Morning Word

NMED: Santa Fe Regional Airport Contamination Investigation Ongoing

Scapegoat or villain? “Rust” former armorer’s trial begins with opening statements

NMED says airport contamination investigation ongoing

Potential culprits for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination around the Santa Fe Regional Airport include: the Army National Guard’s use of PFAS-containing Aqueous Film Forming Foam at the site until the early 2000′s; the City of Santa Fe’s wastewater treatment solids disposal area; and the City of Santa Fe’s fire response at the regional airport. So says the state environment department, which yesterday announced it is continuing to work to identify the “responsible party or parties.” Santa Fe County tested and identified contamination in wells in La Cienega and La Cieneguilla last November after the Air National Guard confirmed PFAS was present in the ground under its facility at the Santa Fe airport. According to NMED, it is currently awaiting groundwater sampling data from the City of Santa Fe’s monitoring wells around the wastewater treatment solids disposal areas adjacent to the airport, which it expects city to provide by Feb. 29, and which will help the department to determine “if the solids disposal area may be contributing to the contamination.” Additionally, the environment department says it is finalizing its review of a 22,000-plus-page final site investigation report from Army National Guard it received in October 2023, and evaluating the sampling data from the site investigation by the Army National Guard. As SFR recently reported, the City of Santa Fe hired a contractor last year to test for PFAS all its supply wells and storage tanks, as well as at its Santa Fe River treatment plant on Canyon Road and at the Buckman Direct Diversion; a July report indicated no detection of PFAS concentrations.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of the preceding brief identified Santa Fe County as the lead agency on fire response at the Santa Fe Airport based on a news release from the Environment Department, which has since issued a correction naming the City of Santa Fe’s Fire Department as the agency with that responsibility.

Also on the “forever chemical” beat, the University of New Mexico reports a team of researchers from UNM’s Museum of Southwestern Biology found unexpectedly high levels of chemical contamination in wild birds and mammals at Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo, according to new research published in Environmental Research. Researchers believe the firefighting foam used by the US Air Force for decades is the leading cause of contamination, a news release says. The new findings show “exceptionally high concentrations across numerous species” in the area around Holloman Lake, situated between Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands National Park. “Because these large wetlands are the only ones in the region, they are immensely attractive to wildlife,” the study’s lead author, MSB Director and Professor of Biology Christopher Witt says in a statement. “Holloman is one of the three most important wetlands in New Mexico for migratory waterbirds —over 100 species and tens of thousands of individuals use these habitats annually.”

Longtime Food Depot head retiring

“Leading The Food Depot has been one of my greatest joys. Every day I’ve had the opportunity to work with a community dedicated to providing healthy food to so many children and families. Northern New Mexico is now my second home, and I could not be more proud of the change we have made together.” So reads a statement from Sherry Hooper, who took the lead at one of Northern New Mexico’s most crucial and beloved nonprofits in 2001 (first-place winner in SFR’s annual Best of Santa Fe nonprofit category, among others, for at least four years running) and is the 30-year organization’s longest serving executive director. The Food Depot yesterday announced Hooper’s retirement, effective June 30. According to a news release, her tenure includes transforming The Food Depot through a capital campaign from a small organization operating in a 5,000 square feet warehouse to its current 27,000-square-foot on Siler Road, where 41 staff members and 708 volunteers distribute more than 9 million pounds of food annually. “Her leadership has empowered the food bank to pivot and grow to meet crippling levels of need across a pandemic, natural disasters, and rising inflation,” the news release notes. The Food Depot’s board of directors has appointed a transition committee that will work on finding the organization’s next executive director. “Sherry is a remarkable person,” Board Member and former President David Barton says in a statement. “Her energy, intelligence and compassion are an inspiration. What a privilege to work with her for the past 22 years.” The Food Depot also is collecting messages from the community to share with Hooper.

Not-so-safe streets

USA Today reports two years into the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s rollout, the $5 billion Safe Streets and Roads for All program hasn’t reached poorer communities with high fatality rates. For example: Northwest New Mexico, where the story begins thusly: “Elaborate descansos line highways and streets across New Mexico, honoring lives lost. Here, where the pedestrian death rate has led the nation for six years in a row, families go far beyond a simple white cross. They add photos, tend colorful flowers, hang holiday decorations—and state lawmakers have made it a criminal offense to deface them.” The “multi-lane freeways that twist their way from the Navajo Nation and other tribal lands into the small city of Gallup” is the type of “disadvantaged place the Biden administration promised would benefit from a massive influx of federal money for safer streets.” That hasn’t happened, largely because the federal government has structured the funding program as grants for which communities must apply. So Detroit, which has an 18-member grant staff, has received almost $50 million to improve its streets. Gallup lacks a dedicated grant writer and never even applied for funding, USA Today reports. The story continues to document Gallup’s road-safety issues and why “they certainly could use” funding to improve safety—issues like mile-long trains running along busy freight routes and locals racing across four lanes of 65-mph traffic. According to federal data reviewed by SFR, only five New Mexico jurisdictions have received funding through the program so far, with the largest award to Navajo Division of Transportation for $1.4 million. Other recipients include: the Mid-Region Council of Governments Metropolitan Planning Organization ($136,000 for an Albuquerque safety plan); the Ramah Navajo Chapter ($160,000); Curry County ($120,000); and $400,000 to Doña Ana County.

Rust armorer trial begins: opening statements

Former Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed performed her job negligently, and is directly culpable for the Oct. 21, 2021 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, prosecutors argued in the opening statements yesterday for the trial for Gutierrez-Reed, who faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering. Her defense, however, argued the 26-year-old is the scapegoat for a production in which producers, including Alec Baldwin, the film’s star, who was holding the gun that fired and killed Hutchins, ignored safety protocols. Baldwin claims he did not pull the trigger, but also faces an involuntary manslaughter charge in her death. Scheduling for his trial remains pending, but is expected next week. Opening statements also included conflicting opinions on the discernibility of fake versus actual ammunition. Prosecutor Jason Lewis argued to the jury “there are ways, if you are careful, that you can distinguish” between fake and real bullets, which he said Gutierrez-Reed failed to do. For example, he noted some dummy rounds lack the primer—an explosive element inside the center portion of a live round, which is silver in color. Defense attorney Jason Bowles disputed Lewis’ assessment of how to distinguish dummy rounds from live ammunition as “just not true.” The first full day for the trial also included witness testimony from current and former Santa Fe County Sheriff employees about their work on the scene following the shooting, and the jury watched video-taped lapel footage of the chaotic scene in the aftermath of the fatal shooting.

Listen up

On the most recent episode of KUNM’s University Showcase program, News Director Megan Kamerick talks to UNM alum Dr. Kwane Stewart about Project Street Vet, which provides veterinary care to the pets of unhoused people and earned Stewart the 2023 CNN Hero of the Year award. The program began, Stewart says, when he met an unhoused man outside a 7-11 whose dog had an obvious skin condition. Stewart treated the dog, transforming both the animal and the owner. “He was exasperated the first time I saw him,” Stewart says of the man. “He was desperate for help. This little companion was his life. I saw the same guy and he’s looking up at me with a smile, but also tears in his eyes. And he just said, ‘thank you for not ignoring me.’ And I thought in that moment, ‘I’m going to do more of this. I’m gonna find more people like you.’ And that was 13 years ago. And I haven’t stopped.”

Free words (and refreshments)

New City of Santa Fe Poet Laureate Tommy Archuleta will break in his new role with a free public reading at 1 pm tomorrow (Saturday, Feb. 24) in the Community Gallery (201 West Marcy St.). The city also will host a reception for Archuleta with a meet-and-greet and free refreshments. Author of Susto (University Press of Colorado, 2023) and Fieldnotes (Lily Poetry Review Press, 2023), Archuleta has also published poems in the New England Review, the Laurel Review, Lily Poetry Review, the Cortland Review, Guesthouse and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series. In a brief interview with SFR last month, Archuleta said he was interested in the position (which includes $12,000 to be split between an honorarium and programming costs) in part because “I felt it was time for another Santa Fe poet that was actually born and raised in Santa Fe,” to serve in the position. He also wants to use the programming to reach “overlooked communities that haven’t been really featured with any of the other outreach projects of the other laureates.” If Archuleta’s reading sparks the muse—and we bet it will—run home and write your own verse to enter in SFR’s annual poetry contest, for which Archuleta will serve as this year’s judge. The deadline beckons: before midnight on Feb. 28. Find the details on how to enter here and revisit last year’s winning poems.

Soak it in

The February doldrums might be well-served by vacation of any duration. Forbes magazine rounds up “16 luxurious getaways” for those looking to escape winter’s blustery, bitter grasp, and includes Ojo Santa Fe on the list. Given the spa’s “three spacious hot spring pools filled with mineral water believed to detox the skin, relieve muscle tension and boost circulation, it’s no surprise this is a local hotspot for those seeking a quick wellness getaway from nearby Santa Fe,” Forbes proclaims. As the magazine notes, Ojo Santa Fe made Travel & Leisure’s readers’ picks last year as one of the best spas in the US; serves farm-fresh food grown on its Ojo Caliente farm at the on-site Blue Heron restaurant; and offers guests a chance to cuddle puppies from Española Humane (among other activities). Afar also offers options for those looking to soak and relax in its compendium of the country’s 10 best “healing hot springs,” and gives props to Riverbend Hot Springs in Truth or Consequences. With its open-air soaking options on the banks of the Rio Grande, Afar writes, Riverbend “stands out among the rest” of T-or-C’s hot springs. “Visitors can use the spa’s communal pools or book one of the private pools, and every option sits next to the Rio Grande and enjoys mountain views,” the story notes. “After dark, the property is gently lit with multi-colored lighting, making for a romantic scene.”

Ill wind

The National Weather Service forecasts a mostly sunny day, with a high temperature near 50 degrees and north wind 5 to 15 mph becoming west in the morning. Saturday and Sunday high temperatures will reach the mid-to-high 50s, but NWS says “the period of tranquil weather ends this Sunday,” and has issued a special weather statement predicting strong to damaging winds; critical fire weather; and mountain snow likely early next week. Speaking of snow, Powder magazine reports “skiing in New Mexico is cranking this season” and, citing data from Ski New Mexico, says most of the state’s ski resorts saw a notable spike of traffic over Presidents Day weekend.

Thanks for reading! The Word is happy to learn the mystery of the pregnant virgin stingray has been solved (one of the more uplifting stories in Harper’s Magazine’s most recent weekly news review).

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