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City not told about WIPP incident

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By David Giuliani

When a truck carrying defense-related radioactive waste veered off the road and struck a fence, state police didn’t inform the Las Vegas fire and police departments, officials said this week.

Mayor Tony Marquez asked for reports from police and fire officials at Wednesday’s City Council meeting about the incident involving the semi-truck headed to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. The incident was just a few miles north of town near the Airport Road exit on Interstate 25.

The truck, which was coming from Idaho, didn’t leak, so officials didn’t consider it a danger.

Marquez said he didn’t find out about the incident until residents started calling him about it. He said once he got more information, he made every effort to inform City Council members.

Fire Chief Andrew Duran said he didn’t find out about the incident until the next day. He said what he knew about it came from an Optic story.

The state police responded to the accident.

“There should have been at a minimum a call to local officials,” Duran said. “We would have been willing to respond.”

Police Chief Gary Gold also said much of what he knew about the accident came from the newspaper.

“The state police followed proper protocol. They noticed there was not a leakage, and they called the Department of Transportation,” said Gold, who left the state police to become chief last summer.

Las Vegas police Capt. Eugene Garcia, head of the Las Vegas-San Miguel County Office of Emergency Management, said he, too, didn’t get a call from the state police and found out about the crash later that same night.

“If a crash occurs, the agency that responds is the responsible agency,” he said. “It would have been nice to get a courtesy call.”

He added that if there had been a leak, the state police would certainly have called Las Vegas authorities.

State police Lt. Craig Martin said he would speak with local authorities about their concerns.

“I will make contact with Chief Gold and Chief Duran and discuss our policies on responding to accidents in the future whether there is an actual leakage or not,” he said.

Resident Patricia Navarro asked the City Council to consider putting speed bumps on Old National Avenue. She said she fears with all of the traffic from nearby Memorial Middle School, children might get hurt.

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Resident Betty Quick said she is fortunate to have Councilman Cruz Roybal as her representative. She added that the new council is the best she has seen.

She said she supported Tony Marquez for mayor in the March 4 election, although she said she would have backed then-Mayor Henry Sanchez if it weren’t for the high natural gas bills. Quick gave particular credit to three members of the council, Roybal, Marquez and Diane Moore, who tried to convince their colleagues last year to give a woman with a hoarding disorder more time to clean up her property. The three council members were outvoted.

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George DuFour, the city’s utilities director, said the city will soon enter a memorandum of understanding with Highlands University for the spreading of the city’s treated wastewater at the school’s golf course. Currently, the city is charging the school $1.25 per thousand gallons of treated wastewater, but he said he wanted to review the rate to make sure the city was recovering its costs.

He said the city would also enter an agreement with the Las Vegas City Schools for the irrigation of treated wastewater — known as effluent — at Robertson High School.

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Mayor Tony Marquez wants to seek justifications for proposed increases in spending during the city’s budget process. He gave as an example the costs of the municipal judge traveling around in his city car to visit juvenile offenders. In the last election, council candidate Max Trujillo argued that his brother, Municipal Judge Eddie Trujillo, needed a city car because he often visits youthful offenders. Eddie Trujillo’s use of a city car became an issue in his own re-election campaign in 2006; the judge won handily.

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The City Council approved Sangre de Cristo Gravel Products as the low bidder for the Lee Drive roadway improvement project. Sangre de Cristo bid $87,707 for the project, lower than the engineer’s estimate of $78,735. Carlos Ortiz, the city’s public works director, said he liked the project because it includes a roundabout, a road junction at which traffic streams circularly around a central island. “This will be the first roundabout (in Las Vegas). People will see how it works,” Ortiz said. He said roundabouts could replace speed bumps and stop signs.

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Councilman Andrew Feldman said he would like to see Municipal Judge Eddie Trujillo’s monthly report. The city charter requires Trujillo to turn in the report every month to the council and mayor. Trujillo said recently that he submits it to the finance department.

— David Giuliani, Las Vegas Optic