NEWS BRIEFS for Tuesday, June 2, 2020

After receiving their diplomas, members of the Evanston High School Class of 2020 take their places along the walkway above the football field packed with cars of family members. Photo by Sheila McGuire, Uinta County Herald.

Casper College implements buyout plan for longtime employees

CASPER (WNE) – Casper College is offering thousands of dollars to entice its longtime staff members to retire as part of an effort to brace for looming budget cuts brought on by the state’s plummeting economic outlook.

“As you already know, the fiscal picture for Wyoming has been altered dramatically over the past several months due to various pressures on the energy industry,” college president Darren Divine wrote to faculty in a letter obtained by the Star-Tribune. “These changes are forcing the College to develop potential budget reduction plans not only for the next fiscal year, but beyond.”

The “voluntary retirement incentive” applies to full-time faculty who have worked at the college for at least 10 years. The buyout gives those faculty $1,000 for each year of service. Instructors with more than 20 years at Casper College will get $1,250 for each year. The money will be paid in a lump sum at the end of this month, when the retirements will be effective and when the employees’ health insurance will end.

Each would-be retiree must apply and be approved by college officials, and an approved application cannot be rescinded. A message sent to Chontelle Gray, the chair of the college’s faculty senate, was not returned Monday.

“As everyone is already aware, our state is facing unprecedented budget shortfalls and it is only prudent that Casper College evaluate all options and take action where necessary to stay within the college’s allotted budget,” college spokesman Chris Lorenzen said last week.


Black bear killed after attempted break-in

JACKSON (WNE) —A frantic woman called 911 Saturday to report that someone was banging on her door and windows trying to break in.

Then she looked outside and saw that it was a black bear.

The bear, which has been the subject of several complaints around Kelly recently, was trapped and killed Monday morning.

“It was just not afraid of people at all,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department spokesman Mark Gocke told the Jackson Hole Daily.

The male adult black bear left behind some damage on the door and windows of the house. In the past two weeks Game and Fish has logged half a dozen complaints from Kelly residents about the black bear.

The bear was successful in getting into a couple of trash cans and tore into someone’s barbecue grill in the town of Kelly, Gocke said.

“It does serve as a good reminder that we do need to take care of our garbage,” Gocke said. “Not that he got garbage everywhere he went, but he did get some garbage food rewards.”

The black bear was about 5 years old, Gocke said, and about 250 pounds, which is on the thin side. The bear reportedly didn’t respond to people’s efforts to spook him out of their yards.

“Our experience is that when an animal reaches that level of human habituation it’s going to continue to seek out human foods,” Gocke said.

The bear was caught in a culvert trap using bait, sedated and shot — a method that Game and Fish decided would be the quickest, most humane way to euthanize the bear given the circumstances.


WYDOT names new chief engineer

GILLETTE (WNE) —A Wyoming Department of Transportation engineer who got his start in Gillette will become the state Department of Transportation’s new chief engineer beginning Friday.

Mark Gillett, who now serves as WYDOT’s assistant chief engineer for operations, replaces Shelby Carlson, who retires Friday. Carlson has served as chief engineer since November 2018 and is retiring after 29 years with WYDOT.

He was born and raised in Rapid City, South Dakota, and received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

Gillett started working for WYDOT in May 1980 as an engineer I in Gillette. After that, he served as resident engineer in Lovell, resident engineer in Cody, maintenance staff engineer in Cheyenne and district maintenance engineer for District 4 in Sheridan.

WYDOT officials appointed Gillett as the assistant chief engineer for Operations in 2016. In that position, Gillett oversaw all five districts in the field, along with the State Construction, State Maintenance, Highway Safety, Traffic Design/Operations, Equipment and Facility programs in Cheyenne.

Before that, Gillett served as WYDOT’s engineer for District 4 from 2000-2016. District 4 is based out of Sheridan and provides services for the northeast part of the state.

“Mark brings extensive experience to the position and we are proud to have such a dedicated individual serve as the next chief engineer,” said WYDOT Director K. Luke Reiner in the press release.


Riverton Regional Airport hit hard by COVID

RIVERTON (WNE) — Activity at Riverton Regional Airport went up sharply this year before the coronavirus pandemic hit Fremont County.

In the first month of 2020, when SkyWest Airlines began serving the local airport, there were 87 percent more enplanements at Riverton Regional compared to the previous two Januaries, Fremont Air Service Taskforce member Mick Pryor said Friday.

By February, Pryor said, enplanements were almost 140 percent higher than in previous years.

In March, the coronavirus arrived in Fremont County. But despite the pandemic’s negative impact on air travel – “We only really got two full weeks of real flying in,” Pryor said of the month – Riverton Regional still showed a 19 percent increase in enplanements compared to March 2019.

The comparison is favorable for the first trimester of 2020 as well: Pryor said about 2,800 people boarded planes at Riverton Regional Airport through April this year, up from about 2,075 during the same timeframe in 2019.

But the system still requires government support in the form of a minimum revenue guarantee for SkyWest Airlines.

The MRG amount will drop as air service becomes more profitable in Fremont County, Pryor said, but for now it is set at $1.5 million, with 60 percent coming from the state and 40 percent coming from local sources.

Riverton, Lander, and Fremont County each allocated the requested $200,000 to the MRG this year, Pryor said.

But for the coming fiscal year, which begins in July, Lander is considering cutting its contribution in half, and Fremont County has announced that it will not provide any funding for the MRG.

Both government bodies are planning to implement steep budget cuts for the coming fiscal year, anticipating reduced income due to a lack of economic activity during the coronavirus pandemic.


Laramie economy faces up to $1 million hit from Jubilee Days cancellation

LARAMIE (WNE) — For Laramie, the cancellation of Jubilee Days means a hard hit to the tourism sector and local businesses.

According to economic study conducted by Laramie Jubilee Days in 2018, the positive impact to accommodations, specifically for lodging, is in the neighborhood of $220,000 dollars when compared to a regular weekend in July.

“Using sales tax data from all economic sectors for that week, the estimated increase in gross sales due to Jubilee Days is slightly less than $1 million dollars, which translates to an approximate 12.6% increase in sales,” Scott Larson, executive director of the Albany County Tourism Board, told the Boomerang.

During the University of Wyoming’s academic year, businesses rely on the influx of students to provide an additional bump in revenue.

With many students leaving early amid COVID-19, combined with the cancellation of Jubilee Days, local businesses are finding themselves in a tough spot.

“When the students go home, it’s our summertime events like Jubilee Days and the tourists that provide a stabilizer when the students aren’t here,” said Trey Sherwood, executive director of Downtown Laramie. 

While the state did not order Jubilee Days’ cancellation, Gov. Mark Gordon announced its cancellation during a Wednesday press conference amid safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a Thursday statement, he said that as the pandemic progressed, “sponsorships dried up nationally, live music performances came to a halt, fans wavered, consumer sentiment dipped and volunteers were forced to weigh whether or not they would be able to help.”

The announcement came along with the cancellation of the Thermopolis Cowboy Rendezvous PRCA Rodeo, the Cody Stampede, Central Wyoming Fair & PRCA Rodeo in Casper, the Sheridan WYO Rodeo and Cheyenne Frontier Days.


Yellowstone Park attendance down just 20% from 2019

CODY (WNE) — Memorial Day weekend traffic at Yellowstone National Park’s East Entrance only dropped slightly when compared to last year, as reported by the Park’s public affairs office.

Over Sunday and Monday, 1,912 vehicles passed through the gate. This was only a 65-vehicle drop from 2019. 

In total, the 4,686 travelers marked only a 3% drop in the number of vehicles that traveled through the two entrances when compared to 2019. Numbers were not tracked Saturday as a snowstorm caused gate closures.

Through the Park’s first three days of being open, visitation was down by 33% at the east and south gates and overall Park traffic volume less than 20% of 2019.


All Yellowstone entrances now open

POWELL (WNE) — Yellowstone National Park is getting closer to being fully open.

The park opened its Montana entrances — the North Gate near Gardiner, the West Gate near West Yellowstone and the Northeast Entrance near Cooke City — on Monday morning, while some in-park lodging options are becoming available.

Yellowstone’s two entrances in Wyoming — the East Gate outside of Cody and the South Gate outside of Jackson — opened back on May 18.

The opening of Montana’s entrances was delayed until the expiration of a directive from Gov. Steve Bullock, which required out-of-state travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days. Bullock’s order expired Monday, while Gordon’s had lapsed on May 8.

As of Monday, the entire Grand Loop Road will be accessible (though excluding the under-construction segment between Canyon and Tower); over the last couple of weeks, only the lower portion of the loop has been open to the public.

In-line with the park’s three-phased reopening plan, visitors on Monday were able to access Phase 1 services/facilities (including restrooms, self-service gas stations, trails/boardwalks, limited stores, entrance stations, medical clinics and approved tours) and a few services/facilities outlined in Phase 2 — including takeout food service, boating and fishing.

The park’s primary concessionaire, Xanterra Travel Collection, announced Monday that it has begun a phased re-opening of its operations on a limited basis — including lodges, campgrounds, dining and tours.

The park itself has been providing additional protective barriers, encouraging the use of masks or facial coverings in high density areas, metering visitor access in certain spots, cleaning facilities more frequently and adding signage on boardwalks and other public spaces as part of messaging efforts.


Lander shooting suspect now in custody from Thursday event

RIVERTON (WNE) — The suspect in a Thursday shooting in Lander has been apprehended, officials said Friday.

The victim was transported for medical treatment “a short time” after the shooting was reported at about 5:50 a.m. Thursday in the 100 block of Jefferson Street in Lander.

Officials could not discuss the victim’s condition Friday, but they confirmed that he is not deceased.</