Balloon Fiesta

In this Oct. 5, 2019, file photo, a balloon is inflated at the 2019 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M. Organizers had to cancel this year's event due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Mayor Tim Keller is inviting local pilots are being invited to launch from city parks, golf courses and other open spaces. 

NEW MEXICO

Organizers aim to save spirit of annual balloon fiesta

ALBUQUERQUE — Fall in Albuquerque just isn't fall without the annual international hot air balloon fiesta, with its massive morning ascensions filling the skies with colorful balloons from around the globe as spectators watch from the packed launch field below.

Organizers had to cancel this year's event due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Mayor Tim Keller said Sept. 23 he wants to keep the tradition alive for residents by inviting local pilots to lift off from city parks, golf courses and other open spaces during the first full week of October.

Keller said the question was how Albuquerque could maintain its traditions despite the limits that COVID-19 has placed on social interactions and large gatherings like the balloon fiesta. He pointed to the city's Fourth of July celebration, saying the dispersed fireworks displays at different spots around town served as a model for how the city could keep the spirit of the balloon fiesta alive with smaller scale launches.

Balloons will be widely spaced when preparing to launch, and balloon crews will be limited to five people. Albuquerque police also plan to patrol to ensure traffic is smooth and that people are observing social distancing and mask requirements.

Despite the small launches being planned by the city, the cancelation of this year's fiesta is expected to have economic consequences. In 2019, the event drew nearly 600 balloons from across the nation and 17 foreign countries, attracted more than 866,000 visitors over nine days and generated an estimated economic impact on the Albuquerque area of more than $186 million and $6.5 million in tax revenues for the state.

Biologists ask public to help investigate bird die-off

ALBUQUERQUE — Biologists are asking the public for help as they investigate a statewide die-off among migratory birds in New Mexico.

The state Game and Fish Department is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to determine the number of deaths and reason for the occurrence. They're asking people to use the iNaturalist app to upload photos and other information to help track the event.

Biologists with the state agency have collected about 300 samples from the public and partner agencies since issuing the call. The samples are being sent to the National Wildlife Health Center for testing.

Migratory song birds such as warblers and swallows account for most of the birds that have been collected so far.

Dead birds have been reported in the Taos area and at Valles Caldera National Preserve in the north to the cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande to southern New Mexico. Experts say residents have reported birds dying in groups and living birds exhibiting lethargic and unusual behavior such as not eating, flying low or gathering on the ground and being hit by vehicles.

Scott Carleton, the migratory bird chief with the Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest Region, said the agency believes the recent mortalities in New Mexico are attributable to a fast-moving, severe cold front that pushed into the region, seeing temperatures drop as much as 40 degrees in a few hours.

UTAH

US asked to delay decision on tapping Colorado River

SALT LAKE CITY — Facing opposition from six states that rely on the Colorado River for water for their cities and farms, Utah asked the federal government to delay a fast-track approval process for building an underground pipeline that would transport billions of gallons of water to the southwest part of the state.

Utah cited the need to consider roughly 14,000 public comments on a draft environmental impact statement, released in June by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, for the Lake Powell pipeline project. The project would deliver water 140 miles from Lake Powell in northern Arizona to the growing area surrounding St. George, Utah.

Those comments include a letter Sept. 8 from water officials in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming urging the U.S. government to halt the approval process. They warned of "multiyear litigation" over the project that could complicate talks over the future of the Colorado River, which serves 40 million people in the West.

Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said an extension would allow time to review the comments and update the environmental impact statement, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Friday. Utah made the request Sept. 25.

The Bureau of Reclamation had been expected to issue an updated environmental impact statement by November with a final decision in January.

MONTANA

Lawyers eye neo-Nazi website founder's assets

Attorneys for a Montana real estate agent are eyeing the assets of a neo-Nazi website operator to collect a $14 million court judgment against the man for an anti-Semitic online "troll storm" that he orchestrated against the Jewish woman and her family, court filings show.

More than a year has passed since a federal judge in Montana entered a default judgment against Andrew Anglin, the Daily Stormer's founder and publisher. Plaintiffs' lawyers say the Ohio native has failed to pay any of the monetary award to Tanya Gersh.

Gersh's attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center say they intend to identify any of Anglin's assets that could be used to satisfy the judgment. Trying to seize Anglin's assets will be "time-consuming and extremely complex" given his lack of cooperation and history of holding assets in cryptocurrency rather than more traditional forms, law center lawyers wrote in a filing last month.

In August 2019, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ordered Anglin to pay $4 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages to Gersh.

In the lawsuit she filed in Montana against Anglin in April 2017, Gersh says anonymous internet trolls bombarded her family with hateful and threatening messages after Anglin published their personal information, including a photo of her young son. In a string of posts, Anglin accused Gersh and other Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana, of engaging in an "extortion racket" against the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer.

KANSAS

Capitol meditation room moved to create staff space

TOPEKA — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has moved a Kansas Statehouse meditation room created by Republicans as a place for prayer and reflection to a less-visible space to create more room for her staff to social distance during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new meditation room is on the building's basement floor, down an out-of-the-way hall in what used to be a room set aside but only occasionally used for shooting videos and television interviews. A visitor must go through double doors marked as an exit, and pieces of scaffolding and two unused security scanning machines are stored in the hall.

Until earlier in September, the meditation space was on the Statehouse's second floor, where Kelly and her staff have their offices. It now houses the desks of three governor's office constituent-services staffers.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican and frequent Kelly critic, called the change "sad" and suggested the governor "increased government so much that staffers need to take over a long-standing room for prayer."

The old room's chairs and couches migrated to the new space, along with a white flag featuring a picture of a pine tree under "An appeal to heaven."

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback created the meditation room on the second floor in 2012, after GOP legislators suggested the Statehouse needed a place for prayer and reflection. It was designated as a meditation room to keep it non-sectarian.

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