In the Rearview

Tri-State moves to 'green energy', dark past of a popular priest, and Taos County vaccinates against measles

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- 10 years ago - 'Tri-State Generation moving toward green energy'. By Patricia Chambers, Jan. 17-23, 2008

Ti-State Generation and Transmission Association, the power supplier for Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, announced it was looking for green energy -- quite a bit of it, considering the green energy battle that would ensue in the next decade.

Chambers reported the Colorado-based company issued official requests in Jan. 2008 to track down enough sustainable energy to account for 10 percent of its portfolio.

"The integration of additional renewable energy into our generation mix accomplishes many goals set forth by Tri-State's board, management and member systems," said J.M. Shafer, a Tri-State official at the time.

The sustainable energy announcement came after the Kansas Health and Environment Department dealt a regulatory blow to a Tri-State plan to build new coal-fired power plants in that state.

Kit Carson officially broke with Tri-State in 2016, opting to go with a Florida-based power supplier, Guzman Energy. Part of the reason for the costly split -- about $37 million -- was renewable energy.

Ti-State said the co-op could get no more than 5 percent of its energy from local solar generation. But even with a few arrays -- in Questa, Amalia and at UNM-Taos' Klauer Campus on County Road 110 -- the co-op was already getting that much energy from the sun.

But members wanted more, regardless of the decades left on the Tri-State contract, which was the reason for the multi-million dollar payout.

In early 2017, the co-op officially unveiled a five-year plan to take the co-op 100 percent solar during daylight hours. A long-awaited solar array at Picuris Pueblo was finished in December, and the town of Taos solid waste facility will soon be the site of the largest solar array in Taos County.

- 25 years ago - 'Beloved priest buried by friends among pines', By Rick Romancito, Jan. 21, 1993

Father Michael O'Brien, a longtime and well-liked Catholic priest in Taos County, died Jan. 14, 1993 after a battle with cancer. He was 48 years old.

O'Brien was laid to rest in a simple, hand-woven cloth and sandals in a grave next to the mission church of Santo Niño de Atocha near Mora, "among the pines and in the mountains he loved so much," according to the news story printed after his death.

It would be another 20 years before O'Brien was named as a pedophile of young boys, first in a series of lawsuits and then, in 2017, by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. The church's 2017 list includes 73 clergy besides O'Brien. At least 13 had served in local parishes.

To date, O'Brien has been named as an abuser in 18 lawsuits from people in Taos, Questa and Peñasco, who are represented by Brad D. Hall, an Albuquerque-based attorney who has pushed the church be publicly accountable for the sexual abuse scandal.

O'Brien was born in Bradenton, Florida in 1944 but spent his youth in Phoenix, Ariz., according to The Taos News article. He attended St. Michael's High School in Santa Fe and served in parishes across the state, including those in Questa, Ranchos de Taos, Peñasco, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Moriarty, Estancia and Mora.

The news of O'Brien's past betrayed his broader, public legacy -- one of being a supportive and involved priest. Though he wasn't native to Northern New Mexico, he was a stalwart advocate for the restoration of historic adobe churches and the preservation of altar screens.

He was also know as the founder of the Pilgrimage for Vocations, a week-long walk to Chimayo. "While working in Estancia, [O'Brien] began a project to refurbish the church there. To accomplish the task, he enlisted the aid of several young men from the parish. At the end of one day's work, he asked them if they would like a treat, like a movie or an afternoon at the swimming pool. [His friend Corina] Santistevan said they replied they would like to perform a 100-mile pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo," the story said.

"[He] granted their wish, and in turn, began a tradition followed to this day."

Even after the news of his abuses, pilgrims still walk to Chimayo every June.

- 50 years ago - 'Measles 'shots' due', Staff Report, Jan. 18, 1968

Ten years before the Center for Disease Control made it a nationwide goal to eliminate measles, the schools in Taos County held a massive drive to get all kids between the first grade and 12 years of age vaccinated for the viral disease.

Measles is a highly contagious disease. It's most noticeable symptom is a rash that starts at the hairline, moves down the face and neck before spreading to the rest of the body. It's sometimes accompanied by a fever, cough or runny nose. Left untreated, the disease can cause premature labor and miscarriages, swelling of the brain and pneumonia.

The measles virus was first isolated by John Enders and Thomas Peebles in 1954 following an outbreak in Boston, according to the CDC. Enders eventually created a vaccine out of the virus in 1963. However, it was in 1968 when Maurice Hilleman developed an improved measles vaccine that to this day is the only one used in the United States.

The January 1968 vaccination campaign in Taos County relied on a "squirt gun" to inject the vaccine instead of needles. It wasn't free, but parents without the money could still have their kids vaccinated.

The article cites unspecified "nurses" who advocated for the vaccine in Taos County because "several children" aged nine and 10 contracted the virus and developed a mental disability; encephalitis is a swelling of the brain and is one of the more serious complications of the measles virus. Even today, one out of every 1,000 children who get measles will develop brain swelling; one or two out of 1,000 will die from the disease.

The vaccine for measles is included in the MMR regimen, which also vaccinates for mumps and rubella. In 1981, measles cases were down 80 percent compared to the previous year. The disease was declared eliminated in 2000.

But the disease has made a comeback in recent years, especially with the rise of the "anit-vaxxer" movement of parents opting to not vaccinate their kids, largely out of concerns that they will develop autism. (The CDC counters this idea with scientific evidence suggesting otherwise.)

Notably, Taos County led the state in the number of kids who received vaccination waivers as of 2014, according to state data.

While no measles cases were reported to the New Mexico Department of Health in 2015 and 2016, other states have had sizable outbreaks that worry health officials. A number of them were linked with an outbreak in 2015 at a Disney theme park in California, while dozens of measles cases in 2017 centered in the Somali-American community in Minnesota.

The CDC reports the country had 120 measles cases in 2017, down from a high of 667 in 2013.

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