Largest Crowd In Memory Turns Out To Protest Casper Mountain Gravel Pit

Natrona County commissioners said the overflow crowd that turned out Tuesday to protest a controversial gravel pit proposal on state-owned land at the base of Casper Mountain was the largest they could remember.

Dale Killingbeck

March 06, 20247 min read

Natrona County commissioners said Tuesday’s regular meeting was the largest crowd some of them had ever witnessed in their meeting room.
Natrona County commissioners said Tuesday’s regular meeting was the largest crowd some of them had ever witnessed in their meeting room. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

Natrona County commissioners had to scramble up more chairs to help seat an overflowing former courtroom that serves as their meeting space.

That’s what a gravel pit controversy can do to motivate turnout for what normally are sparsely-attended meetings. But those in the crowd Tuesday did not come to listen, they were there to be heard.

Nearly every space on the pew-like benches were taken and people stood along walls and spilled over into the hallway.

“This is the largest crowd I’ve ever seen in this courtroom since I’ve been a commissioner,” Commissioner Dave North told the crowd after the meeting.

Most were there to try and preempt Prism Logistics’ plans to turn the exploration of five 640-acre sections for gravel into an actual mining operation on state-owned land at the base of Casper Mountain. The commission’s typical meeting of a half-hour to 45 minutes stretched to nearly three hours.

While the gravel pit was nowhere on the agenda, nearly 20 Casper Mountain Homeowners Association members and supporters took up to five minutes each to share concerns about health, home values, recreational opportunities and the future of Casper as a tourist destination.

Tuesday's meeting came less than a week after 200 opponents of the gravel operation held a rally, outlining how they feel the project could ruin Casper Mountain public land, impact property values, public health and water quality.

Potential For Mine ‘Months Away, Not Weeks’

Board Chairman Peter Nicolaysen allowed gravel pit developer Kyle True of Prism Logistics an opportunity to speak first.

True said there is a need for gravel in the community and his firm had been looking around Natrona County for a location to provide it.

“I’m pleased to report we have state leases, gravel leases on state land south of Coates Road, and we have completed our testing on them and sampled, and preliminarily I can report there seems to be a very substantial reserve there,” he said. “We have not finished assessing the testing that has been done to assess the size of the reserve and the quality and applicability to the needs of the Casper area.”

True said the process takes “weeks or months” to assess and there appears to be a “valuable reserve” of gravel in the sections that have been surveyed. He said his company has not “proposed anything” and will not until he first goes to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and proposes a mine.

The DEQ would establish mine parameters for any future, he said.

“If it looks positive to us and positive to the DEQ, who in many ways recommends how the state land is used, then we would come back to the county and seek a conditional use permit,” he said. “That is months away, not weeks away.”

True said if the gravel pit moves forward, his firm would recommend a “significant public comment period of at least three separate review sessions where we could propose an operation and lay out as many details as we can and let the public digest that, give it consideration, and come back with every question and concern they can.”

He called for an “iterative process” that would involve the public and residents.

“We can commit to total transparency, we are not going to do this to sneak up on anybody and as we forward that is our intention,” he said.

Prism Logistics Manager Kyle True addresses the county board during its public comment section on Tuesday night.
Prism Logistics Manager Kyle True addresses the county board during its public comment section on Tuesday night. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

‘Enthusiastic Proponent’

Steve Loftin, president of 71 Construction in Casper, told the board he’s an “enthusiastic proponent of gravel pits” and that his firm does gravel mining. He then went through a long list of gravel operations in Casper and Natrona County that have “not caused problems.”

“You can live near a gravel pit and hopefully they will be a good neighbor and provide low-priced products,” he said.

Colby Frontiero asked the commissioners to use “cowboy ethics” as they weighed the issue for their constituents.

“The main one I think is applicable here is to know where to draw the line,” he said. “There are lots of user groups here and lots of residents out on Coates Road, and when you signed on to be the cowboy commissioners another one of the cowboy ethics is to ‘ride for the brand.’

“I think at this point you are in a position that can be really hard, which is to decide which brand you are going to ride for. (If it) is the user groups that are being represented here or if you are going to represent industry.”

Frontiero said industry is good and the gravel has value. He also said the way the acreage proposed for gravel mining is now used also has value and the commission should balance those competing interests.

“You should look at this in the sense of value for the community that you represent and that you lobby for,” he said.

Water Concerns

The water table and water rights were a theme repeated often by ranchers and homeowners, many who live along Coates Road and next to the non-motorized School Section of the property that includes Squaw Creek, as well as other creeks that flow out of the mountain. They raised concerns about the loss of water if gravel mining is allowed.

Engineer and rancher Jason Knopp told the commission that the water table in the region is complex and the gravel that True wants to mine acts as a storage system for water — especially during the dry months of the year.

Rancher Bruce Coates, whose ranch owns water rights in several areas of land leased by Prism Logistics, said water table complexity was proven years ago when a man illegally put a backhoe into a creek and immediately stopped groundwater flow for his irrigation. The creek went into a hole and disappeared.

He said it not only affected him, but others along Coates Road. He said he was able to get the creek flow restored only after putting a lot of shale into the hole.

While many who spoke in opposition spoke favorably of True and his contributions to the Casper area, they told commissioners any future land use permit for gravel mining at the base of Casper Mountain should be rejected.

Resident Michael Fernald spoke about the loss of property values and the wear and tear on Coates Road by gravel trucks. The road touches several areas leased by Prism. He said the mining proposal represents “many bearing the costs while few reap the benefits.”

Lung Issues And Legal Costs

Shawn Gehred told commissioners she was a retired registered nurse and spoke about the health dangers and costs associated with blowing sand particles that can get into lungs and cause silicosis (a lung disease caused by breathing in tiny bits of silica) and other conditions.

She also urged commissioners to think about legal costs.

“We’ll get out of state lawyers coming in and they don’t care about Prism Logistics, they will sue Natrona County, the city of Casper and Wyoming,” she said. “And I really don’t want to be on those ads, ‘Have you been living around Squaw Creek?’”

Nicolaysen said that any future land use application from Prism Logistics would create a public hearing that would be well-publicized ahead of time to ensure public input. Commissioners thanked the participants for showing up.

Commissioner Dallas Laird assured the crowd that he and the commission would “do right” by the people of Natrona County.

“Would they let them put a big mine at the base of the Tetons? I hope four times as many of you show up next time,” he said.

Retired nurse Shawn Gehred holds her research about silicosis and the dangers of silica prior to addressing the county board about health concerns on Tuesday night.
Retired nurse Shawn Gehred holds her research about silicosis and the dangers of silica prior to addressing the county board about health concerns on Tuesday night. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at

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Dale Killingbeck


Killingbeck is glad to be back in journalism after working for 18 years in corporate communications with a health system in northern Michigan. He spent the previous 16 years working for newspapers in western Michigan in various roles.