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.

Jewell announces $27.1 million in PILT funds for Wyoming 

— June 17, 2014

(Press Release) — As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to rural communities, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced today that 23 local governments in Wyoming are receiving a total of $27,143,411 under the 2014 Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell

Distributed today, the payments are part of a record $436.9 million in PILT allocations to nearly 1,900 local governments around the nation. The payments represent the largest amount ever allocated under the PILT program to compensate counties and local governments for non-taxable federal land in their jurisdictions. A full list of funding by state and county is available at www.doi.gov/pilt.

“Rural communities contribute significantly to our nation’s economy, food and energy supply, and help define the character of our diverse and beautiful country,” Secretary Jewell said. “President Obama has made job creation and opportunity in rural areas a top priority for his Administration and has fought for continuing the PILT program, which is a lifeline for many local communities.”

PILT program eligibility is reserved for local governments (mostly rural counties) that contain non-taxable federal lands and provide vital services, such as public safety, housing, social services and transportation. These jurisdictions provide significant support for national parks, wildlife refuges and recreation areas throughout the year. PILT seeks to compensate them for their support and foregoing tax revenue from these federal lands.

This year’s PILT program is the last to be funded under the Agriculture Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79), which reauthorized PILT for 2014 and funded full entitlement levels of the program.  From 2008 through 2012, the program was funded under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (P.L. 112-141) provided funding for the program in 2013. The President’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposes to extend mandatory full funding for the program for another year while a sustainable long-term funding solution is developed for the PILT program.

“PILT payments help local governments carry out vital services, such as firefighting and police protection, construction of public schools and roads, and search and rescue operations. These critical investments help keep essential public employees on the job,” added Jewell. “President Obama has proposed to fully fund the PILT program, and we encourage Congress to take the required action to make sure this important program continues.”

The Interior Department collects about $14 billion in revenue annually from commercial activities on federal lands, such as oil and gas leasing, livestock grazing and timber harvesting. A portion of these revenues are distributed to states and counties in the form of revenue-sharing payments. The balance is deposited in the U.S. Treasury, which in turn pays for a broad array of federal activities that benefit state and local governments, including PILT funding to counties.

Using a formula provided by statute, the annual PILT payments to local governments are computed based on the number of acres of federal entitlement land within each county or jurisdiction and the population of that county or jurisdiction. The lands include the National Forest and National Park Systems, the areas managed by Bureau of Land Management, those affected by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation water resource development projects, and others.

Individual county payments may vary from the prior year as a result of changes in acreage data, which is updated yearly by the federal agency administering the land, prior year Federal Revenue Sharing payments reported yearly by the governor of each state, and population data, which is updated using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Federal Revenue Sharing payments are made to local governments under programs other than PILT during the previous fiscal year. Payments include those made under the Refuge Revenue Sharing Fund, the National Forest Fund and the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, among others.

By statute, the per acre and population variables used in the formula to compute payment amounts are subject to annual inflationary adjustments using the Consumer Price Index.  The requirement for annual inflationary adjustments to the per acre and population variables was included in the 1994 amendments to the PILT Act.  For purposes of calculating the 2014 payment, the 2013 per acre amounts are adjusted from $2.54 per acre and $0.35 per acre to $2.58 and $0.36 per acre, and the population variables are adjusted from $68.45 – $171.11 to $69.59 – $173.97 per capita.

Posted by on June 17, 2014
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Visitors watch Old Faithful geyser erupt from a second-floor observation deck at the Old Faithful Inn. (Ruffin Prevost/WyoFile - click to enlarge)

Visitors watch Old Faithful geyser erupt from a second-floor observation deck at the Old Faithful Inn. (Ruffin Prevost/WyoFile – click to enlarge)

Slight Uptick In Yellowstone Visitation For First Five Months Of 2014

— June 11, 2014

(Press Release) — Visitation to Yellowstone National Park for the month of May and for the first five months of 2014 is up almost six percent compared to the previous year.

Visitation to the world’s first national park begins to pick up in May as weather improves and interior roads and visitor facilities begin to open to the public.

There were 310,039 recreational visitors to Yellowstone in May and a total of 415,185 for the first five months of 2014.  That compares to 293,250 recreational visitors for May 2013 and 392,222 recreational visitors for January through May 2013.

Visitation at each of the park’s five entrances for the month of May and for the first five months of 2014 is up compared to 2013 levels.

Recreational

Visits

2014

Recreational

Visits

2013

 

Change

January

26,778

24,699

+   8.42 %

February

28,233

31,053

-    9.08 %

March

18,778

18,613

+   0.89 %

April

31,356

24,606

+ 27.43 %

May

310,039

293,250

+   5.73 %

Total Year-To-Date

415,185

392,222

+    5.85%

Visitation statistics are calculated by taking the actual number of wheeled vehicles entering the park gates, and using a person-per-vehicle multiplier to calculate the number of monthly recreational visitors.

July is typically the park’s peak visitation month, followed in order by August, June, September, and May.

Detailed park visitation information and additional information on how these statistics are calculated is available online at https://irma.nps.gov/Stats/Reports/ReportList.

Posted by on June 11, 2014
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State ready to green-light Simplot Rock Springs ammonia plant

by WyoFile staff
— June 3, 2014

None of 19 Wyoming agencies reviewing Simplot Phosphates, LLC’s application to build a $350-million-plus ammonia plant near Rock Springs has found a reason to oppose the project.

Agencies, from the Game and Fish Department to the Department of Transportation and Public Service Commission, responded to requests from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to weigh in on the plan to build the plant 5 miles south of Rock Springs on Simplot property. Five divisions in the DEQ also responded.

Based on the comments, the DEQ’s Industrial Siting Division recommends only conditions “common to all permits” be required of Simplot. Those 14 conditions range from one requiring construction to begin in three years to one mandating Simplot secure “all required State land local permits and approvals…” 

Simplot responded to each of the agency comments through the law firm Holland & Hart. Simplot lawyers pointed out repeatedly that many of the agencies had no authority to require changes to its plan.

Those analyzing the application expect a temporary need for nine new teachers and staff, one law enforcement officer and a 0.84 full-time fire protection position. There’s a prediction of 285 additional trips to the emergency room, an increase of 1.4 percent, according to the state documents.

Agency comments include a mind-numbing 208-pages of traffic analysis in Rock Springs.

The DEQ Solid & Hazardous Waste Division said it can’t tell if the ammonia plant would require a permit from it. “Simplot needs to explain the type and quantity of hazardous waste they will produce during facility operations and why a hazardous waste permit would or would not be needed to manage those wastes.”

Simplot, through Holland & Hart, said simply that “the ammonia production process itself will not generate any hazardous waste.

“There are some catalysts used in the ammonia plant that are changed every three to ten years,” the response said. “Simplot currently does not know the exact makeup of these catalysts because they have not yet been specified. However, Simplot does not believe that these catalysts will be hazardous wastes and Simplot plans to recycle these through a vendor “specializing in this work.”

In its application, Simplot said the ammonia plant would not discharge anything harmful. “There are no anticipated chemical, physical, biological, or radiological discharges associated with construction or operation of the proposed Project that would substantially impair the health, safety, or welfare of the present or expected inhabitants in the area of site influence or the proposed Project area,” the application states.

The application process for the ammonia plant included a previous round of comments, a DEQ review and catalog of deficiencies, and Simplot’s response to the missing information. See the Industrial Siting Division’s summary of the process here.

The Industrial Siting Council will decide whether to issue a permit for the plant starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 4, at Holiday Inn Rock Springs under rules governing contested cases. Council members Gregg Bierei, James Miller, Richard O’Gara, Peter Brandjord, John Corra and Sandy Shuptrine will consider the permit under the chairmanship of Shawn Warner.

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Posted by on June 3, 2014
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Results of Gov Mead’s Wyoming Water Strategy focus of public meeting June 4 in Casper

— May 29, 2014

(Press release) — Gov. Matt Mead is continuing to work on a Wyoming Water Strategy with broad public input. Last year, he held nine listening sessions around the state. Now people have additional ways to participate. On June 4th in Casper state officials will present the results of the listening sessions. Anyone can attend the conference in person or they can join online and send comments over the internet.

“Water is critical to Wyoming’s future and because of its importance I want as many people to be involved in this strategy as possible. By taking advantage of technology, people can join this meeting from their homes or from the local public library. I urge everyone who can, to join on June 4th,” Gov. Mead said.

The meeting will take place in Casper at 9:00 am at the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, 2211 King Boulevard. To join online visit this link.

Access to information that will be presented on June 4th is available here. People can comment in person, online or by contacting the Governor’s Office directly.

“The Water Strategy will be flexible and will include efforts that are defined and have outcomes that can be measured. These will cover water storage, management, protection and conservation, along with water and watershed restoration. Anyone can give information about the kinds of projects most necessary at this time,” Gov. Mead said. “I am excited about technology and its role in enhancing the public process.”

Posted by on May 29, 2014
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Open Studios Day at Ucross

— May 29, 2014Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 3.26.49 PM

(Press release) – Ucross Foundation is hosting its first-ever Open Studios event on the afternoon of Saturday, June 7, in conjunction with an Alliance for Historic Wyoming workshop taking place at Big Red that day. Visitors will have a chance to meet Ucross artists-in-residence in their private studios. Participating artists include visual artists Vesna Jovanovic (Chicago, IL), Gordon McConnell (Billings, MT), and Laini Nemett (New York), and writers Anthony Wallace (Boston, MA), Catherine Chung (New York), and Stephen O’Connor (New York).  

The event, which is open to the public at no charge, will take place from 3-6 p.m. Ucross is also the launching off point for the Unbarred tour of the Piney Creek area being presented by the Alliance for Historic Wyoming.

Ucross Foundation President Sharon Dynak stated, “We are delighted to give our local community this rare behind-the-scenes experience of meeting artists-in-residence in their Ucross studios. The Alliance for Historic Wyoming’s morning workshop, with its focus on preservation in our area, is the perfect chance to celebrate the preservation that took place at Big Red over 30 years ago. It was only through the restoration of the Big Red Complex, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, that the Foundation’s artist-in-residence program was able to take root and blossom the way it has.”

The Ucross Foundation Residency Program supports over 90 artists, writers, composers and choreographers each year, with the gift of space and time for uninterrupted work. Nearly 2,000 individuals have come to Ucross since the program opened its doors in 1983, including many who have gone on to achieve international recognition, such as Annie Proulx, Elizabeth Gilbert, Ann Patchett, Doug Wright, Adam Guettel and many others. 

Buildings that will be included in the Open Studios event, which are not normally open to the public, are the Rock Studios (the visual arts complex), the Kocur Writing Retreat, Jesse’s Hideout (a composer’s cabin), the School House, and the Depot, which was formerly a Burlington Northern Santa Fe depot, moved from Clearmont to Ucross in the late 1980s. The Foundation’s Ranch House and Art Gallery, featuring work by Chessney Sevier and Teresa Jordan, will also be open to the public that day.

Ucross Foundation is located at 30 Big Red Lane, .5 miles east of the intersection of Highways 14 and 16 East, 10 miles west of Clearmont.  

For further information on the Open Studios event, call (307) 737-2291 or email info@ucross.org. For more information about the Alliance of Historic Wyoming historic preservation workshop on the morning of June 7, or to register for the workshop, call (307) 333-3508 or email ExecDirector@historicwyoming.org

Posted by on May 29, 2014
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Industrial Siting Council to consider permit for Simplot ammonia plant

by WyoFile staff
— May 28, 2014

The Wyoming Industrial Siting Council will consider a constriction permit application for Simplot Phosphates, LLC’s proposed Rock Springs Ammonia Facility Project on Wednesday, June 4, at the Holiday Inn Rock Springs.

The appointed seven-member council will consider the application at 10 a.m. under rules governing contested cases. Council members Gregg Bierei, James Miller, Richard O’Gara, Peter Brandjord, John Corra and Sandy Shuptrine will consider the permit under the chairmanship of Shawn Warner.

The plant is expected to cost more than $350 million, according to state documents.

Simplot proposes to build and operate the plant on its land at the company’s phosphate fertilizer complex 5 miles south of Rock Springs. The ammonia plant would produce 600 tons a day for use in the fertilizer factory.

Ultimately, the plant would employ 27 full-time workers when fully staffed, according to the company’s 385-page application. Construction would begin in June or July, 2014, and would employ up to 460 persons during the peak of activity in 2016. The plant would be completed that summer.

The plant would require about 150 gallons of water per minute “within the currently permitted level” for the existing phosphates complex, the application states. The company expects “no significant environmental impacts.” Simplot would build the plant on 20 acres in the big sagebrush and short- to mid-grass prairie communities.

Anhydrous ammonia is one of the major raw materials used in the existing fertilizer plant, which produces 400,000 tons of phosphorus pentoxide for fertilizer annually. Today, Simplot buys ammonia from an outside source and ships it to the fertilizer plant by rail. Rising transportation costs and other factors lead the company to seek its own ammonia production.

Simplot expects to employ up to 100 local workers during the 25-months of construction and spend $49 million in the area for equipment, materials and services, the application states.

Simplot would pay impact assistance funds to local communities, estimated at $383,502 a month, based on a formula that tracks the growth of sales and use taxes. The plant would generate an estimated $7.9 million in ad valorem tax revenue over the next five years, Simplot says.

To produce fertilizer, Simplot uses phosphate from a mine near Vernal, Utah, that’s made into a slurry and piped 96 miles to Rock Springs. Ammonia would be made at the proposed plant from natural gas. Questar would build a 2.5 mile 8-inch natural gas pipeline to the plant.

Public comments can be made in the form of a “limited appearance statement,” that must be written and given to officials at the hearing, according to a Wyoming DEQ legal notice.

The Wyoming DEQ’s Industrial Siting Division is recommending 14 conditions be required in the permit.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.
 
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Posted by on May 28, 2014
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State calls for participants: 2014 Science Standards Review

— May 27, 2014

(Press release) — The Wyoming Department of Education has issued a call to all Wyoming residents who are interested in serving on the 2014 Wyoming Science Standards Review Committee. The work of this committee will begin this summer with 2-4 days of meetings in July and August and continue for approximately 10-18 months. The department anticipate another 1-4 days of meetings during the 2014-2015 school year.

The science standards will outline what students should know and be able to do at the end of a grade level. Standards are concise, written descriptions that describe educational objectives. They do not describe any particular teaching practice, curriculum, or assessment method.

If you are interested in serving on this committee, please complete the survey by clicking this link.

The survey will close at 11:45 p.m. on Saturday, June 14, 2014.

Please note: Completing this survey does not commit you to anything at this time, nor does it sign you up to serve. You are simply expressing an interest to participate. Standards committee members will be chosen from the list of those interested and will be contacted directly through the email address they provide in the survey.

For questions regarding the committee work or the survey, please contact Laurie Hernandez at laurie.hernandez@wyo.gov or 307-777-3469.

Posted by on May 27, 2014
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Eldercare focus of live call-in program on Wyoming PBS

— May 23, 2014

(News release) — Wyoming PBS brings together experts to discuss the issues facing Wyoming communities as they rise to the challenge of caring for their elders in “Wyoming Perspectives: Eldercare.”

This live call-in show will be broadcast Thursday, May 29, at 7 p.m., and will also be streamed live online at www.wyomingpbs.org. The program uses the expertise of its guests to offer viewers the opportunity to discover what other Wyoming communities are doing and to find the resources and contacts for local initiatives. As panelist Tim Summers of Cheyenne says, “There are many things you can do to improve.”

Program host, Deborah Hammons, and expert guests will examine the issue of how Wyoming currently manages eldercare and discuss ways community efforts can change it. Guest panelists include Deb Fleming, Ph. D., Director of Mountain-Pacific Quality Health Wyoming; Tim Summers, Wyoming State Director of AARP, serving 92,000 Wyoming residents; Carmen Rideout, Sheridan Senior Center Director and original Board member for the Sheridan Green House project; and Dale Bell, award-winning filmmaker whose most recent documentary efforts chronicle the Sheridan Green House project.

Viewers can call in questions during the live program to 800-495-9788. Questions will also be accepted via email at eldercare@wyomingpbs.org and Twitter by using the hashtag #WyElderCare. Twitter and email questions will be accepted both prior to the live broadcast and during the program.

For 10 years, Bell documented the Sheridan Green House project to capture for a national audience how a small Wyoming community came together to dramatically improve its care for elders, and Bell has been working with Wyoming PBS to present the program locally and nationally. 

“Wyoming PBS will be broadcasting the full 90-minute documentary on the Sheridan Green House to our Wyoming viewers when it is complete later this year,” said Wyoming PBS General Manager Ruby Calvert. “For now, we are proud to present a 20 minute segment from this longer program, together with the important live discussion, to show what is possible in some of our small Wyoming communities for quality elder care.” 

Sheridan Green House, one of 260 Green House Projects nationally, represents a revolution in long-term care, creating small homes that return control, dignity, and a sense of well-being to elders, while providing high-quality, personalized care. A Green House home differs from a traditional nursing home in terms of facility size, interior design, organizational structure, staffing patterns, and methods of delivering skilled professional services.

Nationally, 25 percent of those age 85 and older live in long-term care facilities. In the next 10 years, Wyoming’s 85-plus population is projected to more than double in number, pressuring the state’s nursing homes to accommodate a new era of residents. Are the facilities ready, and are communities ready to place their family members and neighbors in the facilities as they currently exist? As Carmen Rideout said, “Sheridan is a small town with a lot of spirit.  It takes a lot of persistence.”

“Wyoming Perspectives: Eldercare” is sponsored in part by AARP Wyoming.

About Wyoming PBS:

Wyoming PBS is a non-commercial, educational institution and cultural resource dedicated to connecting and enriching Wyoming lives through innovative media. Wyoming PBS can be found on various cable, satellite and over-the-air channels across Wyoming. Local content can also be accessed on ROKU, Apple TV and Xbox over-the-top devices, and online at www.wyomingpbs.org.

Posted by on May 23, 2014
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Public meetings set for Converse County oil & gas project

— May 23, 2014

(News release) — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Casper Field Office and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Douglas Ranger District are seeking public comment on a proposed oil and natural gas development project in Converse County, Wyoming.

The BLM published a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) in the Federal Register on May 16, 2014, which opens a 45-day public scoping period. The BLM is hosting three public meetings to seek input on the Converse County Oil and Gas Project. In addition, the BLM and USFS are initiating the Section 106 process for the National Historic Preservation Act.

The project consists of drilling up to 5,000 new oil and gas wells on 1,500 well pads over a 10-year period. The BLM is preparing an environmental impact statement to analyze the impacts associated with the project.

The public is invited to attend the following public scoping meetings to learn more about the proposed project and to provide your written comments:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Clarion Inn
1450 Riverbend Drive
Douglas, WY

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Best Western Ramkota Hotel
800 N. Poplar
Casper, WY

Thursday, June 12, 2014
Glenrock Recreation Center
412 S 4th St.
Glenrock, WY

All meetings will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with a presentation being given at 6 p.m.

Public involvement is important. The federal agencies strongly encourage the public to attend and provide comments on the proposed project. The proposed project details can be viewed on the BLM’s websiteFor more information, contact Mike Robinson at 307-261-7520.

Posted by on May 23, 2014
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BLM seeks public comment on November 2014 oil and gas lease parcels

— May 9, 2014

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) High Desert District is seeking public comments on the November 2014 Notice of Competitive Oil and Gas Lease Sale parcel offering.

Ninety whole or partial parcels totaling 114,304.7 acres will be offered within the district, including three parcels in the Kemmerer Field Office; one in the Pinedale Field Office; 61 in the Rawlins Field Office; and 31 in the Rock Springs Field Office. Six parcels cross the Rawlins and Rock Springs field office boundaries resulting in an adjusted parcel tally.

One-hundred-thirty-seven lease parcels totaling 202,314.6 acres were originally nominated and eligible for inclusion in the sale; however, all or part of 46 parcels totaling 79,491.350 acres were deferred since they met Greater Sage-Grouse core habitat and manageability criteria using the Fluid Mineral Leasing Screen in BLM guidance (WY-2012-019). The BLM Wyoming State Director has used his discretion to temporarily defer all or part of 13 parcels containing 6,598.55 acres in the interest of Greater Sage-Grouse conservation. Deferrals are pending completion of the ongoing Greater Sage-Grouse Resource Management Plan amendment process. An additional three parcels totaling 1,920 acres were deferred at the discretion of the BLM Wyoming State Director pending resolution of resource issues.

An environmental assessment (EA) addresses the impacts of offering the 90 parcels and partial parcels that are still available for oil and gas leasing. The EA is available online.

Public comments are an essential component of the National Environmental Policy Act process. The public is encouraged to identify issues, concerns, ideas or mitigation opportunities not currently addressed in the EA to help ensure the best possible analysis. Written comments may be mailed or delivered to the BLM High Desert District, Attn: Tom Foertsch, 280 Highway 191 N., Rock Springs WY 82901; faxed to 307-352-0329; or emailed to BLM_WY_November_Parcels@blm.gov with “2014 Lease Parcels” in the subject line. Comments must be postmarked or received by June 2.

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 may 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.

For more information, please contact Tom Foertsch at (307) 352-0249.

Posted by on May 9, 2014
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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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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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