Fire erupts in San Miguel County
Amid yesterday’s fire-danger weather, officials at approximately 4 pm reported the new Las Tusas fire near Highway 94, west of Sapello in San Miguel County. As of 11 pm—the final report as of press time—the fire had grown to 1,000 acres and had zero containment. The fire prompted evacuations yesterday to the Abe Montoya Recreation Center and Storrie Lake State Park in Las Vegas for Highway 94 residents from Canoncito to the intersection of Highway 266 and 94. According to last night’s report, a Type 3 Incident Management Team was scheduled to assume management this morning, and multi-mission aircraft has been ordered from Colorado to provide infrared and video intelligence. The new fire follows the Las Cocas fire earlier this week in Mora County.
The recent blazes in communities impacted by last year’s catastrophic Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire occurs as fallout from that event continues. Yesterday, New Mexico Democrats US Sens. Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich, as well as US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, sent a letter to the administrators for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security Department urging FEMA to finalize regulations for the Hermit’s Peak Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act. Failure to do so, the lawmakers said, “is is causing confusion and uncertainty among fire victims, leading to delays in providing justice to our communities.” Lastly, at 3 pm today, the New Mexico Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department’s Forestry Division, Fire Adapted Communities NM and the Forest Stewards Guild will host a free “State of the State” webinar to discuss updates on New Mexico’s forests and watersheds and related topics. Register here for a Zoom link or join through a Facebook live hosted by both the NM Forestry Division and Forest Stewards Guild.
Groups sue state over oil and gas pollution
A consortium of environmental, community, youth and Indigenous organizations yesterday filed a lawsuit in the First Judicial District against the state, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the state Legislature, Environment Secretary James Kenney and other officials for violating the state’s constitution as it relates to pollution. Specifically, the suit cites the pollution control clause of the New Mexico Constitution under Article 20, Section 21. “No previous lawsuit has targeted the 1971 amendment, which mandates that the state prevent the despoilment of New Mexico’s air, water and other natural resources, and protect the state’s beautiful and healthful environment,” a news release announcing the suit says. The case was filed by Indigenous Lifeways, Pueblo Action Alliance, Youth United for Climate Crisis Action, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and individuals described as living “on the frontlines of oil and gas extraction,” and arrives during an oil production bonanza in New Mexico’s Permian Basin. “New Mexico’s failure to control oil and gas pollution violates our constitution and fundamental human rights to clean air, land and water,” Gail Evans, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute and lead counsel on the case, said in a statement. “If concern for our environment and public health won’t push New Mexico’s leaders to control the reckless oil and gas industry, we hope legal action will.” The groups note that air quality in several of the state’s oil- and gas-producing counties received failing marks from the American Lung Association for high ozone days. “New Mexico has allowed sacred Diné lands in the Eastern Navajo Agency to be completely ravaged by oil and gas extraction and pollution,” Mario Atencio, a plaintiff in the case from Torreon/Starlake Chapter of the Navajo Nation, said in a prepared statement. “There is zero accountability for the dangerous air pollution that my community breathes and the toxic spills that pollute our precious lands and waters.”
City, schools approve budgets
The Santa Fe City Council last night unanimously adopted a $403 million budget for the fiscal year starting in July, increasing spending by approximately $20 million in what Mayor Alan Webber and finance officials described as a largely “flat” plan. The budget, which places $10.5 million in reserves, allocates raises amounting to 3% for staff earning less than $100,000 a year and 1% for staff earning over $100,000 a year. However, City Councilor Chris Rivera raised the prospect of a future budget adjustment that would reallocate retention funding to increase the proportion firefighters receive from 45% to 70%, given previously approved retention funding for police. The council and Mayor Alan Webber passed the budget, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports, amid news from City Finance Director Emily Oster that the city’s late 2021 audit is likely to be finished by June 30 (18 months late); and the 2023 audit should be done by its Dec. 15 deadline, but an estimated date for completion of the 2022 audit, due last December, remains unclear.
The Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education last night also approved its $314.9 million FY24 budget, which includes coverage of 74% of employee benefits costs and 6% salary increases, among other items. “The fully balanced FY24 operating budget meets the priorities of the SFPS Board of Education, strengthens the district’s financial position and embraces the board’s long-standing commitment to retaining and recruiting a high-caliber workforce district wide,” Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez said in a statement. “By covering 74% of benefits costs, the board has far exceeded state requirements, further making SFPS a destination district known for valuing employees and supporting affordable living.”
FOG, SFR ask AG to investigate county meeting
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and the Santa Fe Reporter have each filed a request for Attorney General Raúl Torrez to investigate whether the Board of Santa Fe County Commissioners violated the Open Meetings Act when it held a second executive session during its May 1 meeting. That meeting included testimony for and against a petition from area 1B residents who want to be incorporated into the Agua Fría Traditional Historic Community rather than incorporated into the City of Santa Fe, which has asked the District Court to issue an injunction against the county for accepting the petition. Homewise also opposes the petition and argues annexation for the area is necessary to accommodate future affordable housing on land it owns in the area. After several hours of public testimony, Board Commissioner Anna Hamilton asked to meet in a “short executive session to discuss some of the testimony.” The county’s attorney advised that given that a Homewise lawyer had intimated potential litigation (Homewise did in fact file a court appeal following the meeting) over the matter, the board could meet in executive session. “This second closed session, even though held to discuss possible litigation, was not listed on the agenda,” NMFOG Executive Director Melanie J. Majors writes. “As such, we believe that the motion to close the meeting again, which was not listed on the agenda, was a violation of OMA.”
COVID-19 by the numbers
Today marks the final day of the federal public health emergency and the state health department’s last day reporting daily COVID-19 data. SFR has reported daily COVID-19 data since the state’s first cases on March 11, 2020, and will continue to monitor available information, such as wastewater reporting, the state’s weekly and monthly reports, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s modified reporting (see below); however, Morning Word will be ending this daily feature this week, as the data that fuels it will no longer be available.Reported May 10: New cases: 139; 681,379 total cases. Deaths: 0 Statewide fatalities: 9,236; Santa Fe County has had 410 total deaths; Statewide hospitalizations: 75; patients on ventilators: five.
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. The CDC announced this week it will be changing some of the metrics it uses to track COVID-19, and no longer report “community 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.
Several Santa Fe musicians and producers walked away winners from last weekend’s New Mexico Music Awards. They included Susan Holmes, for her album The Susan Holmes Brotherhood, which received the Best of the Year award; and Jono Manson, who won the Norman Petty Producer’s Award for his recent release Stars Enough to Guide Me. Plus: Cindy and Rand Cook, owners of the Candyman Strings & Things, collected the Eric Larson Lifetime Achievement Award. Videos from the ceremony weren’t up as of press time, but here’s a video of The Candyman’s latest musician workshop featuring New Mexico Music Awards founder/producer Jose Ponce and guest speaker Tim Schmoyer of The Kitchen Sink recording studio discussing “What You Need to Know About Stepping Into the Recording Studio” and it was an incredibly informative and engaging session.
Mapping the fire
New Mexico writer and emergency room physician Clayton Dalton contributes to the “Annotation” series in Harper’s Magazine’, which takes “a closer look into the meanings and histories of everyday documents, diagrams, maps, and images.” In this case, Dalton examines a map of Las Dispensas, the area where the US Forest Service’s prescribed burn became the Hermits Peak portion of last year’s devastating Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire. In his annotation, “We Started the Fire,” Dalton writes: “At 11:34 am on April 6, firefighters began setting alight a hundred-acre parcel of rugged, overgrown forest near Las Dispensas, in an area that hadn’t seen fire for nearly a century. The burn got off to a good start: creeping at ground level, consuming leaves and fallen timber, heeding the boundaries of the burn unit. But just before 2 pm, the winds changed, and the fire began to surge through the canopy, torching trees and sending up flurries of embers. A dozen new fires were seeded outside the perimeter, each one indicated by a bull’s-eye on the map. ‘Combustion is a kind of contagion,’ the fire historian Stephen J. Pyne told me—this was an outbreak. At 4:38 pm, the burn was declared to be beyond control, and over the next ten weeks, it would span more than 341,000 acres and destroy hundreds of homes.” The visual essay also unpacks the history of prescribed burns; the impact of climate change on firefighting; and the aftermath of the largest fire in New Mexico’s history.
ISO ET signals
Roswell is not New Mexico’s only connection to extraterrestrial…happenings. A new initiative from the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), COSMIC, will use the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array, approximately 50 miles west of Socorro to collect “data that scientists will analyze for the type of emissions that only artificial transmitters make, signals that would betray the existence of a technically accomplished society,” a SETI news release explains. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, SETI Institute senior astronomer Seth Shostak explains the initiative between SETI and the University of California thusly: “It will search for alien signals—both intentional and unintentional—from some 40 million star systems by analyzing massive amounts of data from the Very Large Array, an ensemble of 27 antennas dotting the scrub deserts of western New Mexico. The researchers have also deployed cameras designed to look for powerful flashing lasers that could be used by extraterrestrials to beam information between star systems, much like a ship semaphore.” Alex Pollak, the science and engineering manager at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory in Northern California, describes the project as a “game changer,” given the array’s “potential to observe more objects of interest than all other SETI searches combined.” Shostak also examines the potential arguments against seeking out alien life.
In the wind
The National Weather Service forecasts a mostly sunny day with a high temperature near 71 degrees and breezy, with a west wind 10 to 15 mph increasing to 20 to 25 mph in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 35 mph; a red flag warning is in effect from noon through 8 pm.