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Wyoming’s largest wind farm extends construction schedule

in Energy/News
Carbon County wind
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By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

An approved change in the construction schedule of the largest wind farm in Wyoming doesn’t mean that the project south of Rawlins has been delayed.

Instead, it means the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project will take 11 years to complete rather than eight as originally believed, officials said.

The new construction schedule, approved in February by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, would see installation of 500 wind turbines, capable of generating a total of 1,500 megawatts of power, between 2022 and 2024. Another 396 turbines, with a generation capacity of another 1,500 megawatts, would be installed in 2025 and 2026, according to Kara Choquette, spokesperson for Power Company of Wyoming LLC (PCW) and TransWest Express LLC. Both companies are separate affiliates of The Anschutz Corporation, the Denver-based company.

A megawatt is a unit for measuring power that is equivalent to one million watts. One megawatt is equivalent to the energy produced by 10 automobile engines. A megawatt hour (Mwh) is equivalent to the amount of electricity used by about 330 homes during one hour.

The Carbon County Commission approved the construction schedule extension following a July 2 public hearing in Rawlins.

“It’s not unusual to request extensions or permits,” Choquette said. “Meeting all the rules and regulations at the county, state and federal levels is difficult, but it ensures protection of the resources. The State of Wyoming is very good at making sure energy development comes with environmental conservation.”

“We really appreciate the great support we have received for the project from the stakeholders of Carbon County and across Wyoming,” Choquette said.

The 2014 permit for the wind farm, issued by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Industrial Siting Council, required communication about any construction scheduling changes. 

In a January 2019 letter to Wyoming DEQ, PCW stated it had completed 49 turbine pads and 60 miles of roadways for the wind farm. But the letter also stated that the construction schedule needed to be amended because of market demands, workforce schedules and availability of construction materials.

“PCW’s proposed changes to the construction schedule are due to prioritizing the completion of these infrastructure elements for the entire project, Phase 1 and Phase 2, before moving to installation of the turbine and transmission components and balance of plant,” PCW Vice President Roxane Perruso wrote in the company’s letter to Wyoming DEQ.

PCW’s request was approved by Wyoming DEQ Director Todd Parfait in February, and the Carbon County Commission finalized approval at the county level following its early July public hearing.

The wind farm will ultimately triple Wyoming’s entire wind power generation capacity, Choquette said.

“This wind power plant will provide at least 3,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity,” she said. “Currently, Wyoming has about 1,500 MW of wind energy capacity installed in six counties, including Albany, Laramie, Carbon, Converse, Natrona and Uinta counties.”

Choquette said the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project (CCSM Project) is an estimated $5 billion investment.

“The long-term surface disturbance of the CCSM project is less than 1,500 acres of a working cattle ranch that will remain a working cattle ranch,” Choquette said.

Much of the surface disturbance involves the turbine pads – the graded areas of land where the turbines themselves will be installed.

Choquette said up to 200 workers will be needed in the first few years of wind farm construction, growing to a peak of almost 850 with construction of the turbines.

“This will increase business opportunities for local hotels, motels, RV parks, restaurants and other local service providers,” she said. “During operations, the CCSM project will create 114 full-time operations and maintenance jobs, which would make the project one of the largest non-governmental employers in Carbon County.”

Choquette said the CCSM project will provide significant property tax and sales/use tax revenue for Wyoming, as well as electricity tax revenue, totaling an estimated $850 million during construction and through 20 years of operation.

Choquette, also the communications director for Transwest Express LLC, said Transwest is an independent transmission developer. 

Transwest, she said, is a separate company from PCW that is “exclusively focused on developing interregional transmission to connect Wyoming to new renewable energy markets in places like California, Arizona and Nevada, while also adding capacity for the West’s power grid that connects all western states.

“The TransWest Express Transmission Project, as well as Rocky Mountain Power’s Gateway West Transmission Project and their Gateway South Transmission Project, all go through the northern edge of the CCSM project site south of Rawlins/Sinclair,” Choquette said. “So, there are multiple transmission options for CCSM electricity, and similarly, the Transwest project will have the capacity to deliver energy westward from multiple Wyoming generation projects.”

The Wyoming DEQ’s Industrial Siting Council unanimously approved a permit May 29 to construct and operate the transmission project. The transmission line is scheduled to for construction between 2020 and 2023.

Brookings Institution eyes Laramie’s downtown success

in Economic development/News
Laramie downtown
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Laramie is one of three cities across the nation selected by the Brookings Institution for a year-long study to catalog all the factors involved in creating a vital downtown shopping area.

“It feels like winning an Oscar,” said Trey Sherwood, the Laramie Main Street Alliance executive director. “It’s a huge honor for us to even be considered by somebody like Brookings to analyze the breadth of our work.”

Wheeling, West Virginia, and Emporia, Kansas, were also selected by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings to participate in the study, which is being conducted by the Brookings Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking and the National Main Street Center.

While many small and rural communities have successfully created an environment that is both fertile for entrepreneurs and engaging for residents, little has been done to comprehensively catalog and share those communities’ strategies for others to replicate, according to a Brookings news release. 

“The Transformative Placemaking Case Studies will help fill this gap by evaluating the impact of place-based entrepreneurship strategies on key outcomes, highlighting several successful examples and presenting replicable practices and lessonslearned for the field,” the release states.

The study is slated to involve:

  • Interviews, focus groups, and surveys with stakeholders and residents; 
  • Observations of relevant programming and public spaces; 
  • Quantitative analysis of indicators related to economic, physical, social and civic outcomes, and 
  • The development and dissemination of a brief that will outline lessons learned and promising practices for the field.

Laramie City Manager Janine Jordan said the announcement came as a surprise, but confirms the city is on the right track with the development of its downtown.

“I think it’s really exciting to see Wyoming selected,” Jordan said. “And it’s affirming, not just for city government, but to see all our partners and our collaborative work recognized.”

In the past decade, she said the city and its economic development partners such as Laramie Main Street Alliance and Laramie Chamber Business Alliance have worked on a series of projects to encourage entrepreneurs to locate in Laramie. Those included work to secure funding for projects involving companies such as University of Wyoming startup Bright Agrotech LLC, munitions manufacturer Tungsten Parts Wyoming and engineering firm Trihydro Corporation.

“We have been successful in pulling down about $30 million in grants for about 10 economic development projects,” Jordan added.

In January, the city could adopt a new economic development plan, which would emphasize continued investments in place-making throughout the community, she said.

Sherwood’s team is slated to work with the Brookings researchers throughout the study, which could kick off with an on-site visit in March, Sherwood said.

“They were really hoping to come out in January,” she explained. “But getting to and around Laramie in January can be challenging to say the least.”

For the Laramie Main Street Alliance, Sherwood said the study presents an opportunity to review past strategies.

“It’s very rare that an organization like ours is asked to pause and reflect,” she explained. “In the last 10 years alone, we’ve documented 296 renovation projects downtown valued at about $11.6 million, five new construction projects valued at $3 million, 38 public improvements valued at $4.5 million, 104 net new businesses and 509 net new jobs.”

The successes only tell half the story, and Sherwood said she hopes the study will help her organization see the big picture.

“It’s great to see what’s working,” she explained. “But, I think understanding what hasn’t worked as well is key to working toward an even better future.”

Game and Fish drafts plan to manage Chronic Wasting Disease

in News/wildlife
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A draft plan put forth by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department could stymie the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) among the state’s deer, elk and moose populations.

“CWD has been documented spreading throughout the state, and there are areas where its prevalence is high enough that we think it could be having significant impacts on some of our herds,” said Justin Binfet, one of the plan’s authors and a Game and Fish Department wildlife management coordinator. “The plan is based on recommendations that were developed through an extensive collaborative process.”

Working with other state agencies, conservation groups and members of the public, Game and Fish created a “suite of strategies” for combatting the disease’s spread, Binfet explained.

Those strategies include wildlife feeding bans, potentially targeting mule deer bucks during breeding season, voluntary and mandatory submission of harvested animal samples and working with landowners, cities and counties to eliminate areas with unintentionally high concentrations of cervids, mammals of the deer family.

Incurable and spreading

CWD is a fatal disease affecting cervids’ central nervous systems and is caused by abnormal proteins called prions.

The disease is currently incurable and animals show no clinical signs of CWD during the early stages of the ailment, the plan stated. First documented in Wyoming about 30 years ago, CWD has spread to 84 percent of the 37 mule deer herds observed by Game and Fish while assembling its CWD plan. While the disease also affects elk, moose and white-tail deer, it is most prominent in Wyoming’s mule deer populations, the plan reported

“Prevalence of this disease in chronically infected Wyoming deer herds has exceeded 40 percent, with one elk herd exhibiting nearly 15 percent prevalence,” said to the plan’s executive summary.

Muley Fanatic Foundation Co-founder Josh Coursey served as a member of the CWD Work Group assembled by Game and Fish to help create the plan.

“This is a very complex issue — there’s no silver bullet,” Coursey said. “It’s devastating to herds, and there’s no scientific data determining whether it’s transferable to humans.”

The Centers for Disease Control reported some studies have shown the disease can be transmitted to squirrel monkeys who were fed the muscle tissue or brain matter of CWD-infected deer and elk.

“If we know this can live in the environment, there’s not a commercial meat processor anywhere that has not been contaminated with CWD,” Coursey said. “There’s no doubt people are eating and have eaten CWD-infected meat.”

Diminished herds

Wyoming’s mule deer population is struggling, and CWD could be playing a major role, Hunting With Heroes Co-founder Colton Sasser said.

Hunting with Heroes takes disabled veterans hunting with licenses donated to the Game and Fish Department and has completed more than 1,000 hunts since 2013, but none of the animals harvested tested positive for CWD, Sasser said.

“A lot of people complain about the decreasing mule deer population in our state and boil it down to lack of predator control and hard winters,” Sasser said. “But I think CWD is a huge part of that.” 

Coursey said several factors are affecting Wyoming’s mule deer populations, but CWD is high on the list.

“There’s no doubt there’s definitely an impact on CWD taking a toll on mule deer,” he said. “But, there isn’t just one issue that is going to solve declining herd counts.”

Options on the table

The Game and Fish Department’s CWD plan has hunters talking, Coursey said, and one of the hottest topics is the plan’s suggestion game managers could propose allowing hunters to harvest mule deer bucks during the rut, or breeding season.

“Late season hunting of mule deer bucks is not a common practice in the Cowboy State,” he said. “That’s when mule deer bucks are at their most vulnerable, and quite frankly, they’re silly.”

The rutting season is also when bucks make contact with numerous other mule deer, increasing the likelihood of contracting and spreading CWD, Coursey explained.

While the plan doesn’t give a Game and Fish game manager express permission to let hunters target mule deer bucks in the late season, Coursey said it does allow the game manager to propose late-season hunting as an option to his region for public feedback.

Still in the early stages of development, the CWD management plan could benefit Wyoming’s wildlife herds for decades to come.

“I think it’s going to take time for these management actions to be employed,” said Hank Edwards, a Game and Fish wildlife lab supervisor. “I don’t see them being employed right away, but they will start to be considered with the upcoming seasons next spring.”

Game and Fish spokesperson Janet Milek said the department will collect public comment on the plan until Jan. 15.

“At this point, a few comments have trickled in but they have not gone through the review process yet,” Milek said.

Residents can submit feedback online or by sending mail to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 3030 Energy Lane, Casper, Wyoming, 82604. Letters should be labeled ATTN: CWD Management Plan.

‘Girls Who Code’ chapter to open in Cheyenne

in News/Technology
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By Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne company teaching the art of computer programming is launching a Cheyenne chapter of a national organization aimed at encouraging girls to further their computer skills.

The Array School last week hosted an “Hour of Code” to announce the creation of a Cheyenne chapter of “Girls Who Code.”

“It’s for girls who are interested in furthering their computer science knowledge and skills,” said Amy Surdam, of Array School. “So we’re excited to offer that to the Cheyenne community.”

The group’s first function will be a 15-week program that will begin in January with space for 15 students.Surdam said the Array School already has applications from 35 girls seeking spots in the program.

“And there’s still a week open for applications to come in,” she said. “So now we’re going to have the difficult challenge of how do we select the 15 (students) or how do we double the class size.”

The group is working now with 15 computers donated by Cheyenne residents, which were on display during the “Hour of Code,” during which both boys and girls were invited to try their hand at computer programming.

Microsoft is also lending a hand in creation of a “Girls Who Code” chapter in Cheyenne, said Ben McCain, a program manager for the company.

“We’re trying deeply to integrate ourselves with these types of efforts,” he said. “Not just in Cheyenne, but all across the country and throughout the world. Getting kids involved in programming and computer science as early as possible is really pivotal because in today’s economy, every industry revolves around this. There really is no industry that is not affected in some way by computer science and coding.”

Tracking Wild

in Cat Urbigkit/News/Column/wildlife/Agriculture
Good deer
Researchers use radio collars to track mule deer migration through the Wind River Mountains. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)
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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

There are probably thousands of tracking devices installed on wild animals in Wyoming.

From collars or eartag transmitters placed on big game animals and large carnivores like wolves and bears, to backpack harnesses or neck bands installed on a variety of bird species, and the surgical insertion of devices into fish, the amount of wildlife tracking conducted every year in Wyoming is astounding.

The collar on this migrating mule deer in May 2019 was too loose, rubbing the hair off the animal’s neck and hitting it in the head when the animal grazed.
The collar on this migrating mule deer in May 2019 was too loose, rubbing the hair off the animal’s neck and hitting it in the head when the animal grazed. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

But the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WG&F) can’t tell you how many animals are wearing these devices. I know that because I asked: first informally, and when that didn’t yield any information, I was instructed to submit a formal request, which I did. The response noted “there is not an easy way to show how many animals actually have collars on them at this point.” I was told that “it would take quite a few hours to go through each permit report” to see how many animals were actually collared under each permit issued by the department even in a single year, but if I wanted to pursue the matter, the agency would send me a cost estimate for that effort. I declined. 

I had naïvely assumed there must be a central electronic location accessed by wildlife biologists to see the status of monitored animals, but that is not the case. Even the University of Wyoming’s Wildlife Migration Initiative’s Migration Viewer provides simple summaries of ungulate movements. WMI notes in bold type that “the raw location data can only be obtained by contacting the original data owner,” and “This allows us to share ungulate movement data with a broad range of users, while protecting the integrity of the datasets and the proprietary study or project needs of the many researchers that collected and own the data.”

This bison in Yellowstone National Park had its radio collar tangled in its horn.
This bison in Yellowstone National Park had its radio collar tangled in its horn. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

Some of the tracking devices placed on wild animals in Wyoming are conventional, very-high-frequency (VHF); others provide satellite tracking; and still others make use of the global positioning system (GPS). But all wildlife research in Wyoming that requires live-handling of animals to attach tracking devices begins with obtaining a permit from WG&F. Although wildlife researchers have until January 1 of the year following their permit expiration to file a detailed report with the agency, it’s unfortunate that data-sharing with our state’s wildlife managers is limited to by-then dated information.

When the Teton County Planning and Development office contracted with Biota Research and Consulting, Inc., to identify, describe, and map important habitat features for a range of wildlife species as part of its county comprehensive plan process, Biota worked to develop GIS overlays for all wildlife species in the county. That process required identifying all available datasets in existence, held by both private and public entities conducting wildlife research. Biota ended up developing unique data sharing contracts “in the interest of meeting the various concerns about misuse of data from each of the project contributors.”

“Although some potential collaborators willingly shared their data, other potential collaborators in both the private and public sector clearly articulated their unwillingness to share data, or failed to provide data that they agreed to share,” Biota noted.

What prompted my interest in the issue was the appearance of radio-collared mule deer and pronghorn antelope on our place, and some of those collars were not properly fitted. Since some of the mule deer have an easily-read bright numbered tag attached to the outside of the collar, I assumed our local WG&F biologist would be able to provide information on when the collar was placed, and to what end (the goals of the research project). Alas, that is not the case. The public or private entity conducting the research retains the real-time specifics, while WG&F has more a general knowledge of what research projects are taking place, and can access the annual reports from those research projects.

Research on the impacts of natural gas development on the Pinedale Anticline resulted in the collaring of this pronghorn antelope which was getting rubbed raw by its loose collar during frigid winter temperatures.
Research on the impacts of natural gas development on the Pinedale Anticline resulted in the collaring of this pronghorn antelope which was getting rubbed raw by its loose collar during frigid winter temperatures. (Photo: Cat Urbigkit)

Open sores and hair loss are frequent adverse effects from the use of radio-collars and other telemetry devices, as are animal entanglements in the collars themselves. Ill-fitting collars cause wounds and infections, and too tight a collar can restrict air flow and swallowing. As some researchers have pointed out, “ill-fitting collars and problems associated with them clearly influence research results and have implications for ethics within the wildlife profession.”

Behavioral impacts from the use of radio-collars are often discounted as insignificant, but there has been little research into this issue. Still, some research has revealed that collared moose in Norway keep in groups separate from non-collared moose. Brightly-colored collars on deer have resulted in higher harvest rates by deer hunters able to see these colors from a distance. Water and ice build-up under and around collars has been an issue for young ungulates. Other research has found impacts to a broad range of species, from voles to penguins.

There is no doubt that telemetry is an important tool in the research and management of many wildlife species. It’s my hope that researchers will strive for a better understanding of the potential negative consequences of strapping telemetry devices to wild animals (altering behavioral patterns should be a significant concern). And as science and technology advances, agencies like the WG&F may have to put in place better data-sharing mechanisms for the information harvested from wild animals in Wyoming.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily. To request reprint permission or syndication of this column, email rangewritesyndicate@icloud.com.

Wreaths honor fallen Wyoming veterans

in News/military
Wreaths
Volunteers lay wreaths on the graves of Wyoming veterans during the “Wreaths Across America” ceremony Saturday at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery in Casper. (Photo: Tim Mandese)
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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Volunteers placed wreaths on the graves of 4,200 Wyoming veterans on Saturday as part of a national drive that saw more than 2 million volunteers similarly decorate the graves of service members across the country.

Members of Wreaths Across America were joined by members of the Natrona County Republican Women and Patriot Guard Riders in placing the wreaths on graves during ceremonies at three Natrona County cemeteries.

As part of Wreaths Across American, an estimated 61,000 volunteers laid 400,000 wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery alone. Nationally, more than 2,000,000 participants placed wreaths in 1,640 locations.

In Wyoming, ceremonies were held at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery, the only veterans cemetery in Wyoming. Later in the afternoon, ceremonies were held at Highland Park and Memorial Gardens cemeteries. Dignitaries and participants packed the chapel at OTVC to pay their respects, including U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi.

“Per capita, Wyoming’s volunteering at this event is greater than even those at Arlington,” Enzi said. 

Letters from U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, in which both expressed their gratitude for Wyoming’s fallen veterans, were also read. 

Casper broadcaster Bob Price served as master of ceremonies for the event, instructing those laying a wreath that as the wreath is placed at the foot of the grave, the person laying the wreath should speak the veteran’s name aloud. 

“A person really dies twice,” he said. “Once when they pass away, and once when their name is spoken for the last time.”

Victoria Lockard, the co-chair for Wreaths Across America’s Natrona County chapter, estimated that 1,000 volunteers took part in the wreath laying in Casper.

She added 3,000 wreaths were placed on graves at the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery, 1,000 were placed at the Highland Park Cemetery and 200 were laid at Memorial Gardens.

Each year the number of wreaths placed grows and the number of volunteers grows, Lockard said.

“Each year it continues to grow, and we are so happy with the turnout of our crowd and their generosity,” she said.  

Education is already state’s top expense — why spend more?

in Column/Education
2534

By R. Ray Peterson, Cowley, WY

I never served on the Senate Education Committee, but participated in many discussions on school funding formulas, education expenses, school construction, curriculum, teacher salaries and administrative costs. 

I did have the opportunity to serve six years on the Appropriations Committee and on the latest Recalibration Committee as well as the School Facilities Select Committee and so, like most legislators voting on these matters, I couldn’t help but learn about the issues facing education.

Recently the Joint Education Committee met and narrowly passed a proposal for a $19 million increase to the education funding model. This bill will go to the full Legislature in February for a vote. 

I question the need for yet another increase to education funding, considering the fact spending on our public schools is already the largest of all the state’s budget expenditures. In addition, an annual automatic adjustment to education to account for inflation already adds $15 million a year to the cost. So Wyoming ranks No. 1 in our region for education spending and No. 5 in the country.

It leaves me shaking my head that the Education Committee is once again recommending even more spending increases. It begs the questions: Where will the money come from? Which budget will we rob from or what tax increase is coming? 

The explanation for the proposed increase from committee leaders was that Wyoming’s Supreme Court required education to be the Legislature’s top funding priority. My answer to that is that K-12 education is already the largest segment of our ever-growing state budget. 

Where we spent $1,234 per student in 1979, we are now spending $16,381 in 2019. The Legislature has elected to spend more than the funding model suggests every year since 2001. And yet we need to spend even more? Since 1979 our K-12 education budget has grown nearly 400 percent! 

Also consider that most school district superintendents in Wyoming — we have 48 — make more than our Governor

Folks, no one seems to driving this runaway train and sadly, I don’t see any stop to it. All of this leaves me with the question: How much do we need to spend or how much is enough for our schools to be happy enough to prevent them from suing the Legislature a fourth time. 

Personally, I say bring it. 

What evidence do our schools have that they are not our top priority? Most districts have new buildings, new buses, the highest starting salaries in the region, low class sizes, top-of-the-line benefits packages and the best students in the nation to work with. I for one grow tired of the threat of a law suit. Times have changed over the last 40 years and frankly, they do not have a leg to stand on. 

Finally, I would add this: If our Supreme Court rules again that our school districts need more money, then I would challenge our justices to balance our state budget. Are roads important? Water, sewer and other infrastructure that make our communities nice to live in, are they important? How about health care? Emergency services, law enforcement? 

I could go on and on with other budgets that will continue to be robbed in the name of education. Look at the numbers. Look at what we spend. Look at what we have spent with the funding increases over the last 40 years and then tell me with a straight face that more is needed to maintain the quality of our education. And please don’t tell me that I don’t believe in education as much as you do. Or that I just don’t understand how education works. I see what goes in and what comes out, and I’m left thinking that we can do much better.

Online retail’s impact could be opportunity for ‘mom-and-pop shops’

in Economic development/News
2532

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Online shopping is giving the Cowboy State’s brick-and-mortar retailers a run for their money, but it’s also creating new opportunities for local businesses, a Wyoming Business Council spokesperson said.  

“We’ve added 74 net new businesses and 168 net new jobs to the Wyoming economy in 2018,” said Tom Dixon, the Business Council’s content marketing manager. “When you’re looking at online shopping, an iPhone is an iPhone no matter where you buy it, but we’re seeing increased interest — especially in the younger generation — in unique and locally sourced products you can only find at a brick and mortar.”

Online retailers such as Amazon now offer one-day delivery options, providing a level of convenience close to that of a store with a physical location. But Trey Sherwood, executive director of the Laramie Main Street Alliance, said more and more Wyoming retailers are branching into new services to keep their customers coming back.

“We’re seeing businesses trying to close that leakage gap by offering services such as custom mail order purchases, where the business owner takes an order online or over the phone and puts the product in the mail that day,” Sherwood said. “There’s also a new trend called experience-based retail.”

Brick-and-mortar retailers are using face-to-face customer service, community building events and product workshops to create an experience beyond the simple exchange of money for goods, she explained.

Laramie’s historic downtown district experienced a serious slump during the 1970s, with businesses closing and storefronts sitting empty for years, but four decades later, Sherwood said the area is coming back strong — due in large part to reinvigoration efforts by the city and economic development organizations like Main Street.

“We don’t yet know to what extent our brick-and-mortar stores are being affected by online retail, but we know it is happening,” she said. “The pendulum will continue to swing, and we need to be prepared for what the next 50 years could bring.”

Creating a sense of place with art installments like the Laramie Mural Project is one way to keep consumers engaged with the local business community, but engagement can’t stop at the curb.

“There is an external conversation we need to have with our community — we simply can’t rely on buzz words like ‘shop small,’” Sherwood said. “We need to educate people in our communities about how spending money locally affects small economies.”

Large corporations aren’t immune to the pinch created by online shopping either, and several, including Shopko, Boot Barn and Kmart, recently pulled out of some Wyoming cities.

While the initial shock of losing a major retailer lingers for years, Dixon said the gaps left by big box stores can be beneficial.

“When something like that happens, the convenience is gone,” he said. “That provides a lot of opportunity for these mom-and-pop shops to expand their inventory and attract new customers.”

At the University of Wyoming College of Business, Elizabeth Minton, an associate professor of Marketing, has an eye on the future interactions of consumers and their retail preferences.

“I think in the coming years, we’re going to see a split,” Minton said. “People who are more money conscious are going to go online more, because it’s cheaper and likely will remain that way. People who are concerned about (economic) sustainability will likely shop more locally.”

Budgets, black eyes, bare knuckles: MMA board keeps Wyoming on combative sports map

in Government spending/News
2523

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Seven years after creating the nation’s first Board of Mixed Martial Arts, Wyoming is still grappling to stay ahead in the evolving world of combative sports. 

“We were the first state to regulate and sanction bare-knuckle fighting,” MMA Board Chairman Bryan Pedersen said, explaining the fighting style was sanctioned in 2018. “It was legal before, but there was no regulatory body. Now, everyone’s doing it. But somebody had to be first, and I’m proud it was Wyoming.”

But, like the fighters it was created to protect, the MMA board has to roll with punches, especially when they hit below the budget belt.

Carbon extraction not only drives the state’s economy, but it attracts combative sports most active demographic — people between the ages of 18 and 25. 

“In 2015, they started capping (oil and gas) wells,” Pedersen said. “For 16 months, we didn’t have one event, because you had an exodus of fans and combatants.”

The board’s budget is funded entirely by license fees, event permits and gate-fee percentages, he explained. 

“We believe we can do our job with no additional funds from the general fund,” Pedersen said. “If this thing ever runs out of money, it auto-collapses.”

Knocking out the books

An MMA fighter, financial adviser and former state representative, Pedersen sponsored the bill to create the board in 2012. As a member of the state’s Revenue Committee at the time, however, he said he wanted to make sure the board could be self-sufficient, so he added language to the proposal that forced it to collapse if its bank account ran dry.

“I’d seen enough of people coming to the Legislature asking for money,” he recalled. “I wanted to make sure that was never this.”

Without a physical location or salaried staff, keeping the board in the black seems like it would be easy even during the slow years, but Pedersen said the devil is in the details.

“We pay the Department of Administration and Information to keep tabs on our account,” he explained. “So, during that down period when nothing was going on, we were paying them to tell us nothing was going on.”

According to information provided by the State Auditor’s Office, the board spent about $2,300 in 2016 and approximately $2,500 in 2017. 

“We nearly ran out of money,” Pedersen said. “At one point, I bought six t-shirts from the board for $2,000 just so we could pay (the Department of Administration and Information). Then, oil came back, and now, we’re having more events.”

After regulating bare-knuckle boxing in 2018, the board’s expenditures more than tripled to nearly $9,000, before dropping back to about $6,000 so far in 2019. Pedersen said after Wyoming sanctioned bare-knuckle fighting, other states followed suit, decreasing the board’s income because of a lack of events.

“We only receive income from fighters’ licenses, promoters’ licenses, event permits and 5 percent of the gate fee,” Pedersen said. “We spend our money on training for officials and our at-will employees as needed.”

The board lists two at-will employees on its website: Board Representative Nick Meeker and Jeremy Arneson, an executive assistant.

To ensure adherence to the board’s regulations, one representative is paid to attend each event. An at-will employee is also paid to attend board meetings and perform administrative duties. Since 2014, the board has permitted 28 events, most of which were MMA bouts, Pedersen said. He did not provide data for events prior to 2014.At-will employees are paid fixed rates for specific services, but not the commissioners.

“No commissioner takes compensation of any kind,” Pedersen said.

The board has also banked $10,000 to settle any disputes over contested match outcomes, he added. 

‘Above and beyond’

BYB Extreme promoter Mike Vazquez said his company presented data about bare-knuckle fighting compared to traditional boxing across the nation before finding an open ear in Wyoming.

“We went around the country showing data we collected, and the crazy thing is — everywhere we went, they agreed with us,” Vazquez said. “But, (Pedersen) and his group were really the first to act on the data.”

In a traditional boxing match, about 700 punches are thrown, more than half land and landed shots are typically to the head, he explained.

“With bare-knuckle boxing, our rounds are shorter and there’s less of them,” Vazquez said. “Our fighters don’t have gloves, so they don’t throw a lot of shots to the head.” 

During a typical bare-knuckle fight, he said less than a hundred punches are thrown, fewer connect and less than half land on the head, he said.

“Having Wyoming take that step has now let other states take the step,” Vazquez said. “We’ve seen at least five other states regulate the sport, and I’ve heard several others are in the works.”

BYB Extreme hosted a bare-knuckle event at the Cheyenne Ice and Event Center in April.

“Wyoming was great, the people were so welcoming,” Vazquez said. “We stayed at the haunted hotel there – the Plains Hotel — and the MMA Board was fantastic to work with. They went above and beyond.”

Despite the number of notches in its belt already, the board has big plans ahead, Pedersen said. 

“We have a huge drive from promoters and fighters to regulate boxing,” he said. “They want to legitimize their bouts, because if a person fights in an unsanctioned bout, it doesn’t count.”

While the MMA board regulates MMA, kick boxing and bare-knuckle boxing, traditional boxing is not currently in its purview.

“Right now, a commission is coming from Kansas and regulating a few bouts,” Pedersen said. “The Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), the governing body of boxing and MMA nationwide, permits sanctioning bodies to regulate interstate.”

In order for boxers’ fights to count toward their official record, ABC requires them to be licensed by their home state, he explained.

“We don’t have licensure body,” Pedersen said. “All these guys that are out there putting in the blood, sweat and tears cannot get a license.” 

The board plans to pursue authority to issue licenses to Wyoming fighters utilizing its current funding method, which would require no additional funds from the state, he said. 

“We do this out of a passion for the sport,” Pedersen said about his service on the board. “I love Wyoming, and I’m not going anywhere. I hope to be doing this for a long time to come.”

Capitol’s new furniture might not be delivered until after 2020 Budget Session

in Government spending/News
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Months after Wyoming hosted a grand reopening of the state Capitol building, legislative and executive staffers are still working with folding tables and temporary furniture.

During a Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group meeting Nov. 15, group members voted to rework a Request For Proposal (RFP), which could provide furnishings for the newly renovated building. 

Oversight Group member Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said the group originally hoped to see the Capitol furnished prior to the 2020 Budget Session. But reworking the proposal could prevent that goal. 

“We’ve had several issues that have arisen out of our original RFPs,” Bebout explained. “We specced this RFP to a certain greater quality, but the manufacturer that could meet those specs went out of business.”

Additionally, he said the group wanted to ensure Wyoming furniture suppliers had an opportunity to bid on the reworked proposal. 

“The original RFP went out about 3-4 months ago,” Bebout said. “It’s a long RFP, because it gets into the specifics.”

Bebout did not have the specifics on hand at the time of his interview, but instead, directed Cowboy State Daily to the Wyoming State Construction Department for details regarding the furniture RFP.

Construction Department spokesperson Travis Hoff said the agency declined to comment on the RFP details, process, amendments or creation, because the document was being reviewed by the Wyoming Attorney General’s office. 

In an email, Hoff provided the state statute used to create the RFP, which specifies that the agency issuing an RFP can ask for certain specifications or products. However, the law also states if the specified product is not available to “responsible Wyoming resident suppliers,” that fact cannot be used as a reason to prevent Wyoming vendors from submitting bids.

Hoff also confirmed some staffers were currently working in the Capitol on temporary furniture, and while no agencies were still renting space outside state-owned buildings, some had yet to move into the Capitol.

Wyoming Legislative Service Office Director Matt Obrecht said his staff moved into the building earlier this summer.

“We’re working on folding tables and have been since June,” Obrecht said.

Bebout said he wasn’t fond of the situation, but he didn’t place the blame at anyone’s feet. 

“I thought we would probably have it done before the budget session, but there’s really nobody to blame,” he said. “If we don’t get (new furniture) by the time the budget session starts, then we’ll use the old furniture and make it work.”

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