million in general obligation bonds to support everything from senior citizen centers and schools to the construction of a new state crime lab.

Supporters say the funding is key to completing brick and mortar projects as New Mexico struggles with a budget crisis that has forced officials to curb spending.

If voters approve all four bonds on the ballot this year, finance officials estimate that property owners would pay almost 9 ½ dollars annually on each $100,000 of a property's assessed value to pay for the bonds over the next decade.

The largest of the bonds would fund construction projects at colleges and universities around the state.

Judge Sets Trial Date For Lawsuit Over Teacher Evaluations – The Associated Press

An ongoing legal fight between teachers unions and the state over New Mexico's teacher evaluation system will get its day in court next year.

A District Court judge on Monday agreed to hear the case on Oct. 23, 2017. The long wait comes after Albuquerque Teachers Federation and American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico attorney Shane Youtz requested time to review New Mexico Public Education Department changes to the evaluation process.

In January, the department announced changes that simplify the evaluations, moving from 107 assessment categories to just three.

The teachers unions argue the evaluation system is forcing veteran educators to retire or have their licenses jeopardized. The system ties teacher performance to test scores.

PED has argued that their system creates accountability and helps teachers improve.

Governor Signs Bill To Slash Agency SpendingAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has signed legislation that slashes state agency spending to help fill a budget deficit.

The governor announced Monday line-item vetoes designed to spare some public school initiatives from the spending reductions.

The New Mexico Legislature approved $171 million in agency spending cuts this month during a special session to help address a major operating budget deficit.

Martinez says lawmakers went too far with cuts to education programs designed to reward top-performing teachers, cover costs for advanced placement exams and place social workers in middle schools.

The state's budget woes are linked to a downturn in energy markets that has taken a bite out of taxes and royalties from oil and natural gas production and sent shock waves through a lagging economy.

Democratic Senator Says Veto Undermines SolvencyAssociated Press

A Democratic state senator says line-item vetoes by New Mexico's governor to a budget solvency bill will only exacerbate a financial crisis in state government.

Sen. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque on Monday said it was unfair of the governor to pick winners and losers by vetoing $22 million of proposed spending cuts in the area of educational reform.

Martinez approved another $150 million in spending cuts at other state agencies. Most state agencies will reduce spending by 5.5 percent to help shore up the state's general fund.

The cuts are part of a solvency package approved by the Legislature to address a nearly $600 million operating budget deficit.

Spaceport America To Host 200-Mile Relay RunThe Associated Press 

Spaceport America will mark the finish for a two-day, 200-mile relay that will stretch from El Paso, Texas into southern New Mexico.

The race will begin April 8. Paying teams of runners will travel north along the Rio Grande, passing historic farming villages on the way to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

From there, they'll head east toward Ted Turner's Armendaris Ranch and then to the spaceport.

Organizers say the second to the last leg will be a half-marathon beginning in Engle. The final leg will take runners down Spaceport America Boulevard and onto the runway before finishing in front of the futuristic hangar.

Spaceport America CEO Daniel Hicks says it's a one-of-a-kind finish line and the relay is designed to appeal to everyone from amateurs to seasoned athletes.

Video Of Officer Being Shot Is Shown In CourtAssociated Press

Police video has been played in federal court showing the fatal shooting of an Albuquerque police officer last year during a nighttime traffic stop.

The video from Officer Daniel Webster's lapel camera was screened in court Monday during the bench trial of ex-convict Davon Lymon.

Lymon is facing federal charges of being a felon in possession of the firearm used to kill Webster.

Albuquerque police named Lymon as a suspect last year. State charges have yet to be filed in the case.

In the video, a man is heard shouting and indicating he's in pain while the officer yells for a suspect to give him his hand so he can cuff him.

Shots are fired moments later as Webster gets out of his vehicle.

New Mexico's Top Court Reconsiders Closed Primary SystemAssociated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court is considering a challenge of the state's closed primary system by an independent voter who alleges violations of his constitutional right to participate in all public elections.

Justices heard oral arguments Monday in a lawsuit brought by Albuquerque attorney David Crum against state and Bernalillo County elections officials. A decision will be reached later.

Currently, only Republicans and Democrats can vote in their respective primary elections in New Mexico. Critics of the closed system say it effectively disenfranchises independent and small party voters, while supporters say it ensures distinct ideological choices in general elections.

A district court dismissed the lawsuit by Crum after the New Mexico Republican Party objected to interference with its rights to political association.

Mexican Wolf Recovery Program See Success In Cross-FosteringAssociated Press

Officials with the Mexican wolf recovery program say they're finding evidence of success in cross-fostering.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department, Chicago Zoological Society, Endangered Wolf Center and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to reintroduce the Mexican wolf to its native habitat in Arizona and New Mexico.

In April, five Mexican wolf pups were born at Brookfield Zoo in Illinois.

Two pups were placed in the den of the Arizona-based Elk Horn Pack of wild wolves with the intention that the pack's adults would raise the two with its own litter.

Last month, wildlife biologists captured a male pup associated with the pack and confirmed it originated at the Brookfield Zoo.

At least one additional cross-fostered pup is confirmed to be with the Panther Creek Pack in Arizona.

Visitor Killed By A Falling Tree At National Monument ID'dLos Alamos Monitor, Associated Press

Authorities at New Mexico's Bandelier National Monument have identified the female park visitor killed by a falling tree earlier this month as an Illinois woman.

The Los Alamos Monitor reports Bandelier National Monument Superintendent Jason Lott says 81-year-old Beverly Modlin of Wheeling, Illinois, was fatally struck by the falling tree Oct. 3 while visiting the park.

Officials say Modlin was returning to her car in the Frey Trailhead parking lot when a live Ponderosa reportedly snapped in half.

Employers' Costs For Work Injuries, Deaths May Drop In 2017Associated Press

New Mexico employers could see a decrease in their insurance costs for on-the-job injuries and deaths.

The state Office of Superintendent of Insurance says a key factor in calculating individual employers' workers' compensation costs will drop by an average of 9 percent in 2017.

The office says this is the second consecutive year in which businesses will see an average decrease in the so-called "pure premium."

That's the portion that employers pay insurers to cover costs for claims stemming from job-related injuries and deaths.

The office says there other costs related to workers' compensation but that the pure premium is the main factor between annual cost changes.

The office notes that the 9 percent decrease is an average and individual employers' costs also vary by industry, claims experience and payroll.

New Mexico To Outline Legal Steps After Toxic Mine Spill – Associated Press

The state's top prosecutor and elected officials from northwestern New Mexico and the Navajo Nation are meeting with residents and business owners to talk about possible legal steps following last year's mine waste spill that fouled rivers in three western states.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and the other officials are urging residents affected by the 2015 Gold King Mine spill to file claims.

A cleanup team led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency triggered the Aug. 5, 2015, spill while working at the mine near Silverton, Colorado. The 3-million-gallon blowout tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with tons of toxic heavy metals including arsenic, mercury and lead.

New Mexico officials have said they're still concerned about contaminated sediment being stirred up by storm runoff.

Official: No Arsenic In Santa Teresa High School's WaterKVIA-TV, Associated Press

Officials say Santa Teresa High School's water supply doesn't have arsenic in it after all.

KVIA-TV in El Paso reports Camino Real Regional Utility Authority executive director Brent Westmoreland apologized last week after saying he was said he was "90 percent sure" Santa Teresa High School had arsenic in its water. He recanted a day later.

Gadsden school officials told KVIA-TV high school and elementary school in its southern New Mexico community have not been told to do anything about arsenic levels in drinking water.

Communities in southern New Mexico have had to deal with arsenic in their water supplies for years. The installation of a new water pump and water treatment plant in Santa Teresa is expected to solve the problem.

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