KRWG

Madison Staten

Multimedia Reporter

Madison Staten is a Multimedia Reporter for KRWG Public Media.  You can hear her stories on KRWG-FM and watch on KRWG-TV's Newsmakers.

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Madison spent her college years at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from the institution.

 

Madison worked on a variety of shows for Arizona PBS during her time in college—including Arizona Horizon and the television magazine program Catalyst.

 

She is passionate about storytelling and public media, and believes in the the mission of public broadcasting: to educate and inform with depth and accuracy.

 

She strives to uphold the core principles of journalism, and looks forward to serving the region.

 

Madison joined KRWG in July, 2020

PR Newswire

The city of Las Cruces is working to develop sustainable building policies that will incentivize electric use.

City Sustainability Specialist Jenny Hernandez says that adapting design standards to promote both solar and electric vehicle use will help to generate a net-zero impact.

“We need to make sure that the infrastructure is there, so it has the capacity to provide the energy needs that it's going to require,” Hernandez said. “This includes pushing forward design standards that move us toward electrification such as solar, E.V. charges and again, making sure that infrastructure is there.”

Las Cruces Public Schools has successfully recruited additional substitute teachers, following a shortage that left the district with approximately 190 teachers in the substitute pool. The district is seeking to restore the pool to pre-pandemic levels, working toward a long-term goal of 1,000 substitute teachers.  

LCPS Chief Human Resources Officer Miguel Serrano attributed the recent interest to an early September job fair, which helped to recruit hundreds of additional substitutes.  

“We had 72 applicants the first day…The next day we hired 166, for a total of 238 and counting,” Serrano said. “We had people with bachelor’s, master's, we even have people with PhDs that want to come in, and they don't have a job right now and they want to contribute and support our kids in the classroom.”

City of Las Cruces

Afghan refugees seeking to resettle in the United States now have the full support of the Las Cruces City Council, following a unanimous vote to welcome those fleeing violence in Afghanistan.

Councilor Gabe Vasquez noted the proximity to Fort Bliss—where many refugees are temporarily living in the wake of America’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan—as one reason the city should prepare to welcome refugees into the Las Cruces community.

Memorial Medical Center, Las Cruces

ICU bed availability in New Mexico remains scarce, with only 30 vacant ICU beds available statewide as of August 31. The New Mexico Department of Health reported only three vacant ICU beds in the Las Cruces area.

Acting NMDOH Secretary Dr. David Scrase says that while crisis standards of care have not yet needed to be activated, the strain on the hospital system remains considerable.

“We already have all of the actual beds full,” Scrase said. “And so, these are stretch beds where we converted areas, and we still have some room there, which is good, but very, very tight.”

Missy Morris

Mercedes Esquibel Herrera’s 100-year-old home was built room by room by her grandfather.

“I was born and raised here, all my brothers. And it's like a 100-year-old house, and I've done a lot of work to it and try to keep it up,” Herrera said.

But historic August rains devastated her Anthony home—leaving one wall collapsed and other rooms with cracks and holes. 

City of Las Cruces

In a presentation to the Las Cruces City Council, Economic Development Deputy Director Francisco Pallares reported on the current state of city unemployment.  

The Las Cruces unemployment rate was 7.9% in June, down two percentage points when compared to June 2020.  The percentage is still higher than June 2019 numbers, when unemployment was at 6.3%.

“The city of Las Cruces is recovering from the negative economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pallares said. “We are recovering, however, about 6,000 individuals are still filing for unemployment insurance in Doña Ana County.”

NMSU

Following a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has announced an indoor mask mandate. The mandate is expected to last through at least September 15.

“We now are reinstating an indoor mask requirement for any indoor activity,” Lujan Grisham said. “Outdoors, not required, it doesn't matter. Indoors, whether you're vaccinated or not, it's a universal policy.”

Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen significantly over the last few weeks, jumping from 180 on August 3, to over 340 on August 17.  Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase, says that a large portion of hospitalizations have occurred within the unvaccinated population, stressing that hospitalizations are 25 times more likely among the unvaccinated.

Restrictions on single-use plastic bags will go into effect on January 1, 2022, due to the unanimous adoption of a Las Cruces ordinance aimed at reducing plastic pollution. Councilor Tessa Abeyta-Stuve says that while it’ll take time for the public to adjust to the ordinance, the change will bring significant community impact.

“Honestly, I see this as an investment for the future,” Abeyta-Stuve said.  “And it helps protect everything from our quality of life, to our climate…There is an adjustment that will have to happen to people, but in a few years I think it will become more normal.”

Establishments such as grocery stores, gas stations and department stores are included in the ordinance—though food banks and restaurants will be exempt from restrictions. Restricted businesses seeking to provide paper bags to customers as an alternative will now be required to charge a 10-cent fee.

CDC

New Mexico’s COVID-19 daily case count is expected to rise significantly over the next few weeks. Acting New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase says current modeling suggests around 1,000 COVID-19 cases will be reported daily by the end of the month, noting the strain on hospital capacity.

“We're going to need to really ramp up monoclonal antibody treatment,” Scrase said. “Our hospitals don't have the capacity for the number of hospitalizations we'll see at 1,000 cases a day, particularly if those hospitalization rates are higher with Delta.”

NM Department of Health

Doña Ana County Commissioners have accepted over 2.4 million dollars in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. The money will be used to help foster health literacy in the northern region of the county and fund six staff positions.  

Doña Ana County’s Health and Human Services Director, Jamie Michael, says increasing the availability of health information is a top program priority.

“How do we make this information accessible and usable for people in different parts of the county? That's where the health literacy piece comes in,” Michael said. “I can have a one-page handout that talks all about the vaccine, but if it's not in your language it's not going to do you much good. Or if it's not meeting your needs and your questions, then it's really not going to motivate you to take any action.”

City of Las Cruces

A unanimous vote by the Las Cruces City Council has extended Mayor Ken Miyagishima’s emergency proclamation as part of an ongoing city effort to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The extended proclamation will now run concurrently with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Executive Order 2021-044, declaring a statewide public health emergency.

The council also reaffirmed support for a resolution requirement stipulating the non-vaccinated must wear masks within city council chambers. While some members of the public voiced opposition, Mayor Miyagishima stressed the importance of creating a safe atmosphere at city hall, noting that members of the public can choose to watch council proceedings online.

“You come here voluntarily,” Miyagishima said.  “Nowhere does our proclamation require you to take the vaccine. That's strictly your choice, and I just wanted to clarify that.”

NMDOT

The I-25/University Avenue Project, which aims to reduce congestion and add vehicle capacity in select areas, is projected to conclude late this summer. NMDOT Project Manager Ryan Tafoya outlined the construction timeline for the 33.3 million dollar project.

“Construction began in January 2020. We expect it to be substantially complete in late August or early to mid-September of this year,” Tafoya said. “It is important to note that we will be working on minor activities during the final part of the project, and even after it is substantially complete for several months.”

Wyatt Kartchner, the project design lead, emphasized that the construction aims to improve both safety and traffic flow—going over the infrastructure enhancements in a project benefits presentation prior to the start of construction.

LCPS

Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Ralph Ramos announced district mask requirements for the start of the 2021-22 school year, noting the district will continue to monitor state public health orders and make adjustments accordingly.  

“All LCPS students and staff will be required to wear masks indoors during the school day and during afterschool, indoor events,” Ramos said.

Stephen Lopez, from the Office of Emergency Management, told the board his biggest concern is the rate at which COVID hospitalizations are growing across the state—increasing from fewer than 100 COVID patients to approximately 180 in the past two weeks.

City of Las Cruces

A resolution to establish a $15 UTV permit application fee was unanimously tabled by the Las Cruces City Council, following pushback from councilors advocating for larger fees and increased regulation.

Councilor Tessa Abeyta-Stuve, who voiced support for a $50 flat fee, says $15 is not enough to cover the cost of city services associated with increased UTV use.

“I would recommend us looking into a scale that is a little bit different,” Abeyta-Stuve said. “We’re also going to have probably repairs on roads. I know I am getting some unfortunate individuals who are saying that there's a lot of trash or litter that are around some of these heavily used areas.”

Emily Garcia knows a thing or two about making lemonade out of lemons.  At 16, she started a specialty lemonade business, Francy Emilade, in order to help establish financial independence.

Now a sophomore at New Mexico State University studying Civil Engineering Technology, Garcia is funding her education with revenue generated from her business.

“It was something I had to do to financially stay stable for myself, since I am a first-year college student within my family,” Garcia said. “And so doing that really gave me the push and motivation to be like, look, if I want to get this started and going, I’ve got to do it myself.”

City of Las Cruces

Over $1.8 million dollars is being allocated by the Las Cruces Tax Increment Development District Board for downtown projects—including funding for the Amador Hotel restoration and a redesign of Campo Street.

The amount of TIDD funding available at the start of fiscal year 2022 is estimated to be more than $5.3 million—though some of the funding is restricted to specific uses such as street projects.

From that fund, $1.5 million is being allocated for the Amador Hotel restoration. Jennifer Morrow, the city’s engineering administrator, says now that a historic evaluation report has been completed, the next step is conducting a structural report on the property.

City of Las Cruces

The Las Cruces City Council is working to shape cannabis policy on the local level—reviewing time, place and manner recommendations during a recent work session.  Policy considerations include limiting consumption areas to indoors and establishing buffer zones between businesses.

That buffer zone, a proposed 1,000 feet, has been a matter of concern for some members of the public, with cannabis industry stakeholders advocating for a reduction in the required distance of businesses at a recent Cannabis Town Hall.

NIDA

With the passage of New Mexico’s Cannabis Regulation Act, the city of Las Cruces is now focused on how best to manage its relationship with the adult-use cannabis industry, hosting an interactive town hall to discuss zoning and other proposed regulatory actions.

Las Cruces Assistant City Manager Ikani Taumoepeau explained that New Mexico cities don’t have the same kind of control that other states, such as California, have historically given local governments.

“City councils had the opportunity to opt-out, they could completely ban recreational cannabis in the city,” Taumoepeau said. “Here in New Mexico, what is happening is, once this was approved by the state, earlier this year…the city councils do not have the local autonomy that we saw in California or even Colorado.”

While not lawfully allowed to approve an adult-use cannabis ban, both municipalities and counties have some limited control—including implementing ‘rules that reasonably limit density of licenses and operating times consistent with neighborhood uses.’

City of Las Cruces

The Las Cruces City Council passed a resolution renewing the mayor’s emergency proclamation and clarifying mask requirements within council chambers, despite resistance from some members of the public.

Mayor Ken Miyagishima addressed residents concerned about a requirement mandating those without a COVID-19 vaccine wear a mask in council chambers.

“Nowhere did we expect you to be vaccinated,” Miyagishima said. “We just say, hey, if you're not vaccinated or you’re not willing to show us, then just wear a mask…I think it's incumbent on me, or the council, to make sure that this council chambers is as free as possible from COVID, from the variant.”

The city of Las Cruces is seeking to use some American Rescue Plan Act funding to support public safety programs, tourism and community and economic development initiatives.  

Part of the almost $24.8 million will go toward making up for the city’s pandemic-related revenue loss.  City Grants Administrator Amy Johnson Bassford says that while no layoffs or cuts to city services occurred, the loss was still significant.

“We did find that approximately $6.9 million was lost by the city…we did experience a loss, and that loss does continue to reflect on our day-to-day work operations,” Johnson Bassford said.

With one final countdown, the VSS Unity made history, launching into space as Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed spaceflight.

Onboard, two pilots and four mission specialists—including founder Richard Branson who addressed the public from space.

“I was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars. Now, I'm an adult in a spaceship with lots of other wonderful adults looking down to a beautiful, beautiful earth,” Branson said. “To the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do.”

The VSS Unity launched horizontally from Spaceport America. The spacecraft was attached to its mothership VMS Eve at launch before purposely separating in the air.

City of Las Cruces

  A resolution for a ten-year franchise agreement between the City of Las Cruces and Comcast was unanimously adopted by the city council, giving the company authorization to construct, maintain and operate cable systems. Assistant City Attorney Robert Cabello outlined what freedoms the agreement will allow Comcast.

“It gives them that ability to engage in a particular activity using public facilities,” Cabello said. “In this instance, Comcast would be using our rights of way to put their infrastructure in.”

LCPS

 

Pamela Cort will serve as the newest member of the Las Cruces Public School Board of Education, temporarily filling the District 2 seat left vacant by former board member Terrie Dallman.

Cort brings 31 years of total teaching experience to the position.

Prior to her retirement in 2019, she spent over 25 years teaching at Las Cruces High School—earning New Mexico Teacher of the Year in 2013. She says the need to ensure all students feel engaged and culturally accepted is a top reason she feels called to serve on the board.

The first hours of daybreak find Ethan Mamer just south of Silver City. He’s standing underneath an old windmill enclosed by metal wire, measuring tools in hand. But it’s not the windmill that has Mamer’s attention, rather what’s underneath.

The hydrogeologist is collecting data on groundwater—measuring the level of water within this rural well. His reported findings will be added to the state database, helping to uncover more information about New Mexico’s groundwater health.

The well is down only a foot since it was previously measured last year, but Mamer says he’s seen significant drops at other sites.

“In the last year, year and a half, I have definitely noticed the water levels dropping, perhaps faster than normal,” Mamer said. “Yesterday, I saw a drop of 30 feet.”

Mesilla Valley MPO

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, New Mexico ranks last in pedestrian safety—with a 3.96% pedestrian fatality rate. Andrew Wray, with the Mesilla Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization, presented to the Las Cruces City Council on ways to improve both bicycle and pedestrian safety.

“The state of New Mexico is the worst state in the nation by pedestrian death rate,” Wray said. “In 2019, which is the most recent year for which we have data, there were ten non-motorized fatalities within the Mesilla Valley MPO area, which includes the city of Las Cruces, the town of Mesilla and most of central Doña Ana County.”

Wray reported on areas in need of focus—including the intersection of Lohman and Walton, where three non-motorized crashes occurred between 2015-2018. Councilor Gabe Vasquez commented on the increased activity of the intersection, highlighting the location between popular businesses and the heavy traffic.

Doña Ana County

The Doña Ana County Commission has approved a spending plan for American Rescue Plan Act funds totaling over $42 million.

Spending priorities include premium pay for essential county workers, flood mitigation, partial funding for a new Office of Emergency Management building and other measures to support public health and critical infrastructure needs.

Incite Consultancy CEO Rosalinda Natividad, who presented to the commission, noted changes to the original proposal, which include dedicating an extra million dollars to a broadband feasibility study.

Johana Bencomo

A guaranteed basic income pilot project could be implemented in Las Cruces—giving select city residents access to monthly financial support.  Councilor Johana Bencomo is advocating for the project, proposing that American Rescue Plan Act dollars could be used to partially fund the endeavor.  

“Right now, we have an opportunity to be a leader in New Mexico and in the Southwest, by being one of the first cities to dedicate public funds, along with private foundation dollars, towards this transformational project,” Bencomo said. “A $2 million investment in a Las Cruces guaranteed basic income project could support, let's say, 250 Las Cruces families for $650 a month for 12 months, or some variation of that.”

More than 70% of New Mexico’s snowpack will be gone by the end of the century, according to state water specialist and Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury. She addressed how regular drought conditions have been exasperated by climate change at the 2021 Next Generation Water Summit.

“With climate change, and we have already seen the signal over the last decade and a half here in New Mexico, we're seeing a lot of irregularity, a reduction in snowpack, a reduction in runoff, and the whole system is completely changing,” Stansbury said. “And when you think about it in a historical standpoint, it means that our traditional systems, that are adapted to hundreds of years of the current system, are going to have to be modified.”

The Las Cruces Board of Education is one step closer to filling the vacant seat left in the wake of Former Board Member Terrie Dallman’s resignation, finalizing hiring process decisions ahead of July 6 interviews.

Each member of the board will be responsible for asking between 1-2 questions per candidate, depending on the number of applicants. To include students in the interview process, the LCPS Student Advisory Council will also have the opportunity to ask a question to prospective candidates.

Board Member Maria Flores emphasized the temporary nature of the position, saying community members will have an opportunity to be heard when the seat is up for re-election in the fall.

City of Las Cruces

Over 24.7 million dollars will be distributed to the City of Las Cruces under the American Rescue Plan Act. Funding priorities, which include support for both public safety programs and infrastructure projects, were presented to the Las Cruces City Council Monday.

Councilor Gabe Vasquez says he would like to see a portion of ARPA dollars go toward projects that foster a long-term economic recovery plan, pointing to a previously proposed business incubator as one example.

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