Morning Word

City of Santa Fe Misses Dec. 4 Audit Deadline

Gov. Lujan Grisham proposes $500 million plan to treat brackish water

City misses Dec. 4 audit deadline

A state rule governing audits prevents City of Santa Fe officials from releasing information about the audit in advance of its release by the state Auditor’s Office, at which point it becomes a public record. So says the city’s evolving FAQ on all things audit, which it first published Nov. 22, after announcing its fiscal year 2023 audit would be late, and then updated on Monday, Dec. 4, the day its fiscal year 2022 audit was due. The update, as indicated, addresses the processes controlling when audits become public and coincides with the city also missing Monday’s deadline for filing its 2022 audit. City Finance Director Emily Oster has repeatedly predicted the 2022 audit would be complete by Dec. 4. She tells the Santa Fe New Mexican she now predicts it will be ready in a few days, and cited ongoing “quality control work” by the city’s external auditor as the reason for its delay. “Needless to say, we’re all disappointed that this wasn’t wrapped up on Monday,” she wrote to the newspaper, “but there’s great consensus that it’s more important that the audit be completed correctly than rushed to meet a timeline goal.” City officials say they expect to be caught up with all of its audits by May 15, 2024, after submitting them late 13 out of the last 20 years, jeopardizing its access to legislative appropriations. During Monday night’s Finance meeting, Oster told committee members her staff had worked through the weekend on the audit and continued to do so, and she would notify them upon its submission (right around the 40-minute mark).

Gov. Lujan Grisham proposes millions to treat wastewater

Yesterday, during COP28—the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference—held in Dubai, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is attending the conference with other members of her administration, announced a new $500 million initiative to treat brackish and produced water, such as the kind created through oil and gas drilling. According to the governor’s office, there is between 2 and 4 billion acre-feet of brackish water underneath New Mexico, along with more than 2 billion barrels of produced water generated by oil and gas operations in 2022 alone. The state says a 25-million-gallon-per-day brackish-water treatment plant could produce up to 27,900 acre-feet of potable water a year, enough to cover, for instance approximately 70% of the annual consumptive water use in the Albuquerque area. “In arid states like ours, every drop counts,” the governor says in a statement. “A warming climate throws that fact into sharper relief every day. This is innovation in action: We’re leveraging the private sector to strengthen our climate resiliency and protect our precious freshwater resources.” Under the proposal as outlined, the state would seek contracts with companies interested in operating the water treatment facilities, after which New Mexico would purchase the treated water and use it for a variety of alternative energy needs, such as hydrogen, solar and the like. The governor says she will seek appropriations from non-general funds in the next two legislative sessions.

Residents face insurance challenges due to fire threats

In the wake of last year’s catastrophic 2022 Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, along with 2020′s 2020′s Medio Fire, homeowners living in the so-called wildland-urban interface—areas at risk for wildfire—are encountering increasing challenges obtaining homeowners insurance. David Byrne, for instance, is building a home in a wooded area above Bishop’s Lodge Road outside of the city limits, and he’s struggling to secure an insurance policy. A 15-year customer of USAA with multiple policies, Byrne tells SFR he was surprised to recently learn the company won’t insure his home due to a “fire hazard.” Homeowners in various parts of Santa Fe County are facing similar hurdles, County Fire Chief Jacob Black tells SFR. “We really get inquiries from insurance companies almost on a weekly basis saying ‘Hey, we’re looking at this insurance, can you tell me where the closest staffed fire station is, or where’s the closest fire hydrant?’ And so really, that wildland urban interface is something that is currently being defined kind of case-by-case by the insurance company.” The issue extends beyond New Mexico, as the Wall Street Journal reported last spring, with insurance companies “pulling back on homeowners’ policies in vulnerable areas nationally out of fear of floods, storms and fires made worse by climate change and soaring costs of rebuilding.” According to a report produced last year by the US Agriculture Department and Forest Service, “Confronting the Wildfire Crisis: A Strategy for Protecting Communities and Improving Resilience in America’s Forests,” the wildland-urban interface has grown steadily since the 1960s, with one in three homes in the US now situated in the WUI, and 70,000 communities at risk from wildfire.

MFA approves $3.5 mil low-income home solar installs

The state Mortgage Finance Authority yesterday announced approval last month by its board of directors for $3.5 million in funding from the New Mexico Housing Trust Fund to support solar systems for homes that are receiving services through the NM Energy$mart Weatherization Program services. The program targets low-income households to reduce energy consumption, lower costs and improve “their health and safety by implementing various energy-efficient measures in their homes.” According to the MFA, the US Department of Energy is the primary funder for the program, and has match requirements for some of its grants. New Mexico Gas Company, PNM and El Paso Electric also help fund the program. MFA requested the funding from the 2024 Housing Trust Fund allocation to help keep low-income households affordable during the energy transition. “This is our first venture into solar, and we hope to impact many New Mexico households with this funding,” MFA Executive Director/CEO Isidoro Hernandez says in a statement. “Along with funding from the DOE, we are confident this program will positively impact peoples’ lives with additional resources from the New Mexico Housing Trust Fund.”

Listen up

Today’s monthly noon lecture from New Mexico History Museum’s Friends of History series will take place online and feature former state historian Rick Hendricks, an editor of The Vargas Project and co-author of Pablo Abeita: The Life and Times of a Native Statesman of Isleta Pueblo, 1871-1940, among other publications. Hendricks will discuss Abeita, “one of the most important Native leaders in the Southwest in his day,” who testified before Congress on several occasions and “fought successfully for Native rights to their ancestral lands and water.”

High on NM

Many travel publications offer tips for enjoying New Mexico from a foodie/artsy/outdoor recreationist perspective. High Times, on the other hand, provides a “stoner itinerary” of either 14 or 15 “activities that are geared more for smoker-friendly tourists seeking a magical adventure” (the story’s headline says 14; its subhed says 15). First up: the High Times Cannabis Cup New Mexico: People’s Choice Edition 2023 takes place Dec. 9 at the Rio Rancho Events Center and features Method Man and Redman. On the more evergreen front, High Times recommends Roswell’s UFO Museum and Research Center, which, incidentally, recently reported reaching 5 million visitors. Closer to home, High Times highlights the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi for their…appeal to stoners, along with Bandelier National Monument and White Sands National Park (needless to say, one can not partake at any of these places, at least not legally). Also on the travel front, Thrillist recommends Albuquerque in its Phoenix travel section as a quick drive and a fun place to gaze in awe at balloons and Christmas lights while enjoying food and drink (sounds like Albuquerque belongs in the High Times story as well).

Write on

Novelist Kate Christensen didn’t want to leave her home in Portland, Maine when she and her husband relocated to Taos in 2021, but “to my surprise and joy, Taos has been a great place for both of us,” she tells LitHub. “We’ve found a warm, close-knit, interesting community of friends, and we recently bought land and are planning to build a house there this spring.” Moreover, the move to New Mexico helped the first draft of her eighth novel, which published this week with Harper Collins: “The structure came together for me, as well as the title: Welcome Home, Stranger. Maybe I had to leave Maine for that to happen.” Christensen talks character creation, teaching and all things writing in the interview with fellow author Jane Ciabattari, and also pens an essay for LitHub on finding inspiration from Albert Camus’s The Stranger. In other New Mexico-related literary news of sorts, The New Yorker’s best books of 2023 roundup includes KAOS Theory: The Afrokosmic Ark of Ben Caldwell by Caldwell and University of Southern California Associate Professor Robeson Taj Frazier. The “spellbinding” book, New Yorker writer Hua Hsu’s writes, documents filmmaker Caldwell’s life, “from his New Mexico childhood, to his military service in Southeast Asia (where he first became seriously interested in photography), to his arrival in Los Angeles, in the seventies, all of it culminating in KAOS Network, and the worlds Caldwell has helped manifest.” Caldwell also details his family’s history in the Southwest in a 2011 oral history interview, which includes stories from his childhood in Deming, which included attending school as the only Black student.

A place in the sun

The National Weather Service forecasts another sunny day, with a high temperature near 52 degrees and north wind 10 to 15 mph becoming south in the afternoon.

Thanks for reading! The Word hopes her 2024 includes a glimpse or two of the northern lights.

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