NEWS BRIEFS for Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Council approves security funding for CFD, waste fees to increase

CHEYENNE (WNE) – After months of debate, the Cheyenne City Council approved a resolution Monday night that outlines how much the city and Cheyenne Frontier Days will each pay for police officers to provide security at the city’s largest event for the next five years.

The resolution was sponsored by seven out of nine councilmen, but it did not pass without scrutiny from other elected officials and city staff.

The resolution outlines that “CFD will pay the City of Cheyenne $50,000 for 2020, $67,000 for 2021, $73,700 for 2022, $77,050 for 2023, and $80,400 for 2024 to help offset added law enforcement burdens caused by the Frontier Days event.”

Before the resolution passed, the city and CFD had been debating how to split the $100,000 cost of CPD security. Last year, for the first time, CFD paid the city $50,000 to cover half the cost for the Cheyenne Police Department’s presence at CFD, which meant on-duty resources weren’t being used at Frontier Park, so the city remained properly policed.

For this year’s event, the city wanted CFD to pay more than half the cost of CPD officers, even before the coronavirus put the city in a difficult financial position.

During negotiations, the city threatened to not issue a liquor license to CFD if rodeo officials weren’t willing to pay their share. In turn, the Wyoming Legislature approved Senate File 134, which guarantees CFD’s malt beverage permit through state statute, rather than depending on the police chief’s approval.

Now, with the council’s approval, Cheyenne Frontier Days will contribute $50,000 for 2020, and its contributions will increase for the next five years. If future councils are unhappy with the funding agreement, they will have the power to rework the resolution.


Former worker sues fracking company

CHEYENNE (WNE) – A man who had his leg damaged in a fracking accident is suing the president and safety manager of a hydraulic fracturing company, along with the company that provides the fracking equipment, for negligence.

The case of Scott Houska versus Newkota Services and Rentals, Donald J. Gawick, Roger Cross and FMC Technologies was filed last Thursday, April 23, in federal court here.

The case alleges the defendants acted negligently, causing the permanent injury to Houska’s leg suffered during a fracking accident. Houska is asking for a jury trial and punitive damages, special damages, legal costs and any other relief deemed fit by a jury.

The case alleges co-employee liability for reckless, willful, wanton and/or reprehensible conduct against Gawick and Cross, negligence against Newkota and product’s liability against FMC.

According to the lawsuit, on Nov. 4, 2018, Houska was working on a C&J fracking site when one of the hydraulic lines had a blowout due to the missile equipment malfunctioning. The hydraulic line explosively whipped around and hit Houska – crushing his foot and lower leg, resulting in permanent injuries.

The hydraulic line that struck Houska was also the line that was allegedly never properly secured by Newkota. Therefore, Houska is suing this company for negligence for failing to properly secure the hydraulic lines.

Gawick and Cross are being sued for co-employee recklessness, because Houska is alleging they owed him a “duty of reasonable care” to ensure the fracking equipment on the job sites was safe and properly maintained.

This duty was violated, he alleges, when Gawick and Cross failed to have regular equipment inspections and repairs done – knowing that not doing so could result in serious injury or death.


Wyoming CarbonSAFE project awarded $15 million from Department of Energy

GILLETTE (WNE) — Plans for a commercial-scale geological carbon dioxide storage complex near Gillette have taken a major step forward with its selection for a $15.2 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

The University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources, Basin Electric Power Cooperative and other partners are working to develop a site near Basin Electric’s 385-megawatt Dry Fork Station and the Wyoming Integrated Test Center to store more than 50 million metric tons of CO2 underground.

The three-year, $19.1 million project is the third phase under the Department of Energy’s Carbon Storage Assurance Facility Enterprise, or CarbonSAFE, initiative, which seeks to help mitigate CO2 emissions from the consumption of fossil fuels.

No carbon dioxide will be injected during this stage. The Dry Fork Station project and others selected by the agency aim to develop integrated carbon capture and storage complexes that are constructed and permitted for operation between 2025 and 2030.

In addition to the $15.2 million in federal funding, Basin Electric is contributing $1.5 million, and UW’s cost-sharing contribution is $2.4 million.

“We have successfully demonstrated the feasibility of safely, permanently and economically storing CO2 in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, the largest coal-producing region in the nation,” said Scott Quillinan, the project manager and SER’s director of research, in a press release. “Now, we’re moving forward with final testing to confirm our findings – and the pursuit of necessary state and federal permits to move to the final stage, which is commercialization and construction.”


Teton County's active virus cases drop into single digitsJACKSON (WNE) — The number of known, active COVID-19 cases in Teton County dropped into single digits this week to nine, according to Teton County Emergency Management's online dashboard. 

The dashboard lists a total of 95 cases in the county since the first confirmed case on March 11. The number includes those who were lab tested for the novel coronavirus, as well as "probable" cases — those who became ill after being in close contact with lab-confirmed cases. Earlier this month, active cases numbered in the 40s for several days. 

More than half of the total known Teton County cases — 52 — have required admission to the hospital, with six people being transferred to hospitals in Idaho or Utah. Teton County resident Bill Sweney, 71, died last week from COVID-19-related complications. One person remains hospitalized at St. John's Health in Jackson.

“Teton County and the Town of Jackson’s work to flatten the curve is working,” Jackson Mayor Pete Muldoon said in a community update on Friday. “We are seeing a plateauing of the cases, but they are not at zero.”

Data on the county’s dashboard showed that Friday’s seven-day average of new cases, 0.86, was lower than the previous Friday’s, 2.43.

“The plateauing is a result of actions that we’ve taken,” Muldoon said. “We do need to stay on this path.”

Public officials also are worried about an influx of visitors coming on April 30 to hunt antlers May 1 on the national forest lands surrounding Jackson.


Yellowstone National Park hotels, operations not opening until June 15 or later

CODY (WNE) —Yellowstone National Park’s largest concessionaire has announced it will not begin operations until June 15, and some of its most iconic structures may not open at all this summer.

The Park itself is also closed, with likely delays to opening the east gate.

Xanterra Travel Collection, operator of more than 830 buildings, nine hotels and more than 30 food service facilities and tour operations, said when operations do begin lodging and service operations will be limited. Its operations at other parks are also delayed.

Rick Hoeninghausen, a media representative for Xanterra, said initially, lodging operations will be limited to cabins with private bathrooms – meaning only Frontier Cabins, Western Cabins, and Cottages at Old Faithful, Canyon, Mammoth and Lake areas will open.

The Old Faithful Inn however, does not have an opening date, along with Grant Village, and Roosevelt Lodge. Those with reservations at any of these lodging facilities during the closure will have their reservations canceled and refunded their money.

Food services, tours and activities, and gift shops will also be limited in their operations.

All Xanterra-operated campgrounds are set to open except the Fishing Bridge RV Park.

“Xanterra is working closely with the National Park Service as well as the states of Wyoming and Montana to start welcoming guests on a somewhat limited basis and is taking a measured approach to protect the wellness of employees, visitors and local residents,” Hoeninghausen said.


Yellowstone Regional Airport may receive less in federal funds than originally projected

CODY (WNE) — Less than a week after learning it would be receiving $18 million through the CARES Act, Yellowstone Regional Airport members heard the airport would have its guaranteed funding reduced by about $6.2 million, for a new adjusted total of $11.7 million.

“I won’t say I’m not concerned, Bucky Hall, YRA chairman, said. “But we’ll take what we can get.”

The news was announced during a special board meeting Thursday afternoon. Bob Hooper, YRA general manager, said the airport learned the information that morning.

But he, Hall and Scott Bell of Morrison-Maierle Engineering also said in conversations with the Federal Aviation Administration, said the original granted amount of $18.01 million on April 14 is still very much available.

Hooper said the funding was reduced because the FAA wants to see a plan for how YRA will be able to complete the environmental process for, and complete any associated projects the money is being used on, within the next four years.

Under the original promised amount, YRA will have enough money to cover its expenses for the next 14 years, not including any money spent on construction projects. In 2020-2021 the airport is forecasted to have about $1.2 million in expenses. But now, revenue is greatly down at the airport with 95% fewer travelers reported in the last month.

Originally, YRA was to receive more money than any other airport in Wyoming or Montana.