DOI announces plans to withdraw lands near Placitas from mineral leasing, including gravel mining

The U.S. Department of the Interior has proposed withdrawing more than 4,000 acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management near Placitas from mineral leasing for up to 50 years. The area includes about 3,000 acres known as Buffalo Tract. According to a press release, this move will help “safeguard sacred Tribal lands, boost important local recreation opportunities, and support wildlife habitat connectivity” by preventing new mining claims or oil and gas leasing. The land in question is considered sacred to the Pueblos of San Felipe and Santa Ana and is also a popular destination for hiking, camping, sightseeing and hunting near Albuquerque. It has drawn the interest of gravel mining companies, which prompted calls to protect it.

A photo of Owl Springs Way Bridge on the Jemez Pueblo posted to Facebook on April 20, 2023.

Guv declares a state of emergency over Sandoval County flooding

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency in Sandoval County earlier this week to make funds available to address flooding along the Jemez River corridor. 

The executive order declaring the state of emergency allows the county to receive $750,000 in state disaster response funds to help with the flood’s aftermath. The flooding came as a result of unusually high snowpack from the recent winter storms followed by higher spring temperatures. The flooding has so far affected the Village of Jemez Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Jemez/Walatowa Pueblo and the Village of San Ysidro. The Village of Jemez Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant overflowed into the Jemez River on April 12 and the Hidden Valley Bridge failed due to flooding, Sandoval County Manager Wayne Johnson told NM Political Report Wednesday. Wayne said that only effluent water got into the river.

Some Sandoval County voters said they were unable to cast provisional ballots Tuesday

A problem with processing provisional ballots meant some Sandoval County voters were not able to cast provisional ballots Tuesday. Bernice Chavez, the Sandoval County elections manager, said she didn’t know how long the problem lasted and she said she didn’t know what caused the problem or when it started. She said “we have a vendor,” and said the problem has been fixed. She said the system did not go down but that election workers were not able to process provisional ballots. A voter receives a provisional ballot if their name does not appear on the roster at their polling place or if they are a first time voter who registered by mail and do not provide the required identification, according to the state’s Secretary of State’s website.

Seven new COVID-19 cases, total in NM now 35

The state announced Thursday seven more people have tested positive for COVID-19, rising the overall number to 35. Update (3/20): Eight new positive COVID-19 cases, including first in southern and western New Mexico. Total is 43

The new cases are four people in Bernalillo, one person in San Miguel and two people in Santa Fe counties. This is the first time COVID-19, a type of coronavirus, has been detected in San Miguel County. So far, the breakdown of cases by county, including the seven new ones announced Thursday are:

Bernalillo County: 20​Sandoval County: 4​San Miguel County: 1​Santa Fe County: 7​​​Socorro County: 2​Taos County: 1

The state says they have processed 2,797 tests.

Two new cases of COVID-19 brings state to 23 positive tests

Two new positive tests of COVID-19 have been found in New Mexico, increasing the number of overall cases to 23. The state Department of Health announced a man in his 50s in Taos County and a man in his 40s in Santa Fe County tested positive for COVID-19, a disease caused by a coronavirus. Update (3/18): Five new cases of COVID-19, one case without a known link

This is the first positive test of COVID-19 in Taos County so far. Previous test positive cases have been in Bernalillo, Sandoval, Socorro and Santa Fe counties. Including the two cases from Tuesday morning, the positive tests are in:

Bernalillo County: 14​Sandoval County: 2​​Santa Fe County: 4​​​Socorro County: 2​Taos County: 1

The state says 1,272 people have been tested so far. 

The Department of Health is actively investigating the new cases, including contact-tracing and swabbing symptomatic individuals who have had contact with the positive cases, according to the news release.

New right-to-work tactic: One piece at time

As the issue of compulsory union dues and fees for public employees is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, one New Mexico activist group is jumping from county to county, pushing local lawmakers to ban unions from requiring money to represent private sector workers. The libertarian non-profit Americans for Prosperity announced its reentry into New Mexico politics about a year ago. Funded by David and Charles Koch, Americans for Prosperity is a 501(c)(4), which means most of the group’s work has to focus on advocacy or education, rather than support or opposition of specific political candidates. Other groups with the same tax category include the American Civil Liberties Union, AARP and the National Rifle Association. In New Mexico supporters of right-to-work laws haven’t been able to pass a statewide right-to-work law for decades.

East Mountain water application spurs protests from residents, silence from State Engineer

The tony neighborhoods tucked into the juniper-dotted grasslands on the east side of the Sandia Mountains represent yet another battleground in New Mexico’s water wars, one in which the state’s top water official has abandoned one side for the other. Last week, testimony ended in a trial over whether a private company can pump more water—114 million gallons more each year—from the Sandia Basin. Nancy Benson and her husband live in San Pedro Creek Estates, where they built their retirement home in 2000 after living in Albuquerque. She is shocked the state would consider granting the application after rejecting it previously. “This area is fully appropriated, there is nothing extra,” she said.

Lawsuit promised as Sandoval County right-to-work effort moves forward

The Sandoval County Commission’s effort to impose a right-to-work ordinance at the county level may have run into a roadblock: the pile of cash it would cost the county to defend itself against promised lawsuits.. But in a late-night vote,  the commission voted 4-1 to publish the proposed ordinance’s legislation, putting in motion the process for passage of the ordinance. When enacted, right-to-work laws stop employers from entering into agreements with workers that require they be a member of a labor union or that non-union members pay union dues, known as “fair share” as a condition of employment. County Commission Chairman Don Chapman said he supported right-to-work, but was concerned about the cost of litigation. During the meeting he read aloud  an email from the county attorney explaining that the county would be sued—and that it is “very likely we will lose the lawsuit” at both the federal district court and circuit court of appeals level.

Tensions high as Sandoval County proposes new oil and gas ordinance

Sandoval County’s attempts to plan for oil and gas development continue to draw heated criticism. At their October 19 meeting, county commissioners pulled a proposed ordinance from the agenda, but the commission fielded public comments for nearly an hour, mostly from people who oppose the proposed oil and gas ordinance. Sandoval County covers 3,700 square miles, stretching from Bernalillo to Counselor and Placitas to Torreon. Widespread drilling already occurs in the northern part of the county, which overlaps with the energy-rich San Juan Basin. Those wells are concentrated along Highway 550 north of Cuba and near the Navajo Nation.

PED let superintendent’s license lapse before renewing it

Public documents show the superintendent of a school district in Sandoval County worked for four months in 2015 on an expired state educator license. But that superintendent, Allan Tapia of Bernalillo Municipal Schools, blames the state Public Education Department for not processing his license on time. “If they didn’t process it on their end, I didn’t have control over that,” he said in an interview. The documents, obtained through public records requests to the state by NM Political Report, show a 115-day gap between the expiration of Tapia’s administrative license and its renewal by the state Public Education Department last year. They also show the state’s renewal of Tapia’s administrative license came nearly four months after his previous license expired.