Heinrich tours Raytheon and honors local veterans

Leigh Black Irvin
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich observes Steve Austin and Fred Johnson with the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency collect water samples from the San Juan River on Thursday.

FARMINGTON —  Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., met with residents in San Juan County today to discuss water testing and defense technology and to honor two local veterans.

After touring the Simon Canyon restoration site and meeting with the San Juan Water Commission, Heinrich and several Navajo Nation officials drove to a Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency water monitoring location north of the Fruitland Canal to observe water sampling from the San Juan River.

Stephen Austin, senior hydrologist with the agency's Water Quality Program, demonstrated how the water is collected and processed. He explained his agency monitors 15 locations on the Navajo Nation, checking them periodically for 20 metals that contaminated the river after the Gold King Mine spill last year released toxic mine waste into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

Because metal levels fluctuate, Austin said it is difficult to determine which metals are in the river due to the mine spill.

"There are a lot of geologic processes that naturally contribute to substances in the river, as well as other industry processes, so it’s hard to tease out what came just from the spill," he said.

Heinrich said he wants to ensure the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has accepted responsibility for the environmental disaster, restores the river running through the Navajo Nation and other areas downstream.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich speaks to a crowd on Thursday at Raytheon Missile Systems' Diné facility southwest of Farmington.

"It is going to take a lot of years to clean up over 100 years of the mining industry and their effect on the watershed, to make sure our children don’t have to go through this again," the senator said.

Heinrich later toured the Raytheon Missile Systems' Diné facility southwest of Farmington and addressed the company's more than 300 employees. Heinrich, who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Armed Services, told the employees he appreciates their work.

"I like getting to see facilities like this as it helps us guide the National Defense Bill," he said. "I’m very proud of the work you do."

Heinrich’s last stop today Thursday was Veterans Memorial Plaza at Farmington’s Berg Park to honor two U.S. Marine Corps veterans. Several veterans from various branches who served in Vietnam, North Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan gathered to witness the presentations, as did Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Thomas Weaver, right, receives an American flag and a Bronze Star from U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich on Thursday at All Veterans Memorial Plaza at Berg Park in Farmington.

The first recipient, Lance Cpl. Thomas Weaver, received several medals and honor citations while serving in the Vietnam War. One citation was for the Bronze Star, but he never received the medal. His daughter, Shandra Smith, contacted Heinrich’s office to see if the senator could secure the medal for her father. Seven months later, she received notice the medal would finally be awarded to her father.

"They did an awesome job getting the medal," she said.

Heinrich presented Weaver with the medal and an American flag that had been flown over the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Cameron Haley, left, receives an American flag from U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich on Thursday at All Veterans Memorial Plaza at Berg Park in Farmington. Haley will receive the Purple Heart at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball next month in Rio Rancho.

"This is the best part of my job, to put things right for those who served our nation," Heinrich said. "It continually gives me faith in this country to meet with people like this, who put their lives on the line. It’s an honor to pin on this Bronze Star and thank him for his service."

The second recipient, Cpl. Cameron Haley, was wounded in 2010 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. During his time in the hospital, he learned he had earned the Purple Heart. He received the medal in the mail after returning home but found it had been damaged during shipping.

Haley contacted Heinrich’s office, which worked to secure a new medal that will be awarded to Haley at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball next month in Rio Rancho. Today, Heinrich presented Haley with a certificate for the medal and a flag.

"I know that Helmand Province saw more action than any place, and I want to thank you for your service," the senator said.

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.