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“The Year in Review - Sundancetimes” plus 1 more

“The Year in Review - Sundancetimes” plus 1 more


The Year in Review - Sundancetimes

Posted: 02 Jan 2020 12:00 AM PST

The Year in Review

A look back at major local events during the year of 2019

By Sarah Pridgeon

January

The year began for some of Crook County's residents with an enforced break from work as the federal government closed down parks, landmarks and other sides during the federal shutdown. Locally, the shutdown affected the U.S. Forest Service, USDA and Devils Tower National Monument.

The Sundance City Council opened 2019 with an open seat to fill, which was achieved through the appointment of Callie Hilty. Judge Matthew Castano meanwhile swore in Crook County's elected officials, including Fred Devish as newly appointed county commissioner.

Work began to install the elevator inside Old Stoney, a portion of the renovation project that would become something of a thorn in the contractors' side as the year continued. It soon became apparent that the building's footers only go down two feet at the edge of the building, while the elevator needed to reach 17 feet further than that level.

A super blood moon appeared in the skies over Crook County on January 20, an extremely rare event that turned the familiar sight of the moon passing overhead into something a little more dramatic.

February

Winterfest was not blessed with sunshine and unusually warm temperatures for the first time in its five-year history. This did little to dampen the spirits of the crowds who lined the streets and the atmosphere was as festive as ever during the ski joring and bar stool races.

The first place runner in this year's Freeze Your Fanny event was Josh Speidel with a time of 27:19. The frosty, slick conditions didn't deter more than 60 runners and 30 walkers from taking part.

The 2019 Legislative Session saw three formal signing ceremonies at the end of the month as a long list of bills became law. The bills signed by Governor Mark Gordon included new felony offenses, $370,000 in funding for the Crook County Rural Water Supply Plan and a Beer Freedom Act that allowed microbreweries to purchase 24-hour malt beverage permits.

The county commissioners heard that a brief window was about to open to secure federal funding to improve access to high-speed broadband across the county. At the urging of the Wyoming Broadband Advisory Committee, the board began the process of gathering data about service levels in the area to determine where help might most be needed prior to applying for federal "Connect Fund" money.

The City of Sundance finally wrapped up closure of its municipal landfill, approving a final change order and payment application. Meanwhile, the Main Street Committee concentrated its downtown efforts on creating an action plan that would see the new Central Park next to Old Stoney get underway later in the year.

The most prominent criminal case in several years reached the courtroom as Marty Smith stood trial for accessory to murder in the second degree. She was found guilty as an accessory to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.

March

A blizzard with the largest span in at least a decade rolled through Crook County, stretching all the way from Denver to the Dakotas. In Crook County, preliminary reports placed the snowfall at eight inches in Sundance and six in Hulett, with wind gusts up to 60 or 70 mph and quarter-mile visibility.

Following the storm, officials braced themselves to face flooding across the area, but only a few waterways escaped their banks, including the Belle Fourche in Hulett. Wildlife turned out to have fared better than expected through the harsh weather, according to Game Warden Chris Teter, who was confident that winter animal losses would not have too great an impact on local populations.

Governor Gordon signed a final list of bills into law from the 2019 session, including one that launches a study into high hospital costs and "discrimination" by the federal Medicare program against Wyoming residents; a law changing the alcohol concentration level at which a person may no longer operate a watercraft; and a change to driver's licenses that will allow holders to renew every five years instead of four.

Rare Element Resources announced it would be spending most of the year completing a pilot plant campaign for the separation of rare earth elements, the results of which would be a major factor in determining whether the Bear Lodge Project is revived.

The county commissioners got the ball rolling on a water study that will investigate whether or not it is feasible to form a water district on the west side of the county, with the ultimate goal of hooking on to Gillette's Madison water system. The commissioners also received confirmation that CenturyLink will be deregulated in rural zones of Wyoming – a Public Service Commission decision that was not unexpected, according to County Attorney Joe Baron, but was not the result the county had been looking for.

In the wake of a flu outbreak, Crook County Memorial Hospital closed its doors to visitors for the protection of patients and long-term care residents.

The defense moved for a change of venue in the second high-profile criminal case of the year, arguing that it would be difficult to form a jury to consider charges against Jessie Johnson of murder in the second degree that was "untainted" by involvement in the Marty Smith trial.

April

A second spring blizzard hit the county in April, bringing a similar deluge of snow and strong winds to keep it moving. This time, the storm was preceded by thunder, lightning and several hours of rainfall.

Oneok Pipelines arrived in the county to begin the local phase of construction on its Elk Creek Pipeline, a 20-inch natural gas liquids line that roughly follows the route of the company's Bakken Pipeline, installed in 2012.

The Wyoming Broadband Advisory Committee was thrilled with the community's response to its broadband survey, telling the county commissioners that the model used to gather data so successfully in Crook County would be used across the state.

Range Telephone announced that it was nearing the point of switching Sundance customers over to state-of-the-art fiber internet connections. Strata Energy received a draft approval to switch to a low-pH lixiviant at its Oshoto uranium mine, a move the company hoped would improve recovery levels.

The lab department at Crook County Memorial Hospital announced it had upped its game and successfully achieved a higher level of accreditation.

The City of Sundance forged ahead with its plans for the downtown area, applying for two grants to fund construction of Central Park. The Forest Service announced that its long-planned project to replace the dam at Cook Lake would go ahead as the wet winter appeared to have caused no movement on the landslide hanging over the lake.

May

The Crook County Sheriff's Department partnered with Sundance High School to conduct its first practical ALICE drill, which aimed to test the training district students and staff have received over the past few years on dealing with an active shooter situation.

Guardians of the Flame ran through Crook County bearing the Special Olympics torch, beginning in Hulett and moving through Moorcroft towards Gillette as it made its way to Laramie for the Special Olympic Games. The spectacle was part of the nationwide Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Crook County Medical Services District's emergency department was recognized nationally as a gold-star example of rural care, while also topping the state's rankings. The City of Sundance heard that the Wyoming Business Council had recommended a grant of $484,000 for its Central Park project.

The county's elected officials gathered to select a designee who will take charge of public records requests, but there was a distinct lack of volunteers. Officials expressed concern over the new law, which leaves unanswered questions such as how the designee would tell what information was restricted and what liability the designee will face.

A hunting expedition narrowly avoided tragedy when a young member of the party struck his grandfather with a bullet intended for a turkey. The 69-year-old male recovered from his injuries at Rapid City Regional Hospital.

The trial of Jessie Johnson began for charges including murder in the second degree and voluntary manslaughter. The defense presented an argument of self-defense and Johnson was acquitted of all charges by the jury.

June

The tenth annual Old Stoney Art Show and Auction enjoyed a full house of 65 guests, with over 35 pieces of art sold and the proceeds put towards the second phase of the building's rejuvenation. Two members of the Crook County community were inducted into the 2019 class of the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame: Joe Graham and Gerald McInerney.

The county commissioners changed up the roles of fire warden and emergency management coordinator, turning the first into a part-time role with flexibility in selecting fire deputies and bringing the latter under the umbrella of the Crook County Sheriff's Office.

The county's elected officials sparred over the issue of privacy when the Clerk's Office and Treasurer's Office disagreed as to who should have access to certain information within the county's database. Officials were asked to explain what each county program is for and who should be able to access it.

The City of Sundance heard that it will need to pay back a FEMA contribution to the relocation of the Cole Water Tank when it began to slide off the hill in 2012. The city did not perform a National Environmental Protection Act study, believing it was not necessary on private land, and was unsuccessful in appealing the decision.

The city also received confirmation that both grant applications for its Central Park project had been approved, bringing the total available to $868,000. Work began to finalize designs with the hope of bidding out the project at the end of the year.

Powder River Energy announced it would soon launch a project to rebuild electrical infrastructure throughout Sundance, beginning in the north and moving south of Cleveland Street in 2020. Sundance welcomed a new postmistress, Heather Miller, who took the reins after 13 years of helping the community with its mail.

July

The Crook County Fair invited the community to "See the Future Thru the Pasture" at annual events including animal shows, rodeo royalty, a parade and rodeo days.

An unusually wet summer continued with sudden storms and rain showers lasting for several days, including one storm that produced over three inches of water south of Sundance and brought Inyan Kara Creek over its banks. Two tornadoes touched down simultaneously in the Goldie Divide and New Haven area before splitting to travel in different directions; overall damage reported was limited to trees and two grain silos.

Crook County's courts prepared to switch over to a new jury management system that aimed to streamline the selection process for community members called to jury duty. The commissioners meanwhile nominated the county clerk as the designated point of contact for public records requests.

The results of a Department of Environmental Quality study found no links between the Gillette water system and the Carlile wells that suddenly ran dry or acidic in August, 2017. No confirmable links were found, though the study was unable to rule out the possibility that discharges from the Gillette wells contributed to the low pH values of the wells in Crook County.

Cook Lake Recreation Area closed after the Independence Day holiday and the lake was drained ahead of the long-planned project to replace the dam and spillway. The City of Sundance sought to secure Abandoned Mine Lands funding for the next project on its list, to replace two water tanks and upgrade two lines bringing water from them to town under the interstate at an estimated cost of $1.6 million.

The Sundance council also considered the viability of its dead animal waste composting program when it seemed that the results would not be able to reach the new standards set by the Department of Environmental Quality. After meeting with DEQ representatives, it was determined that the pilot program may not have been unsuccessful after all and the continuation of composting would be included in the permit for the city's new construction and debris pit.

The Crook County Long Term Care Facility added four awards to its trophy cabinet, each one recognizing the high standards achieved. The accolades included a five-star quality award from the state and the Wyoming Quality Innovator Award.

Marty Smith received a sentence of up to 18 years on charges of accessory to aggravated assault and battery and accessory to involuntary manslaughter.

August

Rally Week was relatively calm this year, with few arrests and no fatalities. Fire season finally arrived with two small incidents that Fire Warden Doug Leis suspected could mean the beginning of a period where dry conditions and plenty of fuel sparked more fires than had been seen all year; fortunately, the warm weather didn't hold out for too long.

Contractors at Old Stoney came up with a new plan to install the pesky elevator shaft, a part of the project that had been eluding them all year. After solving the problem of the shallow footers, it was found that the ground was too wet to pour cement, which meant diverting the water into a pit.

The first human case of West Nile virus in a number of years was reported in Crook County. The reemergence of the disease was thought to be a result of the wet spring and summer, which created a perfect breeding environment for mosquitoes.

The Sundance council heard that the city would be welcoming a Family Dollar store on the edge of town. Despite a split vote, the council also agreed to sell the old food pantry building to the high bidder for a lower-than-expected $40,000.

Strata Energy received official permission to use low pH mining solution at its uranium mine from the DEQ, while Bridger Pipelines announced it was planning to install a new pipeline to mirror the route of its current line through Crook County. Under the supervision of Wyoming Water Development, the county officially launched a water study to seek solutions to the water issues in the Carlile area.

The Crook County School District introduced Rachel's Challenge to the county's kids, the legacy of the first person killed in the Columbine High School shooting and a campaign for positive change among the nation's youth.

September

Hunting season opened with a positive outlook, with Game Warden Chris Teter confident that hunters would see success with every type of game. The county called for volunteers to serve on the reorganized Crook County Veterans' Memorial Committee, overseeing applications for the names that will be added to the memorial on the courthouse lawn.

The City of Sundance formed a new economic development committee to support existing business and encourage new economic opportunities at the suggestion of a group of interested citizens and inspired by James Williamson, representing Family Dollar's venture in the area.

The city also announced that, with the help of Senator Ogden Driskill, it will try one last "hail mary" to sidestep repayment of the $225,000 in emergency funding it was granted by FEMA to relocate the Cole Water Tank. An application was filed for Level III construction funding from Wyoming Water Development to cover the cost.

WY-TOPP scores revealed that every school in Crook County is meeting the performance expectations of the Wyoming Department of Education – or, in the case, of Moorcroft High School, exceeding them.

October

Teddi Marchant and Craig Chandler were crowned as Homecoming Queen and King. The 1875 Gallery closed its doors when its lease on 3rd Street ran out – but only temporarily, as the gallery will be moving into Old Stoney once the restoration project has finished.

Sundance's new economic development committee came together with the approval of its bylaws by the city council. The city's crop of project appeared to be moving in a positive direction, with eight responses to a request for proposals to design the new Central Park and news that the city had been recommended for Abandoned Mine Lands money for its project to replace the Sundance Kid and underground water tanks and their associated lines.

Crook County Medical Services District announced that it will now be offering a second annual opportunity for blood draws and health panels as it develops a program to support the community's wellness.

Rare Element Resources announced that Synchron had made an additional share purchase of $5 million, while pilot plant testing appeared to be returning positive results.

The trial of Lesley Raber for aggravated homicide by vehicle took place, with the jury returning a verdict of not guilty. Raber was, however, found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of homicide by vehicle.

November

A 73-year-old hunter from Riverton found himself turned around in what he thought was a familiar part of Boundary Gulch. He was rescued unharmed by Crook County Sheriff's Office and Crook County Volunteer Search & Rescue after spending the night walking without light, water or food.

The first major snowstorm of the year hit just after Thanksgiving, bringing snowfall of up to 13.5 inches.

The Crook County Medical Services District Board of Trustees found itself split over plans to build a new clinic in Hulett, with some members feeling that the district should focus on other priorities. Plans moved forward later in the month as the Crook County Medical Foundation reached the stage of contacting architects to create plans.

Meanwhile, the Sundance City Council once again discussed its role in buying and maintaining ambulances and whether it was time to cease doing so. The hospital district solved this issue a couple of weeks later when it secured an agreement with a Sioux Falls company to lease ambulances instead at a cost of $2500 per month.

The county commissioners heard that the Sixth Judicial District is seeking to secure a fourth district court judge because the three judges serving Campbell, Crook and Weston counties are doing the workload of 4.16 people.

A state land acquisition that would move over 4500 acres of land in the Moskee area to public ownership reached the stage of public comment. The county's Specific Purpose Option Tax reached its allotted $6.25 million total and was switched off until such time as voters once again approve the sixth penny on their ballots.

The school district and Crook County Sheriff's Office also announced that a School Resource Officer would start spending time on campuses across the county in the new year, assisting with security and providing a resource for kids.

December

Cook Lake reopened for recreation with the dam project mostly complete, though construction will need to be wrapped up in spring. Holiday events began to ramp up with lighted parades, holiday raffles, shopping events and more.

The county commissioners opted out of a decision on an alleged shooting nuisance in the Sundance Canyon Ranch subdivision. The commission agreed that the subdivision's covenants and service and improvement district would be a more appropriate venue, as any decision made by the commissioners could affect the whole county.

The commission also heard that its year-long study to find a solution for water issues in the area around Carlile is well underway, with landowner surveys sent out and collected and sampling having taken place across the study area.

The Sundance City Council approved a six percent utility increase, effective at the beginning of 2020, to ensure its enterprise accounts are paying for themselves and to offset the loss of income expected due to the end of the Specific Purpose and Options Tax.

A change order was approved for the Old Stoney project to cover the costs of solving the groundwater problems and digging the elevator pit. A new deadline of February was announced to complete the restoration.

This creative tax is a good bet for Colorado's water future. Here's why. - Environmental Defense Fund

Posted: 03 May 2019 12:00 AM PDT

Here's a pop quiz: What are two finite resources in the West?

If you answered money and water, you win. This is especially true when it comes to money for water in the state of Colorado, where hurdles for raising new funds are particularly high.

It's a rare opportunity when new money bubbles up for water projects in the Centennial State. But that is exactly what is happening as a result of a bill approved this week with strong bipartisan support in the Legislature.

The bill, HB 1327, proposes to raise new money to protect and conserve water in Colorado by legalizing sports betting and imposing a 10% tax on its revenue. But legislative approval isn't the final play. State legislators are handing off the measure to voters for a final decision at the ballot box this fall.

Down payment on much larger need

The measure could raise roughly $10 million to $20 million a year – a down payment on the $100 million that Colorado's Water Plan is estimated to need annually for the next 30 years to secure the state's water into the future. Colorado's population is projected to double by 2050. But at current usage rates, the state's water supply will not keep up unless Colorado establishes a dedicated public funding source to protect it. Colorado leaders are making a safe bet to ensure a more resilient water future for our thriving communities, agriculture, businesses, recreation and wildlife Click To Tweet

Since the water plan was developed in 2015, Environmental Defense Fund and partners have been looking for creative ways to fund and implement it. Nearly a year ago, a Supreme Court ruling authorized states to legalize sports betting. Since then, 40 states and the District of Columbia have proposed or enacted laws to legalize, study or regulate sports betting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Deep bench

EDF has been a key player on a large, diverse team of supporters of the Colorado measure, including the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, Colorado Municipal League, Colorado River District, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Denver Water, Conservation Colorado and Western Resource Advocates.

Revenue would go to a Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund governed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to support a variety of water projects, including conservation, river health, storage, water education and outreach.

New Colorado law may help ensure a more resilient water future for our thriving communities, agriculture, businesses, recreation and wildlife.

Funds from the measure would make an immediate impact across the state. For instance, in Durango, $500,000 would fund the first phase of restoration of the watershed damaged in the 416 fire, which burned 54,000 acres of mostly Forest Service lands last year. Steamboat Springs could begin a $4 million floodplain restoration. Both projects would protect vulnerable water supplies.

Winning voter support

Regardless of party affiliation or geographic location, Colorado leaders realize the importance of creating secure water supplies now and in the future for our thriving communities, agriculture, businesses, recreation and wildlife.

We are hopeful voters recognize the urgent need to protect our most precious resource, water, and that this measure will be a slam dunk at the ballot box this fall.

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