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June 10, 2014

"Audit: 1,000-plus NM vets await initial VA medical visits" – Las Cruces Sun News

More than 1,000 veterans have been waiting three months or more for initial medical appointments within the Veterans Affairs Department's health care system in New Mexico, according to the findings of an audit released Monday.  The wide-ranging audit covered hundreds of VA hospitals and clinics across the country, including the medical center in Albuquerque where officials previously said more than 3,000 patients were assigned to a doctor who didn't actually see them. – 5/10/2014

June 5, 2014

Chester Nez, the last of ‘Original 29′ Navajo Code Talkers, dies at 93” -- Albuquerque Journal

Chester Nez, the last of the “Original 29″ Navajo Code Talkers who developed and implemented a top secret code that confounded the Japanese in World War II, died Wednesday at his home on Albuquerque’s West Side. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly on Wednesday issued a proclamation directing all flags on the Navajo Nation to be flown at half-staff in Nez’s honor from sunrise today until sunset Sunday. -- June 5, 2014


May 29, 2014

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Museum has a new exhibit, “POSTERity: America’s WPA Art Legacy & America’s Public Lands”.  The exhibit features nearly 50 silk screened prints associated with 36 national parks, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Interior Museum. The DOI has also posted a YouTube video about the exhibit.  From 1938 to 1941, the National Park Service employed artists via the Works Progress Administration (WPA) who produced 14 promotional posters for national park sites.  The Bandelier National Monument poster was the last of the original 14 WPA posters and is featured in the YouTube video.  With the onset of World War II, production ceased and the posters were lost to history until the early 1970s when a seasonal park ranger, Doug Leen, happened upon an original.  Just over 40 of these rare national park posters have since resurfaced and are in National Park Service archives, the Library of Congress and with private collectors.  New posters are now being created in the original style, such as the recent posters for Chaco Culture National Historic Park.


"New Mexico politicians praise $400 million Union Pacific rail facility in Santa Teresa" – Las Cruces Sun-News

New Mexico politicians showered Union Pacific officials with accolades Wednesday during the official christening of the railroad's new, $400 million, 2,200-acre rail facility in Santa Teresa, which officials expect to bolster economic development in this region for years to come.  The state Legislature's passage of a bill exempting Union Pacific from paying locomotive fuel tax was a key piece to get Union Pacific to build the facility, officials said. – 5/28/2014

May 28, 2014

DOD is ready to accept SunZia project“ – Albuquerque Journal

The U.S. Department of Defense agreed Tuesday to drop its opposition to the SunZia transmission project if developers agree to bury five miles of line on the northern flank of White Sands Missile Range and other concessions.  In a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said burying three select sections of SunZia at White Sands’ “northern extension area” would allow low-altitude flight operations.

See also: Bureau of Land Management’s SunZia Southwest Transmission Project website


"Revenue Report: New Mexico Lags in Fiscal Recovery" – KUNM News RoundUp

A national report says New Mexico's tax collections haven't fully rebounded from the recession and only three other states have experienced a slower revenue recovery.  According to an analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts, New Mexico's tax revenue in the fourth quarter of 2013 was nearly 18 percent below the state's inflation-adjusted revenue peak of $1.5 billion in the final quarter of 2006.  Tax collections in 26 states remain below pre-recession peaks, but the report says only Alaska, Wyoming and Florida have rebounded less than New Mexico.  Lower natural gas prices have hurt New Mexico's energy revenue collections.  The report also points to federal cutbacks and job losses as a factor in the state's lagging revenue recovery. – May 28, 2014

May 23, 2014

New Mexico projects included in the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps: Developing the Next Generation of Conservationists grants

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced $6.7 million in grants to support conservation employment and mentoring opportunities for young adults and veterans at 43 projects on public lands (Department of the Interior Press Release, May 22, 2014). Two New Mexico projects are included in the grant list: “Youth Crew Restoration Outreach Along the Bosque,” Valle De Oro National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent Reclamation and State lands, Albuquerque, Talking Talons Youth Leadership, awarded $97,344, and “Expanding Youth Outdoor Education and Employment in Cuba,” Cuba and Jemez Ranger Districts of the Santa Fe National Forest, Forest Guild, Inc., awarded $118,735.



"Census: Carlsbad, Hobbs fastest growing cities in New Mexico"– Las Cruces Sun News

Carlsbad and other oil patch communities in southeastern New Mexico are the fastest growing in the state, the Census Bureau reported Thursday.



New Mexico’s River Stewardship Program Proposal Phase to Open in Early June

Governor Susana Martinez and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) announced that the River Stewardship Program Request for Proposals will open in early June, with submission due in mid-July. Proposals will be considered from towns, cities, counties, state agencies, soil and water conservation districts, irrigation districts, and community watershed groups, as well as Indian Nations, Pueblos, and Tribes. Additional groups that work to restore river habitats are also encouraged to apply. Full details are available from the NMED’s New Mexico River Stewardship Program website. – 5/23/2014

May 22, 2014

Obama designates Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument“– Las Cruces Sun News

President Barack Obama signed a proclamation Wednesday formally designating nearly half a million acres of land in Doña Ana County as a national monument — a move that comes after years of heated local debate over the proposal. – 5/22/2014

May 21, 2014

"Obama to declare Organ Mountains a national monument"  – Albuquerque Journal, 5/20/2014

President Barack Obama on Wednesday will designate 496,000 acres of federal land in five south-central New Mexico mountain ranges as a national monument, bypassing Congress to ensure the rugged but scenic country is protected for future generations.

The White House announcement on Monday was the culmination of more than a decade of grass-roots activism aimed at securing federal protections in the five ranges surrounding Las Cruces. The land, owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management, is home to ancient petroglyphs and lava flows, rare plants and animals, and vast recreational and hunting areas.

See also:

Antiquities Act of 1906, AS AMENDED

Cultural Resources, Archaeology And History of the Proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, Doña Ana County, New Mexico: An Exploration of Significance and Risks for a National Treasure,  July 1, 2013, by Rebecca Procter , Ph.D., Jean Fulton, and Polly Shaafsma.

Economic Impacts of National Monument Designation, Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks, New Mexico, FINAL REPORT August 16, 2013, BBC Research & Consulting

S.1805 - Organ Mountains--Desert Peaks Conservation Act, 113th Congress (2013-2014)


NMED Responds to “Kitty Litter” Evidence as Cause of WIPP Radiation Leak

Last week, the news media was reporting that a scientist, James Conca, presented a hypothesis that the use of organic kitty litter in the shipping containers caused a chemical reaction resulting in the radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in February, 2014. Conca’s hypothesis was detailed in a May 10, 2014 Forbes blog post, “Nuclear Waste Leak Traced To --- Kitty Litter.”

The kitty litter hypothesis appears to have been correct.  On May 20, 2014 New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issued an Administrative Order to the Department of Energy & the Nuclear Waste Partnership, requiring detailed proposals for the “expedited closure” of certain storage room at WIPP. On May 19, 2014, NMED issued an Administrative Order to the Department of Energy & Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) requiring the preparation of a plan for isolating and securing similar containers at LANL.  In the press release for the administrative order, NMED Secretary Flynn issued this statement:

“Based on the May 15th visual inspection, the Department of Energy (DOE) has indicated that the radiological release in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) underground did, in fact, originate from one of two transuranic (TRU) mixed waste containers packaged at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The containers in question contain nitrate salts, which DOE postulated may have been the source of the release. As soon as DOE suspected that a container with nitrate salt mixed with organic kitty litter may have been the source of the release, the Environment Department required DOE to take immediate action to isolate and secure all nitrate salt bearing waste containers at WIPP, LANL and WCS.“

See also:

NMED’s WIPP Update on the NMED homepage.

State demands that DOE seal two rooms at WIPP” – Albuquerque Journal, 5/20/2014