Cimarron District Forester Arnie Friedt remembers the Ute Park Fire of 2018 and how crews worked to prevent any residences from being destroyed. Then the rain came and flooding from the burn scar damaged more than 26 homes. “So actually the flooding was more damaging than the fire to property,” he said, adding that he hadn’t previously realized that. Years later, the burn scar continues to impact the community.
Last year in the area near Orogrande in Otero County, a motorcyclist was killed when he ended up in an abandoned mine, according to Jerry Schoeppner, the Mining and Minerals Division director for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. Abandoned hard rock mine sites throughout the state can create dangerous conditions for people and the environment, but the funding that the Mining and Minerals Division relies on to clean up these sites is limited and will expire in September. Additionally, the state does not know exactly how many mines are located in New Mexico. Schoeppner is hopeful that the funding will be reauthorized and that New Mexico could even possibly see an increase in funding.
A $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill introduced in Congress this week would, if passed, ensure funding for the mine cleanup for the next 15 years. Additionally, it would provide the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund with about $11.3 billion, which would be divided between states and tribal nations.
The monsoon moisture has brought welcome relief to the drought that has strained water resources in New Mexico. At the start of 2021, the entire state was experiencing some degree of drought conditions and more than half the state was in exceptional drought category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. An exceptional drought leads to major rivers, such as the Rio Grande, running dry, causes farmers to turn to groundwater rather than surface water and burn bans on federal lands. “I kind of see the last half of June as being the start (of monsoon season),” said Scott Overpeck, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. At the beginning of July, about 30 percent of the state was in an exceptional drought.
Embattled House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton resigned from her position in the state legislature amid state and federal investigations into alleged corruption related to her role in Albuquerque Public Schools. Earlier this week, state investigators raided Williams Stapleton’s house and Friday the Albuquerque Journal reported APS received a federal grand jury subpoena. By Friday afternoon, House Democrat leadership announced that Williams Stapleton had resigned. “Given the weight of the allegations against Rep. Stapleton and the ongoing investigation, her resignation from the House is appropriate and in the best interest of the Legislature and the state,” Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, House Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos, and House Majority Caucus Chair D. Wonda Johnson said. “There is important work to be done for the people of New Mexico, and House Democrats and our strong leadership team will continue to remain focused on serving our constituents and moving our great state forward.”
The state investigation included allegations of “racketeering, money laundering, receiving illegal kickbacks and violations of the Governmental Conduct Act.”
The state search warrants said that businesses and charities operated by Williams Stapleton received nearly $1 million from Robotics Management Learning Systems LLC, a Washington D.C.-based company that has contracts with Albuquerque Public Schools.
As the sixth anniversary of the Gold King Mine spill approaches, the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Trustee is seeking proposals for restoration projects along the impacted river system in the northwest part of the state. The office hosted a webinar on Wednesday to provide groups interested in submitting restoration projects with details about the process. The $1 million of funding for these projects comes from a larger settlement that the state of New Mexico reached with Sunnyside Gold Corporation—the owner of mining claims in the Gold King Mine area—in January.
Proposals for projects are due by the end of August. A draft restoration plan will be released for public comment around mid-November and the final plan will likely be released by the end of January, at which time the state will negotiate contracts for restoration projects. The Gold King Mine spill
Top state health officials spoke about the threat of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in New Mexico and nationwide and encouraged New Mexicans to wear masks, following federal health guidelines. The health officials came into the meeting with masks on. “This is not like throwback baseball uniforms,” Dr. David Scrase, the state Human Services Secretary said. “But it does remind me a lot about 14, 15 months ago, when we started wearing masks at press conferences.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier this week that those who are vaccinated but live in areas of substantial or high transmission should wear masks in public indoor settings. Four counties in New Mexico (Eddy, Hidalgo, Lincoln and Otero counties) reach the CDC definition of “high” transmission as of Monday, while 14 counties, including Bernalillo, Sandoval and San Juan counties, reached the definition of “substantial” transmission.