Morning Word

Santa Fe National Forest Announces Prescribed Fires Starting Today

Popular Opuntia Cafe closes its doors

Morning Word

Santa Fe National Forest plans fires this week

On Friday, following public meetings, the Santa Fe National Forest announced it intends to conduct two prescribed burns this week: Golondrino and Rincon, with Golondrino potentially beginning today, pending weather and fuel conditions, and lasting through Wednesday. According to a news release, fire crews are assessing current weather conditions and “if environmental conditions are not appropriate (temperature, wind, humidity) the prescribed fire will be canceled.” The 2,227-acre Golondrino prescribed fire is in the Cuba district east of the communities of Llaves and north of Gallina. Fire officials anticipate starting the Rincon prescribed fire—which is the same size and located about 7 miles north of the community of Gallina—on Wednesday, Sept. 27 continuing through Friday, Sept. 29. Information on air quality and using the 5-3-1 visibility method to assess air quality can be found online through the state department of health. A presentation on changes the Forest Service has implemented regarding prescribed burns in the wake of ones that grew into the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history can be found here. The state Forestry Division reported yesterday the Alien Fire, spotted on Friday west of Las Vegas has burned has burned 27 acres and is 65% contained. Air quality as a result of wildfire smoke has been steadily declining across the US, according to a new study in the journal Nature. As the Washington Post reports, the study says air quality improvements “have slowed or been reversed in most of the country, eroding about a quarter of the recent gains,” and in New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Washington and Wyoming those gains have “rolled back” 50% or more of their progress since 2000.

Opuntia Cafe closes

We were partial to the avocado toast and the Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong tea. Others came for the cacti and still more for the late-night dance parties. Whatever your pleasure, Opuntia Cafe had a loyal following and a national reputation from its 2017 founding by Todd Spitzer and Jeanna Gienke in the Baca Street Railyard through its pop-up at the El Rey to its final second-floor location across the street from Violet Crown, where it served its final customers yesterday before closing up shop. Spitzer tells SFR costs, labor shortages and supply chain issues all contributed to the decision. “It’s just...it’s all of it,” he says. “I’m devastated, but we had to just keep borrowing and borrowing, and it was these predatory, high-interest loans; we couldn’t manage the cash flow. A couple people looked into buying it, but there was just too much debt.” He tells SFR he stopped paying himself at Opuntia in recent months and has become certified as a life coach, which he’ll do moving forward. “I’m just beyond grateful for the support we’ve had here,” Spitzer adds. “It’s been stellar and sometimes overwhelming. But we’ve got to shut down now—I love and adore my staff, and we’ve got to do it now because they’ve got to get paid.” The popular teahouse’s demise follows a series of high-profile closures in the city’s restaurant and bar scene, including Fire & Hops, HoneyMoon Brewery and Loyal Hound.

PRC approves $115 million in rebates for PNM customers

The state Public Regulation Commission at the end of last week approved an agreement that will return $115 million in rate credits to Public Service Company of New Mexico customers over the next 12 months. Attorney General Raúl Torrez’s office reached the settlement agreement with PNM last month. “Lowering PNM’s rates now means customers can benefit from the cost savings that they have been waiting for since the San Juan Generating Station was closed last year,” Commissioner Pat O’Connell said in a statement issued Friday. The commission, which approved the agreement unanimously, weighed in after the state Supreme Court on Sept. 14 returned a pending appeal in a case related to the closure of the San Juan Generation Station. The order also allows PNM to issue bonds as outlined in the Energy Transition Act and protects ratepayers should interest rates on those bonds exceed 5.5%. “We are pleased that the New Mexico Supreme Court remanded this case and that the PRC approved the settlement agreement,” Torrez said in a statement. “This settlement was a great achievement for all parties and is in the best interest of ratepayers. The cap on interest rates is an important tool that will protect ratepayers during economic uncertainty.” The PRC is currently hearing a rate case application from PNM; comments can be submitted to prc.records@prc.nm.gov.

NM Supreme Court issues opinion as redistricting case begins

Ahead of a trial starting Wednesday in Lovington over a partisan gerrymandering challenge to the state’s congressional districts, the state Supreme Court on Friday issued an opinion intended to provide guidance in that case. The written decision followed a July ruling (amended in August) in which the court ruled the Republican lawsuit could proceed. As summarized in a news release from the court, the lawsuit alleges the Democratic-controlled Legislature redrew boundaries to “unlawfully dilute the voting strength of Republicans in the 2nd Congressional District and allow Democrats to win the seat in an area of the state that traditionally favored GOP candidates.” In an opinion by Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon, the court concluded state courts can adjudicate partisan gerrymandering claims under the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico Constitution, Article II, Section 18. While “some degree of partisan gerrymandering is permissible” in drawing district boundaries of elective offices, the court said, “egregious” or excessive partisan gerrymandering is not. “To allow such a result would be an abdication of our duty to ‘apply the protections of the Constitution’ when the government is alleged to have threatened the constitutional rights that all New Mexicans enjoy,” the court wrote. The court directed New Mexico courts to use a “three-part test,” proffered in US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s dissenting opinion in 2019′s Rucho v. Common Cause to determine whether there has been egregious partisan gerrymandering.

Listen up

On the most recent episode of New Mexico PBS’ Our Land program, environmental journalist and senior producer Laura Paskus hosts a three-part roundtable conversation (part 1, part 2 and part 3) with US Forest Service Southwestern Regional Forester Michiko Martin, Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor Shaun Sanchez and Santa Fe National Forest Fuels Program Manager Dennis Carril on the future of fire in New Mexico, specifically discussing the 2022 Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon and Cerro Pelado fires; prescribed burn protocols; and the future of fire and forest management in a warming world.

Come for the hot springs, stay for the conservation

Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald heralds Truth or Consequences as “one of the world’s most intriguing towns.” Contributor Rob McFarland notes what he characterizes as T or C’s “peculiarities,” such as: being named after a game-show; its geology; and its proximity to Spaceport America. But T or C’s real draw for McFarland turns out to be Ted Turner’s two nearby reserves: Ladder and Armendaris. McFarland takes in the sights, courtesy New Mexico Tourism and Turner’s Sierra Grande lodge and spa, the latter of which provides “guests the chance to explore these untamed sanctuaries on a uniquely American safari.” The reserves’ “flora and fauna are the main drawcards,” McFarland notes, but “there are other unexpected highlights,” such as learning about the area’s significant Native American history. His guide points out “Mimbres pottery and delicate chert arrowheads that were found nearby, plus a shrunken corn cob that’s probably about 900 years old.” As for wildlife, McFarland doesn’t see any bison, bears and mountain lions, but does “spot elk, deer and dozens of the region’s 250-plus species of birds,” while learning about the Turner Reserves’ mission to “save everything.”

Home free

Freelance United Kingdom-based travel writer Sarah Rodrigues visited Santa Fe, apparently as a guest of Tourism Santa Fe and several high-end hotels, to see if the city she first encountered as a 25-year-old in 1997 still had the same magic she remembered. “New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment; Santa Fe is its lifeblood,” she writes. “Albuquerque is much bigger but the enchantment was here, weaving its way around low-slung adobe-style buildings that glowed in the desert light, garlands of chillies dangling from their wooden beams.” Quoting some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s more regrettable words for her story in The Sunday Times, Rodrigues notes that despite her affinity for O’Keeffe, she never visited Abiquiú when she lived here previously. “Driving beyond the rough-and-ready town of Española, the world opens into a broken bowl of striped colours,” Rodrigues writes. “Scrubby chokecherry bushes dot the hills beneath the luminous, impossibly blue sky. It doesn’t take an artist’s sensibility to understand why O’Keeffe was so in love with these surroundings.” As for Santa Fe, Rodrigues notes a few changes in the last two decades-plus: the Cowgirl Hall of Fame now just goes by Cowgirl; nearby Doubletake has expanded; the Santa Fe Farmers Market has grown more crowded. “They say that you can’t go home again,” Rodrigues writes. “I think you can.”

Clear as day

The National Weather Service forecasts today will be sunny, with a high temperature near 77 degrees and east wind 5 to 15 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon.

Thanks for reading! The Word wishes New Mexico would mandate siestas.

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