KUNM

Trump's Monument Review Stirs Passions, Feds Seek Improvements At Lab As Contract Bidding Begins

Jun 27, 2017

In New Mexico, Trump's Monument Review Stirs PassionsThe Associated Press

Desert ranchers and two of New Mexico's most prominent Republican politicians are hoping the new GOP administration in Washington will dramatically shrink a recently designated national monument in the south of the state.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is among 24 monuments where a review has been ordered by President Donald Trump that might remove protections previously considered irreversible.

The review is rekindling a fierce debate about oversight of lands where outlaw Billy the Kid and Apache leader Geronimo once sought refuge. Defenders of the monument say it attracts tourists and professionals who value outdoor recreation.

Rep. Steve Pearce calls the monument just one example of federal interference with a struggling rural economy. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says the federal government should release inholdings of valued state land.

Feds Seek Improved Performance At Los Alamos LabThe Associated Press

The National Nuclear Security Administration says an open competition to find the next manager of Los Alamos National Laboratory will provide the best opportunity for improving performance at the northern New Mexico facility.

The agency on Tuesday said that the bidding process will improve terms and conditions of the next multibillion-dollar management contract.

It was first announced in late 2015 that the current manager, Los Alamos National Security LLC, would be losing its $2.2 billion contract since it failed to earn high enough performance reviews.

Now, criticism of the lab's safety record has intensified as it prepares to resume production of plutonium pits for the nation's nuclear weapons cache.

The NNSA says it's beginning the bidding process now to allow for competition and for an orderly transition when the current contract expires in September 2018.

Governor Orders Flags At Half-Staff For Fallen FirefighterThe Associated Press & The Eastern New Mexico News

Gov. Susana Martinez has ordered flags to fly at half-staff Tuesday in honor of a volunteer firefighter who died from injuries suffered while battling a brush fire in eastern New Mexico.

The executive order issued Monday said the community of Nara Visa could have been put in jeopardy had John Cammack and his fellow firefighters not stopped the blaze late last week.

The 74-year-old Cammack was a career veterinarian and served as a volunteer firefighter for nearly 30 years.

Nara Visa Fire Chief Gary Girard tells The Eastern New Mexico News that Cammack was severely burned after falling from a fire engine after the winds shifted and the flames changed direction.

It took three local fire departments more than 10 hours to corral the flames.

New Mexico Set To Announce More Record-Breaking TourismThe Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is expected next week to announce record-breaking tourism numbers for the southwestern state.

The Republican governor is scheduled to unveil the state's latest tourism figures on July 5 at the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum.

Last year, Martinez said around 700,000 more trips were taken in New Mexico in 2015.

Martinez said half a million more people visited New Mexico in 2014 than in 2013 and credited the state's New Mexico True campaign. That campaign features the state's famous outdoor locations and New Mexico celebrities.

New Mexico True advertisements have been spotted in airports around the country.

Martinez is scheduled next month to visit Ruidoso, Roswell and White Sands National Monument as part of her tour to announce tourism numbers.

Fired New Mexico Employee Settles Out Of Court With StateThe Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

A former New Mexico official who was fired after being accused of unlawfully releasing records of boarding house conditions to a newspaper has reached an out-of-court settlement with the administration of Gov. Susan Martinez.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Monday that terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed.

Sondra Everhart, a former chief advocate for residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, sued the Department of Aging and Long-Term Services after her dismissal in June 2016.

Everhart had provided records of boarding home conditions to the Albuquerque Journal in response to a public-records request a few months before being fired.

Everhart's lawsuit stated she was legally authorized to provide the records.

A spokesman for the Department of Aging and Long-Term Services didn't respond to a comment request.

Contract Competition To Begin For Troubled Los Alamos LabThe Associated Press

The competition for a multibillion-dollar contract to manage the troubled Los Alamos National Laboratory is beginning after a week in which the northern New Mexico facility was hit with criticism for its record of safety lapses.

The National Nuclear Security Administration on Tuesday posted online its intent to conduct a competition for the management and operation contract. The agency is expected to release more details about the request for proposals in the coming weeks.

The current $2.2 billion contract for Los Alamos National Security LLC to manage the lab ends in 2018. Some critics have said the bidding process will offer an opportunity to make changes at Los Alamos.

Just last week, federal officials announced an investigation into the improper shipment of nuclear material from the lab. This follows other reports about the mishandling of plutonium and radioactive waste.

House Ethics Panel Launches Inquiry Of 2 Dems, Plus Aide - By Matthew Daly, 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 Luján 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.

Joe Shoemaker, a spokesman for Lujan, said the ethics inquiry was "the result of a frivolous complaint, filed by a highly partisan outside group" about activities during a sit-in last year by Democrats urging House votes on gun control.

The complaint "is without merit," Shoemaker said. "Congressman Luján is committed to abiding by House rules, is confident he has done so in this case and looks forward to a timely resolution by the Ethics Committee."

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.

Health Insurers Propose Rate Increases In New MexicoAssociated Press

Insurance providers for New Mexico's health exchange want to increase the price of individual rates by at least 21 percent and up to 85 percent in 2018.

The proposed rate hikes were available Tuesday on the website for New Mexico's Office of the Superintendent of Insurance.

About 55,000 New Mexico residents buy their insurance through the state exchange, known as beWellnm.

Insurance companies have been struggling to set rates for next year amid a Republican push to overhaul President Barack Obama's health care law.

New Mexico has sustained a competitive health insurance exchange with four private providers. New Mexico Health Connections has proposed an 85 percent rate increase, while Christus Health Plan is seeking a 49 hike. Molina Healthcare requested the smallest increase of 21 percent.

In New Mexico, Trump's Monument Review Stirs Passions - Associated Press

Desert ranchers and two of the New Mexico's most prominent Republican politicians are hoping the new GOP administration in Washington will dramatically shrink a recently designated national monument in the south of the state.

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is among more than two dozen monuments where a review has been ordered by President Donald Trump that might remove protections previously considered irreversible.

The review is rekindling a fierce debate about oversight of lands where outlaw Billy the Kid and Apache leader Geronimo once sought refuge. Defenders of the monument say it attracts tourists and professionals who value outdoor recreation.

Rep. Steve Pearce calls the monument just one example of federal interference with a struggling rural economy. State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn says the federal government should release valued state land.

Eastern New Mexico University President RetiringAssociated Press

The longtime president of Eastern New Mexico University says he is retiring on July 1.

Steven Gamble has presided over the small school for 16 years and has seen its enrollment grow by nearly 70 percent to a little over 6,000 students since 2001.

Gamble will be replaced by Jeff Elwell of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Elwell is currently the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences there.

The school says Gamble will still work quarter-time at the school in some capacity.

New Mexico Set To Announce More Record-Breaking TourismAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is expected next week to announce record-breaking tourism numbers for the southwestern state.

The Republican governor is scheduled to unveil the state's latest tourism figures on July 5 at the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum.

Last year, Martinez said around 700,000 more trips were taken in New Mexico in 2015.

Martinez said half a million more people visited New Mexico in 2014 than in 2013 and credited the state's New Mexico True campaign. That campaign features the state's famous outdoor locations and New Mexico celebrities.

New Mexico True advertisements have been spotted in airports around the country.

Martinez is scheduled this month to visit Ruidoso, Roswell and White Sands National Monument as part of her tour to announce tourism numbers.

Luna Community College Votes To Oust PresidentLas Vegas Optic, Associated Press

The Luna Community College board of trustees has voted to oust President Leroy "Huero" Sanchez.

The Las Vegas Optic reports that the college's board of trustees voted last week to end Sanchez's employment contract on June 30.

Sanchez's tenure, which began in June 2015, has been plagued with claims of nepotism and other issues prompting investigations from outside agencies.

Last year, Sanchez said he and the school's board of trustees made a mistake by doing away with its nepotism policy. He said hiring decisions were based on the good of the institution, but he said he understood the perception.

His comments came after a special audit of the Las Vegas community college questioned the school's hiring practices.

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument HQ Is VandalizedAssociated Press

National Park Service officials say several juveniles vandalized the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument headquarters in Mountainair.

They say the youths damaged the statue of Saint Francis de Assisi, threw vegetation into the fountain along with cigarette butts and trash, pulled lights and branches off trees and broke pieces from artwork that adorns a sitting area.

Authorities say the vandalism cost the park and taxpayers about $2,000.

Federal Protective Services, an agency with Homeland Security, provided agents to work with Park law enforcement to gather evidence and locate the individuals responsible for the damage.

In lieu of the park filing criminal charges or receiving financial restitution, the youths have agreed to provide the park with 136 hours of labor.

Their first chore is to clean up the area they vandalized.

Supreme Court Declines To Hear Arguments In Mine Spill SuitAssociated 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.

Governor Orders Flags At Half-Staff For Fallen Firefighter Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez has ordered flags to fly at half-staff in honor of a volunteer firefighter who died from injuries suffered while battling a brush fire in eastern New Mexico.

The executive order issued Monday said the community of Nara Vista could have been put in jeopardy had John Cammack and his fellow firefighters not stopped the blaze late last week.

The 74-year-old Cammack was a career veterinarian and served as a volunteer firefighter for nearly 30 years.

Nara Visa Fire Chief Gary Girard tells The Eastern New Mexico News that Cammack was severely burned after falling from a fire engine after the winds shifted and the flames changed direction.

It took three local fire departments more than 10 hours to corral the flames.

New Mexico Land Office, Tribe Look To Curb Illegal DumpingAssociated Press

State land managers are teaming up with one of New Mexico's Native American communities to curb illegal dumping on tribal and state trust land not far from one of the state's fastest growing metropolitan areas.

Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn and Zia Pueblo officials gathered Monday in the desert north of Rio Rancho to mark the fencing of an area where people have long dumped everything from stolen cars to refrigerators.

The state paid for six miles of fencing, partnering with the pueblo for the installation to block access to more than 5 square miles of state trust land.

Dunn says money spent to clean up messes could otherwise be used for public education.

Since 2015, the agency has spent $2.7 million to remediate rangeland and forests, improve wildlife habitat and clean up dump sites around the state.

Supporters Rally For Iraqi Refugee Amid Deportation Threat - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

Around 300 supporters have demonstrated outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Albuquerque in support for an Iraqi refugee who may face deportation.

The demonstrators rallied on Monday for Kadhim Albumohammed who feared he'd be placed in deportation proceedings following a scheduled meeting with federal immigration authorities. But the 64-year-old walked out of the ICE office after his appointment was canceled.

A lawyer for Albumohammed says the Iraqi refugee unfairly was placed into possible deportation proceedings following an immigration hearing he did not attend. The lawyer says Albumohammed didn't know about it.

Supporters say Albumohammed helped train U.S. soldiers going to Iraq and will face death if he's deported.

His case comes amid a class action lawsuit in Michigan seeking to halt deportations to Iraq.

EDITOR'S NOTE: KUNM updated this post to reflect the correct spelling of the name Albumohammed in this Associated Press story.

Officials Report 2 More Plague Cases In Santa Fe CountyAssociated 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.

State Police Kill Man Who Fired At Them On I-25Associated Press

New Mexico State Police say an officer fatally shot a 36-year-old man early on Monday morning after a long standoff.

Police say they were called to a small market in Pecos, New Mexico, around 8:30 p.m. on Sunday after a man showed up armed and "was homicidal."

Officers didn't find the man but later heard shots being fired nearby. They found the suspect's car and tried to pull him over, but he fled. Police later found his car on Interstate 25.

Police say Rip S. Huntington fired at officers who found his car, and a crisis negotiation team was called in. A relative told police Huntington was suicidal and wanted police to kill him.

After a long standoff with negotiators, an officer fired at Huntington, killing him.

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