Saturday, January 9, 2010

Land exchanges could be 'political suicide'

"People have told me it would be political suicide to try and solve the problems up there," Lyons said about the Whites Peak land exchanges.

by Peter St. Cyr

Commissioner of Public Lands Patrick Lyons invited elected officials, the media, and the public to his office, at the State Land Office, on Thursday, to discuss a controversial four-way land exchange that he previously agreed to make with private ranchers.

He had planned to use the meeting to discuss the benefits of the state land swaps, but spent most of his time being grilled on the details by state Reps. Thomas Garcia and Brian Egolf, and fending off hunters and guides who were upset the meeting was being held the same day as one of the exchanges was closed -- with Stanley Ranches.

Listen to Lyons' presentation and Q&A here, or by clicking the play button on the bar below.

Making the case

Lyons, who claims the deal will increase the value of state lands in the Whites Peaks area alone by over $12 million, used a slide presentation and maps to illustrate long standing issues such as checker boarded land plots, deteriorating public access roads, trespassing, poaching, and boundary distinctions, to try and make his case.

He told the crowd of about 50 people he intended to solve problems that have existed in the region for decades and "four commissioners before me."

Sensing the unhappiness of hunters and some Democrat leaders, Lyons told this reporter before the public meeting, "people have told me it would be political suicide to try and solve the problems up there."

His advisors may have been right.

Lyons did not get a warm reception from most people in the crowd, which included Mike Anaya and Sandy Jones -- both Democrat primary candidates seeking to succeed Lyons, the only Republican state office holder.

One hunter, Angelo Archuleta, from Mora, accused Lyons of putting the private landowners' interests over the interests of northern New Mexico's hunting community.

Listen to Archuleta confront Lyons, who call's him a "wise ass", at 51 minutes into the audio tape. Later, after Archuleta insisted on expressing his opinion on the swaps out of turn, Lyons told the crowd, "this is why we don't have public meetings in Mora," and requested staffers call the police. Archuleta was allowed to stay after Rep. Garcia told Lyons that he had yielded the floor to Archuleta and that no threats had been made.

Rattlesnakes, antelope, and Bambi...

Professional outdoor guide Alberto Goke, who appeared disgusted with the Stanley Ranch deal being closed without public meetings, told the crowd that the only thing they'll find on lands being traded with Express UU Bar Ranches, will be rattlesnakes and antelope. He claimed all the prized bull-elk will be behind fences and fears ranchers will begin charging thousands for private hunts saying, "we'll be left with Bambi."

Lyons disagreed, and said none of the ranchers have plans to build fences big enough to trap the preferred bull elks on the private lands.

Lyons appeared confident when he claimed wildlife will migrate to water at ponds the state will acquire in the deals.

“We're getting prime elk hunting land," Lyons said. “They'll be at water during hunting season, and that's what we're getting,” Lyons said specifically mentioning archery season.

'It's turned into a political free-for all'

Rep. Egolf, who grilled Lyons about the value to beneficiaries, told Lyons he didn't think the land should be exchanged because some landowners have complained about trespassers and vandalism.

He wants Lyons to leave enforcement to the sheriff and park rangers, reminding Lyons that his job "is to maximize revenue for education -- the primary beneficiaries of state trust lands."

But Lyons said that the beneficiaries he's talked to support the exchanges and that revenues from the Game and Fish Department have doubled during his seven years in office.

In fact, Lyons said by eliminating most of the checker boarding the value of the land will be increased and allow him to make more money for New Mexico off grazing leases and through camping, hunting, recreation and other activities.

But Egolf said, after reviewing the financial summaries, it appeared there would only be a net increase of $1,700 from new grazing leases, and offered to split the amount with Rep. Garcia if it would halt the remaining three deals with UU Bar, Galloway, and CS Ranches.

Meanwhile, two representatives with the state's attorney general's office, who have been investigating the land appraisals and other aspects of the deals, said that once the deals have closed they may be forced "into litigation" and are concerned about the "lack of transparency in the deal."

Lyons said that there has been no secrecy surrounding the swaps, and State Land Office Attorney Robert Stranahan told the group that his office has "always been open for anyone who wanted to come and ask questions."

For now, both the governor and attorney general want the three exchanges, which have still not closed to be halted, but a spokesperson for Lyons' said they will continue as planned.

At the end of the meeting, Kristin Haase told a Journal North reporter, “It's turning into a political free-for-all." She said, “it's disappointing they don't see the merits of the exchange.”

Lyons insists the remaining three deals will move forward on their merits.

In the meantime, he's preparing to campaign for a seat on the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Berry appoints new cultural service director

Mayor Richard J. Berry has appointed attorney Betty Rivera to be his Director of Cultural Service Deparment. She'll replace Ray Darnell who retired in late December 2009.

“Betty has the background I wanted for this position. She has two decades of practical business coupled with a love for the arts,” Berry said. “I’m serious when I say I want City Hall to run like a business and Betty shares that vision.”

Rivera is scheduled to begin in her new position on Monday January 11, 2010 and will earn $97,000 a year.

Deputy Director Dana Feldman has served as acting director for cultural services since Darnell’s retirement.

Rivera is touted as an accomplished businesswoman who most recently was a founding member of Energy Resources Associates, a consulting service in the electric power industry.

She's also served on grocery chain Albertson's board of directors.

In 2002, Governor Gary Johsnon appointed Rivera as a cabinet secretary for the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department. Rivera also served as a commissioner for the New Mexico Public Utility Commission from 1995-1998.

Rivera is an active member of the Albuquerque Arts Board and of the International Women’s Forum and the New Mexico Women’s Forum.

Rivera is a past member of the Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pete Domenici Jr considering run for governor

Pete Domenici Jr. — the 50- year-old son of retired U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici — is seriously considering running for governor, the Albuquerque Journal is reporting.

Domenici, who like his father is a Republican, has been “contemplating a run since before the holiday season,” the Journal article states.

“I’m looking very seriously at it,” the Journal quoted him as saying. “I’m going to make my decision in a few days.”

Domenici Jr., an environmental and natural resources lawyer in Albuquerque, would become the fifth Republican in the 2010 race.

The paper reports Domenici Jr, who has not run for political office before, does not have a campaign exploratory committe and has not rasied any money for the possible race.

If he decides to run he'll face Albuquerque business owners Allen Weh and Doug Turner, state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, and Doña Ana CountyDistrict Attorney Susana Martinez.

The state GOP pre-primary nominating convention is scheduled for March 13th, at the Albuquerque Hilton. Candidate's have get 20 percent of the delegates vote for an automatic ballot position.

Democrat Lt. Governor Diane Denish is running unopposed in her party's primary.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wild-born Mexican wolf headed to Gila Wilderness

Wild-born Mexican gray wolf No. 1154 is scheduled to be released at an approved site in the Gila Wilderness on Sunday.

The 1.5-year-old female wolf, has been captivity, awaiting release since its capture in Arizona.

Officials said the wolf has no history of livestock depredation, but was trapped because it left the boundaries of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area.

"This wolf is considered to be a good release candidate because it exhibits a fear of people, demonstrated by its behavior in captivity," a New Mexico Game and Fish Department released stated.

The Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will participate in the wolf's release.

Area farmers have protested the re-integration of the wolves in the Gila since it began in 2006.

The Mexican wolf historically inhabited the southwestern United States and portions of Mexico until it was virtually eliminated in the wild by private and governmental predator eradication efforts in the late 1800s and early to mid-1900s.

A 1982 Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan recommended the establishment of a captive breeding program and the reintroduction of Mexican wolves to the wild.

Both of these recommendations have been implemented, and today an international captive breeding program houses more than 300 wolves, and a wild population of approximately 52 wolves (as of the official 2007 end-of-year count) inhabits Arizona and New Mexico.

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Health Department announces cost containment plan

Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil, MD, announced today that the New Mexico Department of Health will make changes to the Developmental Disabilities Waiver Program to help control costs and maintain quality services for clients.

The DD Waiver Program is an optional Medicaid program that provides services to more than 4,000 people with developmental disabilities in New Mexico so they can live as independently as possible.

“These tough choices are absolutely necessary for us to maintain a strong and viable program,” Dr. Vigil said. “Our clients and people who support them will have to reprioritize how they spend their annual budget. We will help people make the necessary adjustments so we can minimize the impact of the changes. People will continue to receive the same quality of services.”

The Department of Health expects to save $9 million a year and will work with clients and providers to roll out the following changes this month. All changes will be in effect by June 30.

The changes include:
  • A 2% cut to annual budgets for non-residential services, such as therapies, skill building and care during the day, and to provider rates for these services.
  • Families or caregivers paid to provide services in their homes will receive up to 1,000 hours of relief from care giving, instead of up to 1,750 hours.
  • Restructuring Family Living Services so providers get paid based on an individual’s needs instead of a set amount.
  • Stricter criteria for approving extra services for people who have high-risk medical or behavioral needs.
The immediate changes are necessary because of rising costs to operate the program and the current economic crisis. The cost to operate the DD Waiver program has been increasing over the past few years. The average cost per client has increased from approximately $67,000 in 2006 to a projected $75,300 in 2011. The total cost each year for the DD Waiver program has increased from $252 million in 2006 to a projected $307 million in 2011.

Dr. Vigil said one reason for the increased cost is more people are receiving the most expensive level of care, but some do not need all of those services. The Department is working on long-term solutions to curb those costs and ensure people only get the services they need.

“While we are developing long-term solutions for the program, we have to take these cost saving steps now to protect the program and the people who rely on these services,” Dr. Vigil said. “We are also working with providers to see how we can reduce the cost of doing business with the State, such as limiting the amount or frequency of required reporting.”

The Department expects to make long-term changes to the DD Waiver redesign in 2011. The Department is working with clients, people on the waiting list and providers in planning changes that will make the program operate more efficiently and continue to improve the quality of life for people who have developmental disabilities. Before making long-term changes, the Department will solicit input from the public, the Department’s stakeholder advisory councils and provider associations.

The Department already included these groups to craft the immediate changes. The cost savings the Department is implementing now will help maintain the program but will not allow the Department to take people off the waiting list.

“We would like nothing more than to provide care to all the New Mexicans who need it, but we must balance our desire to serve more individuals with fiscal realities,” Dr. Vigil said. “We will always look at ways to serve as many people as we can.”

The Department of Health assists clients on the waiting list to find and receive a variety of public support from several agencies while waiting for the DD Waiver. Services include special therapy for children who are eligible for Medicaid, special education classes and personal care services for Medicaid-eligible adults such as assistance with grooming, bathing and eating.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Valley residents say 'No' to incorporation

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Jojola

Residents in an unincorporated area of Bernalillo County, South of Albuquerque, voted overwhelming to reject a proposal to incorporate their semi-rural neighborhood.

With all precincts counted, Bernalillo County’s website reports the final results were 6,372 votes , or 93.44 percent, against incorporating under the name Valle De Atrisco, and only 447 votes, or 6.56 percent, for the proposal.

Voter turnout, which was about 29 percent of the 23,000 eligible voters, surprised County Clerk Maggie Toulouse-Oliver.

“We were projecting a 6 percent turnout, which is what we normally get for school district elections,” Toulouse-Oliver said. "I think people we’re definitely interested in this election.”

The vote totals, which include early and absentee ballots, will be certified by the clerk on Friday.

Opponents of the measure had argued that government services, currently provided by Bernalillo County, would have been diminished and taxes would have increased.

Supporters, like state Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, and the South Valley Incorporation Advisory Group campaigned on a platform of “preserving the South Valley’s agrarian and historical Character through Self-Governance.”

Voters were apparently swayed by a University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research feasibility study which indicated that there would be a $3 to $8 million revenue shortfall to meet the new city’s costs.

Despite the study, an area advisory committee had worked on the incorporation plan for years.

They contended it is necessary to provide jobs and infrastructure, which is necessary for a growing population, while maintaining the semi-rural character of the South Valley.

Last September, New Mexico Independent’s Marjorie Childress reported South Valley residents believe that “both Albuquerque and Bernalillo County are paving over their best agricultural land.”

In November, incorporation supporters were upset when Bernalillo County’s Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 to hold the incorporation election as a walk-in election with absentee and early voting options. They argued a mail in ballot election would “likely have a 20 percent great voter turnout, and would have cost $100,000 less.

If the measure had been approved, Valle De Atrisco, with nearly 50,000 residents, would have become one of the state’s largest municipalities.

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Kubiak announces campaign for county commissioner

Republican Simon Kubiak today announced his entry into the race for District 1 County Commissioner for Bernalillo County.

“I am running for county commission to bring fiscal responsibility to government and help create a business-friendly environment to kick-start our economy. I look forward to serving my community and neighbors as a County Commissioner to help make Bernalillo County a place that keeps taxes low, so small businesses can create good, high-paying jobs for our residents,” Kubiak said.

Kubiak, an attorney and small businessman, owns and is managing partner of Kubiak & Kubiak, P.C., an Albuquerque law firm.

“I know how to run an organization and stay on budget. That’s the kind of direction we need in county government. Once elected, my focus will be on wise and efficient use of our tax dollars and creating an environment that makes it easier for small businesses to create jobs.” Kubiak said.

County Commission District 1 is made up of half of the West Side and all of the North Valley. Currently, it is represented by Alan Armijo, who is term limited.

Former Health Department Cabinet Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham and Loretta Naranjo-Lopez, a retired City of Albuquerque planner, have already announced their campaigns for the District 1 seat.

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Lovelace labs face federal violations after monkey dies

Updated 5pm

Recently obtained federal reports reveal major violations of the Animal Welfare Act within the labs of the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, according to the national research watchdog group Stop Animal Exploration Now (SAEN).

The 9 violations amassed by Lovelace in just 1 year include unqualified personnel, inadequate veterinary care, inadequate housing, and inadequate monitoring of experiments by Lovelace’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

According to government reports, a May 2008 inspection cited the Albuquerque lab inadequate housing of primates based on an incident in which a primate died with his/her head trapped between a perch and the wall of the cage. Another incident involved an infant primate that had escaped from the cage.

Here's the information on the female Cynomologus monkey death, on March 27, 2008, from the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection report. Details attached below.

More recent inspection reports cited the lab for further issues involving improper housing of primates. The facility was also cited for using an improper anesthetic regimen for a procedure involving a rabbit which resulted in injuries to the technician performing the procedure.

“Negligence at Lovelace took the life of a female monkey and caused injuries to their own staff” SAEN's Executive Director Michael A. Budkie said. “This facility should face serious consequences, but the USDA is allowing them to literally get away with murder,” he said.

“If Lovelace researchers can’t even keep the animals in the cages, then something is seriously wrong. How can any of the research results from this facility be given any credence whatsoever,” Budkie said.

We will post the lab reports after we finish reviewing them.

Updated - 5pm

We received this statement statement from Lovelace Lab's President and CEO Robert W. Rubin:
The Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute undertakes hundreds of research projects a year designed to cure human disease. In some of these studies, animal models are used. LRRI is routinely inspected by the USDA, the FDA, NRC, the CDC, NIH and more. Each incident is examined and animal husbandry procedures are immediately modified as suggested by the agency.

... SAEN['s] most recent attacks have centered on the world renowned New Iberia Primate Research facility in Louisiana and the University of California at San Francisco. These organizations have also attacked leading scientists by name, endangering their lives and the lives of their families. Now it appears they have added LRRI to their list of nationally recognized institutions to unjustly attack.
This is the link to the lab reports that we reviewed documenting the violations.

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State job cuts and pay reductions on the table

While Governor Bill Richardson has already ordered 17,000 state workers to take five days of unpaid leave and indicated he would eliminate 1,000 jobs. Now the Legislative Finance Committee, which met on Monday, is suggessting state employees take a 2 percent pay cut to help save the state another $76 million dollars.

Most of the job cuts would come from vacant positions. Currently there are 4,000 unfilled positions.

Tripp Jennings, writing for the New Mexico Independent, reports the committee's $5.3 billion budget assumes $200 million in revenue enhancements, which include temporary tax and fee increases.

Additional savings could come from cutting medicaid and higher education, and by reducing dental and vision benefits for state workers.

Duke City sets legislative priorities

On Monday night, Albuquerque City Councilors finalized their legislative wish list.

Councilors want to make sure lawmakers to not repeal the "Hold Harmless" provision signed six years ago. That provision replaces revenue lost from the elimiation of gross receipts taxes on food sales and medical services.

City Council President Ken Sanchez says if the provision is repealed the city could take a $34 million hit, which is 7 percent of its operating budget.

Add that to the projected $19 million shortfall and Sanchez says Albuquerque would have to consider employee layoffs and cutting city services.

Dan McKay at the Albuquerque Journal reported councilors also want the legislature to continue to support film incentives and funding alcohol and drug treatment programs. They also want the legislature to give them more flexibility in how the city can use industrial revenue bonds, which provide tax breaks to companies for economic development.

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