NRC approves Holtec nuclear waste facility in NM
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission yesterday issued a license to Holtec International to construct and operate an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in Lea County. The agency issued its final environmental impact statement last summer. Following yesterday’s approval, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Attorney General Raúl Torrez issued a joint statement decrying the decision, which they said “undermines the NRC’s alleged commitment to meaningful engagement with stakeholders, as it appears our concerns were wholly ignored and went unaddressed by Holtec and the NRC.” Lujan Grisham and Torrez say the state is “evaluating” legal recourse and “will take any action necessary to make sure ground is never broken” on the facility and note the recently enacted Senate Bill 53 imposes “new, more robust state licensing requirements for this project before any construction may begin.” As the Albuquerque Journal reports, Holtec could decide to challenge that law if it moves forward with the project. All members of the state’s congressional delegation also issued statements lamenting the NRC decision: “Nuevo Mexicanos are no strangers to environmental injustices, especially those related to nuclear testing and waste,” US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández said. “I oppose the licensing of a ‘temporary’ storage facility when there are no permanent sites available. This license makes New Mexico a permanent sacrifice zone. Our beautiful home should not be a dumping ground for nuclear waste.”
Good day for child care
Triad National Security LLC, which runs Los Alamos National Laboratory, announced plans yesterday to open a new center to provide childcare services to LANL employees and others in the region. The University of California, on of Triad’s partners, will provide $2 million to remodel and furnish a new center near the lab’s entrance, projected to open in fall 2023—or as soon as it is staffed and ready—and serve approximately 100 children. Lab employees “especially those whose children presently lack care” will receive priority at the center, which will be operated by Bilingual Montessori School of White Rock. Additionally, Triad and the Regional Development Corporation are “investing” $25,000 in a new, two-year certificate in Early Childhood Education at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos. According to a news release, more than 40% of LANL’s more than 14,000 employees are under age 45 and have approximately 3,500 children, with a survey of lab employees conducted in fall 2022 indicating only 22% of those surveyed had adequate child care.
Meanwhile, the state Early Childhood Education and Care Department this week announced proposed regulations to expand free child care and expand provider rates. Last year, the state expanded free child care to qualifying families earning up to 400% of federal poverty level, and earned national recognition for doing so. The new proposals, which follow voters’ approval last year to use a portion of the Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education, will maintain the same eligibility; update provider rates; exempt families up to 185% FPL from copays (which currently are waived and will continue to be until further notice); and ensure families receiving child care don’t pay gross receipts taxes on those services. “Our proposed changes add to a set of historic and generational investments in New Mexico’s prenatal-to-age-five system that will be a game changer for families and young children in our state,” ECECD Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky said in a statement. “We are embarking on the largest expansion of Pre-K in state history.”
AG seeks stay in Eunice abortion access case
Attorney General Raúl Torrez this week filed a motion in the Fifth Judicial District Court asking it to hold off on acting on a lawsuit the city of Eunice filed last month attempting to quash the state’s recently enacted Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Act. That law, which takes effect in June, prohibits local governments in New Mexico from restricting abortion. Eunice is one of several New Mexico towns that have passed so-called sanctuary laws restricting abortion as part of a concerted strategy to employ the federal anti-obscenity law the Comstock Act to restrict access to abortion medication. Torrez’s motion asks the court to wait until the state Supreme Court weighs in on a previous case from other local governments involving the same issue. “We have asked the District Court to stay proceedings until the New Mexico Supreme Court can finally resolve the constitutional and statutory foundation for uniform access to reproductive healthcare across New Mexico,” said Torrez. “While local leaders in Eunice chose to announce their lawsuit from Washington DC, this issue will be governed by state law, not some warped interpretation of an anti-vice federal statute from the 1870s.”
Santa Fe to host outdoor economy conference
Santa Fe will host the 2023 Outdoor Economics Conference—Oct. 23-25—at the Santa Fe Convention Center, officials announced yesterday. The conference, which focuses on building the state’s outdoor recreation economy, includes panels, networking and outdoor trips, as well as an annual adventure pitch competition; last year’s conference took place in Taos. This year’s topics, organizers say, will include outdoor marketing, community infrastructure, small business development, sustainability and outdoor equity. Conference organizer Outdoor New Mexico Executive Director Jeff Steinborn—a former state lawmaker from Las Cruces, said in a news release that this year’s conference—the sixth—will be “one of the best yet” given Santa Fe’s “incredible beauty, historical and cultural legacy, and rich diversity of outdoor recreation opportunities.” Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber in a statement said hosting the conference is “another important step in diversifying our economy around the special attributes of our community.” Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen said the county also “is thrilled to co-host the 2023 Outdoor Economics Conference. Places like the Caja Del Rio symbolize New Mexico’s richness in nature and recreation, and the need for greater preservation. This conference will take a deeper dive into these important topics.”
COVID-19 by the numbers
Reported May 9: New cases: 217; 681,246 total cases. Deaths: 0 Statewide fatalities: 9,236; Santa Fe County has had 410 total deaths; Statewide hospitalizations: 72; patients on ventilators: three. The state health department will stop reporting daily COVID-19 cases on May 11.
The Centers for Disease and Prevention most recent May 4 “community levels” map shows two New Mexico counties have turned yellow, depicting medium levels: Colfax and McKinley. The rest of the counties remain green, aka have low levels.
Resources: Receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household via COVIDTests.gov; Check availability for additional free COVID-19 tests through Project ACT; CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; COVID-19 treatment info; NMDOH immunocompromised tool kit. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453.
You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.
The School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe hosts a free online colloquium at 1:30 pm today featuring its 2022-2023 Anne Ray Intern, Penske McCormack, regarding their internship experience and residency project. The latter, a curated online exhibition investigating “legacies of care: Diné textiles and the impacts of chemical treatment,” examines—among other topics—”the Eurocentric concepts and ideas surrounding ‘preservation’ in Western museum practices.” Register here.
Vladem Contemporary to open Sept. 23
The state Department of Cultural Affairs announced yesterday the opening date—Sept. 23—for the Railyard-area New Mexico Museum of Art Vladem Contemporary. As the name indicates, the new venue is named after the Vladems (Robert and Ellen, who made a lead $4 million gift in the museum’s $12.5 million campaign) and will feature contemporary art. SFR spoke this week with the museum’s Head of Curatorial Affairs Christian Waguespack and Executive Director Mark White about the new wing’s inaugural exhibition, Shadow and Light, and what to expect from the new space. While the museum won’t open until September, a multimedia sculpture by local artist Hernan Gomez Chavez and local fashion designer Carrie Wood, “Ode to the Multicultural Mural (La Guadalupana),” which commemorates the historic Chicano mural by Gilberto Guzman that was removed as part of the Vladem construction, will be on display on the side of the building through July 8.
As it happens, the architects behind the transformation of the former Halpin building to become the Vladem have now also been selected to redesign the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Yesterday, the O’Keeffe announced Santa Fe-based DNCA Architects will lead the new museum building project, slated to open in 2026. “We are deeply proud to be building in the state of New Mexico and the City of Santa Fe,” O’Keeffe Director Cody Hartley said in a statement. “To have architects with this same pride of place and who have expert knowledge in designing art museums in our state and southwestern climate—it’s invaluable.” In a statement, DNCA founder, principal and lead design architect Devendra N. Contractor described the project as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Don’t have a cow
A recent New Yorker story analyzing the enduring panic over cow mutilations in the Southwest includes—naturally—a New Mexico angle. But let’s not jump ahead. The story begins with a mysterious cattle mutilation incident in Texas last month (for which there is a current $5,000 reward for information). The story grabbed the attention of several paranormal investigators, as “nowadays, reports of cattle mutilation are often linked to speculation about extraterrestrial activity.” Not so in the 1970s, when “many people believed that sinister government forces were to blame.” Enter New Mexico where, in 1979, the state “convened a multistate livestock-mutilation conference and hired the retired FBI agent Kenneth Rommel to lead an inquiry, called Operation Animal Mutilation.” Rommel spent a year in Northern New Mexico investigating cattle mutilations and ultimately concluded scavengers were to blame for them. But the ‘70s panic over cow mutilations, historian Michael Goleman notes, occurred during an era in which “cattle ranchers had plenty of reasons to resent the federal government. In New Mexico, most of the mutilations weren’t reported in the regions with the most livestock but, rather, in those where farmers had battled with the [Bureau of Land Management] about grazing rights.”
The National Weather Service has Santa Fe under both a red flag warning and wind advisory today, with east wind 5 to 10 mph becoming south 25 to 35 mph, gusts potentially as high as 45 mph and areas of blowing dust later this afternoon. It will also be sunny with a high temperature near 76 degrees. Tonight brings more wind, a 20% chance for precipitation along with isolated showers and thunderstorms.
Thanks for reading! Yesterday, The Word took a brief break from breaking news and perused this Vanity Fair story about surf bros and “the fight for Fiji’s Soul” (partly so she could look at the nice photos of the ocean in Fiji).