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‘Shootout’ challenge reflects Shoshoni’s can-do spirit

in Economic development/News/Recreation/Community
Now entering Shoshoni
2032

By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

Like a challenge delivered out of the Old West, a shootout at high noon was held Saturday in Shoshoni.

Mayors of Fremont County’s towns, or their designees, met at the Shoshoni Rifle Range on the south edge of town to compete in three shooting categories – rifle, handgun and Annie Oakley shotgun-style shooting – as part of a fundraiser for the Fremont County Republican Women.

“When the Republican Women’s president, Ginger Bennett, called me, she wanted the shootout at high noon on Shoshoni’s Main Street,” said Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith. “I said, ‘Anything is a possibility in Shoshoni, let’s talk about it.’”

Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith exhibits a can-do attitude that characterizes his efforts to make things happen in Shoshoni.
Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith exhibits a can-do attitude that characterizes his efforts to make things happen in Shoshoni. Highsmith — whose father also served as Shoshoni’s mayor — said residents care about the community and have good ideas for its future. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)

Highsmith was elected Shoshoni’s mayor in 2018. Like Saturday’s mayoral shootout, his can-do spirit is reflected throughout the 650-resident town.

It’s all about building and maintaining a community, its people and a great place to live, according to Highsmith.

“Shoshoni has always been my hometown, the place I consider my home, and the place where I always planned to retire,” Highsmith said.

Highsmith’s parents moved to Shoshoni in 1962. His wife Kathy’s parents moved to Shoshoni about 1950.

“I married my wife in 1972. That’s when we purchased our first real estate in Shoshoni. We have three beautiful daughters we raised in Shoshoni until 1989. We returned to Shoshoni in 2009,” he said. “We are Shoshoni people with Shoshoni roots.”

In fact, Highsmith’s father Joel Thomas Highsmith Sr. was mayor of Shoshoni in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Shoshoni in 2019 is a microcosm of life these days in central Wyoming. Local economies are struggling, even in Shoshoni where ConocoPhillips operates a gas plant in Lost Cabin, east of town.

Some people have left town. People make long commutes, usually through Shoshoni and the town’s famous intersection, to work in the oil and gas industry. Young people graduate out of the Shoshoni school system, and most leave. And few young people and their families live year-around in the community that boasts small-town amenities and is bordered by one of Wyoming’s best fishing reservoirs.

Boysen Reservoir, which borders Shoshoni, is a major focus for the community, with a committee considering ways to bring more people to the reservoir to take part in various activities and help revitalize the town. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)

“Besides our school system, I believe Shoshoni’s crown jewel is Boysen Reservoir,” Highsmith said.

Shoshoni also benefits from residents willing to look at ways to breathe new life into the community, the mayor said.

“People care about the future of this town and they have ideas,” he said.

The Shoshoni Town Council, or as Highsmith calls it, “the governing body,” has established a pair of committees focused on Boysen Reservoir and the rifle range.

“We are looking at different options to enhance our town. The Lake Committee has met with Boysen State Park officials and the new owners of the Boysen Marina, who are both doing a great job,” Highsmith said. “We are looking at developing more activities and fishing opportunities so that Boysen becomes more of a destination for people on their way to Jackson and other places.”

Highsmith said the goal is to bring more events to Boysen Reservoir, which in turn, will help the town. At one time, winter carnivals, high-altitude drag races, fishing derbies and other events flourished at Boysen throughout the year and brought visitors and their money to Shoshoni.

Highsmith said the same committee approach is being used to draw people to Shoshoni’s rifle range, arguably the best in the county and central Wyoming. Grants and donations have helped the local rifle club improve safety at the range through steps such as having local range enthusiasts act as monitors when the range is open.

Shoshoni continues to host a number of community events, including its Labor Day Ranch Rodeos and its annual Don Layton Memorial Antique Tractor and Engine Show.

The landscape of Shoshoni is changing for the better, too, Highsmith said.

He recalled the days when downtown Shoshoni boasted a Gambles store, grocery store and movie theater.

This photo shows some of the old buildings that line Shoshoni’s streets. The town recently demolished six old buildings on Main Street, along with a hotel and the community’s old school. Residents are now looking into ways to fill the empty space with businesses to help the town. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)

Today, some of the older, unusable buildings, including six separate buildings of the old Main Street, have been demolished, as has an old motel and the Shoshoni school in the center of town.

A new $39 million K-12 school has been built on the north end of town and is in its fourth year of operation.

The mayor said town officials are keeping an open mind to the opportunities for Shoshoni.

“We’ve been talking to the developer who bought our old school land,” Highsmith said. “We’ve been thinking and discussing, what can survive here.”

Town officials and many citizens agree Shoshoni needs an active motel/hotel and a local gathering spot, such as a café.

“That would be a big bonus for school activities and activities at the lake and rifle range,” Highsmith said. “Boysen State Park and the marina need more camper spots. Maybe we need a campground, because the lake is an important part of what we may do. Maybe our future is senior housing. We need more housing so our teachers can live here.”

The future for one of Wyoming’s busiest intersections – where U.S. Highways 20 and 26 meet – is involved, too, because it’s in the middle of town. Contrary to billboards on the edges of Shoshoni proclaiming the superiority of each highway, both provide convenient and scenic pathways to Yellowstone National Park.

The main intersection in Shoshoni takes travelers north on U.S. Highway 20 to Thermopolis or west on U.S. Highway 26 to Riverton. The intersection plays a role in attempts to revive the community, with residents looking at possible ways to build up businesses in the area. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)
The main intersection in Shoshoni takes travelers north on U.S. Highway 20 to Thermopolis or west on U.S. Highway 26 to Riverton. The intersection plays a role in attempts to revive the community, with residents looking at possible ways to build up businesses in the area. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)



“There will be changes in our intersection, even possible business expansion,” Highsmith said. “Our history involves a time when there were seven gas stations, and one on each corner of our intersection.”

Highsmith said Shoshoni people want businesses that benefit the community, including its school.

“We are open to ideas, and we are looking at things,” he said.

New Shoshoni school is a bright light in town

Bruce Thoren is in his sixth year as superintendent of Fremont County School District No. 24.

Shoshoni’s school district is very rural in nature, covering nearly 2,000 square miles.

“We’ve got kids attending from Natrona County, from Missouri Valley, Hidden Valley, Burma, Riverton, Shoshoni … the valley is where the vast majority of our students live,” said Thoren.

The school provides kindergarten through 12th grade education for more than 390 students and about 25 of those live with their families in Shoshoni. A school bus also makes daily stops at Riverton’s old Kmart to serve the more than 100 Shoshoni students who live in Riverton. Other students drive themselves to town, or ride school buses.

The school district is easily the largest employer in Shoshoni, with nearly 100 part- and full-time employees.

“These employees are a big deal for the Town of Shoshoni, and I believe the new building is definitely helping the viability of the town. Without the school, quite honestly, I’d hate to see what would happen to the town,” Thoren said.

There’s history attached to Shoshoni schools, too, as the first Shoshoni School opened in 1906 with 58 children and two teachers. After its first year of operation, a new school was built to educate 134 students at a cost of $7,000. The new building allowed the first- through fourth-graders to escape the old Shoshoni jailhouse, where they were attending school.

Thoren is proud of the school district’s ongoing partnership with the town.

“Things are headed in the right direction in Shoshoni, and the town council and mayor are looking to increase the viability of the town. Everyone wants to put the nicer things in place, including more paved streets,” Thoren said. “While most of the school employees and the Conoco gas plant employees commute from other places to work, a lot of those people would live in Shoshoni if we are able to get some of these community upgrades completed.”

Thoren points to future oil and gas development, including the Moneta Divide project, as possible boosts to the Shoshoni-area economy.

The Shoshoni Recreation District is part of the school district’s partnership with the town.

“This is a small Wyoming town, but it’s thriving with recreation,” said Recreation Director Michelle Rambo, who herself attended Shoshoni schools for 13 years.

The recreation district is currently preparing for its annual Halloween haunted house involving the efforts of more than 30 volunteers. It’s said to be one of the creepiest and best of its kind in Wyoming.

“People come to Shoshoni from all over the region to participate. It’s a huge event,” Rambo said.

Rambo, like the mayor and school superintendent, is positive about the future of Shoshoni, a community grounded in volunteerism “that works together to do what’s best for all of Wyoming.”

“My childhood friends live here, raising their families. We are all part of this community. We support our town,” Rambo said, adding a statement of her pride for Shoshoni schools and the mascot. “We ‘Ride for the Brand, be a Wrangler.’”

Go Pokes! A historic UW photo for a football team on the way to a historic season?

in sports
Wyoming Cowboys football team 1905
2030

Go Pokes: As the University of Wyoming 🏈 (2-0) gets ready to take on Idaho today, here is an earlier UW team from 1905 (some 114 years ago) showing a group of tough young men surrounded by their fans and other supporters.

Just look at those expressions!

This old photo is from the American Heritage Center and is from the B.C. Buffum Collection. The photo was sharpened and colorized for publication in Bill Sniffin’s coffee table book ‘Wyoming at 125’.

Elk hunting outlook good, deer hunting ‘mixed bag,’ says G&F report

in News/Recreation/wildlife
2021

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Fall is in the air and it’s the time of year when hunters around Wyoming are finalizing their plans for a successful hunting season. The Wyoming Game & Fish Department  has prepared a fall forecast of its eight regions to make planning much easier. 

The WGFD uses a map to define the eight regions identified as Cody, Sheridan, Jackson, Pinedale, Lander, Casper, Green River, and Laramie. 

The hunting season outlook in each region for the big three game animals — pronghorn antelope, deer and elk — is covered in the forecast, along with information on other species. 

Antelope

According to the report, pronghorn populations are up in the Casper, Green River, and Laramie regions, while in Sheridan and Cody, the populations remain stable. Although lower populations have been recorded in Pinedale, the limited number of licenses issued should mean success rates will be high, the report said. In Casper, populations are average. A GPS collar tracking program is set for the winter of 2019-20 to provide better information to Pronghorn Managers.   

Deer

The outlook for deer hunting is a “mixed bag,” according to the WGFD forecast. Although a successful hunting season is expected for the Big Horn Basin, most deer populations in Wyoming are down due to the severe winter of 2016-17. However, the Pinedale and Cody regions are seeing large populations and high quality hunting opportunities, with Cody herds expanding into new areas and habitats.

Elk

Elk hunting should be good, the report said. Populations increased in Casper, Cody, Green River, Laramie and Sheridan, with Sheridan’s populations being high due to limited hunter access to private land. The Lander and Pinedale populations remain steady in almost all areas.

The WGFD Fall 2019 Forecast also has information on moose, big horn sheep, mountain goats, bison, upland game birds and small game, including turkey and migratory game birds. 

For complete information you can read the full forecast at the WGFD website.

Tolling I-80 could prevent potholes, but proposed bill has rough road ahead

in News/Transportation
Tolling I-80 could prevent potholes, but proposed bill has rough road ahead
2015

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A toll proposed for Interstate 80 traffic could help the Wyoming Department of Transportation reduce the $41.5 million yearly funding deficit for maintaining the corridor, but not everyone is on board.

The Legislature’s Joint Transportation, Highway and Military Affairs Committee reviewed the idea of tolling I-80 during its meeting in August.

“We have up to 19,000 vehicles driving I-80 in a 24-hour period, counting both ways, mostly between Green River and Rock Springs,” said Committee Chairman Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette. “We’re spending approximately $60 million a year on that highway.”

A 2018 Wyoming Department of Transportation study reported the department spent about $182 million on construction and maintenance for the I-80 corridor from 2016 to 2018. In order to simply maintain the highway’s current condition, WYDOT would need an additional $41.5 million annually. I-80 accounted for 62 percent of all Wyoming’s heavy truck traffic and about 20 percent of the state’s passenger vehicle traffic, the study found.

“The total funding to WYDOT from all sources has declined,” said Keith Fulton, the assistant chief engineer for WYDOT’s Engineering and Planning Division. “We’re seeing higher construction, labor and materials costs — if funding doesn’t change with those, you’re losing the strength to address those needs.”

While the details of a toll road have yet to be ironed out, Von Flatern said Wyoming residents wouldn’t pay a fee to drive I-80 under the plan examined by the committee.

“It won’t toll Wyoming-registered vehicles — it will only toll out-of-state vehicles,” he explained. “But, you can’t discriminate who you toll.”

Rather than charge vehicles registered in Wyoming, Von Flatern said the state would reimburse their owners for the toll cost, possibly with oil royalty income.

Opposition

For Sheila Foertsch, executive director of the Wyoming Trucking Association, charging only non-resident vehicles presents a problem.

“We have concerns about the current bill, because of the refund,” Foertsch said. “You must treat all trucking the same.”

In the past, the association did not oppose tolling studies proposed by Legislature or increases to registration fees and fuel tax, she said. 

“We understand there is a need,” Foertsch said. “But the State of Wyoming already receives registration fees and fuel tax. We currently have the sixth-highest registration fees in the nation. These trucks are not just traveling through scot free.”

Furthermore, she said the association thinks a toll could significantly impact local economies along the corridor.

“Truckers will often avoid a toll road at all costs,” Foertsch explained.

 Von Flatern said the tolling initiative received committee support, but only just. 

“We’re a little worried about getting two-thirds vote,” he explained. “It only passed the transportation committee 7-6.”

During budget sessions of the Legislature, such as the 2020 session, any measure not related to the state’s budget must receive a two-thirds majority vote to even be considered.

Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, said he voted against the initiative, but wasn’t entirely opposed to a toll road.

“Eight years ago, it was looked at and the sentiment of the committee was, ‘We studied enough, let’s go ahead with it,’” Pappas said. “And, I’m not good with that.”

WYDOT needs the money, he said, but there are other funding avenues that could be explored.

“I’m not against the idea of tolls, but I think there are other and better ways of collecting funds that are more user friendly and easier to administer,” Pappas said. “We should look at increasing fuel tax, vehicle registration, weight fees, license fees and weight distance taxes. Everything should be on the table.”

Pappas said he is drafting a bill for the 2020 session to create a task force to look at all possibilities of revenue generation for the I-80 corridor. 

“I do understand this will be a study first, but frankly, I’m not ready to the spend the money on the study,” Pappas said. “I’d rather spend money on a task force to determine whether tolling is the best road to go down.”

Small request, big ask

Typically, when a state creates a toll on a road, it is required to pay back all the federal funding it received for that road, but Von Flatern said that wouldn’t be the case here.

The Federal Highway Administration is conducting a pilot program that could allow Wyoming to create a toll road without paying back any money, he explained. The Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program allows a state to collect tolls in order to reconstruct or rehabilitate an interstate corridor that could not otherwise be adequately maintained or functionally improved without the collection of tolls, according to the committee’s issue brief.

Up to three facilities could participate in the program, and each must be located in a different state.

“All we’re asking for now is to put our name in with the federal tolling programs,” Von Flatern said.

If approved, the process could take a decade or more to produce an actual toll road. Von Flatern said the earliest guesses put the toll road creation somewhere around 2029 if no hiccups are encountered.

This isn’t the first time Von Flatern put forth a tolling initiative. In 2010, Senate File 35 proposed granting the Wyoming Transportation Commission authority to create a tolling program. While the bill cleared the Senate, it was killed by the House Transportation Committee.

“It can keep coming back,” Von Flatern said. “We have to do something, because WYDOT is losing the battle in taking care of all our roads.”

If WYDOT does not receive additional funding for I-80 maintenance and improvement, Fulton said the highway could begin to deteriorate.

“We may have to pull more money from other places or live with a little less condition than it is now,” he explained. “We’ll always make sure the road is safe, but we might be able to plow it a little less, and it will degrade over time.”

Airmen urge service members to lean on fellow ‘wingmen’ for suicide prevention

in News/military
2017

As the U.S. Air Force reports that suicides among airmen have increased in 2019, two women serving at Cheyenne’s F.E. Warren Air Force Base are urging service members to rely on their “wingmen” for help when they are hurting.

Senior Airman Abbigayle Williams and First Class Airman Aiesha Bass are on a mission to stop service members from taking their own lives. Both encouraged their fellow members of the military to turn to one of their fellow service members for help.

“That wingman concept, it’s a good thing,” Bass said. “Somebody needs somebody to lean on. Whether you’ve got one wingman or you’ve got a whole 15 females in here you’ve never seen a day in your life. But they’re there.”

Bass, a former juvenile supervision officer, said providing help can be as simple as listening.

“If you don’t want me to say anything back, you just want to talk, I’m going to listen to you,” she said.

Williams encouraged troubled service members to approach their fellow airmen.

“Stop me on the road,” she said. “I may not know you, but if you need someone to vent to, if you just want someone to cook you food … then I will definitely cook a meal for any airman or anyone else who needs it. Sometimes, you just need to sit down and talk.”

Encouraging someone to do something to lift their spirits also helps, Bass said.

“If they’re not thinking positive, try to help them think positive,” she said. “Try to come up with something to do, especially if someone just sits in a room and doesn’t get out much, (ask them) ‘You want to get out to eat, you want to go walk in the park, you want to go just do something simple just to get you out of this gloomy mood.’”

For adventure close at hand, Cheyenne residents hike or bike Hidden Falls

in Recreation/Tourism
2008

On the plains of southeast Wyoming access to mountainous hiking and biking can seem at a distance.

Curt Gowdy State Park offers Cheyenne residents and visitors from northern Colorado a great escape that’s just minutes from the capital city.

The Crow Creek Trail to Hidden Falls trail is a particular gem in the state park. The 3.6 mile out and back trail leads to a charming little waterfall and offers terrain that is fun for families but challenging enough that everyone gets to feel those muscles working.

It’s not an hours drive to get outside. This is your reminder, southeastern Wyoming, take in the fall weather while it lasts at Curt Gowdy State Park.

Peterson: A cautionary tale from 27 years of public service

in Government spending/Column/Education
Peterson public service
2000

Ray Peterson served as a state senator for 13 years, from 2005-2018.  In this column, he shares his thoughts on his 27 years of public service.

Public Service

I hesitated to write this article but decided to share my story of public service for only one reason, to better inform our citizens.  This certainly is not done with any self-promoting agenda, as I do not have any future plans to run for any public office.  My 27 years of public service has come to an end.  But I think my story could be used to improve our understanding of the challenges of public service.  Perhaps this article may even convince someone to run for office or volunteer their time or just get involved.

I was first elected to the Cowley town council in 1986.  I served six years and enjoyed the opportunity to learn about town government while offering my input into community projects and working with others.  It was exciting and fulfilling to see a project through, from concept to planning to completion.  

While working on community projects, I was introduced to county concerns.  I had ideas for the county and saw needs that I thought I could help with.  I was elected to the Big Horn County Commission in 1992, where I served eight years dealing with budgets, a new jail, a new dispatch system, improved roads and public land issues.  

State Involvement

I was appointed to the Senate in 2005, where I was appointed to the Appropriations Committee and served for six years.  

After my years on the Appropriations Committee, I was given the assignment to chair the Senate Revenue Committee.  As the Senate president put it, “You’ve seen how we spend the money, now you need to know where it comes from.”   This taught me another valuable lesson in that I realized our Legislature was an institution that trains its own leaders to promote continuity and knowledge to ensure that the best decisions are made on the state’s behalf by our elected representatives.  

I will also mention that the pressure is unreal.  There are no simple votes on the floor of the Senate.  My wife would always notice when I returned home after a session that I had lost both weight and a little more hair.  

My Last Year       

As I gained experience and seniority in the state Senate, more responsibilities were assigned to me.  I was serving on the Management Council, a number of select committees, the Labor and Health Committee and chaired the Senate Revenue Committee.  

Added to this mix was the fact that our revenue projections were down and we were contending with a $1 billion shortfall, which meant that we had lost 25 percent of our projected biennial revenue.  Assignments were made to look for ways we could increase our revenue in Wyoming, which fell squarely on the Revenue Committee.  We were told to bring every revenue generating idea to the Legislature for consideration during the upcoming session.  

We also knew that our expenditures would need to be reduced.  We could not tax our way out of this downturn without looking at reductions to our budget as well.  The assignments were made to form a recalibration committee to look into possible ways we could reduce the education funding model.  I was assigned to that committee.  My summer was spent on  taxation issues and budget cuts to education. 

I remember admonishing our committee to have the courage to bring these tax bills to the floor for consideration, even if it meant that some of us would pay the price politically. I would imagine that most on the committee voted against the proposed revenue bills during the session, but we had done our job in bringing options to the floor.  

Because we had cash reserves, we elected to use them to cover the shortages, which meant no taxing proposal passed that session, but the studies were completed and the information was current for the Legislature to consider, so the Revenue Committee had completed its assignments.

The Recalibration Committee had even a tougher time in meeting deadlines, hiring consultants, gathering information and then making recommendations to the full Legislature during the upcoming session.  

You can imagine the popularity of this committee.  As an example, the business I worked for was boycotted by some schools around the state because of my perceived stance against education. I really didn’t know I had an anti-education stance, but there were a lot of people who thought I and a few others were public enemies to education.  

Articles in the papers that portrayed the Senate wanting to gut education seemed to be the flavor of the day.  But we had a budget to balance and the year before, we had cut the Health Department by almost $100 million, 10 percent of its biennial budget.  Now our attentions were turned to the largest state budget, K-12 education.  

Like the Revenue Committee, the Recalibration Committee completed its job and made recommendations for reductions based on the findings of our contracted consultants.  The committee members were not in total agreement and disagreed on where cuts should be made.  But one thing everyone understood was that cuts to the K-12 funding model were going to be made, it was just a matter of how much.

My Last Session

I was asked to sponsor the bill proposing reductions to the K-12 funding formula. I agreed to sponsor the bill knowing the subject and having spent the summer listening to the consultants and the recommendations.  I also thought that I could use this bill to ensure that my concerns with funding for our smaller schools would be protected.  

I had shared with other senators, over the years, that I felt that the funding model was flawed in favor of the larger schools.  Although this bill would not be a popular bill to sponsor, it would put me in the chair to control the outcome.  My first amendment was to slash $100 million from the proposed funding reduction of $140 million.

The news media continued to refer to the bill as cutting $140 million from our schools up to the day it died in the house.  Although the reporting was not accurate, the bill was now in a form and an amount that I felt our schools could deal with.  The reductions were in areas that would not affect the classroom or salaries or even the quality of our schools in the least.  These reductions were recommended by consultants and would be phased in over three years, just as our school administrators had requested.  

Three small schools stood out as taking larger hits to their budgets than all the other school districts.  Where all other schools were presented with reductions of 2 percent to 2.5 percent over three years, these three smaller schools faced 10 percent to 12 percent reductions. I now had evidence that some of our smaller schools were taking a bigger hit than our larger schools.  

To correct this, my last amendment to the bill was to provide a ceiling that would protect these smaller schools from unfair reductions in comparison to the other schools. I remember sitting down at my computer to check my emails after the  amendment passed on the floor of the Senate. They were pouring in from all over the state telling me how bad a person I was to cut education, but one caught my eye as it was from a superintendent back home telling me that he had sent out a letter to all of his teachers informing them I had broken my promise to the smaller schools and was gutting their district’s money. I, of course, was not happy about the accusations and made every attempt to respond and explain what I was trying to do with this bill, but I’m sure my explanation fell on deaf ears.  

The bill passed the Senate with a proposed $40 million reduction plan over three years and with my amendment.  

The House, meanwhile, had its own reduction bill, which was set cuts at $15 million.  The Senate file was quickly killed in the House Education Committee.  The Senate took the House version and deleted most of the House wording and inserted the Senate file wording and the reduction amount of $40 million. This is what led to the Conference Committee where the House and Senate agreed on a $37 million reduction plan to the K-12 funding formula — $3 million short of my original Senate file but with my amendments intact.  The House was hailed by the media as the saviors of education that session.

I was unseated in the August primary.

My Take on Things  

After the session was over, the Senate president asked If I was going to be all right back home as I was up for re-election.  I told him that I should be okay as I would get back and explain my intentions and work on the bill to the educators back home.  What I was not counting on was that the educators did not want to listen to an explanation and did not attend any of my meetings where I offered a report of the session and the bill that I had worked on.  

Our favorite lobbying group, the Wyoming Education Association, had invested time and money to see that I was unseated.  I don’t really know what it was telling the voters in Senate District 19, but I know it wasn’t the fact that I voted for teacher salary increases each time they were introduced over the previous six years, or that I fought to reinvest general fund money into the teachers’ pension fund after we lost a good portion of it in 2008, or that I voted to increase spending on additional new school construction. 

What the WEA saw in me was a threat.  I had knowledge and education of the budget and the education funding formula as well as the seniority to present and push through legislation that would have threatened their plans for continued increases.  I was asked to be the next Majority Floor Leader in the next session which would have made me president of the Senate in 2021.  I would have also served as the chairman of the Appropriations Committee in 2019-20.  The WEA was going to have none of that.  

Conclusion

Now back to my reason for sharing my story.  I’ve asked myself many times what I might have done differently to ensure my own re-election.  I could have kept my distance from those issues by not accepting those difficult assignments.  But considering all the training and cost of my public service education over the years, I would think that running away from those issues would have been self-serving rather than doing what I was elected and trained to do.  

I remain concerned about what happened and could happen to another public servant.  To allow the media and a union to dictate what we think of a candidate is foolish and dangerous.  The overwhelming problem did not go away with my replacement.

The end result of the 2 percent or $37 million reduction over three years to our K-12 education funding?  Each of the four school districts in Senate District 19 gave raises shortly after the budget session was over.  New school construction and building maintenance continues.  The K-12 education budget continues to grow each year and the WEA continues to be one of, if not the, strongest employee unions in our state.  

We need to be better than this, Wyoming.  Media with an agenda other than fair reporting is dangerous.  Unions that control elections are dangerous.  We should protect openness, transparency, honesty and integrity to our political process.  And certainly, the more knowledge we have, the better we are all served.

Laramie food truck wins top honors at national wing contest

in News/Food and Beverage
1997

The owner of a Laramie food truck was recognized recently as creating the best traditional buffalo wing sauce in the country in a national competition held at the home of the buffalo wing.

Trent Weitzel, the owner of “Double Dubs” food truck, which specializes in wings, won four awards at the Buffalo Wing Festival held in Buffalo, New York, over the Labor Day holiday.

“The big one is the traditional medium sauce category,” said Drew Cerza, the celebration’s founder who has earned the title ‘Wing King.’ “That was the original sauce created in 1964 at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo. (Double Dubs) won first place in that. That’s a really good one.”

Double Dubs also placed second for traditional barbecue sauce and third for extra hot traditional sauce and claimed the event’s “rookie of the year” title.

For Weitzel, the appearance at the festival was the result of several years of work and a good word from a former customer.

Weitzel, who started his food truck business about six years ago, had contacted Cerza for the past four to five years to see if he could get a spot among the restaurants competing at the festival.

“At the end of the day, he didn’t have anybody to vouch for me for how good the chicken wings were,” he said.

So Weitzel contacted an old customer — former University of Wyoming Quarterback Josh Allen, who is now the quarterback for the Buffalo Bills football team — to ask him to put in a good word for him.

“(Weitzel) called me this year and said ‘Before you give me a no, hear me out — have you ever heard of a guy named Josh Allen?’” Cerza said. “Five minutes later, don’t I get a call from Josh Allen. And Josh introduces himself and says ‘I’m Josh Allen and I just wanted to put a plug in for my boys out there from Wyoming.’”

As a result, Double Dubs is the first food truck company to have competed in the contest, Cerza said.

Cerza said the most impressive award for Double Dubs was the first place for best traditional medium buffalo sauce.

The sauce must be based on the original recipe created in Buffalo, which was a mixture of Frank’s Red Hot cayenne pepper sauce and butter, Cerza said.

The sauce was one of eight Weitzel took to Buffalo for the competition.“All of the sauces I’ve created and made are 100 percent one-offs,” he said. “The original recipes and everything.”

Weitzel’s path to glory in the wing set began more than 14 years ago, when he started cooking wings in his back yard. He then expanded to providing wings for backyard barbecues and football parties before opening up the Double Dubs food truck about six years ago.

“My specialty is the sauces I create,” he said. “I tell people I’m retired. I really don’t work. This is a lot of fun to me.”

Firefighters catch a break in Shoshone National Forest’s Fishhawk blaze

in News/weather
1989

In Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest, the Fishhawk Fire has burned more than 11,000 acres near Cody.

The Fishhawk Fire grew from 500 to more than 10,000 acres in just three days and is billowing smoke from the mountains across Park County.

Favorable conditions slowed the growth of the blaze over the weekend and gave firefighters an opportunity to establish protective firelines that starve the fire of fuel and direct flames away from structures.

Evacuations of mountain cabins and Camp Buffalo Bill Boy Scout camp were lifted Saturday as crews and fire managers from multiple agencies contained the burn.

Fire managers expect that the fire will smolder until snow blankets the mountains of the Shoshone National Forest.

Subcommittee collects facts on nuclear waste storage

in Energy/News
Nuke Hearing
1973

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

A legislative subcommittee formed to examine the possibility of storing spent nuclear fuel rods in the state is just collecting facts on the issue so far, its chairman said Thursday.

Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper, chairman of the Legislature’s Spent Fuel Rods Subcommittee, told listeners at the group’s first meeting in Casper that the committee would offer no opinions on whether nuclear waste should be stored in the state.

The Wyoming Legislature’s Spent Fuel Rods Subcommittee in Casper (photo credit: Tim Mandese).

During the hearing, committee members heard from members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Department of Energy and a retired nuclear physicist.

The committee’s questions focused on the type of waste to be stored, containment, storage, transportation and location requirements as well as the permitting process. Safety concerns and risk assessments were also discussed.

Nuclear waste can take many forms, and come from many sources. Sources of waste include material from commercial power plants and non-power reactors as well as waste from medical, industrial, and academic uses of radioactive material. The primary focus of the meeting was on one type of waste, spent fuel rods used in nuclear power plants.

Spent fuel rods contain nuclear fuel that has reached the end of its useful life. Such fuel is physically hot and contains ionizing radiation and is held in a containment vessel or “cask”. The casks are made of several inches of lead or depleted uranium (which is not radioactive) sandwiched between inner and outer layers of concrete, to provide gamma ray shielding that reduces the radiation emitted to levels just above normal background radiation. The federal government is looking for a temporary storage spot for the waste pending congressional funding for completion of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada.

Under consideration for Wyoming is an above-ground “Monitored Retrievable Storage facility,” or MRS that would hold a maximum of 10,000 metric tons of waste.

Currently, no applications for site permits have submitted, so no specific sites have been determined. Recommended locations for MRS sites would be near a rail spur and away from populated areas.

Mike Layton, director of the NRC’s Division of Spent Fuel Management, said waste would be transported by truck and rail in the casks, which are built to withstand drops onto hard surfaces, punctures, fire and water immersion.

According to the NRC, no casks have leaked in over 40 years of transporting nuclear waste.

Before a storage site can be approved, a lengthy permitting process — sometimes taking up to nine years — is completed by the NRC, said John McKirgan, chief of the NRC’s Spent Fuel Licensing branch.

The Wyoming Legislature’s Spent Fuel Rods Subcommittee in Casper (photo credit: Tim Mandese).

The process begins with the prospective licensees making a deposit of $800,000, according to the agency, and examines scenarios including earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters.

Pete Davis, a retired nuclear physicist who conducted a study into the impacts of a breech of the Yucca Mountain containment facility, told committee members the only scenario that would result in a leak of nuclear material would be the intentional crash of a commercial aircraft into the facility.

Parts of the aircraft engine and landing struts were found sufficient to penetrate the waste handling building during a crash, Davis said.

The study concluded that in such a disaster, 42 spent fuel assemblies would be impacted and all rods ruptured. All fuel pellets would be converted to powder by the resulting fire and 12 percent of the powder would be released into the atmosphere. The scenario also assumes the winds blowing to highest population sector or 100,000 people. The study concluded that about six latent cancer fatalities would occur as a direct result of such an accident, along with a 0.03 percent increase in cancer fatalities for the exposed population.

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