Wyoming news briefs for June 20

Gordon seeks block to BLM land buy in Natrona, Carbon counties

CHEYENNE — The state of Wyoming is asking a federal panel to block a Bureau of Land Management purchase of Marton Ranch land in Natrona and Carbon counties. 

On Friday afternoon, the office of Gov. Mark Gordon announced the legal move. It called BLM’s action “a massive acquisition of land.” 

The agency itself has called this its largest land purchase in Wyoming, “creating a 118-square mile contiguous block of public land and improving public access to the North Platte River.” 

The notice of appeal was filed with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Hearing and Appeals’ Board of Land Appeals. 

“The State has concerns that BLM did not involve the public in the acquisition process and that the environmental assessment did not adequately consider impacts on tax revenues, school funding, grazing, mineral development and other natural resources” of the transaction, a news release summarized. 

For such land deals, the state said it needs to have a 60-day comment period and to have two public votes of the State Board of Land Commissioners. 

The land board counts Gordon as a member, along with several other statewide elected officials. 

Gordon’s office said he emphasizes that this new legal challenge is “focused on the adequacy and proper adherence to the process that occurred.”

“This action is not about limiting access for sportspeople or challenging the rights of private property owners rights,” Gordon said in the release. “It is about whether the Federal government can increase its land holdings without public scrutiny, or should it adhere to the same transparent process that private landowners are subject to if they sought to purchase or exchange federal land.” 

The BLM declined to comment Saturday on the administrative complaint. 


Gillette Community College District trustees approve first budget of $16 million

GILLETTE — The Gillette Community College District passed a major milestone and obstacle this week when it approved its first-ever budget and settled on taxing 2.5 mills.

The $16.2 million budget covers the costs of administration, facilities, establishing information technology, running Area 59 and other expenses associated with standing up the independent district. Notably, it also includes funding for the return of athletics programs and the Energy City Voices.

Those programs were cut in June 2020 and incited the push to form an independent district around Gillette College.

“This is historic for us,” board chairman Robert Palmer said on the passing of the district’s inaugural budget.

The 2.54 mills the district will tax equates to about $11.55 million, or 71 percent of its revenue. The half-mill levied by the Board of Cooperative Higher Education Services is expected to bring in $1.9 million, adding another 12 percent of the district’s initial budget.

Taxing less than 4 mills means the district won’t receive state funding. 

Because of Campbell County’s outsized assessed valuation, trustees and those in favor of the split from Sheridan advocated for taxing less than 4 mills, making GCCD the only of the eight community college districts in Wyoming to do so.

Expenses for the athletic program account for 6 percent of the budget, translating to just under $1 million in the first year. The full year of rodeo, which was not cut along with the other sports programs, is included in that funding.

The budget has about $4.9 million in new annual costs for the district and about $5.3 million in one-time startup costs, about $4 million of which were included in the approved budget.


Opossum found in Rock Springs

ROCK SPRINGS — On Monday, June 6, Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office animal control officer, Chris Thomas, responded to the Western Hills neighborhood on Purple Sage Road west of Rock Springs for a report of a local resident who discovered a possum hiding under his residence. 

North American opossums are the only marsupial, or pouched mammal, found north of Mexico, and today across North America, is native primarily to the southern United States in places like Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. They are not native to Wyoming, and likely would not survive its harsh winters in the wild. 

Known widely for playing dead when frightened and hanging by their tails to sleep, possums are docile, nocturnal animals that use their tails to help them climb but rarely hang by them, contrary to popular folklore and cartoons.

Thomas said the possum she discovered is a male roughly the size of a small house cat. 

She dubbed it “George” and said she does not believe he had been domesticated. 

Rather, since possums often seek refuge in dark, tight spaces, she theorized that George hitched a ride on a semi on the interstate and went looking for food when the truck stopped.  

Thomas cared for George during his week-long stay in Sweetwater County and managed to locate a rehabilitation center to arrange for George's transportation back to a state in the southern U.S. where possums live as a native species.


Airport runway reconstruction completed ahead of schedule

JACKSON — Construction projects at the Jackson Hole Airport are moving forward quickly, with the biggest item — a complete runway reconstruction — already completed ahead of schedule.

According to a Wednesday update from the airport, the runway paving was fully finished, and “paving crews are close to finishing Taxiway A4 and will [then] begin paving the north blast pad, which is the final paving section.”

With the airport scheduled to reopen on June 28 at 6 a.m. after a 78-day closure, the progress report also indicated that other key aspects are also nearing completion. 

The runway electrical work was reportedly 65-percent complete, with work ongoing on the runway centerline lights and airfield signage.

Interior projects are also moving along smoothly. The carpeting and ceiling are finished at the updated TSA checkpoint, and the interior and exterior glass is being installed next week. The checkpoint equipment will also be moved into place at that time, and refurbished gate areas are set to be completed by the reopening as well.

Work on the renovated restaurant area of the airport is also progressing on schedule, though that won’t be fully finished until later in the year.

The pace of the work is welcome news for Jackson Hole Airport Director Jim Elwood, who thanked airport customers for accommodating the potential interruption to their schedules. He said travelers will be pleased with what they see when the airport reopens.