The Pitch

The Pitch is WyoFile’s staff blog designed to serve as a community “water cooler” for behind-the-scenes chatter about what we’re up to. Our editors and contributors use The Pitch to toss out shorter, more timely offerings than what you might read in a regular WyoFile feature. It’s also a place for us to pitch story ideas to readers, and to share with you bits of additional information or insight that may have been pitched out of the published versions you’ve already read.

As always, your comments and feedback are wanted, so pitch in and let us hear from you.

Registration open for 2014 Wyoming Safety and Workforce Summit

— April 21, 2014

The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and its partners will hold the second annual Wyoming Safety and Workforce Summit on June 25-26 at Little America Hotel and Resort in Cheyenne.summit-web-banner (2)

The Wyoming Safety and Workforce Summit is a joint effort between the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, the Wyoming Workforce Development Council (WWDC), the Wyoming Workforce Innovations Foundation and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Industry Safety Alliance (WOGISA). The effort streamlines several safety conferences that were held in Wyoming and the annual Summit on Workforce Solutions into one event.

“Wyoming’s economic strength lies in its people. A workforce that is both safe and skilled is essential – we cannot have one without the other,” said Director of the Department of Workforce Services Joan Evans. “This event will provide an opportunity to continue to build new alliances and reinforce long-held partnerships that support employers, employees and job seekers throughout Wyoming. The Department of Workforce Services and our partners are looking forward to a very successful Summit.”

During the Summit, awards will be presented to Wyoming employers demonstrating a strong safety culture and excellence in safety and health programs. Additionally, the WWDC, in partnership with the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, will honor Wyoming employers who have made exceptional contributions to Wyoming’s workforce.

For more information regarding sponsorship opportunities call (307) 251-0348. To register, or for information about exhibiting opportunities, call (307) 777- 6911 or visit this website.

Posted by on April 21, 2014
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BLM Rawlins seeks public comments on lands with wilderness characteristics

— April 21, 2014

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Rawlins Field Office is opening a two-week comment period on the Lands with Wilderness Characteristics inventory for the visual resource management (VRM) amendment and documentation of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern for the 2008 Rawlins Resource Management Plan (RMP).

The public comment period for the VRM amendment to the RMP initially closed on Nov. 13, 2013. However, the Lands with Wilderness Characteristics inventory was not yet available for public review; consequently, the BLM is opening a comment period to allow the public time to submit comments solely on the inventory. Comments unrelated to the inventory will not be considered.

The Lands with Wilderness Characteristics inventory is available online.

Public participation is an essential part of the planning process. Written comments must be submitted by May 2 and may be emailed to blm_wy_rl_rmp_vrm@blm.gov; faxed to 307-328-4224; or mailed or delivered to the BLM Rawlins Field Office, 1300 N. Third St., P.O. Box 2407, Rawlins WY 82301.

Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, be advised that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time. While you may ask us in your comment to withhold from public review your personal identifying information, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

For more information on the RMP and associated documents, please visit this BLM website, or contact Sheila Lehman at 307-328-4264.

Posted by on April 21, 2014
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UW’s Mohammad Piri Named Wyoming Excellence Chair in Petroleum Engineering

Dr. Mohammad Piri in the Encana Research Lab, with a new micro-CT scanner, the first of it's kind.

Dr. Mohammad Piri in the Encana Research Lab, with a new micro-CT scanner, the first of it’s kind. (Courtesy of University of Wyoming — Click to view)

[Press Release] April 7, 2014 — A University of Wyoming professor who is an international leader in the study of the flow of fluid in porous media has been appointed to a prestigious endowed professorship at UW.

Mohammad Piri was recently introduced to the UW Board of Crustees as the Wyoming Excellence Chair in Petroleum Engineering, recognizing his global acclaim and impact on the Wyoming economy.

“Dr. Piri leads a large team of graduate students doing innovative research that is drastically expanding the boundaries of our understanding of how multi-phase fluids behave in oil and gas reservoirs,” says Mark Northam, director of UW’s School of Energy Resources. “The results of his experimental and computational research hold the promise of significantly higher ultimate recoveries of oil and gas from both conventional and unconventional reservoirs. Dr. Piri richly deserves the recognition that comes with the award of a Wyoming Excellence Chair.”

The 2006 Wyoming State Legislature established the Excellence in Higher Education Endowment, which included a $70 million endowment to create senior faculty positions for highly distinguished scholars and educators at UW. The legislation states that the endowed positions must expand university instruction and research in disciplines related to economic and social challenges facing Wyoming.

“The UW Wyoming Excellence Chairs are nationally and internationally recognized leaders in their fields,” UW Interim Provost Maggi Murdock says. “Dr. Piri’s appointment recognizes both his major international profile and his contributions to scientific discovery that are of great importance to Wyoming.”

Piri heads the Hess Digital Rock Physics Laboratory at UW, which studies interfacial and pore-scale transport in porous media. This work is critical to understanding how fluids, such as natural gas, flow through pores in geologic formations. He also co-directs the Center for the Fundamentals of Subsurface Flow, a multidisciplinary team of UW faculty members who conduct broad research leading to computer simulation of fluid flow in porous media.

Piri’s research has resulted in significant collaborations with private industry, which is interested in better understanding characteristics of oil and gas reservoirs, and how to effectively improve recovery using existing recovery processes and technology.

Piri received his Ph.D. in petroleum engineering at England’s Imperial College London and engaged in post-doctoral studies at Princeton University.

 

Posted by on April 8, 2014
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UW Trustees raise student tuition and employee salaries

[Press Release] March 28, 2014  — A tuition increase approved by the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees will provide an improved learning management system and other enhancements for students. The tuition increase also will contribute to the first ongoing pay raise for UW employees since 2009 — including a market adjustment and a merit-based component.

The board voted today (Friday) to raise tuition for all students by 5 percent in the 2014-15 academic year, amounting to $5 per credit hour for resident undergraduates and $22 per credit hour for nonresidents. Additionally, the trustees approved a $91 annual increase in student fees.

As a result, the total bill for tuition and fees for full-time resident undergraduate students will rise from $4,404 to $4,646 in the coming academic year — still the lowest among the nation’s 173 public doctoral institutions. Nonresident tuition and fees also will remain among the lowest in the country.

The same 5 percent tuition increase will apply to all graduate students, as well as to UW professional programs that have their own tuition rates: the College of Law, the master of business administration program in the College of Business, and the pharmacy program and nursing doctoral program in the College of Health Sciences.

“No one likes to raise tuition, but this modest increase is necessary to meet the university’s most pressing needs,” UW President Dick McGinity says. “UW continues to enjoy one of the highest levels of state appropriation support among public universities nationwide, but we cannot rely solely on state support.”

The tuition increase is expected to generate about $2.5 million. Under the plan approved by the Board of Trustees, the money will be used to:

– Add $1 million to the $4.15 million approved by the Legislature for UW employee salary adjustments in the coming fiscal year.

– Help fund UW’s new student learning management system, which teachers use to communicate with students, present assignments, post grades, facilitate class discussions and promote the use of audio and video features, among other functions ($570,000).

– Increase base-level funding for the College of Arts and Sciences ($350,000).

– Increase library funding ($250,000).

– Enhance student retention efforts ($250,000).

– Increase funding for laboratory operations, equipment and supplies ($80,000).

“These investments will directly enhance the quality of the educational experience for UW students,” says Board of Trustees President Dave Bostrom.

The Associated Students of the University of Wyoming supported the use of tuition revenues for employee salaries, noting that UW has been losing top faculty members to other institutions at an accelerating rate due to four years of no state funding for salary adjustments.

A salary distribution policy adopted by the Board of Trustees today (Friday) calls for $2.5 million of the Legislature’s $4.15 million appropriation to be used for a market pay adjustment — equal to a roughly 1.7 percent increase to the base pay of most employees — beginning July 1, 2014. Excluded from the adjustment will be employees whose performance is rated less than satisfactory; the president, vice presidents and college deans; contract employees earning more than $100,000; employees hired after June 30, 2013; and employees who have received other pay increases since that time.

The remaining $1.65 million appropriated for salaries by the Legislature, combined with the $1 million in tuition revenue for salaries, creates a $2.65 million pool for merit increases. That pool will be allocated to vice presidents to distribute to employees they supervise, upon approval of plans by McGinity.

Performance appraisals will factor into merit awards, although the plan recognizes that “the performance appraisal system has not been applied in detail to compensation for several years, and may require adjustments or additional supervisor training.” Not eligible for merit increases will be the president, vice presidents and college deans; and those whose performance is rated less than satisfactory.

The total $5.15 million increase for UW salaries equates to an overall 2.92 percent boost.

The board did not make any decisions regarding how it will allocate $8.35 million appropriated by the Legislature for salary adjustments in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

“It has been nearly five years since UW received funding for ongoing pay increases,” McGinity says. “We hope these adjustments are a first step toward bringing UW employee pay closer to the average of our competitor institutions.”

The pay adjustments approved by the board will apply to UW’s self-sustaining operations as well. Those include housing, residence halls, dining services, student health services, the student union, transportation, parking and the University Store. However, because those auxiliary enterprises are largely self-supported, fee increases are necessary to cover pay adjustments for their employees. Those adjustments are responsible for much of the $91 annual increase in mandatory student fees. Other reasons for fee increases include higher maintenance and repair expenses, replacement of buses, and the addition of a full-time health educator.

A rise in the student fee for intercollegiate athletics accounts for $25 of the total $91 increase. The additional revenue will be used to address an array of needs, including student game promotions, medical expenses, student-athlete academic counseling, recruiting and team travel. UW student fees supporting intercollegiate athletics are among the lowest in the region for universities with Division I athletics programs.

The Board of Trustees also approved increases in the rates for Residence Life and Dining Services: 3.33 percent for residence hall rooms, 3.15 percent for food plans and 2.5 percent for apartment rent. Driving those increases are higher costs for utilities, food and health insurance, in addition to employee pay adjustments.

Posted by on April 1, 2014
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Press release: Wyoming keeps up with national ACA enrollment 

State saw above average numbers of young people enrolling ahead of March 31

Wyoming enrolled almost 7,000 residents in the health insurance marketplace as of March 1, 2014. The numbers are expected to grow in the next 20 days. CMS announced yesterday that people who begin their enrollment by March 31 will have two additional weeks to finalize their insurance plans.

“These numbers are comparable to other rural states that have a federal marketplace and are a strong indication that people do want to have health insurance,” said Kim Gillan Regional Director of Health and Human Services Region VIII.

“We anticipate a continued increase in the number of people who contact 2-1-1 to find a navigator for assistance in the Marketplace.” stated Tracy Brosius, who leads the navigator team at the Institute for Population Health, a division of the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. “Last night’s announcement that gives people two more weeks to complete their enrollment but who have started by midnight on March 31 will allow the navigators and other assisters in Wyoming to help more people.”

Here are the numbers for Wyoming: Of the 6,838 Wyoming residents who purchased plans in the first five months, 56 percent were female. The number of young people 18-34 who have enrolled is slightly above the national average, 27 percent for Wyoming compared to the national average of 25 percent. Wyoming residents age 55-64 represented 31 percent of health insurance purchases. Two out of three Wyoming residents who purchased plans so far purchased a silver level plan.

Nine of ten people who purchased insurance plans on the Marketplace in Wyoming qualified for financial assistance. Of the Wyoming individuals who purchased marketplace plans without financial assistance, 37 percent bought silver plans and 3 percent bought catastrophic plans. 1,646 Wyoming residents were determined to be eligible for Medicaid or S-CHIP through the Marketplace during the first five months of enrollment.

The report features cumulative data for the five-month reporting period because some people apply, shop, and select a plan across monthly reporting periods. Enrollment is measured as those who selected a plan.

Posted by on March 27, 2014
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Public forums focus on family health programs and needs

— posted on March 26, 2014

The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) has scheduled a series of community meetings to discuss the health and needs of women, mothers, children, adolescents, including children and youth with special health-related challenges.

“Every five years we go through a ‘needs assessment’ process for the families we serve with our programs,” said Linda McElwain, Maternal and Child Health Unit manager with WDH. “It’s important for us to hear from Wyoming residents regarding their concerns and ideas about our programs and the health-related challenges they may face.”

Community meetings to help identify health priorities for Wyoming families are scheduled to continue in the coming weeks:

Sundance, March 31, 5-6 p.m., Sundance Public Library

Gillette, Tuesday, April 1, 12-1 p.m., Campbell County Public Health Nursing Meeting Room, 2301 S 4J Road

Sheridan, April 2, 5-6 p.m., Sheridan County Fulmer Library, Inner Circle Meeting Room, 335 W. Alger St.

Cody, 12-1 p.m., April 15, Park County Public Library, Grizzly Hall Meeting Room, 1500 Heart Mountain St

Casper, April 16, 12-1 p.m. and 5-6 p.m., Evansville Community Center, Community Hall Room, 71 Curtis Street

A tribal forum will also be scheduled in April on the Wind River Indian Reservation. For more information, please contact the Maternal and Child Health Unit at (307)777-6326 or MCHinfo@wyo.gov.

Posted by on March 26, 2014
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Public can comment on federal coal lease modification

— March 24, 2014

(Press release) — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) High Plains District Office (HPDO) announces the availability of an environmental assessment (EA) (DOI-BLM-WY-060-EA13-147) analyzing the impacts of a modification of coal lease WYW-177903 at the Antelope Mine. The Antelope Mine is located approximately 20 miles south/southeast of the city of Wright, Wyo.

Antelope Coal, LLC has applied to modify an existing lease (WYW-177903) in order to avoid a potential bypass of an estimated 15,751,000 tons of minable federal coal within an 856.61 acre tract in Converse County. The project area was previously analyzed in the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the West Antelope II Coal Lease Application WYW-163340 (December 2008).  This EA was prepared for the proposed action, and is tiered to the West Antelope II FEIS.

An electronic copy of the EA is available at this link, or at the following BLM offices:

Bureau of Land Management
Wyoming State Office
5353 Yellowstone Road
Cheyenne, WY 82009

Bureau of Land Management
Wyoming High Plains District Office
2987 Prospector Drive
Casper, WY 82604

Posted by on March 24, 2014
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Public meeting will focus on state’s orphan well cleanup plan

 — March 24, 2014

Representatives of Gov. Matt Mead’s office and several other state agencies will meet with interested members of the public about the state’s plan for reclaiming and capping orphaned coal-bed methane wells. The meeting will take place on April 2, 2014, at Gillette College’s Presentation Hall, Room 120 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

In this file photo from 2006, landowners observed a low-lying grazing area that was flooded and frozen with water discharged from coal-bed methane gas wells in the Powder River Basin. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

In this file photo from 2006, landowners observed a low-lying grazing area that was flooded and frozen with water discharged from coal-bed methane gas wells in the Powder River Basin. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Wyoming lawmakers recently approved of using $3 million from an existing industry-funded orphan well account to go toward the cleanup effort. It’s likely that the number of abandoned coal-bed methane gas wells in Wyoming will grow far beyond the 1,220 wells targeted in the governor’s plan. Luca Technologies, Inc., and it’s subsidiary, Patriot Energy, have at least 912 idle wells, and they’ve struggled for years to secure the financing needed to maintain the facilities. The state estimates the total cost to plug and reclaim those wells is another $5.9 million. There are another 2,300 idle coal-bed methane gas wells “at risk” of being abandoned, according to the state, adding another $18 million to the total liability.

“State agencies are working diligently to coordinate plugging of abandoned wells and reclamation efforts to minimize disturbance to landowners,” Gov. Mead said in a prepared statement. “Plugging abandoned wells and reclaiming the sites are necessary to safeguard our land, water and wildlife. I thank the Legislature for authorizing the use of an additional $3 million from conservation tax revenue for these purposes.”

The governor’s draft plan for the abandoned wells is available here.

For more on this topic read these WyoFile stories and reports:

— Wyoming’s multi-million dollar effort to clean up abandoned wells fails to launch — September, 2013

— Aftermath of a Drilling Boom: Wyoming stuck with abandoned gas wells — May, 2013

— Orphaned oil and gas wells on the rise in Wyoming — May, 2013

— Wyoming betting on coal-bed methane comeback despite industry bankruptcies — May, 2012

— CBM: Bugs vs Bankruptcy — December, 2011

Posted by on March 24, 2014
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Job fair seeks to match employers with U.S. veterans

— March 20, 2014

(Press release) — The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services (DWS) Casper Workforce Center, along with its partners, is hosting a “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair on Wednesday, March 26, at the Best Western Ramkota Inn and Conference Center, 800 N. Poplar.

The “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair is a joint effort between the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and the following partners: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (DOL VETS), Goodwill Industries, the Wyoming Committee of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, The American Legion, NBC News and others.

WHEN: 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., Wednesday March 26. An employment workshop focusing on resume writing, tips for successfully navigating hiring fairs, military skill translation and interviewing will start at 9:00 a.m.

WHO: The hiring event is open to veteran job seekers, active duty military members, guard and reserve members, and military spouses. More than 40 employers from the energy, construction, manufacturing, transportation, medical, retail and other fields will participate. Employers and job seekers are strongly encouraged to preregister. Walk-ins are welcome but space is limited.

WHERE: Best Western Ramkota Inn and Conference Center (800 N. Poplar)

There is no cost to participate. Participants are encouraged to dress for interviews and bring resumes. For registration questions, please call (307) 234-4591.

Posted by on March 20, 2014
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BLM and the Bridger-Teton National Forest Seek Public Input on Riley Ridge Unit Development

— March 19, 2014

(Press release) —The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Pinedale Field Office and the U.S. Forest Service (FS) Bridger-Teton National Forest are seeking public comment on a proposal to develop five carbon dioxide, helium, methane and hydrogen sulfide wells and associated infrastructure approximately 20 miles west of Big Piney, Wyo., in the Riley Ridge area.

The proposal includes four wells on federal land and one on state land to be drilled from four new well pads totaling 20.4 acres over a period of six years. New pipelines would connect all five new wells and two existing wells to the Riley Ridge methane and helium recovery facility. Pipelines and access roads would use existing corridors where possible. Surface disturbance would include an estimated 7.7 miles of new pipeline and an estimated 2.3 miles of new or improved access roads.

Additional information is available at the BLM Pinedale Field Office, 1625 W. Pine St., Pinedale, Wyo., or online here.

The BLM will be preparing an environmental assessment for this proposal. Specific and constructive public comments identifying issues, potential impacts and possible mitigation measures will assist in developing a reasonable range of alternative actions. Please mail or deliver written comments to BLM Pinedale Field Office, Attn: Brian Roberts, P.O. Box 768, 1625 W. Pine St., Pinedale WY 82941; email to BLM_WY_RRUD@blm.gov; or fax to 307-367-5329. Comments must be received by April 11.

Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

FS Objection Process

The FS is required to issue a decision separate from the BLM concerning the existing well and road, and proposed pipeline route on the forest.  The FS decision will be subject to the FS pre-decisional administrative review (objection) process described at 36 CFR 218. Only those who submit timely and specific written comments regarding the FS portion of the proposed action during a public comment period established by the responsible official will be eligible to file an objection. The responsible official for the FS decision is: Clinton D. Kyhl, Bridger-Teton National Forest Supervisor. Comments concerning the FS action will be accepted for 30 calendar days following the publication of the legal notice of this comment period in the Casper Star-Tribune. That publication date is the exclusive means for calculating the comment period. That publication date will be posted on the BLM website at www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/NEPA/documents/pfo/rrunit.html. To establish eligibility to object, comments must meet the content requirements of 36 CFR 218.25. To simplify submission of comments, comments regarding the FS portion of this action may be submitted to the BLM offices as described above.

Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339to contact the individual below during normal business hours. The FIRS is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to leave a message or question with the below individual. You will receive a reply during normal business hours.

For more information, please contact BLM Natural Resource Specialist Brian Roberts at 307-367-5351.

Posted by on March 19, 2014
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WyoFile welcomes Lorena Garcia as executive director

— March 18, 2014

Lorena Garcia, WyoFile executive director

Lorena Garcia, WyoFile executive director

WyoFile is pleased to welcome Lorena Garcia as its new executive director. Garcia joined Wyoming’s premier nonprofit online news organization this month to bolster a sustainable revenue model so that WyoFile can dedicate more resources to providing in-depth coverage of Wyoming’s people, places and policy.

“Lorena is an excellent fit for WyoFile. Her experience and passion for helping people become informed and engaged citizens is the perfect complement to our organization’s desire to expand the depth and volume of our work,” said editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer.

Garcia added, “I am thrilled to join such a dedicated and passionate team and am confident that, together, WyoFile will continue to be the most trusted and grow to be the most read news source in Wyoming.”

Garcia’s experience includes organizing for social justice in education, LGBTIQ rights, and workers’ rights, curriculum development and youth leadership development, and a cumulative 8 years of senior and executive leadership of statewide advocacy organizations. She served on the National Advisory Council for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the Center for American Progress’ Women’s Health Advisory council.

Garcia has presented a TEDx talk on Latina Leadership and has been quoted by news outlets including the New York Times, NBC, FOX, and many local and nonprofit news outlets. Lorena is a graduate from the University of Colorado at Boulder, a 2008 Progressive Leadership and Advocacy Network Fellow with the National Women’s Law Center. She is also a recipient of the 2011 Female Cesar Chavez Award in Colorado and most recently received recognition as a sex ed champion by the Healthy Colorado Youth Alliance. Lorena has a passion for film and believes that it is the best medium to reach the masses for social justice. She is very active outdoors and often takes on athletic challenges that will push her mentally and physically.

Posted by on March 18, 2014
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WyoFile receives $75K Knight Foundation grant

— March 18, 2014
by WyoFile staff

Wyoming’s premier nonprofit online news organization WyoFile is pleased to announce it is the recipient of a $75,000 grant from the John S. James L. Knight Foundation Fund at the Miami Foundation. The grant will be awarded to WyoFile over the course of 2014 and 2015 for the purpose of providing additional strategic development toward sustainable revenue and journalistic excellence.knight-logo-300

The funding is part of the Knight Local Media Initiative that aims to help nonprofit news organizations establish long-term sustainability. The initiative comprises various other investments in the space, including $5 million in grants to over 25 local online news organizations that have demonstrated potential for growth and the INNovation Fund, which promotes newsroom innovation.

“This investment is intended to help organizations that have shown promise to develop new innovations, while adding to the momentum they have already built towards further growth and sustainability,” said Michael Maness, Knight Foundation vice president of journalism and media innovation.

Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile editor-in-chief

Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile editor-in-chief

“Since WyoFile launched in 2008, we have been committed to filling a gap left by shrinking newsrooms, providing in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy in ways that educate the public and help citizens become more engaged in public life,” said WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer. “We are extremely pleased to have the support of the Knight Foundation in our continuing mission.”

WyoFile gained its nonprofit 501(c)(3) status in 2009, and has relied on foundations, readers and donors who generously support the work of proven journalists who write about matters of health care, energy, environment, government and Wyoming communities with the depth and context that is sometimes missing from the daily headlines. The nonpartisan organization has relied on the work of three experienced Wyoming reporters and a network of Wyoming journalism veterans to expose a $10 million Department of Energy federal stimulus project now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, to delve into cultural and policy challenges on the Wind River Indian Reservation, and to cover in detail Wyoming’s lacking health care delivery systems, among other key issues in the state.

For the past two years, WyoFile has committed to covering key legislative work that shapes the state’s budget and social agenda as lawmakers meet throughout the year and while lawmakers are in session. “Our readership is expanding, and all of our readers are demanding more of the smart and informative reporting they have come to expect from WyoFile,” said Bleizeffer. “The generous support of the Knight Foundation will help us build a sustainable revenue model that will allow us to continue our mission for many years to come.”

— If you’re a WyoFile reader and would like to see more of the smart, in-depth reporting that better informs Wyoming citizens, please consider becoming a WyoFile supporter. Click here to find out how you can support WyoFile. For more about WyoFile, read our About Us page.

Posted by on March 17, 2014
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Grand Teton lands bill passes Wyoming legislature

— March 6, 2014

(Press Release) — The Wyoming Legislature voted today to support the sale of 1,280 acres of state School Trust land in Grand Teton National Park in return for federal land elsewhere in the state with valuable mineral rights.

The bill won’t become law until it is signed by Gov. Matt Mead, who is expected to make his decision later this week. Mead previously supported the measure as a member of the State Board of Land Commissioners.

Due to the value of the lands in question, Sharon Mader, Grand Teton Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, said it has been a “$100 million question,” as to whether the state and federal government could reach a fair and equitable agreement.

“The Legislature engaged in serious, thoughtful and intelligent debate on the $100 million question,” Mader said. “They have now passed a bill authorizing the exchange, and this exchange will be of great benefit to Grand Teton National Park, the State of Wyoming and the school children of Wyoming.”

The efforts have been underway since 2009, when then Gov. Dave Freudenthal and other state officials announced their desire to sell state-owned holdings within Grand Teton National Park to increase revenues to the state’s Education Trust. The state extended an offer to the federal government to work out an agreement to purchase those lands.

Since then, NPCA and allies have worked to support state and federal entities in creating an agreement that would allow the Park Service to purchase the lands at fair market value.

Citizens from across the state and across the country have commented in favor of the efforts, and the purchase has risen to the top of the National Park Service’s nationwide priority list for land acquisition. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has stated that the project is a top priority for her, as well.

The first phase of the agreement was successfully completed in January of 2013, when the Park Service paid $16 million to acquire 86 acres along the Snake River.

A second important target date to acquire the 640-acre Antelope Flats parcel for $45 million was missed in early January. Instead, the state and federal government renegotiated the agreement to allow the exchange of land in lieu of cash. The bill passed by the Wyoming Legislature this week approves this renegotiated agreement and will allow the process to move forward as a land-for-land exchange.

The state and federal government hope to complete the land exchange within the next two years.

Posted by on March 6, 2014
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Same-sex couples and Wyoming Equality file marriage lawsuit

— March 5, 2014

(Press Release) —Today, four same-sex couples and Wyoming Equality filed a lawsuit in state court in Cheyenne challenging Wyoming’s laws that prohibit same-sex couples from marrying and refuse to respect the legal marriages of same-sex couples who married in other states.

The couples include a university professor, a Major in the Army Reserve, a sheepherder, and an attorney. Many of the Plaintiffs were born and raised in Wyoming.

The lawsuit challenges Wyoming’s statute barring same-sex couples from marrying and the state’s refusal to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who married in other states, arguing that they violate the Wyoming Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.

The couples are Cora Courage and Wyoma “Nonie” Proffit of Evanston, Carl Oleson and Rob Johnston of Casper, Anne Guzzo and Bonnie Robinson of Laramie, and Ivan Williams and Chuck Killion of Cheyenne. Wyoming Equality is the state’s largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Wyoming’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Its members include same-sex couples throughout the state.

The four couples and Wyoming Equality are represented by Cheyenne attorney Tracy Zubrod, the law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP, the law firm of Rathod Mohamedbahi LLC, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

Cora Courage, who is the Clinical Director at the state psychiatric hospital and a Major in the Army Reserve, said: “As a member of the military, having the federal government recognize our marriage was a huge step forward, but Wyoming’s refusal to do the same has left our family without critical legal protections that many married couples are able to take for granted.”

Anne Guzzo, a professor at the University of Wyoming, said: “I love Wyoming. This state has always been my home; even when I left for graduate school, I knew that I would come back. And as much as I love this state, it is frustrating to live in the “Equality State” and to be treated differently by the government because of who I love. It scares me that in times of crisis we will have to rely on the kindness of strangers to respect our relationship because the State of Wyoming will not let Bonnie and me share in the responsibilities and protections of marriage. I look forward to the day that we will be able to marry before our family and friends in the state we call home.”

Said Jeran Artery, Executive Director of Wyoming Equality: “Wyoming has a proud history of being the “Equality State” and its refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry is contrary to the core values of our state. The couples in this case, and all same-sex couples in Wyoming, deserve to be treated with equal fairness and respect, including having the same freedom to marry that others enjoy.”

Added NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter: “The law should support stable families, not make it harder for committed couples to support one another and protect their children. Barring same-sex couples from marriage causes great harm to these families and their children while helping no one.”

Public support for the freedom to marry for same-sex couples has increased rapidly across the nation. On Tuesday, March 4, 2014, former United States Senator Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, joined other conservatives and Republicans from Western states in urging a federal appeals court to uphold a lower court ruling striking down Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

About the Plaintiffs:

Cora Courage and Nonie Proffit
Cora Courage and Nonie Proffit, of Evanston, have been together for over nine years and were married in Iowa in 2009. Cora is the Clinical Director at the state psychiatric hospital and a Major in the Army Reserve. Nonie is a part-time librarian and sheepherder for their family’s ranch.

Carl Oleson & Rob Johnston
Carl Oleson and Rob Johnston, of Casper, have been together for sixteen years and were married in Canada in July 2010. Carl manages a retail store and Rob is the program director for Project ReGain, which teaches skills to people who are recovering from addiction.

Anne Guzzo & Bonnie Robinson
Anne Guzzo and Bonnie Robinson have been together for four years and reside in Laramie. Anne is a professor of music composition and theory at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Bonnie is a property manager. On February 27, 2014, they applied for a marriage license at the Laramie County Clerk’s Office in Cheyenne and were rejected because they are a same-sex couple.

Ivan Williams & Chuck Killion
Ivan Williams and Chuck Killion have been together for nearly two years and reside in Cheyenne. Ivan is an attorney. Chuck is a comptroller at a local construction and development company. On February 27, 2014, they applied for a marriage license at the Laramie County Clerk’s Office in Cheyenne and were rejected because they are a same-sex couple. The County Clerk later asked the First Judicial District Court in Cheyenne to determine whether she was obligated to reject the couples’ applications for marriage licenses because of Wyoming’s statutory prohibition on marriage by same-sex couples, or whether denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples is unconstitutional, requiring issuance of licenses to same-sex couples.

Wyoming Equality
Wyoming Equality is the state’s largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Wyoming’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The organization carries out that mission through public education, grassroots organizing, and advocacy with policymakers. Its members include same-sex couples throughout the state.

Read the complaint and learn more about this case.

Posted by on March 5, 2014
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Business Council CEO Bob Jensen steps down

— February 28, 2014

Wyoming Business Council CEO Bob Jensen will step down at the end of March, according to a press release from Gov. Matt Mead’s office. Jensen said he needs to spend more time with his wife who has multiple sclerosis.

Bob Jensen

Bob Jensen

Jensen led the Business Council for more than 10 years, through a time of significant economic growth in Wyoming.

“It has been a great pleasure to work with Bob,” Gov. Mead said in a prepared statement. “I saw his leadership as governor and as a member of the Business Council Board of Directors. He cares deeply about the state. Bob has been tireless in his pursuit of economic opportunities for Wyoming communities and has done so in a thoughtful manner.”

Mead listed several notable economic development projects that took place under Jensen’s tenure as CEO:

— Expansion of the rail industry in Evanston, Casper, Upton and Cheyenne;

— Infrastructure improvement allowing for growth of the digital industry such as the Sheridan Tech Park;

— Recruitment of technology companies like Microsoft and projects including the NCAR Wyoming Supercomputing Center;

— Expansion of Wyoming data centers like Green House Data and Ptolemy;

— Growth of the manufacturing sector in Gillette with investment in a vibrant business park;

— Creation of jobs in the northwest part of the state with support for Cody Labs; and

— Advanced energy technologies that have the potential to benefit many areas of the state.

“The past 10 years have been the best work experience of my life,” Jensen said in a prepared statement. “Being associated with knowledgeable local economic development leaders, supportive governors and legislators, and such a high-caliber staff has been an incredible privilege. I am confident the future is bright for Wyoming.”

His resignation is effective March 28, 2014.

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Posted by on February 28, 2014
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Forest Service seeks public input for proposed outfitter, guide permit actions

(Press release) – The Medicine Wheel/Paintrock Ranger District of the Bighorn National Forest is seeking public input during the early phases of planning a proposal to issue, modify, or reissue special use authorizations for nine outfitters and guides.

The Forest Service proposes to issue two new special use authorizations to Black Wolf Mototours, LLC, for guided motorcycle use and to Adventure Education Institute for guided backpacking trips into Cloud Peak Wilderness.

Nelson Outfitters, Paintrock Adventures, and Tangle Ridge Outfitters are proposed for a new assigned site each.

Reissuance of a permit to Diamond Tail Outfitters is part of the proposal, as are additional service days for C5 Youth Foundation of Southern California and the National Outdoor Leadership School.

A new assigned site and additional service days are proposed for Big Buck Outfitters.

The proposed authorizations would take place at various locations in the Bighorn National Forest. More detailed information can be found at this link. Anyone wishing to provide input on the proposed actions must send comments to the Forest Service by March 25, 2014. Commenters must specify which action(s) they are commenting on.

For more information, to request to be added to the mailing list for this project, or to submit your input, contact Bob Cochran at the Medicine Wheel/Paintrock Ranger District, 604 East Main Street, Lovell, WY 82431, telephone (307) 548-5408. Hand-delivered comments may be dropped off during regular office hours, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm Monday through Friday, except legal holidays.

Email comments should be sent to comments-bighorn@fs.fed.us with “MWPR outfitter/guide proposals” in the subject line. The Forest Service will consider all input received and issues generated during the environmental review process for this project.

Posted by on February 25, 2014
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Federal oil & gas lease sale nets $14M

— February 13, 2014

(Press release) — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) generated more than $14 million for leasing rights on parcels offered at the BLM’s quarterly federal oil and gas lease auction held Tuesday in Cheyenne. Almost half of the bid and rental receipts go to the State of Wyoming.

Bids ranged from the federally mandated minimum of $2 per acre to a high bid of $5,400 per acre. Successful bidders also pay a $150 per parcel one-time administrative fee and a yearly rental of $1.50 per acre for the first five years of the lease and $2 per acre in years six through 10.

The next BLM Wyoming oil and gas lease sale is scheduled for Tuesday, May 6, 2014, in Cheyenne.

February 11, 2014, competitive sale results summary:

Parcels Offered: 165
Parcels Sold: 165

Acres Offered: 152,035.120
Acres Sold: 152,035.120

Average Bid/Acre
For Parcels Offered: $90.94
For Acres Sold: $90.94

Average Bid/Parcel
For Parcels Offered: $83,790.61
For Parcels Sold: $83,790.61

Highest Bid/Acre: $5,400.00
Highest Bid/Parcel: $936,000.00

Total Bonus Bid: $13,825,450.00
Total Rental Due: $228,112.50
Total Administrative Fees Due: $25,575.00
Total Receipts Due: $14,079,137.50

Posted by on February 13, 2014
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Wyoming Attorney General settles with shell companies

— February 7, 2014

(Press release) — The Wyoming Attorney General announced today that he recently reached settlements with several companies that were registered in Wyoming, or claimed to be headquartered in Wyoming, but were actually operating in other states.

VC Merchant Systems LLC, Vendors Choice Merchant Systems, V.C. Direct Solutions LLC, Progressive Media Group LLC, and Vendors Merchant Network were under investigation due to the “business opportunities” they claimed to sell. Consumers were told they would make money processing credit cards. They were then sold thousands of dollars in “leads” that typically yielded no profit. There was no admission of fault; however the companies and their owners agreed to reimburse consumers for over $100,000.

The Wyoming Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit also investigated seoworldwide.com, LLC for potential violations of the Wyoming Consumer Protection Act in connection with providing services related to website development and search engine result placement. There was no admission of fault; however the company and its owner agreed to reimburse consumers in the amount of $17,000.

Worldwide Points Solutions, LLC and American Points Exchange, LLC were being investigated after complaints about misrepresentations related to the purchase of timeshare points were made to the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office. There was no admission of fault; however the companies paid approximately $18,000 in refunds to consumers

In addition to consumer reimbursements, the company owners agreed to notify the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office if they form new Wyoming entities or operate any new businesses that claim to be based in Wyoming. All of the settling parties also agreed to strict guidelines about how they will conduct business if they return to the State of Wyoming.

Posted by on February 7, 2014
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BLM posts proposed parcels for May 2014 oil and gas lease sale

— February 5, 2014

(Press release) The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wyoming State Office has posted its proposed list of parcels for the quarterly competitive oil and gas lease sale scheduled for Tuesday, May 6, 2014, at the Holiday Inn in Cheyenne, Wyo. Doors open at 7 a.m. with the auction beginning at 8 a.m.

The posted list, which identifies 53 proposed parcels totaling 52,348.290 acres, initiates a 30-day public protest period. The parcels are located in Carbon, Laramie, Lincoln, Sweetwater and Uinta counties in Wyoming.

Copies of the complete May 2014 competitive oil and gas lease sale notice will be available at the sale and may be purchased in advance for $5 from the State Office at 5353 Yellowstone Road in Cheyenne, or by writing: BLM, Attn: Copy Work, P.O. Box 1828, Cheyenne, Wyo. 82003. Copies are also available for purchase from each BLM field office in Wyoming.

The complete May 2014 competitive oil and gas lease sale notice may be viewed and/or downloaded for free here. Also available at this website are the oil and gas leasing environmental assessments, including public comments, for the May 2014 oil and gas lease sale.

Posted by on February 5, 2014
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WyoHistory.org debuts new education package

(Press release) — Online encyclopedia WyoHistory.org presents a new education package especially for students, teachers and others who enjoy learning more about the state’s history. The package includes lively articles on nine historic sites on the Oregon Trail in Wyoming enhanced with interactive maps, extensive photo galleries, videos of inquisitive fourth graders touring the sites, field-trip lesson plans for teachers and quizzes for students.

Visit WyoHistory.org

Visit WyoHistory.org

Visitors to WyoHistory.org can access the new package linked prominently near the top of the home page, www.wyohistory.org.

WyoHistory.org Editor Tom Rea and Designer Steve Foster created the easy-to-navigate instructional package by working with Natrona County and Casper College educators, students and museum professionals, and using up-to-date mapping information drawn from public sources with the help of the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office.

Rea notes that all Wyoming fourth graders study the Oregon Trail. He said he hopes the resource will make the trails even more attractive to them, their teachers, their families—and anyone else interested in Wyoming’s past.

“The great thing about the Oregon Trail in Wyoming,” Rea says, “is that so much of it still looks like it did in the 1850s,” when traffic on the trail was at its peak. “The space, distance and landscapes on the trails help bring history alive for students of all ages,” he adds.

He says he hopes the maps, directions, photos, videos and lesson plans will help more teachers find time to take kids on field trips on the trails — always a challenge as schools ask teachers to do more and more with each available day.

All of the lesson plans offer notes for elementary, middle and high-school teachers on how the plans address specific requirements in the Wyoming State Social Studies Standards at each of those levels.

High school students from Star Lane Center in Casper created the videos by filming and interviewing elementary students when they toured sites like Fort Laramie, the Guernsey Ruts, Fort Caspar, Independence Rock, Martin’s Cove, South Pass and Fort Bridger.

The WyoHistory.org website, a project of the Wyoming State Historical Society, has been on line since 2011 and officially launched in March 2013. The Wyoming State Historical Society is a nonprofit membership organization approaching its 61st birthday. For more information, contact Rea at (307) 277-3275 or email editor@wyohistory.org.

Posted by on February 5, 2014
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