Morning Word

Jury Selection Begins in Baldwin’s “Rust” Trial

GAO identifies ongoing gaps in Forest Service prescribed burn program

Morning Word

Jury selection begins in Baldwin Rust trial

Rust actor Alec Baldwin emerged without warning yesterday for preliminary motions in his 10-day Santa Fe trial on involuntary manslaughter charges for the Oct. 21, 2021 fatal on-set shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. First Judicial District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer sided with defense lawyers yesterday and ruled prosecutors can’t include Baldwin’s role as a co-producer in the film during trial. “I’m having real difficulty with the state’s position that they want to show that as a producer, he didn’t follow guidelines and therefore, as an actor, Mr. Baldwin did all these things wrong that resulted in Hutchins’ death because as a producer he allowed these things to happen,” the judge said. “The probative value is not substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice and certainly confusion of issues to the jury. I’m denying evidence of his status as a producer.” Marlowe Sommer heard arguments on more than a dozen pre-trial motions in the case against Baldwin; Defense attorneys also sought to prevent state prosecutors from discussing actor Brandon Lee’s death from a blank round while on the set of The Crow in 1993. Marlowe Sommer will allow just one mention of the fact that blank rounds can be fatal. Jury selection for the trial will begin at 8:30 am today with opening arguments from the state expected Wednesday. If convicted, Baldwin faces up to 18 months in prison. Nearly three months ago, the judge gave former Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed the maximum sentence for her negligent behavior in the same incident. Gutierrez-Reed filed to appeal that determination in early May. Read SFR’s prior Rust coverage here.

GAO: Gaps remain in prescribed burn program

As it moves toward reforming and expanding its prescribed fire program, the US Forest Service continues to have gaps in establishing performance measures; addressing staffing needs; implementing a reform plan; and dedicating day-to-day staff to oversee those reforms. So says a Government Accountability Office report, made public yesterday, undertaken in the aftermath of New Mexico’s 2022 Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon wildfire, both of which began as types of Forest Service prescribed burns. The GAO plan also includes four recommendations for the agency to address the gaps the GAO identified. In a statement, US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-NM, who requested the report two years ago, said the “GAO investigation makes clear that the Forest Service still has work to do so no community suffers like New Mexicans did after prescribed burns sparked the catastrophic Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire. Some of the errors the GAO uncovered—like including incorrect vegetation in a burn plan—are outrageous. The Forest Service must do better to prevent future tragedies.” The Associated Press reports Forest Service Chief Randy Moore—who in 2022 temporarily paused all prescribed burns in response to the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire—says his agency will create and execute a plan to address the GAO-identified gaps. He also noted a record year in 2023 for treating hazardous materials on Forest Service land, and said the agency is working toward providing more specialized training for such work. “The agency is using every tool available to reduce wildfire risk at a pace and scale which will make a difference within our current means,” Moore wrote to the AP.

NM amends “forever chemical” complaint

The state Department of Justice, environment department and the New Mexico Office of Natural Resources Trustee announced yesterday they are amending their lawsuit filed last year against 21 chemical manufacturing companies—including 3M and DuPont—for contaminating the environment and jeopardizing public health by manufacturing and distributing polyfluoroalkyl substances, PFAS, also known as forever chemicals. The amended complaint includes additional contaminated sites outside of Cannon Air Force Base, lists the US Department of the Army as a new defendant and seeks costs, damages and other relief from the Department of Defense under the US Environmental Protection Agency’s new PFAS regulations. “We applaud the EPA’s listing of certain PFAS, or ‘forever chemicals,’ as hazardous substances under the Superfund statute,” Attorney General Raúl Torrez says in a statement. “This enables us to pursue monetary damages and costs at federal facilities, as stated in our amended complaint. We are committed to holding all responsible parties, including federal agencies, accountable for their contamination to protect public health and safety.” In a statement, Environment Secretary James Kenney notes the US Department of Defense has “failed to take accountability for PFAS clean-up” in the state for five years. Under the EPA’s new regulations, he says, “New Mexico will now hold the US Department of Defense accountable for the monetary costs of clean-up and damages to our environment.”

RIP, Ike

Longtime Rio Arriba County social justice activist Antonio “Ike” DeVargas died July 3 at the age of 77. According to his obituary, DeVargas “died suddenly and peacefully in the home of his close cousin in El Llanito.” After retiring from Rio Arriba County where he worked for several years as a risk manager, DeVargas “dedicated his time to developing his property in Servilleta Plaza, spending time with friends and relatives and raising his grandson whom he adopted in 2017.” That adoption followed the death of DeVargas’ daughter Carmela at the Santa Fe County jail, which he sued for neglect in his daughter’s death, just one of many times DeVargas sought to challenge power structures he identified as harmful. DeVargas was “a well-respected man who cared deeply for New Mexico, his community, and the rights of Chicano/Hispanic and Native American people across the state,” his obituary reads. A Vietnam vet, DeVargas’ activism ran the gamut, and included organizing in the ‘90s that highlighted tension between Hispanic land users and environmental groups. In an interview with this writer for SFR in 1997 regarding ongoing litigation over the La Manga timber sale , DeVargas said when he returned to the US from Vietnam, “I couldn’t relate to city life. I couldn’t relate to anything. Finally, I went into the woods, and there was peace.” Read more about DeVargas’ life in the Santa Fe New Mexican, as well as in this 2019 La Jicarita essay by Kay Matthews. A public visitation will take place at 4 pm Sunday, July 14 at the Sangre de Cristo Chapel of DeVargas Funeral Home, and a mass of Christian Burial will take place at 10 am on Monday, July 15 at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Santa Cruz. DeVargas is survived by multiple siblings, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “He was a force to be reckoned with,” his obituary reads, “and will certainly be missed.”

Listen Up

Anyone struggling with creative obstructions will be relieved to learn even Natalie Goldberg gets writers block. The writing guru and author of Writing Down the Bones’ newest book, Writing on Empty: A Guide To Finding Your Voice, grew out of her own creative challenges that sparked during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Goldberg spoke recently to SFR about that experience, and will read from the new book at 6 pm tonight at Collected Works Bookstore (202 Galisteo St.) and online via Zoom; register here.

Skate on

The Washington Post profiles Santa Fe resident and business owner Amy Denet Deal (Diné), whose journey to find her Navajo identity included moving from Los Angeles’ corporate fashion world to New Mexico, where in addition to running fashion boutique 4KINSHIP on Canyon Road, she began a quest to create a skatepark on the Navajo Nation. “If I talk to any skateboarder, the first thing they’ll always tell me is, ‘Skateboarding saved my life,’” Denet Deal tells the Post. “…It doesn’t matter if it helps 100 kids or one—it’s enough.” Denet Deal’s mission to help Navajo youth grew out of her own pathway to learning about her roots. Her mother was forced into an Indian boarding school in Farmington in the 1950s where “She suffered all kinds of abuse and forced assimilation, Denet Deal says. She later became pregnant and put Denet Deal up for adoption. No one contacted Denet Deal’s birth family, she says, and she grew up with no connection to her tribe. “I grew up completely displaced from my community. I was the only Brown person in rural Indiana. I was very much suffering from impostor syndrome from a young age, just not quite understanding where I fit in the world.” The Post story details Denet Deal’s search for her birth mother, which dovetailed with her ultimately successful work to build Two Grey Hills Skatepark, which opened in San Juan County last year, with some help from skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and Nike skateboard designer Di’Orr Greenwood (Diné), among others. Denet Deal hopes to live near the park someday, she says. “I just want to be there to watch the kids skate,” she says.

Clearing the air

Author and Guardian US columnist Rebecca Solnit writes about her first-hand view of how “fracking destroys the earth”—a perspective gained during time in New Mexico. The story opens as Solnit drives across land in the Northwestern part of the state with landowners and fracking opponents Don Schreiber. He and his wife Jane bought the land in the ‘90s intending to retire, but instead have become environmental stewards and activists. Their property includes 122 fracking wells, because they own the land, but not the subsurface rights, Solnit notes. “Each well presents a threat to the long-term well-being of the land, water and life this place sustains. Don told me: ‘It is otherworldly to sit in the center of an arid place like the high desert in New Mexico and watch millions of gallons of water taken from our aquifers or rivers or our lakes pumped down to make a single gas well that contaminates that water forever.’” Those wells, and the infrastructure they require, “represent one kind of menace while they’re pumping and another when the corporations are done pulling out the gas and using up the scarce local water,” Solnit writes, “the menace of abandoned wells and roads that continue to pollute and erode the landscape. The gains are short-term, made to be burned up; the losses are long-term.” As a result, the area “has the highest concentration of methane pollution” in the US.

Along similar lines, the state environment department and the US Environmental Protection Agency last week announced the results of a six-month investigation of Permian Basin oil and gas facilities, in which 60% of the 124 facilities had emission violations. “The results of our federal and state oil and gas investigations are cause for alarm, with a meager 40% compliance rate,” Environment Secretary James Kenney says in a statement. “With the impacts of climate change ravaging our state and air quality degrading, we have no choice but to increase sanctions on polluters until we see a commitment to change behavior.”

Monsoon season

The National Weather Service forecasts a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms after noon, with increasing clouds and a high temperature near 83 degrees; tonight, look for a 30% chance for showers and thunderstorms before midnight. Look for daily storms this week, and flash flood warnings, particularly in the area’s burn scars.

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