Tuesday News Roundup: Utilities Sue Bernalillo County Over Fees

Mar 18, 2014

Utilities Sue Bernalillo County Over Fees The Albuquerque Journal and The Associated Press

Three utilities are asking a federal court to prohibit Bernalillo County from enforcing a new ordinance that imposes fees for using roads and other public rights of way for lines.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that New Mexico Gas Co., Public Service Co. of New Mexico and CenturyLink contend that the county is improperly imposing franchise fees to get more revenue to pad its budget.

The suit contends the fees are illegal and trample on the state Public Regulation Commission's authority.

County Attorney Randy Autio says his office will defend the ordinance, which he calls a legal method for requiring reasonable compensation for use of rights of way.

The county approved the ordinance in January, with supporters saying the county shouldn't subsidize utility companies' use of roads.

More Bats Found In Cave At N.M. National MonumentThe Gallup Independent and The Associated PressResearchers report finding twice as many bats hibernating in a cave at a national monument in in northwestern New Mexico and they say that may be the result of fewer human visitors.

The Gallup Independent reports that researchers found 180 bats hibernating in Junction Cave at El Malpais National Monument near Grants during a winter count.

That's up from between 80 and 90 in the past.

Monument natural resources branch chief David Hays calls the increase a welcome surprise and he says it looks like closing the cave to the public during winter was a good decision because it meant less disturbance for the bats.

Report: 6 Hate Groups Operating In New MexicoThe Las Cruces Sun News and The Associated Press

A nation group that monitors hate groups says New Mexico has six such active organizations operating in the state.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center has identified two Ku Klux Klan cells, two anti-Muslim groups, a skinhead group and an anti-Semitic group in New Mexico.

The center named the groups in the agency's 2013 report released this spring.

SPLC lead fellow Mark Potok says one of the groups is a racist skinhead organization in northwest New Mexico.

The report also says there are two active Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan groups in New Mexico, including one in Silver City.

The center defines an organization as a hate group if it has "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people."


Governor Martinez: Special Session For Tesla Weighed - The Albuquerque Journal 

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez says a legislative special session to help the state win a Tesla Motors facility is a possibility.

New Mexico is one of four states that Fremont, Calif.,-based Tesla has identified as finalists for a battery factory. Others are Arizona, Nevada and Texas.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, Martinez says her office is evaluating whether a special session is necessary to complete a package of economic incentives being crafted to help make New Mexico more appealing to Tesla.

Martinez wouldn't discuss details of the negotiations with Tesla, but she said New Mexico is in the running for the project in part because of taxation changes that the state has made.

She made her comments Monday after she made a speech in Albuquerque.

Congress Studies New Way To Fund Massive Wildfires - The Associated Press

A bipartisan effort is underway in Congress to change the way the country pays to battle its most catastrophic wildfires.

Lawmakers from Oregon and Idaho met with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Monday to discuss the budget reform.

President Barack Obama's proposed budget would prevent the diversion of money intended for forest thinning and other wildfire prevention efforts.

Historically as fire season progressed, money that had been set aside to thin forests and restore burned land was taken and used to pay for fighting the biggest blazes.

Legislation introduced in Congress would direct that when firefighting costs reach 70 percent of the 10-year average, firefighting agencies could dip into the government's fund for battling natural disasters like hurricanes.

Advocates To Hold Protests Targeting Pearce - The Associated Press

Immigrant advocates are preparing for another string of demonstrations targeting the lone Republican of New Mexico's congressional delegation.

The group Somos Un Pueblo Unido announced this week that activists will hold at least three protests in the district of Congressman Steve Pearce. He represents the state's border region and its most Hispanic congressional district.

Advocates have scheduled a protest march Tuesday in Los Lunas and a candlelight vigil Wednesday in Portales. They also are planning a protest march in front of Pearce's office in Roswell on Thursday.

The activists want Pearce to endorse a measure that would give immigrants living in the country illegally a path to citizenship.

The conservative congressman says he wants a new guest worker program but has stopped short of supporting the pathway to citizenship.

Feds Extend Lockheed Management Of Sandia - The Associated Press

The federal government says it will extend Lockheed Martin's contract to manage Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque for two more years.

The announcement Monday is a reversal of sorts from the National Nuclear Security Administration, which two years ago said it planned to open the management contract to competition.

In a statement, the NNSA says it decided to wait until studies on improving management and performance across the Department of Energy are completed so the contract bidding process can include recommendations from advisory panels. The two-year extension includes an option to renew the contract for a third year.

In a statement to employees, Sandia President Paul Hommert called the extension "a positive development that offers stability for the Labs and the workforce."

BLM Seeks Comments On Energy Connect Project - The Associated Press

A regional electric provider is planning to build a new transmission line and other infrastructure between New Mexico and Colorado to meet growing demand throughout the San Juan Basin.

The transmission line being planned by Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association would stretch 65 miles from Waterflow to Ignacio, Colo.

The utility says the line would also boost reliability of the region's electricity system.

The Bureau of Land Management has scheduled two public meetings next month to discuss the proposal.

The agency has reviewed potential environmental effects of the line and will be accepting public comments on its draft analysis through April 28.

The San Juan Basin has been seeing a resurgence of oil and natural gas drilling activity due to technological advancements aimed at tapping the region's shale deposits.

New Mexico Jobless Rate At 6.6 Percent In January - The Associated Press

New Mexico's unemployment rate remained virtually unchanged in January at 6.6 percent.

The state Workforce Solutions Department said Monday that the unemployment rate in January was down from 6.9 percent a year ago.

The state agency says jobs have shrunk by 0.5 percent, a loss of 3,700 over the year.

State officials say seven industries lost jobs, four added employment and two remain unchanged.

The largest employment gains were reported in the mining industry, which added 1,700 jobs since January 2013.

Retail trade added 1,200 jobs while the financial activities industry added 1,100 jobs and construction added 500 jobs.

Government employment reported the largest jobs decrease at 3,200 jobs while manufacturing declined by 1,500 jobs. The professional and business services industry lost 1,100 jobs.

New TV Series To Film In Albuquerque - The Associated Press

Another television series has set its sights on Albuquerque.

The New Mexico Film Office reports that CBS Television Studios is producing the television pilot The Messengers in Albuquerque for The CW.

The show starts with a mysterious object crashing down to earth. A group of seemingly unconnected strangers die from the energy pulse, but then awaken to learn that they have been deemed responsible for preventing the impending Apocalypse

Principal photography will begin mid-March. The production will be employing approximately 150 New Mexico crew members as well as over 100 resident actors and background talent.

The show is the latest among a half dozen television shows that have been filming or have announced plans to film in Albuquerque.