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Wyoming News Briefs

Gordon urges BLM to listen to Wyoming on Rock Springs RMP

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Gov. Mark Gordon is urging the Bureau of Land Management to “reconsider its restriction-heavy preferred alternative and deliver a reasonable plan incorporating more of Wyoming’s compromise approach to managing the Rock Springs area,” the governor’s office said in a news release.

Gordon submitted his comment letter, along with those from numerous state agencies, on the BLM draft Resource Management Plan this week.

“No other National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document in recent memory has sparked the type of scrutiny and fervor that this Rock Springs RMP has in our state, and rightfully so,” Gordon wrote. “People representing the full spectrum in Wyoming recognized the flawed nature of this draft RMP. [It] is too important to have its impacts go unexamined.”

The conclusion of this comment period closes this chapter of the RMP process, which began with the draft’s notice on Aug. 18. While no exact date has been given, the BLM has indicated that the next step — a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) — will be prepared before the end of the year.

The Rock Springs RMP Revision project website will have any updated information from the BLM.

Gray submits amicus brief on Trump case to Supreme Court

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray, through America First Legal (pro bono), on Thursday filed an Amicus Curiae brief with the Supreme Court of the United States, arguing that the court should reverse the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to bar Donald Trump from the ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

The brief argues that Trump did not engage in an insurrection or rebellion, nor give aid or comfort to the enemies of the United States.

“As Secretaries of State, we must stop the radical Left’s unAmerican and unconstitutional attempts to weaponize the Fourteenth Amendment against the American People,” Gray said in a statement. “This is why, as Wyoming’s state election officer, I filed an Amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse Colorado’s outrageously wrong and unprecedented decision.

“I have been repeatedly attacked by the radical left-wing media for my efforts to ensure that Trump will be on the ballot. But I will continue to defend election integrity and ensure that the people of Wyoming can choose who to elect for themselves.”

A copy of the amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court can be found at gray-amicus. More from Gray on this effort can be found on page C8 of today’s WTE.

County approves zoning part of Coal Creek mine for possible industrial park in future

GILLETTE (WNE) — A portion of Coal Creek mine could one day be an industrial park.

That’s the hope of Campbell County Commissioners, who approved a zoning request by the Thunder Basin Coal Company to zone part of the 11,500-acre coal mine.

Thunder Basin Coal, which is owned by Arch Resources, started the process of zoning 1,450 acres of the mine, which includes roads, buildings, wells and rail spurs. The land is currently unzoned, and the request would change the zoning to be heavy industrial.

The county’s planning recommended approval of the zoning request. The county planning commission supported it on a 3-0 vote in a November meeting.

At that meeting, Keith Williams, president of western operations of Arch Resources, said the company is working with several potential buyers with the goal of keeping some sort of business going at the mine after coal mining is no longer viable.

Wednesday, the commissioners approved the zoning request. County planner Sam Proffer said the zoning will allow “for everything to be used down there, what they’re doing now and more.”

Proffer added that the neighbors were contacted about the zoning request, and there were no negative comments.

“We don’t want to be in a position where we have surrounding landowners that are negatively impacted by access,” he said.

Commission Chairman Del Shelstad pointed out that a similar thing was done with the old Fort Union mine.

Virus capable of spreading to humans likely in car-licking bighorns

JACKSON (WNE) — Bighorn sheep on the National Elk Refuge likely carry a virus that’s capable of spreading to humans, officials warned Friday, asking the public to stop letting wild sheep lick their cars.

“The bighorn sheep on the National Elk Refuge have become habituated to people and regularly approach vehicles to lick salt and minerals from them,” Elk Refuge officials explained Friday in a news release. “The transfer of saliva to vehicles not only spreads the disease throughout the herd, with multiple sheep often licking the same location, it also puts people at greater risk for contracting the virus.”

The pathogen of concern is known as “orf virus,” or contagious ecthyma. Infected animals develop “scabby sores” around their mouths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Humans typically develop lesions on their hands.

Humans are able to acquire the disease from animals, and allowing sheep to lick vehicles increases that risk.

Although refuge officials didn’t return a request for comment by press time Friday, their announcement said “a lot” of bighorns living on Miller Butte appear to be infected.

While wild sheep typically recover from visual clinical symptoms in three to six weeks, they become more prone to other infections. 

Pneumonia has historically caused large die-offs in the Jackson Herd, which occupies the Gros Ventre Range east of Jackson Hole. Allen said the presence of pneumonia in the herd may have weakened their immune systems enough for an orf virus outbreak. Alternatively, she said, the orf virus may weaken the animals’ immune systems and thus make them more susceptible to a pneumonia outbreak.

Jackson police investigate gas station burglary

JACKSON (WNE) — The Jackson Police Department is investigating its first burglary of the year, which occurred in the early morning hours Thursday at the Shell gas station on Broadway.

Lt. Russ Ruschill of the Jackson Police Department said police received a call at 5:45 a.m. Thursday from an employee who was opening the store.

“It was pretty apparent that the business was burglarized overnight,” Ruschill said. “It looks like a one-time incident. There’s not a string of burglaries we’re aware of.”

No one was injured. 

Ruschill said some “sundries” and cash were stolen. He remained tight-lipped about the amount of money taken but said a burglary in Wyoming is immediately a felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 10 years, a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.

After seeing evidence of a forced entry through a back door, detectives believe two burglars committed the crime, Ruschill said. 

Recently installed license plate cameras around town will be used to investigate the Thursday burglary, Ruschill said, along with “all police department resources.”

Black Hills Energy’s natural gas rates to rise in February

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Black Hills Energy announced Wednesday that its natural gas service base rates will go up effective Feb. 1.

According to a news release, residential customers with an average energy use will see a monthly increase of approximately $7.26, an 8.09% increase, and small general customers, mostly businesses that use more energy, will see an increase of around $1.23 per month, a 0.64% increase.

In an email to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Black Hills said the new rates are a recovery of funds spent by the company to operate, maintain and update more than 6400 miles of natural gas system infrastructure in Wyoming.

The decision to increase rates was approved by the Wyoming Public Service Commission on Dec. 21 of last year. Initially, Black Hills wanted the change to go into effect on Jan. 1, but members of the commission denied that, as they believed the energy company had not effectively communicated the intent to increase rates to its customers.

“Public communication regarding rate reviews begins upon the initial filing with the Wyoming Public Service Commission and remains ongoing through the process,” Black Hills said in an email. “With the completion of the rate review, we will continue to communicate these changes to customers through a variety of channels.”

Although natural gas prices fluctuate monthly or quarterly in response to the notoriously volatile market, this is the first base rate increase from Black Hills since 2019.

DMT lab suspect pleads to misdemeanor

GILLETTE (WNE) — A man who had been accused of conspiring to manufacture the psychedelic drug DMT has pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor, while his co-defendant still faces felony charges for the alleged operation.

Mark Thompson, 59, pleaded guilty at his Jan. 8 pre-trial conference to misdemeanor possession of DMT, formally known as dimethyltryptamine, according to court documents.

That charge was reduced from an original felony count of conspiracy to manufacture DMT.

District Judge James M. “Mike” Causey sentenced Thompson following his change of plea, giving him a 152-day jail sentence, with credit for all 152 days served, and $200 in fines and fees.

Thompson’s co-defendant Jody Earl, 59, pleaded not guilty in October to counts of conspiracy to manufacture DMT, manufacturing DMT and unlawful clandestine lab operations, according to court documents.

His pre-trial conference was recently postponed to Feb. 12, with a trial scheduled to begin March 12.

Thompson was arrested in August after police and Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agents searched a suspected DMT lab on Elon Avenue. Thompson was the listed utility holder and through police contacts, detectives learned Earl also lived at the apartment.

While a search warrant was executed at the apartment, Thompson was contacted at his place of employment. Officers brought him to the police department where he was interviewed by police and DCI agent Ed Rosier.

Thompson told them he lived at the apartment in question, that Earl was his roommate and that he was aware of Earl “cooking” DMT, according to court documents. Thompson admitted to using DMT four times in the time since Earl began cooking it and said he had been asked by Earl to assist by holding various jars of black liquid while Earl cooked, according to court documents.

Multiple neighbors were contacted inside the building and one said Earl had offered to sell them DMT, according to court documents.

Jackson Hole Airport to build new private aviation terminal, offices

JACKSON (WNE) — The Jackson Hole Airport Board voted 4-1 Monday to spend roughly $50 million on a controversial new building that will house a terminal for private aviation and new offices for airport staff.

Board members also elected to explore increasing fees on private jets to offset any impacts the new terminal may have on traffic in and out of the airport, even though most board members argued that the new terminal would essentially be a lobby and not increase the number of flights.

But the airport’s landlord, Grand Teton National Park, made clear Monday that it’s not 100% on board with where the airport is headed. Ahead of the vote, Superintendent Chip Jenkins praised the airport for its sustainability initiatives and said he understood the need to replace infrastructure.

Jenkins, however, suggested that new construction at Jackson Hole Airport — the only American airport located inside a national park — could mar the park’s “extraordinary with the merely ordinary.”

“It is not entirely clear to us at Grand Teton National Park what the vision is for the airport over the next ten or 20 years,” Jenkins said. “We’re not entirely sure where we are trying to go, and how the capital improvements that might be made by the board will implement that vision, and what the consequences of that vision may be on the park and how we can work together to mitigate those impacts.”

Monday’s decision capped a months-long debate about whether Jackson Hole Airport is doing too much for private aviation, a hot-button issue in a community where millionaires and billionaires often reach their second homes on private jets, and in a valley that’s becoming less and less affordable for the middle class.