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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

County officials, BOP to discuss RCDC dispute



Staff Writers

PECOS, Tues., July 15, 2003 -- Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo and other local officials will be traveling to Washington next week in an effort to resolve their dispute with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons at the Reeves County Detention Center.

Galindo said the meeting would take place in Washington and would involve negotiation on the man/day rate at the prison and discussions on filling the mostly-vacant 960-bed addition, which was completed at the end of March.

"At least one commissioner will go, and hopefully the sheriff will go," Galindo said. "I sure we will also have our various legal counsels there and the warden (Rudy Franco) also will be there."

He added that the group was hoping for support from local congressman Henry Bonilla (R-San Antonio), whose district includes the RCDC III.

"Hopefully the congressman will be at the meeting, and we've also made contact with Sen. (John) Cornyn and Sen. (Kay Bailey) Hutchison's office in regards to the meeting."

"We're doing everything we can to resolve this matter," said Galindo.

The meeting will take place at 10 a.m., next Thursday.

The BOP has denied Reeves County's request for a 10 percent increase in the man/day rate of $47.47, with their most recent offer being $2 lower than the current rate. Galindo said in late June that the proposed $54.74 rate would still be about 10 percent lower than what the BOP was paying other prisons on average to house their inmates.

In addition, the federal officials have not agreed to place any new prisoners in the 960-bed addition. The only current inmates are there under contract with the U.S. Marshal's Service, but take up only 59 of the 960 beds.

Some BOP officials were in Pecos last week, but they were just doing their routine monitoring, according to Galindo.

Galindo said that he is also keeping in touch with Bonilla's office and working closely with them. "We can't give up and we won't," said Galindo.

The county judge said a report on KMID-TV Monday night about the planned trip to Washington was inaccurate in attributing a comment to him that the prison would close if the current problem was not resolved. KMID also reported on their 6 p.m. newscast that Franco downplayed the possibility of the facility, which employs nearly 500 people, would shut down.

Odessa driver's I-10 trip ended by pot seizure

Staff Writer

PECOS, Tues., July 15, 2003 -- A large load of marijuana didn't make it to its destination Monday evening, but an Odessa man ended up in jail thanks to the efforts of a member of the Trans Pecos Drug Task Force.

Sergeant Investigator Joe Gonzales, with the local task force, made a routine traffic stop on Monday 11 miles east of Van Horn, only to discover the vehicle was traveling with a over 150 pounds of marijuana.

At about 9:15 p.m., at mile marker 151 on Interstate 10 in Culberson County, Gonzales pulled over a 1994 Chevy Pickup.

"I became suspicious of the individual," said Gonzales. "The driver said he had just dropped off his wife in Fort Hancock to stay with her sick grandmother."

Gonzales checked over the vehicle and discovered that there was something more in the gas tank than just gas.

"The gas tank was loaded," he said. "There were some metal containers inside the gas tank filled with marijuana."

It took the Jaws of Life, which Gonzales borrowed from the Van Horn Fire Department, to pry open the metal boxes installed in the gas tank. He was also assisted by the Van Horn Sheriff's Department.

Arrested during the incident was Carlos Gonzales, 28, of Odessa, who was charged with possession of marijuana over 50 and under 2,000, a Second Degree Felony. He was transported to the Culberson County Jail and was the sole occupant of the vehicle.

"Everything went pretty smooth, except that the guy wasn't very cooperative," said Gonzales.

Each container weighed over 100 pounds and there was approximately 156 pounds of marijuana located in the boxes.

Street value for the illegal drug was set at $70,200.

"It's been pretty quite for the past month and a half, we haven't made any major seizures until this one," said Lt. Larry Arredondo.

"We're very proud of the work officer Gonzales and our other officers do," said Task Force Commander Gary Richards.

"This is one of the biggest busts, as far as marijuana is concerned that I have done," said Gonzales. "The most was 147 pounds," he said.

Gonzales said that this was his first traffic stop of the evening.

Stolen pick-up found on I-10, suspect still sought

Staff Writer

PECOS, Tues., July 15, 2003 -- A stolen pickup that eluded police following a chase on the southwest side of Pecos a week ago was recovered near the Pecos-Reeves County line two days following the incident.

The driver of the 1998 Chevy Z71 stolen pickup truck led Pecos Police Officers and Reeves County Deputies on a high-speed chase in the west side of town and out to Lindsey Addition, before disappearing in that area the night of July 8. The pick-up, minus its driver, was located on Interstate 10, about 30 miles south of the Lindsey Addition, according to Pecos police.

"The pickup was located on July 10, at 2:03 p.m., on I-10 mile maker 223," Pecos Police Chief Clay McKinney said. The location is about 15 miles east of Balmorhea.

The vehicle had been stolen out of the Sonic Dive-In parking lot the night of July 7, after the driver, an employee of business, left the engine running while going inside to retrieve an item.

He added that the truck suffered some damage to its undercargo and the engine.

"We had a wrecker service pick up the vehicle and transport it to our in-pound," McKinney said. "We then processed it for fingerprints and evidence."

He added that the investigators were able to pick up some latent prints and are in the process of comparing the prints to their suspects.

"There has been no arrest at this point," McKinney said.

El Paso man enters guilty plea to smuggling illegals

Staff Writer

PECOS, Tues., July 15, 2003 -- A 28-year-old El Paso man pled guilty to four counts of transporting illegal immigrates on Monday at the Lucius D. Bunton III Federal Courthouse in Pecos.

According to a press release sent out by U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, Hugo Ricardo Ramirez pled guilty to four counts of transporting illegal aliens - two of those counts hand the an added charge of life endangerment.

The release stated that on May 27, 2003, Ramirez was the driver of a moving van that had been stopped for speeding by Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Arnulfo Rivas pulled over just before 2 a.m., near mile marker 33 on I-20, seven miles west of Pecos.

When the vehicle was stopped, Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers found 18 illegal immigrants, some of which were children, hiding in the back of the truck. The rear door of the truck could not be opened from the inside and the front door to the cab was jammed by a mattress.

When the traffic stop occurred, Rivas said there was another man in the passenger's compartment of the truck with Ramirez when he pulled the truck over for speeding, and later called in other troopers along with Reeves County sheriff's deputies to help with the investigation after the 17 illegal aliens were found hidden behind pieces of furniture stacked in the rear of the truck.

"He said he was going from El Paso to Dallas," Rivas said. "At least that's where he said he was going. He said he was supposed to be moving his furniture to Dallas."

"Today's guilty plea by Hugo Ramirez is the result of The U.S. Attorney's office aggressively pursuing and prosecuting those who smuggle immigrants. We will continue to hold these individuals accountable for their actions and any harm done to illegal immigrants," U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, Johnny Sutton said.

Ramirez faces a maximum sentence of 60 years in federal prison the release stated.

Carlsbad asking Richardson to back WIPP weapons plant

From Staff and Wire Reports
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant site southeast of Carlsbad, N.M. is one of five sites being considered by the U.S. Department of Energy for a new nuclear weapon factory. But local supporters of the project said that the lack of support from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is hurting the chances of Carlsbad getting the weapons site.

The site would be located on the grounds of WIPP, which stores low-level radioactive waste 2,150 feet below ground at its site, which is 75 miles north of Pecos and 25 miles southeast of Carlsbad.

New Mexico's entire congressional delegation is behind the proposal, but Carlsbad city leaders say they are waiting on a commitment from Richardson, the former DOE Secretary under President Clinton.

''We're patient, but we can't wait forever,'' Carlsbad Mayor Bob Forrest said. ''We certainly need him on board.''

All five members of New Mexico's congressional delegation signed a June 30 letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham supporting WIPP for the Modern Pit Facility - a $2 billion to $4 billion factory the DOE has proposed building to make plutonium pits, the trigger for the blast in nuclear bombs. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., has also voiced public support for the WIPP site.

"Carlsbad offers a unique location of isolation, a proven safety record in handling radioactive materials, and a community that supports the presence of the DOE," Domenici said in a June 30 press release. "Carlsbad already has all the necessary infrastructure in place to support the facility."

Hearings on the Modern Pit Facility have been held over the past two weeks, with the final hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning at the DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C. A hearing on the plan was held in Carlsbad on June 30.

Joe Davis, Public Information Officer with the DOE in Washington, said this is only the first step in building the weapons facility. "It's a pretty long one. Construction is not even slated to begin until 2011," he said.

Hearings also have been held near the four other sites that are under consideration, including Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico, the Pantex Plant near Amarillo; the Nevada Test Site and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Davis said following the hearings, "sometime around March of 2004 the final EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) will be issued. It will identify what the preferred alternative is and the Secretary (Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham) will make the decision."

The EIS will also include possible effects to the water system in the WIPP area. WIPP sits in the middle of a 4,000 foot deep salt deposit, and underground streams that runs over that deposit flow towards the Pecos River just north of the Texas-New Mexico state line.

Carlsbad officials are hoping Richardson will join the other state elected officials in backing the plan within the next two weeks.

''We can't wait much longer,'' Forrest said of Richardson's endorsement. ''Hopefully, he'll step up by the first of August.''

Rep. John Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad, has pointed to Richardson's signature on a House memorial he introduced asking the federal government to place the project at WIPP.

''House Memorial 9 was a strong indication the governor supports us in a large way,'' Heaton said in June.

But Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Friday the governor had not come out in favor of placing the facility in Carlsbad, nor had he spoken against it.

Richardson's chief of staff, David Contarino, said the governor would consider the issue if it progressed further.

Forrest said having the governor's support would help Carlsbad's chances.

Sen. Don Kidd, R-Carlsbad, said he understands Richardson's hesitancy.

''I think once we can present the information to him, I can't imagine him not supporting it,'' Kidd said, adding it would be problematic if Richardson came out opposed to it. ''I think we can win him over.

Abraham is expected to make a decision about the facility by next spring.

A press release from the DOE said the United States was, until recently, the only nuclear power without the capability to manufacture plutonium pits. In 1989, pit production was shut down at the Rocky Flats plant.

In May, Los Alamos National Laboratory announced it had manufactured the first W88 pit that could be used to maintain our current stockpile. However, the lack of a permanent plutonium pit production facility is a critical issue in defense readiness that has been identified by a variety of sources as a national security issue that needs immediate attention, including by the administration in the Nuclear Posture Review, by Congress and the Department of Defense, and by outside experts.

Secretary Abraham said, "This issue is an important one since it deals directly with the national security of the U.S. and our ability to keep our nuclear stockpile safe, reliable and secure."

Sales tax holiday dates announced for early August

PECOS, Tues., July 15, 2003 -- State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn on Monday announced that Aug. 1-3 will be this year's dates for Texas' sales tax holiday.

Sales taxes will not be collected on items such as clothes and shoes priced under $100 during the three-day period. The holiday is designed to help spur sales in the state, as well as helping parents prepare their children for the upcoming school year.

This will be the state's fifth sales tax holiday. Strayhorn said the Texas Legislature again was asked to add backpacks, school supplies and safety gear for children to the list, but the measure was not passed during this year's regular session.

The tax holiday began in 1999 and has saved Texans an estimated $150.2 million in state and local sales taxes over the past four years.


PECOS, Tues., July 15, 2003 -- High Monday 108. Low this morning 69. Forecast for tonight: Mostly clear. Lows near 70. Southeast winds 5 to 15 mph. Wednesday: Partly cloudy. Highs in the mid 90s. East winds 10 to 20 mph. ednesday night: Partly cloudy. Lows near 70. Thursday: Partly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Highs 90 to 95. Friday: Partly cloudy with a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms. Lows near 70. Highs in the mid 90s.


Tomasa Capetillo and Sergio Villarreal

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