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SANTA FE, N.M. — Here’s a look at some of the local news over the past week:

SANTA FE

Governor under fire after noise complaint at hotel

Gov. Susana Martinez faced more scrutiny, criticism and satirical online commentary this week over her recorded interactions with dispatchers, police and a hotel security guard the night of Dec. 12, after the front desk clerk at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa called emergency dispatch to report loud noise and bottles being thrown from a room rented to one of her staff members, despite warnings.

Police came to the hotel about 1:30 a.m., where Martinez and others were having pizza in the fourth-floor room after a governor’s staff party in the hotel ballroom that was paid for with $7,900 from a public contingency fund that traditionally covers costs for entertaining at the Governor’s Mansion.

On a recording of a Martinez call released late last week, she tries to get an emergency dispatcher to call off police officers responding to the Eldorado and she demands to know who had complained. She says any bottle-throwing had happened six hours before.

Another recording from Santa Fe police Sgt. Anthony Tapia’s belt recorder, released Tuesday, shows Tapia and an Eldorado security guard discussing whether Martinez is intoxicated. The security guard says, “I really don’t know what to do in this situation because like I can tell that she’s, that she’s kind of … .”

“Inebriated,” Tapia finished. “Yes,” the guard replied. Martinez said last week she was “absolutely not” intoxicated.

On the belt recording, the governor tells Tapia the room has been empty for the past couple of hours. “We finished downstairs at midnight, at your ballroom. It’s been empty. Five hours ago, there was somebody that we said, ‘Get out of the room. Do not be doing what you’re doing.’ And there were bottles being thrown over.”

A statement from Chris Sanchez, Martinez’s spokesman, last week said snowballs had been thrown from the fourth-floor balcony, not bottles. The police have said they found no broken glass beneath the balcony.

On Tuesday, the Governor’s Office stood by the snowball version of the story and said that, when Martinez told Tapia that bottles had been thrown, she was only recounting what she had been told by someone at the hotel’s front desk. “The Governor does not believe that throwing snowballs off a 4th story balcony at night is somehow less serious than throwing a bottle,” Sanchez said Tuesday. “Either behavior is dangerous and entirely unacceptable.”

LOS ALAMOS

LANS to lose lab contract after poor performance

The National Nuclear Safety Administration has informed Congress that the Los Alamos National Laboratory contract will be put out for competitive bidding sometime after 2017. It will be only the second time the contact has been bid for competitively since the lab was created to develop the atomic bomb during World War II.

LANL’s most recent federal government performance evaluation was better than last year’s, but not good enough for the lab’s private-sector operator to earn the award of an extra year on its contract, the lab’s director informed LANL workers last week. LANS – a consortium including Bechtel and the University of California – needed to win a series of one-year term extension awards to keep the contract going. By missing a term award for fiscal 2015, LANS’s window to meet that requirement closed.

LANL director Charles McMillan said in his email to lab employees that he was “deeply disappointed” that LANS didn’t get another year on the contract that runs through fiscal year 2017. But McMillan also said the feds have still offered LANS an extension of some kind to manage the lab. He didn’t explain, but a temporary extension would allow the Department of Energy more time to prepare specifications and choose the winner of a new contract.

The latest performance review calls for docking LANS $7.7 million in incentive fees, in part for a May incident at an electrical power substation that left one worker hospitalized for more than a month with severe burns and for potential contamination stemming from the handling of highly enriched uranium at a lab-run Nevada facility twice in 2014.

TAOS

Man may have sought suicide by cop, police say

A Taos man who was fatally shot by police the night of Dec. 18 may have wanted to commit suicide by cop, according to the Taos County Sheriff’s Office and State Police. Robert Martinez, 58, reportedly called 911 and disguised his voice to sound like a woman, police say. Martinez told dispatchers that a male at his Adobe Lane residence had a gun and was hitting “her.”

Two Taos town officers initially responded and two county deputies also were sent. Police say Martinez was found standing outside his home, and he later pulled out a long gun and pointed it at responding officers. Martinez is said to have disobeyed repeated commands to drop his weapon and then pointed his gun at one officer while in an “aggressive shooting stance,” which is when the deputies fired and hit him at least twice. Investigators later reviewed the 911 call recordings and determined that Martinez was disguising his voice. His wife has denied calling 911 or even being at the home, causing police to believe that Martinez planned to be confronted with a deadly situation, according to a sheriff’s office statement.


This aerial view shows part of a tree plot managed by Los Alamos National Laboratory to measure effects of drought on native conifers, which a new study says could be wiped out in northern New Mexico by 2050 due to climate change. (Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory)

This aerial view shows part of a tree plot managed by Los Alamos National Laboratory to measure effects of drought on native conifers, which a new study says could be wiped out in northern New Mexico by 2050 due to climate change. (Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory)

Study: NM woodlands could become barren

What would New Mexico’s high desert look like without piñon and juniper trees dotting the hillsides? According to a new scientific study, New Mexicans might come to live amid such a landscape, virtually barren of all coniferous trees, within a generation or two.

The study, led by a Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher, says the conifers of the southwestern United States’ pine-juniper woodlands could be wiped out by climate change. “What we found is that, by 2050, give or take multiple decades, there should be no forests in the Southwest,” said Los Alamos ecologist McDowell, lead author of a paper published Monday by an international team in the journal Nature Climate Change.

This study focused on the lower-altitude, more drought-tolerant piñon and juniper trees. Earlier LANL research at the lab produced similar, broader findings for forests including higher altitude trees like ponderosa pine and there are already “wipeouts” at higher elevations, McDowell said.

The paper says the survival mechanisms of Southwestern trees will accelerate their own demise if the long-term pattern of higher temperatures and drought continues. To prevent water loss, a coniferous tree closes the stomata — openings in the needles that take in gases. But closure also prevents the trees from taking in carbon dioxide, the tree’s food source, and stops photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight to fuel for life. And leaving more carbon dioxide in the air just makes the atmosphere warmer.

“So it’s like a thermostat gone bad — the warmer it gets, the more forest we lose, the forests are then not taking up CO2, so the warmer it gets,” McDowell says in a video interview provided by LANL. “So it feeds back on itself. This is the threat we are concerned about.” Carbon dioxide emissions make up most greenhouse gases that hold heat in the earth’s atmosphere.

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