Off Track Coverage and ‘Grandstanding’

February 24th, 2014 · 2 Comments · environment, NM Legislature

By Denise Tessier

Gov. Susana Martinez and the state helicopter were in the Albuquerque Journal last week (Feb. 21), but not Amtrak trains.

Missing from the state’s leading newspaper was a story about what New Mexico plans to do about a proposed partnership with Colorado, Kansas, Amtrak and track owner Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to keep the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief active beyond 2015.

The Southwest Chief is the Los Angeles-to-Chicago line that goes through Gallup, Albuquerque, Lamy, Las Vegas and Raton. (Cost to ride from Albuquerque: $76 one way to L.A.; $140 one-way to Chicago.) The Santa Fe New Mexican had a story at the beginning of the month (Feb. 1), saying the plan:

. . . could hinge on New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s support. The partnership calls for each (state) to shoulder a share of the track maintenance costs, and proponents of the plan in all three states view Martinez as its foremost obstacle.

So far, Martinez has not been keen on the idea. She has persistently said the necessary track repairs are the responsibility of the federal government, not the taxpayers of New Mexico.

The New York Times picked up on the story Feb. 17, and the latter is where this reader heard about the proposal and the role New Mexico is being asked to play (“Small Towns in Southwest Fear Loss of Cherished Train Line”).

KUNM-FM reported the story this past week, quoting the New Mexican’s cleverly headlined, “Martinez could derail tri-state plan to save Southwest Chief.”

The Journal did have an Associated Press story Feb. 4, but it appears it only ran online (ABQnews Seeker) and not in the print Journal, and it was a catch-up, quoting the New Mexican story. That was followed with another AP story, the print version of which only ran in the North, probably because the Southwest Chief travels by Cerrillos and Lamy (North territory), and which was just four paragraphs long, saying:

The House Transportation and Public Works Committee on Tuesday agreed to a measure allocating $150,000 for a study of the costs and benefits of New Mexico joining with Colorado and Kansas to each provide about $4 million annually for a decade to preserve the Amtrak line on its current route. Potential legal issues also would be examined.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on the measure’s demise, which  said:

Five bills that sought solutions for keeping the passenger line on its historic route failed to pass. However, in the state budget, the New Mexico Legislature authorized a study and collaboration between the state’s Transportation Department and its counterparts in Kansas and Colorado, which also stand to lose stops on the Southwest Chief line if it is rerouted.

Even after the legislative dust had settled, the Journal did not include information about the Amtrak bill in its Sunday summary, “Legislature 2014: What They Did.” That, too is somewhat understandable, considering the Journal had left coverage to Journal North and other papers – leaving interested Albuquerque readers to get their news online. (Plus, the measure reportedly was one of more than 700 bills and 40 constitutional amendments considered during the session, and no one could possibly cover them all.)

From looking at the Journal’s web site, it appears the Albuquerque edition of the Journal ran a brief story back in September about Amtrak’s request of states for financial help, and a slightly longer story by the AP’s Barry Massey ran in November, which outlined Amtrak’s proposal to cut service to Raton, Las Vegas and Lamy, but possibly remain in Albuquerque. It included this information:

In New Mexico, there’s an estimated $29 million annual economic impact from spending related to train passengers, according to a study prepared by a Texas consulting firm for train supporters. That includes indirect spending and jobs at area businesses, such as restaurants and other shops.

About 129,000 passengers boarded or got off the Southwest Chief in New Mexico in 2012.

Because the Southwest Chief is important to New Mexicans in more readership areas than Journal North, the lack of follow-up coverage is another reminder of how much more responsibility readers bear in getting their own news, especially disappointing to those who remember the Journal as once being the state newspaper of record.

‘Grandstanding’ About the Jet Spill

Moving from trains to jets:  Before too much more time passes, it’s worth echoing the New Mexico Mercury’s V.B. Price in calling out the Journal for its editorial accusing Michelle Lujan Grisham of “grandstanding” on the Kirtland Air Force Base jet spill.

Using an editorial just to call her out was a cheap shot.

And that’s all the editorial did – call her out for saying the impending threat to the city’s water supplies should be the New Mexico congressional delegations’ No. 1 priority:

For Lujan Grisham, with less than a year in office and no plan in hand, tagging the spill the top priority of a busy delegation comes off as grandstanding.

Then, a couple of weeks later (on Jan. 18), the Journal editorially breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing – via a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study – that Albuquerque has some “breathing room” of about 30 years in terms of how long the period will be before the jet spill becomes an acute danger.

Discovered by the Air Force in 1999, leakage from an underground pipe at Kirtland’s aircraft fuel loading facility has created an underground oil spill estimated to be as large as 24 million gallons.

From the “breathing room” editorial:

Previous to the EPA report, which was released via a Freedom of Information Act request by a citizens’ group, the New Mexico Environment Department had pegged the threat to the nearest well at five to seven years. Tom Blaine, who is overseeing cleanup efforts for the department, says the study takes the situation out of “crisis mode,” but he correctly cautions that current remediation efforts should continue with the same urgency.

The editorial itself stresses that the EPA’s 30-year estimate shouldn’t slow clean-up:

Make no mistake. While the EPA study indicates Albuquerque has some breathing room, there should be no drop off in the urgency with which this problem needs to be addressed.

But the headline, “EPA jet fuel spill study adds breathing room,” foils that message. A better headline would have focused on the urgency still needed to address this ever-present danger, despite the estimate from EPA.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • eetyson

    Susana Martinez’s preferred policy outcome is probably to reroute the SW Chief through Amarillo and Clovis. And that is the most likely outcome, which is missing from the New Mexican stories on this and the NYT story.

    The economic benefits are not leaving New Mexico, they are just being rearranged.

    The winners will be: Clovis, Belen and possibly another stop in eastern NM. The losers will be: Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy/Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

    I’ve written about this on my sucky little blog:

  • Denise Tessier

    To update: The Journal ran four paragraphs on today’s (March 19) business page saying $50,000 for the Amtrak study was part of the budget the governor signed. A longer version of the story had run in Journal North the day before:

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