NEWS BRIEFS for Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019


From Wyoming News Exchange newspapers

Avalanche closes Teton Pass

JACKSON (WNE) — An avalanche piled snow across Highway 22 on Wednesday, forcing the Wyoming Department of Transportation to shut down the road for most of the day.

Foreman Bruce Daigle believes the avalanche released naturally at the road cut near the Twin Slides path. Some skiers witnessed the slide, but no one was caught or buried. Debris from the slide was estimated to be 5 to 8 feet deep and 100 feet wide.

WYDOT crews have worked around the clock trying to keep Teton Pass and the Snake River and Hoback canyons safe for travel. But, Daigle said, stabilizing hillsides that keep getting hit with more and more snow is not an easy job.

“It’s a tricky situation up here,” he said. “We’ll come through here and cut the snow and more will drop in. It’s never-ending.”

Wyoming Highway Patrol helped with traffic control Wednesday while WYDOT employees cleared the mess and did avalanche mitigation on Beaver Slide. Several skiers and snowmobilers were on Teton Pass when the avalanche covered the road.

The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center rated avalanche danger as high Wednesday at all elevations and issued a rare avalanche warning. Another avalanche on Teton Pass early Wednesday morning near the truck arrestor partially covered the highway. It was cleared fast enough that not many people noticed.

Daigle said his crews have also been keeping a close eye on the canyons.

“Be alert because it hasn’t slid yet, and it could,” Daigle warned. “It’s just a matter of time. It’s not if, it’s when.”

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Legislature overrides two vetoes

CHEYENNE (WNE) — The Legislature rejected two of Gov. Mark Gordon's 29 line-item vetoes from the state's supplemental budget Wednesday, but let much of what Gordon rejected stand as lawmakers worked late into the night Wednesday to finish up the session on time. 

The House voted overwhelmingly to override four of Gordon's vetoes, but the Senate was only concerned with two of those decisions - a footnote that was essentially a technical correction included in the budget, and the elimination of two positions in the Wyoming State Engineer's Office.

Gordon had vetoed the elimination of the two positions on the grounds the office had already eliminated one position by not filling a vacancy. 

"I will not allow the State Engineer to use the empty position and plan to propose eliminating one position in the next budget," Gordon said in his letter to the Legislature. "I must, however, preserve the one filled position, otherwise there could be an unintended riff of an employee."

The other two vetoes from the House with which the Senate didn't concur dealt with the Wyoming Business Council. One earmarked $100,000 to promote state products and goods in Asian markets, and another withheld several hundred thousand dollars in funding to the Business Council until a report on economic development efforts was submitted to the Legislature by November. 

The House's action to override those two vetoes was unable to gain even a majority of support in the Senate, let alone the two-thirds support necessary to sustain an override. 

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Mild earthquake recorded near Green River

GREEN RIVER (WNE) — A mild earthquake was recorded northwest of Green River on Feb. 22, according to records from University of Utah seismograph stations.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake took place at 2:55 p.m., Friday and registered a magnitude 3.1. The shallow earthquake occurred at a depth of 1.7 kilometers.

The quake did not impact operations at Genesis Alkali. David Caplan, director of corporate communications for the facility, said the mine has emergency response plans for multiple scenarios, including seismic activity. However, the activity was so low it did not warrant a response under the emergency plan. Caplan said the mine has also cooperated with the University of Utah in monitoring seismic activity, saying the university installed an additional monitor within Genesis Alkali’s mine permit boundary in 2018.

According to information from the USGS website, eathquake.usgs.gov, few earthquakes are recoded east of the Intermountain Seismic Belt in the Uinta Mountains and nearby Wyoming Basin, with recorded earthquakes in the area tending to be small.

The website also notes earthquakes associated with trona mining tend to be small as well, though an earthquake pamphlet from the University of Wyoming’s Water Resources Data System and Wyoming State Climate Office notes an magnitude-5.3 earthquake was recorded Feb. 3, 1995 near Little America and associated with a mine collapse. The event occurred at the Solvay Chemicals mine, involving a 3,000-foot by 7,000-foot portion of the mine collapsing. One miner died during the incident.

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Laramie considers ‘safe harbor’ for Wyoming toad

LARAMIE (WNE) — The Laramie City Council must decide whether to continue to allow conservation efforts for the endangered Wyoming toad on a property recently donated to the city.

During its work session Tuesday, the council heard a brief history of the toad and background information about the safe harbor agreement currently in place on the property.

Mindy Meade, field biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, explained the Wyoming toad is an endangered species found nowhere else in the world other than Albany County.

Although it was declared extinct in the wild in the 1980s, Meade said recent efforts by many groups — including Wyoming Game and Fish, the Laramie Rivers Conservation District and various zoos and fish hatcheries around North America — have helped recover wild populations at various locations around Laramie. One of the toad release locations is on the Williamson donated property, 41 acres of land in the north west part of town that was donated to the city in 2017.

“It is very different than the other properties because of its habitat and wetland quality,” Meade said during the work session.

Tony Hoch, director of the Laramie Rivers Conservation District, also said during the work session the agreement is important because the location is one of the “last places they were known to thrive.”

He added the safe harbor agreement is an exchange for actions contributing to the “recovery of listed species on non-federal lands.” It has provisions to protect the city from potentially violating the Endangered Species Act, for example if one of the endangered toads were to be accidentally harmed on or around the property.

The 20-year agreement would be a “low risk for the city,” Hoch added during the work session.

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Campbell County man threatens police with sword

GILLETTE (WNE) — A 58-year-old Campbell County man brandishing a sword was arrested on suspicion of three felony charges Tuesday night.

Deputies were called to a home on the 100 block of Peaceful Valley Drive for a possible suicidal subject, said Campbell County Sheriff Scott Matheny. When deputies arrived, the man, Jay Loveday, came out of the house carrying a large sword.

He walked toward the deputies, waving the sword around in “a threatening manner,” Matheny said. The deputies stood behind their patrol car and told Loveday to stop. He refused, and when he got within 15 feet of the deputies one of them used a Taser on him.

Loveday was arrested and taken to jail. He was charged with two counts of felony interference with a peace officer, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and domestic assault.

He had been drinking that night and got into an argument with people at the home, Matheny said. He allegedly slapped a 20-year-old woman in the face and he also hit walls and objects. Then he reportedly grabbed the sword and hit items with the sword. That was when law enforcement officials were called.

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Ten Sleep schools under federal investigation

WORLAND (WNE) — Complaints for an alleged disability FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) violation and an alleged retaliation violation with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights against Ten Sleep School prompted a federal investigation. 

Ten Sleep School Superintendent Jimmy Phelps stated Thursday that the school has no comment at this time due to privacy regulations and couldn’t state if the two investigations were related or not. 

“It involves students and that’s all I can say. We are answering the questions that are being asked of us and we have involved our attorney, where he needs to be involved to help us answer those questions. There are things that I can’t even tell board members at this time because when you get into a student issue, there are a lot of privacy things we just can’t say,” Phelps said.

According to a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, “The Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) can confirm that it currently has one investigation open at the Washakie County School District #2. OCR is investigating the district for disability discrimination and/or retaliation. This investigation was opened on Jan. 18, 2019. Because this is an on-going investigation, OCR cannot provide additional information or confirm case-specific details.”

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Yellowstone roads close for spring plowing

CODY (WNE)Roads in Yellowstone National Park will begin to close to oversnow travel on Friday. 

Spring plowing will start as road segments close. All oversnow travel will end for the season March 15 at 9 p.m. Weather permitting, some park roads will reopen to automobile travel April 19 at 8 a.m. 

Road closure dates (gates close at 9 p.m.):

Friday, East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)   

Sunday, Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris

Tuesday, Norris to Madison, Norris to Canyon Village

March 15, all remaining groomed roads  

At Mammoth Hot Springs, the gift shop, ski shop, and food services close Sunday. The Mammoth Hot Springs campground, Yellowstone General Store, post office, medical clinic, the Albright Visitor Center, and self-serve fuel pumps remain open all year.  

At Old Faithful, Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins close Sunday. The Bear Den Gift Shop, the Geyser Grill, and the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center will close March 15.  

At Tower Junction, self-serve fuel pumps are available all year.  

The road from the park’s North Entrance at Gardiner, Mont., through Mammoth Hot Springs to Cooke City, is open to automobiles all year. 

Visitors driving to and in the park during the spring should have flexible travel plans and be prepared for changing weather conditions. Temporary travel restrictions or closures can occur at any time. For the most current information on road conditions and closures, call (307) 344-2117 for recorded information. 

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Thermopolis police arrest heavily armed, armored man

THERMOPOLIS (WNE) — Police Chief Julie Mathews arrested 43-year-old Jason Little from Meeteetse following a brief chase in town on Feb. 24.

Mathews received information that Little was driving a 2003 Ford extended cab pickup, and he was suicidal, heavily armed, wearing body armor and possibly going after an ex-girlfriend. She noted dispatch heard Wyoming Highway Patrol was looking for him, and he was involved in a felony property damage incident in Park County the previous night, in which he allegedly shot up a vehicle and finished it off with a backhoe.

Officer Bobbi Zupan was among the officers also notified Little could be in the area, and later found out he had stopped at a residence and said some bad things were about to happen.

Zupan was westbound in the 900 block of Broadway when she saw the truck with its flashers on, eastbound and speeding. Matthews and Zupan stopped the vehicle.

Mathews and Zupan exited their patrol vehicles with weapons drawn. Little jumped out of the vehicle wearing the bulletproof vest and Mathews commanded him to put his hands up, turn around facing away, back up to her and get on his knees.

Officers found a significant amount of firearms — as well as ammunition and loaded clips — in the truck, including an M1, a .233, a .45 Kimber and a Mossberg shotgun.

According to a report, Little advised repeatedly that he had nothing to live for and his life was over. He further advised he wanted officers to shoot him, he had been heading to a residence to get his girlfriend and would do whatever it took to take her out of the house.