Jul 31, 2015

Thermopolis stockgrower contesting payment for stock depredation

After losing sheep to predators in spring 2014, Frank Robins of Thermopolis believes the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is offering him far less than he's due in compensation.

Robbins’ son-in-law and ranch manager, Josh Longwell, filed a claim seeking $46,486 for the death of the sheep, which were killed in the Owl Creek Mountains outside Thermopolis. But the Game and Fish Department recommended $16,553 during the July 9 Game and Fish Commission meeting in Cody.

In this file photo, Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore biologist Zach Turnbull of Pinedale skins a cow killed by a predator. Photo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish Department
Robbins said he lost 253 sheep to trophy game animals — grizzly and black bears, wolves and mountain lions.

“The Game and Fish is not covering the cost of these animals,” Robbins told the commission. “The problem is, you’re not paying us for what’s going on.”

Game and Fish and Robbins agree on the number of sheep lost to trophy game animals, but they disagree as to whether a multiplier should be applied.

Under Game and Fish rules, if sheep are killed in locations where the terrain or vegetation makes it tough to find them, the payment for each confirmed kill is multiplied by 3.5. 

However, in pasture-like settings where sheep are easily found, payment is only made for each confirmed animal. All of Robbins' kills were found within an enclosed pasture, said Luke Ellsbury, Game and Fish large carnivore biologist from Cody.

“The producer was asking for the multiplier, but the damage did not occur in the areas defined by statute for the multiplier,” said Dan Thompson, Wyoming Game and Fish Department large carnivore section supervisor in Lander.

If the multiplier was applied, Robbins would get exactly what he believes he is due for losses.

“It’s the multiplier we’re not agreeing on,” he said.

“In this case they called it home range because they didn’t want to pay,” Robbins said on July 21. 

“They’re going to get a lawsuit,” rancher Frank Robbins said of the Game and Fish.

The commission voted in favor of the Game and Fish recommendation to pay $16,553.

“I think we have to uphold the department’s recommendation here,” said Commissioner David Rael of Cowley, representing District 5.

District 7’s representative, Richard Klouda of Lander, voted against the department's recommendation.

Robbins said he was planning to take the Game and Fish to court for lost sheep, lost cattle and harassment to him by the department.

“They’re going to get a lawsuit,” Robbins said.

Survivor to share his story, discuss suicide prevention on Monday in Cody

One of the few people to live through a suicidal jump from the Golden Gate Bridge will share his story of survival on Monday evening in Cody.

Kevin Hines will speak about his unlikely survival and his powerful will to live during a free presentation at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West's Coe Auditorium, from 6 to 7 p.m..

The Golden Gate Bridge. File photo courtesy Giuseppe Milo under CC BY 2.0
Hines was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager, and at the age of 19, Hines attempted to take his life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He's one of only a few dozen people (less than 1 percent) to survive the fall.

Hines says the fall broke his body, but not his spirit. He says his desire to live mentally well – and to be a mental health advocate – pulled him from the depths of his condition. Hines now actively spreads the message that, with time, endurance, hard work, and support, “those living with even very difficult diagnoses can achieve better lives for themselves and those who help to support and care for them.”

“Life is the single greatest gift we have ever been given ... or will ever be given,” Hines says on his website.

In the summer of 2013, Hines released a memoir titled, “Cracked Not Broken, The Kevin Hines Story,” which will be the topic of Monday's public presentation.

For more information, contact Rachel Williams at the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming at 307-578-7029.

Third ‘not guilty’ plea entered in Badger Basin murder case

A former Powell resident charged with murdering and dismembering another man last year formally denied those allegations on Wednesday.

John L. Marquez, 51, has previously called his arrest “ludicrous,” but Wednesday’s arraignment in Park County’s District Court was his first opportunity to officially dispute the charges.

John Marquez
“Not guilty, your honor,” Marquez said, after being asked by District Court Judge Steven Cranfill for his pleas to felony charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Marquez and two co-defendants, siblings Pedro Garcia Jr., 29, and Sandra Garcia, 27, are each charged in connection with the January 2014 murder of 30-year-old Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres.

The charges are largely based on an account of the crime that Pedro Garcia reportedly gave to investigators earlier this year.

The general allegations are that Sandra Garcia asked Pedro Garcia to find someone to kill Guerra-Torres, her long-time boyfriend. According to Pedro Garcia’s reported account, Sandra Garcia claimed their whole family was in danger because Guerra-Torres had gotten deep into debt with Mexican drug dealers.

Pedro Garcia then allegedly recruited Marquez, a long-time family friend, to kill Guerra-Torres. According to Pedro Garcia’s statements — as recounted by Park County Sheriff’s Investigator Joe Torczon in court filings and testimony — Marquez shot Guerra-Torres at a pullout along Wyo. Highway 294 in Badger Basin on Jan. 5, 2014. Pedro Garcia says Marquez then used something that looked like a hatchet to disfigure the body.

Guerra-Torres’ remains were found by a hunter and his son on Jan. 9, 2014, along a remote dirt road in Badger Basin.

Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres
Both of the Garcias have been charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and aiding and abetting first-degree murder and they both pleaded not guilty at hearings held in late June.

Marquez’s arraignment was unusual in that a metal detector and a sheriff’s deputy were posted outside the courtroom doors, but it was otherwise routine and brief.

If convicted of the current charges related to first-degree murder, all three defendants would face a minimum sentence of life in prison.

Park County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Skoric could choose to pursue the death penalty for any of the three defendants. Judge Cranfill has given Skoric until late August to make a decision on the Garcias and Skoric said he plans to make a decision on Marquez’s case within 60 days.

Marquez and Sandra Garcia continue to be held without bail at the Park County Detention Center.
Pedro Garcia faces additional felony charges alleging he had children in the vicinity of methamphetamine in May 2014. He continues to be held in jail on cash bonds totaling $1.025 million.

The Garcias have been set for trials on Oct. 22, though it’s common for initial trial dates to be pushed back.

Marquez’s trial has been tentatively set for Dec. 17.

Park County Junior Livestock Sale breaks record, again

For the fourth year in a row, local youth received a record-setting amount of money for their animals at the 2015 Park County Fair’s 4-H and FFA Junior Livestock Sale.

The sale generated $428,933 for a couple hundred youth. That's up nearly $39,000 from the $390,146 chipped in by local residents and businesses last year,  said Joe Bridges, chairman of the annual sale. The nearly 10 percent increase is significant considering that only one more animal was sold in 2015 (227) than 2014, Bridges said.

Olivia Wells of Powell shows her goat at the Park County Fair Junior Livestock Sale . Her goat was named champion for beginner 4-H showmanship. Cody News Co. photo by Gib Mathers
“Across the board, our averages are up,” Bridges said, tipping his hat to the community for providing the monetary encouragement to the kids.

There were more bidders than previous years and “it was a great turnout,” Bridges said. He said people and businesses bidding on the stock know the importance of supporting youth.

The average hog sold for $6.77 per pound, compared to $6.21 last year. The highest price for a hog was the $15.50 per pound paid by Bob and Vicky Curtis and Stan and Nan Curtis. They bought a pig raised by Daniel Beaudrie of Cody, who was injured in a motor vehicle crash in the Wind River Canyon in March.

“He (Beaudrie) worked hard and he went through a lot this year,” J Bar 9 office manager Vicky Curtis said. “And, we wanted to help.”

The prices for the Junior Livestock Sale are above market value, but buyers want to support the youth who invest great effort in raising their livestock and then surmount the pressure associated with showing animals, Vicky Curtis said. She said the purchases contribute to the young people’s futures in agriculture.

The highest price paid for a steer was $5.75 per pound, paid by Cody's Woodward Tractor and Rental, Inc., to Hayden Bronnenberg of Powell. The average price was $3.78 per pound, compared to last year’s average price of $3.50 per pound, Bridges said. 

A champion beginner 4-H showman lamb raised by Brooke Bessler of Powell fetched the highest per-pound price at $15. That was the winning bid from the Cody's Cascade Services, LLC. The average lamb sold for $10.11 per pound, up from $9.72 a year ago, Bridges said.

Cascade Services also paid the highest price for a goat, bidding $17.50 per pound on a animal from Kalli Ashby of Powell. Ashby’s goat had placed resident champion intermediate 4-H showman. The average for goats was $9 per pound in this year's sale, up from $8.58 in 2014.

With Val Murray assisting her, 5-yeaa-old Darci Jo Shuler presents a blue ribbon to Sara Reed (right) during the fair's Market Beef Show. Reed’s 1,336-pound steer won the Market Beef Medium Frame Division, Class 2, and later was declared the overall champion of the show. Cody News Co. photo by Ilene Olson
An overall grand champion rabbit from Powell's Annie Price fetched the highest price among those animals, with Metzler and Moore Realty and Swensons Auctions of Powell paying $450. The average price was $387.50 per head, down slightly from an average of $396 in 2014, Bridges said.

The youth who present at the Junior Livestock Sale search near and far to locate the best animals to rear and those animals enjoy the finest feed and care, Bridges said. While raising their prize-winning animals, the youngsters broaden their work ethic and business skills.

“A majority of those kids are going to use that money to go on to college,” Bridges said.

The livestock sale youth are tomorrow’s agriculture leaders, Bridges said, adding, “These truly are the future of what we’re trying to do here.”

Jul 30, 2015

Suspect in Montana murders intended to have gunfight with deputy, sheriff says

A young man suspected of shooting three people in Montana initially planned to also shoot at a Park County Sheriff's deputy, but he changed his mind and surrendered when backup arrived, Sheriff Scott Steward says.

The 18-year-old Worland man, Jesus Y. Deniz (or Jesus Y. Deniz Mendoza), was apprehended between Meeteetse and Burlington around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Jesus Y. Deniz
Deniz was initially held at the Park County Detention Center while federal authorities investigated his connection to the killings of Crow Jason and Tana Shane and the wounding of their adult daughter, Jorah Shane, on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. He's scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Billings on Friday afternoon to face federal charges in connection with the crimes.

The Shanes had reportedly come to Deniz's aid after he ran into car trouble near Pryor, Montana, but Deniz later told FBI agents “he shot the victims because he was getting tired of waiting around, and because the daughter laughed at him,” FBI special agent Larry McGrail II alleged in a Thursday filing in U.S. District Court in Montana.

McGrail's complaint only identifies the Shanes by their initials, but family members have provided their names to news organizations that include the Billings Gazette and Associated Press.

Jason Shane's sister, Ada Shane, told the Associated Press that the shooter alleged to be Deniz had said his car ran out of gas.

“He's only 18, and he looked like an innocent boy,” Ada Shane told the AP, referring to Deniz. “Both my brother and sister-in-law have big hearts.”

“He's only 18, and he looked like an innocent boy. Both my brother and sister-in-law have big hearts,” said Ada Shane, a family member of the shooting victims.

After seeing that Deniz was stranded, Tana Shane went and got her husband and daughter, McGrail's affidavit says. However, when the Shanes pulled up to Deniz's car, he pulled a gun and demanded money, wrote McGrail. The Shanes said they didn't have any money and Deniz told them to walk away from their car, wrote McGrail, recounting a later interview with Jorah Shane.

As the family members were walking away, Jorah Shane reportedly heard a gunshot and turned to see her father, Jason Shane, lying in the road, McGrail wrote. Jorah Shane began running and a bullet hit her in the back while she fled, the affidavit says.

She turned to see the male, who she later identified as Deniz, driving off in her car, the affidavit says.

As bullets continued to fly, Jorah Shane was ultimately able to get into a bystander's car and drive to safety, the affidavit says.

Jorah Shane was reportedly shot in the back as she fled.

Around 10:30 a.m., law enforcement around the region were alerted to be on the lookout for a gray 2006 Pontiac G6 with Montana plates apparently Jorah Shane's vehicle taken by the shooter.

Shortly before noon, a Park County sheriff's deputy spotted Deniz and the Pontiac, heading south on Wyoming Highway 120, north of Meeteetse. Rather than trying to stop vehicle on his own, the deputy began following the man and waited for backup.

Deniz ultimately turned onto Road 3LE, which heads northeast toward Burlington. About 12 miles later, a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper caught up with the deputy and they jointly stopped and arrested Deniz without incident, the sheriff's office has said.

“The deputy did the absolute right thing by not trying to stop him without backup,” said Park County Sheriff Steward. “Otherwise, who knows what the outcome would have been.”

The .22 caliber rifle Deniz allegedly used in the shooting was found in the vehicle, McGrail's affidavit says

Steward said Deniz later told FBI agents that “his full intent was basically, when the deputy stopped him, was (to) get in a gunfight with the deputy.” However, when Deniz saw a second officer would be helping make the arrest, “at that point he decided to give up,” Steward said of the account that the suspect reportedly gave to the FBI.

Until Deniz saw a second officer arrive, “his full intent was basically, when the deputy stopped him, was (to) get in a gun fight with the deputy,” said Sheriff Scott Steward.

A search of Wyoming court records showed no history of violence for Deniz. However, at the time of the shooting, he was facing a felony count of burglary relating to a June 25 incident in his home county.

Washakie County Circuit Court records indicate Deniz was jailed on the charge earlier this month. The burglary allegations were filed July 6 and a judge initially set Deniz's bail at $10,000 cash. However, the court reduced that to a signature bond on July 16 and Deniz was released from custody.

Big Horn County, Montana, County Attorney Jay Harris told MTN News that he plans to investigate what Deniz had been doing in the area before the shootings.

“We have very strong leads that he was not here by happenstance," Harris told MTN News. 

Deniz is scheduled to make his first appearance in U.S. District Court at 3 p.m. Friday in Billings in connection with Wednesday's shootings.

Pryor, Montana, is a community of more than 600 people. It's located about 33 miles south of Billings and roughly 17 miles east of Edgar.

Jul 29, 2015

Small plane damaged, no one hurt in crash at Cody airport

A minor crash at Yellowstone Regional Airport damaged an airplane but caused no injuries on Wednesday afternoon, Cody police say.

The single-engine fixed-wing Aviotec Aviastol plane was reportedly taking off shortly before 3 p.m. when it was hit by a crosswind, Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam said in a Wednesday evening news release. Pilot Mark Kearney, 61, of Cody, told police his aircraft ultimately went off the runway, hit a runway light and tipped up onto its nose, Rockvam said.

The plane ended up on its nose. Photo courtesy Cody Police Department
The crash was reported at 2:54 p.m.

Members of the Cody Volunteer Fire Department, West Park Hospital ambulance services, Cody police and airport personnel were among those who responded to the scene.

Both Kearney and his passenger were able to get out of the plane on their own, said Yellowstone Regional Airport administrative assistant Lori Rhodes.

"Luckily no one was hurt," she said.

Emergency responders survey the crashed airplane. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker

Rhodes said flights resumed soon after the incident.

Personnel from the National Transportation Safety Board, Yellowstone Regional Airport and the Cody Police Department will conduct a joint investigation, Rockvam said.

Jul 28, 2015

90 to 100 mile an hour winds, not a tornado, caused Monday damage in Bighorn Mountains

It wasn't a tornado, but it was a powerful storm that toppled numerous trees and destroyed a couple RVs in the Bighorn Mountains late Monday afternoon.

"It turns out that the damage was from straight line winds (est. 90-100mph) and not a tornado," the National Weather Service's Riverton Office posted on its Facebook page Tuesday afternoon. The Weather Service said that area of the Bighorn Mountains "is notorious for straight line wind damage," but added that the damage was some of the worst that a surveyor had ever seen there.

One of the campers obliterated by the storm. Photo courtesy National Weather Service
Sustained winds of 74 miles an hour or more are considered be of hurricane strength, expected to result in "considerable and widespread damage to structures."

When staff from the National Weather Service surveyed the site on Tuesday they found downed trees, two destroyed RVs and two damaged RVs.

Monday's storm claimed both recreational vehicles and trees in the Bighorn National Forest. Photo courtesy National Weather Service

The are is located in the Bighorn National Forest, near the Big Horn County/Sheridan County line. The Weather Service compiled this map of the damage:

Initial reports indicated that three other camping vehicles were damaged, but Weather Service representatives didn't see them in their Tuesday visit to the site.

Many areas of Wyoming were hit by strong winds late Monday afternoon while a cold front passed through the region. No injuries were reported.

More photos of the damage are available at the National Weather Service's Facebook page. A video of some of the leveled trees is below.

Police seek help in ID'ing man suspected of stealing credit cards in Cody and using them all over

Cody police are asking for the public's help in identifying a man who is suspected of stealing some credit cards and misusing them this month.

The suspect
The police department posted surveillance camera footage of the suspect to its Facebook on Tuesday in hopes that someone will recognize him.

The credit cards were in a wallet that was taken from the Custom Cowboy Shop on Sheridan Avenue on July 4. Cody police say the man has since used the cards to make hundreds of dollars worth of purchases across three states.

They say he's bought stuff in various places, including in Cody on July 4, in Bozeman, Montana, on July 5 and 6 and Fort Collins, Colorado, on July 11. The cards have also reportedly been used in Yellowstone National Park and Pinedale.

Police say the man suspected in the theft and unauthorized credit card use was last seen driving a dark blue or black full sized Dodge van with Colorado license plates (see a photo below).

If you have any information that could assist the police department, they ask that you contact Detective Jason Stafford at (307) 527-8729. You can also visit this link to make an anonymous tip.

Another view of the suspect

The suspect's van

2015's Park County Fair an overall success, organizers say

Despite “a few bumps in the road,” the 2015 Park County Fair went pretty well, said Teecee Barrett, a member of the Park County Fair Board.

“I think we had a pretty good fair,” Barrett said.

From a law enforcement perspective, the 2015 Park County Fair “was a really good fair,” said Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt. In fact, it’s the best fair he can recall in his 12 years with the department.

Fair organizers say the carnival's numbers were up. Cody News Co. photo by Ilene Olson
“Everybody seemed to be in a really good mood,” Eckerdt said. “Everybody was friendly. Everybody was cordial — not just with us, but in their interactions with other people.”

From Barrett’s perspective, fair highlights included the new multi-use building opening up for exhibits and good participation in livestock shows.

Fair office manager PJ Chouinard said grandstand events were well attended. While specific numbers aren’t available yet, she said more than 1,500 tickets were sold for the Chris Cagle concert, the Demolition Derby was sold out (as usual), attendance at Knights of Valour was up from last year, and Endurocross attendees enjoyed that event as well.

Pig Wrestling also went well, she said, and a calcutta helped raise money for tables and chairs for the new building.

In the calcutta, people bid on the pig-wrestling teams, and the owner of the winning team in each division received a percentage of the money received in bids for that division. The rest of the bid money went toward furnishing the new building, Chouinard said.

Chouinard said she got good comments about Mango and Dango, the stilt walkers.

“People really liked them,” she said. In addition, one person said Michael Mezmer was the best hypnotist ever at the fair.

“He wanted him back, for sure,” she said.

Chouinard said vendors’ and carnival numbers were up as well.

Adelle Ostrom of Cody accepts a ribbon for her prize-winning chicken during Thursday's poultry show. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
Barrett said a couple of vendors weren’t happy with their location early on during the fair, so they were offered different spots. One took the offer to move to a more central location, and the other chose to leave, she said.

When the fair was over, vendors were "happy and excited” with the experience, Chouinard said.

It was a pretty short list of notable fair week incidents for Powell police: officers caught a teenage drinker at the fairgrounds on Tuesday night, cited a juvenile driver and three passengers for underage drinking after a downtown traffic stop early Saturday morning and cited a man for disorderly conduct after an altercation at a downtown bar early Sunday morning, police logs show.

Police also picked up three local people on active warrants during the week (two at the fairgrounds). but Eckerdt said those numbers aren't really out of the ordinary.

A few reports of dangerous activity in and around the fairgrounds — including of someone trying to sell drugs, people using drugs and of drunk people in a car nearly hitting some pedestrians — all turned out to be unfounded; the supposed drug dealer didn’t have any drugs and wasn’t trying to sell any, a couple people in a car weren’t using drugs and the reported bad driver wasn’t intoxicated, police logs say.

“It was a great week,” Eckerdt said, though he doesn't have any concrete theories as to why things went so well.

He thanked the Park County Sheriff’s Office for the extra personnel who helped patrol the fair.

With oil on the decline, expect far-reaching impacts

Everything is affected by the price of oil, and as of Thursday, the price of oil was lower than it has been since the dramatic price drop at the start of 2009.

A year ago, oil was more than $100 per barrel, and now it is going for about $47 per barrel. Up until a couple of weeks ago, it had hovered around $60 per barrel before taking an unexpected nose dive around the Fourth of July.

Park County and Wyoming as a whole depends on the price of oil for tax revenue, employment and the benefits that come from having oil workers and their families reside here. When the industry takes a dive, the impact is far-reaching.

Fewer property tax dollars

The oil from Park County traditionally sells cheaper than other oil, topping out at $70 per barrel last year, said Park County Assessor Pat Meyer.

“The kind of oil in Park County is not the sweet stuff,” Meyer said. “Park County is mainly oil — oil is our big boom.”

The drop in oil prices hit Park County a little later than the rest of the country, with minimal impacts to the price in 2014.

“So this year I wasn’t too concerned; we were right where we were last year and not down much in oil production,” Meyer said. “The big hit was back in October, the last quarter went down quite a bit.”

Estimates from the first quarter of this year, January through March, were $32.84 per barrel in Park County, compared to $70.89 per barrel on average at that time in 2014.

“That is quite a drop in oil and gas,” Meyer said.

Meyer said he expects the county’s oil valuation to be about half of what it was last year, setting the county back to where it was in about 2006.

“It is not the end of the world,” Meyer said.

In 2006, local oil sold for $35.24 per barrel on average and brought in $363.7 million for the valuation.

“It is not the end of the world,” said Park County Attorney Pat Meyer. 

If the ongoing trends continue and oil remains under $60 per barrel nationally, and local oil stays at about $35, that would nearly cut the previous valuation in half, dropping from $475.5 million to roughly $275.5 million.

The Park County government which is just one of several local governments that collect significant amounts of property taxes from the oil and gas industry would see its overall property tax collections drop by about $2.5 million, Meyer said. That's a roughly 10 percent decline in revenue for the county government, under the assessor's predictions.

Assessor Pat Meyer
“We aren’t going to die, looking at previous year,” Meyer said.

Fortunately for Park County, the impact will be minimized, thanks to a $30 million increase in local valuation from houses, buildings, land and personal property. 

“It doesn’t balance it, but it helps,” Meyer said.

However, the estimates are based under the assumption all of the wells will continue producing, noted Tom Fitzsimmons of Cody, a commissioner on the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and chairman of the Wyoming Enhanced Oil Recovery Commission. Fitzsimmons noted that some oil wells will stop production when oil prices get too far below $50 per barrel.

“If they can’t afford to produce, the wells and the revenue goes away entirely,” Fitzsimmons said. “This week, we showed an increase in inventory. There is more oil coming on than we are consuming.”

Up and down is nothing new
This is not the first time oil and gas production and values have fluctuated greatly for Park County.

Residents need to understand that current county funding is based on revenue from oil was generated before the price dropped, so the impact won’t be felt for another year, Fitzsimmons said.

“That lag creates complacency, and citizens need to know that, a year from now, there is going to be a big cut to the revenue that comes into the county,” he said.

“Citizens need to know that, a year from now, there is going to be a big cut to the revenue that comes into the county,” said Tom Fitzsimmons, an oil and gas expert in Cody.

In 2009, the county’s valuation hit $1.03 billion when local oil was selling for an average of $75.29 per barrel, with oil making up about 66 percent of the county’s valuation at $678 million.

Just 10 years prior to that, in 1999, local oil only sold for $7.56 per barrel on average — making up 35 percent of the county’s valuation at $88.3 million.

The same cycle occurred in the 1980s as well, but at that time it was a much larger piece of the county’s total assessed valuation.

In 1982, local oil sold for $29.46 per barrel on average — making up 90 percent of the county’s valuation at $680.5 million. Then, just five years later, it dropped to $11.31 per barrel and made up 72 percent of the total county valuation at $233.5 million.

“The ’80s were terrible; they (the county) cut everything shortly after that,” Meyer said. “It was a big drop — we had to cut people from the offices, cut vacation times; they were just cutting everything.”

The downturn 30 years ago had an impact on the housing market as well.

“The ’80s were terrible; they (the county) cut everything shortly after that. It was a big drop — we had to cut people from the offices, cut vacation times; they were just cutting everything,” Pat Meyer said.

“In the ’80s there were foreclosures all over town and houses boarded up,” said Rocky Mountain Oilfield Services owner Dan Groves. “All the major companies left Powell and never came back.”

Now the county’s valuation is less dependent on oil and gas, having made up about half the valuation for the last decade or so. This means the impact from the drop will be less significant on the county’s overall valuation and there are places to cut back, such as road and bridge projects, Meyer said.

“They (the county) have strong reserves and other money coming in,” Meyer said. “Everyone wants roads to be nice, but you have to pick and choose.”

Gov. Matt Mead appointed Meyer to a task force to find a better way to value oil and gas production, he said. The board is filled with county assessors, treasurers, commissioners and legislators.

“The industry claims it is technical, but I don’t think it is, except for the transportation deductions,” Meyer said. “We are looking at coal now, because we have a better grasp on how to value it — everyone wants to stay neutral and not lose any money.”

Problems at the pump and beyond
Groves said consumers should be asking why gas is going up at the pumps since the price of oil is falling.

“They can get away with it,” Groves said, pointing out that current oil prices are where they were when they dropped in late 2008 and early 2009, and gas was $2 per gallon then. But, despite declining oil prices, the cost of a gallon of gasoline now is closer to $3 per gallon.

“All costs have skyrocketed,” Groves said.

Rocky Mountain Oil Services and other small companies are dealing with increased health care expenses in addition to supplies for conducting business.

“The price of tires, all of it, went up and the volume of business has gone down, and it is a double hammer,” Groves said.

“All costs have skyrocketed,” said Dan Groves, owner of Rocky Mountain Oilfield Services in Powell.

Rep. David Northrup
Typically, as demand increases in the summer months, so does the price. But that wasn’t the case this summer, because shale oil, such as from the Bakken and Eagle Ford, aren’t losing production, said Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell.

“It is hard to get a realistic picture,” Northrup said. “There are still six months left in the year, and you saw how fast it changed.”

There are positive repercussions for cheap oil, such as lower production costs for farmers and ranchers, and increased tourism, Northrup said. But, the increases in tourism probably won’t be around when winter hits.

The rule of thumb for Wyoming state revenue is, for every $10 drop in the price of a barrel of oil, the state loses $35 million from property taxes and $35 million from the school foundation account, for a total revenue loss of $70 million.

“Everyone is on pins and needles about the upcoming CREG (Consensus Revenue Estimating Group) report in October,” Northrup said. The report will provide a detailed picture of the state’s revenue forecast — and its expected downturn.

On the upside, the state’s capital gains are doing well and are helping to offset other revenue losses.

“They never project on those, because who knows what the stock market will do,” Northrup said. “The good news is, investments are doing very well and the bad news is, the property tax isn’t doing as well.”

Increased tourism can also help by increasing sales tax revenue, he said.

Jul 27, 2015

Possible tornado damages RVs in Bighorn Mountains

A powerful storm system caused significant damage in the Bighorn Mountains late Monday afternoon.

The National Weather Service received reports of seven damaged camping vehicles as of late Monday night, said Chris Hattings, a weather service meteorologist in Riverton. Though he wasn't certain of the exact location, Hattings described the area as being off of U.S. Highway 14-A near the Big Horn County/Sheridan County line, inside the Bighorn National Forest.

He said the agency is investigating whether a tornado caused the damage or if it was extreme wind.

"It is possible (that it was a tornado), but it's not confirmed," Hattings said, adding, “We'll be doing a survey tomorrow (Tuesday)."

According to the National Weather Service, wind gusts of up to 76 miles an hour were recorded in the southern Bighorn Mountains at 4:40 p.m.

Other high winds buffeted the region Monday afternoon, with gusts of up to 63 miles an hour documented at the Cowley Airport. Spots near Cody and Clark were hit with gusts of up to 56 miles an hour, according to weather service data.

Lightning also struck a barn in the Heart Mountain area, burning it to the ground.

In a post on the National Weather Service's Facebook page, Gail Odeg of Hyattville said there was "big damage" dealt to that area sometime around 4:30 to 4:45 p.m. Odeg said in her post that she lost part of the roof of her shop and her carport, which was "scattered over a very long distance."

"I believe we got hit by a tornado but cannot say for sure, since it did not bother my neighbor across the street," she said, saying another neighbor lost a bunch of trees and most of their shingles.

Hattings said more information would be available on Tuesday.

Searchers look for missing swimmer in Yellowstone

Searchers are looking for a 21-year-old Chinese man who was carried off by strong currents while swimming in the northern section of Yellowstone National Park.

Feiyang 'Isaac' Xiang
Feiyang “Isaac” Xiang, a seasonal concessionaire employee, was swimming in the Yellowstone River near its confluence with Hellroaring Creek around 11:45 a.m. Thursday, park officials said. He and three friends had been on a backpacking trip.

Xiang was in the water with two of his companions when he was pulled away from the shore by the swiftly flowing river. His friends tried to pull him back to shore, but he was swept downriver into a long stretch of rapids, park officials said.

Xiang was seen struggling to stay afloat before disappearing from view.

A member of his party found spotty cell phone reception and placed a broken 911 call to park dispatch at 12:39 p.m.

Rangers immediately responded on horseback and on foot, reaching the river around 2:44 p.m. Thursday's initial search found no sign of Xiang, described as 5 feet 6 inches tall, 140 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes.

Search efforts intensified on Friday, with approximately 40 people including a helicopter, two dog teams and 20 Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park employees — searching the Yellowstone River corridor.

Anyone with information regarding Xiang's whereabouts is asked to call Yellowstone National Park at (307)344-2643.

In a posting on Yellowstone's Facebook page, park officials said swimmers “swimmers should wear a personal floatation device and be aware of the dangers that may be present including: swift currents, extremely cold waters, and white water rapids.

The confluence of Hellroaring Creek and the Yellowstone River, near where a 21-year-old man went missing.

Police investigating four burglaries on and around Big Horn Avenue

Cody police are warning residents particularly those around Big Horn Avenue to be vigilant after a series of break-ins over the past week. The department is also asking for the public's help in solving the crimes.

In a Monday news release, the Cody Police Department said four burglaries have been reported over the past five days along or near Big Horn Avenue.

On Wednesday, July 22, various items were reported to have been stolen from a residence on Mallard Street.

On Thursday, July 23, people at both Cash Metals (2803 Big Horn Avenue) and Cody Screen Printers (2805 Big Horn Avenue) reported their businesses had been broken into and ransacked sometime overnight. At Cash Metals, the thief or thieves reportedly got into a gun cabinet, police logs say.

Then on Monday, various tools were reported to have been stolen from a construction trailer parked in the 700 block of Stone Street.

“We would like to remind everyone to keep their valuables secure and to report any suspicious activity,” Cody police said in Monday's news release.

Anyone with information that could assist police in their investigation is asked to contact Detective Sergeant Beau Egger at (307) 527-8700.

Jul 23, 2015

Yellowstone's bison injure fifth tourist of 2015

A Yellowstone National Park visitor saw other people near buffalo on Tuesday and figured it was OK for her to get close, too. Unfortunately, much like other visitors who've gotten too near the animals this year, the 43-year-old Mississippi woman was attacked.

It was the fifth such incident in the park this year. That's already an unusually high number as Yellowstone's averaged one or two such attacks in recent years.

Yellowstone bison file photo courtesy Randolph Femmer, U.S. Geological Survey
Yellowstone officials said this woman was about six yards away from the bison, near the Fairy Falls trailhead, when she and her daughter turned to pose for a photo with the animal.
“When they turned their backs to the bison to take the picture, someone warned that they were too close,” said a park service news release on the incident. “They heard the bison’s footsteps moving toward them and started to run, but the bison caught the mother on the right side, lifted her up and tossed her with its head.”

The woman's father moved in to protect her, using his body to cover hers. The animal then moved back and the family drove to the Old Faithful Clinic, where the woman was treated and released with minor injuries, the release said.

“The family said they read the warnings in both the park literature and the signage, but saw other people close to the bison, so they thought it would be OK,” Colleen Rawlings, Old Faithful District Ranger, said in the news release. “People need to recognize that Yellowstone wildlife is wild, even though they seem docile. This woman was lucky that her injuries were not more severe.” 

Wildlife should not be approached, regardless of how tame or calm they appear. When an animal is near a trail, boardwalk, parking lot, or in a developed area, visitors must give it a wide berth and not approach it closer than the required minimum distances: 25 yards away from large animals like bison and at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves. 

Bison can run much faster than people and are unpredictable and dangerous. Visitors are advised to give the animals enough space, even if it means altering your plans. 

For more information on park safety, visit http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/safety.htm.

Local roller derby team showing big improvements

Though their most recent bout ended with a loss, the local Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels roller derby team has been on something of a roll this season.

After failing to win a bout all of last season, the team  of women from Powell, Cody, Deaver and Greybull has already won three matches in 2015.

“We have had tons of improvement in all of our ladies,” said Siina Swanson of Powell, one of the team's founders as well as the vice president and bout coordinator.

Jammer Alisha Oneyear of Casper’s A’Salt Creek Roller Girls (at left) works to slip past Heart Mountain Wreck of Wheels’ Dr. Daggers (a.k.a. Dagny Revilla), while she and Rose E. Bottoms (a.k.a. Crystal Rose, in red helmet) battle with Casper’s Doppleganger (Katie Buffington, center) during Saturday's bout. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker

Casper’s A’Salt Creek Roller Girls beat the local derby team 169-58 on Saturday, “but they made sure we earned every point,” the A’Salt Creek team later posted on Facebook.

Saturday’s bout was played at Cody’s Riley Arena and Community Events Center — the Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels’ home turf.

The loss put Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels' record at 3-5 on the year. Their season, which runs from roughly March to November, has included two wins at home and another at the Wyoming Roller Derby Cup in Rock Springs.

Eleven women are currently eligible to skate for the Heart Mountain team, with another three who are “fresh meat” (that is, beginniners), Swanson said. In addition, five other men and women help the organization by serving as coaches, as a head non-skating official and as a referee, she said.

Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels’ “Ruhroh” (real name Shayna Swanson) flies into the air after knocking Casper A’Salt Creek jammer Lehammer (a.k.a. Kelly Calloway-Lehan) out of bounds, while referee Tera Bites (Tera Cowles) monitors the action. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker

Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels’ last home event for the year is an Aug. 22 “Battle in the Basin Mixer.”

“A mixer is where you take girls from all over the area and mix them onto different teams to play each other,” Swanson explained. It will consist of two bouts: one with a theme of DC versus Marvel comics and another with a theme of Star Wars versus Star Trek.

Swanson expects some 60 girls from various teams to participate.

As for the Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels, their team’s next bout is set for Sept. 26 in Casper, where they’ll face the Casper Deadly Ghosts.

The local team is a non-profit organization. A portion of the proceeds from Saturday's bout went to SHACK, a Greybull youth center.
For more information about Heart Mountain Wreck on Wheels, visit www.hmwow.org or find the team on Facebook.

New building welcomed at Park County Fairgrounds

Park County officials excitedly christened a new multi-use exhibit hall at the Park County Fairgrounds on Tuesday evening.

Overcoming some early weather delays, crews under contractor Synergy Construction readied the main section of the building just in time for fair use, though a couple of the building’s most notable new features — a commercial kitchen and some conference rooms — will need to be finished later.

With the snip of a ribbon and some squirts of silly string, Park County officials formally opened their new multi-use facility. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker

At Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting, Park County commissioners and fair board members spoke enthusiastically of the new building.

“There’s still work to be done — we have some more paving and water drainage issues to do, and we’re going to run a couple new water lines eventually — but we think we have a state-of-the-art fairgrounds to accomodate 21st century-type people and 19th century people and everyone in between,” county commissioner Bucky Hall said in a recent interview, noting the county has also spent more than $1 million upgrading the fairgrounds’ electrical system.

“We think we have a state-of-the-art fairgrounds to accommodate 21st century-type people and 19th century people and everyone in between,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall.

The new $3.1 million building is housing exhibits during fair week, but commissioners are at least as excited about its potential as a meeting place throughout the rest of the year.

“There’s the potential for the private sector in Powell to provide lodging space to really make that a destination point in the winter — especially (because) there’s a convention in every weekend,” Hall said.

Inside the facility on Tuesday evening, superintendents were busy judging and arranging fair entries for display.

Johanna Cubbage, now in her 39th year as a fair superintendent, said she thinks the new building is a good investment.

“It’s going to be something the community is going to be able to enjoy and use for a long time,” she said.

Adjusting to the larger wide-open space was a learning experience this year, but “people have really been upbeat about the changes,” Cubbage said.

“The new building is “going to be something the community is going to be able to enjoy and use for a long time,” Powell resident Johanna Cubbage predicted.

Park County Fair Board President Steve Martin said that no one really knew who needed how much room in the new space, but people were cordial. Even in Monday’s and Tuesday’s last-minute preparations, Martin said it didn’t feel overly stressful, “because it seems everybody’s working together to make it work.”

“It’s going to be a good deal,” he said of the new building.

The new exhibit hall is slightly smaller than the halls it’s replacing — about 16,100 square feet versus 17,500 square feet — but the general consensus appeared to be that it feels bigger.

It also has natural light from skylights and glass doors, something the old halls did not.

Cubbage said the fairgrounds have come a long ways; she laughed as she recalled a year when one former exhibit space became so hot that “the seals were popping” on the jams, jellies and other canned goods.

The county is beginning a private fundraising campaign to help pay for furnishings for the new facility, Martin said. Commissioners and fair board members are hoping the public will buy commemorative bricks, which will be laid near the building’s main entrance.

Jul 22, 2015

After being routed around new thermal feature, drive near Mammoth Hot Springs reopens

A popular drive near Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park has reopened to vehicle traffic, though officials have had to block off a part of the road that's turned into a small kind of hot spring.

Traffic is being routed around the new thermal feature. Photos courtesy Yellowstone National Park
Park officials temporarily closed the drive to traffic last week after discovering a new thermal feature had become active underneath one part of the pavement.

Maintenance crews have since installed temporary concrete Jersey Barriers and eliminated three parking spaces around the thermal feature to help protect it.

“The activity is changing and the thermal feature is evolving,” said park geologist Hank Heasler in a Tuesday news release. “The Jersey Barriers are a temporary measure to allow vehicle access to the Upper Terrace Drive while options are investigated.”

The thermal feature became visibly active in May and then water began flowing from a new spot at the edge of the pavement last week. About a gallon of thermal water a minute is now streaming from one of the holes that geologists drilled to keep tabs on the activity.

Staff will continue to monitor the thermal feature and reassess restrictions as needed, Yellowstone officials said.

State providing more legal help to Cody area victims of abuse

A state organization is looking to set up a kind of law office in Cody to help victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking.

With the help of the state government, the  Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault is working to bring in an attorney to provide civil legal services for victims who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

“There is a very big need in Cody and the Big Horn Basin area,” Angie Dorsch recently told Park County commissioners.

Dorsch is the executive director of Equal Justice Wyoming, a branch of the Wyoming Supreme Court that's building up a statewide network of legal services for people with lower incomes.

“This is really the last place that we're lacking a full-time attorney to really serve the needs of the public,” Dorsch said last month.

The Cody office, when it's set up by the non-profit Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, will focus solely on victims of sexual and domestic violence, she said.

Equal Justice Wyoming has provided the coalition with money to help staff and equip the office, but they've run into some trouble finding a location to set up shop.

“There is a very big need in Cody and the Big Horn Basin area,” said Angie Dorsch of Equal Justice Wyoming.

County commissioners initially agreed to provide a rent-free space inside the Park County Complex — a roughly 9.5- by 9.5-foot former mailroom that had been unused. However, Marathon Oil Company officials — first offered the space some seven months earlier — recently decided they want it, Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said last week.

“They do have first right of refusal on that ... so we're going to have to give it to them,” Tilden said, later apologizing to Dorsch.

Commissioners offered a couple other spots for the new legal office: in the basement of the county courthouse, the basement of the former Cody jail or at the Park County Annex in Powell. However, those spots might not offer the weekend and off-hours access that the coalition's attorney would need.

Now Equal Justice Wyoming and the coalition against domestic violence are looking for a new spot.

“We’re committed to having an attorney in Cody, so I know that we’ll make that happen,” Dorsch said in an interview.

Low-income locals can already call the Legal Aid of Wyoming's free hotline (1-877-432-9955) for help. The service — which is partially funded by Equal Justice Wyoming — assisted nearly 200 Big Horn Basin residents over the past year, Dorsch said. Half came from Cody and other parts of Park County.

Only people with incomes at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines (around $23,500 for an individual) are eligible. The new legal services are also only for civil matters (lower-income criminal defendants have long been provided attorneys for free) and they cannot be used for personal injury cases, such as claims of medical malpractice.

Dorsch estimated that 90 percent of the cases handled by Equal Justice Wyoming’s partners involve family, consumer or housing laws.

“The majority of our cases are really just to help people find stability,” she said.

As for the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault's planned work in Cody, Dorsch said it might include helping victims with divorce or child custody issues or perhaps helping them get out of leases or business arrangements that are tied to their abuser.

“The majority of our cases are really just to help people find stability,” said Angie Dorsch.

Beyond helping to hire attorneys around the state, Equal Justice Wyoming is also working to make more self-help materials available for people who are handling their own legal affairs. It’s also continuing to encourage Wyoming attorneys to take on more cases pro bono.

Dorsch said that not only do the services help the people in need, getting them professional legal help eases the burden on the judges and court clerks.

Equal Justice Wyoming’s efforts are funded by a $10 fee attached to the civil cases filed in Wyoming's courts.

For more information — including to access some of the self-help materials — visit www.legalhelpwy.org.

Cody to Chicago direct flights almost full

Although early in the summer-only service, Chicago flights from Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody are going well.

It is a once-a-week direct flight that arrives in Cody Saturday night and departs Sunday Morning from June 20 through Aug. 16.

United Airlines will depart Yellowstone Regional at 8 a.m. Sunday to arrive at O’Hara International Airport in Chicago at 11:43 a.m.

An airplane is readied for a flight to Cody at Chicago O'Hare International Airport in June. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
“They’re doing pretty good,” said Bob Hooper, Yellowstone Regional Airport manager.

“Flights are running 85 percent full,” said Hank Coe, Cody Yellowstone Air Improvement Resources (CYAIR) president.

The Chicago aircraft is a 70-seat jet with six first-class seats. On July 5, 63 boarded the flight to Chicago.

“We’re very pleased with air service right now,” Coe said.

The minimum revenue guarantee is approximately $55,000 this year to keep United making the Chicago run. That would be the most the airline would receive, based on how the flights perform, Hooper said.

Last summer, United’s minimum revenue guarantee for Chicago flights was $158,000, but, the program was so successful, CYAIR and the Wyoming Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division were required to pay only around $36,000, Coe said.

Most of the people who take the flight from Chicago to Cody are tourists, officials say.

CYAIR raises half the revenue guarantee locally and Aeronautics chips in the other half. The guarantee is based on the cost to fly the aircraft and ticket sales.

“Ultimately, if we have a lot of success, we don’t have to pay anything,” Coe said.

Mostly tourists board the flights from Chicago to Cody. They come from Europe and the Midwest United States, Coe said.

“And we (Yellowstone Regional) want to keep growing,” Coe said.

Coe would like to see daily summer flights to Chicago and to expand the Salt Lake City and Denver aircraft from 50 to 70 passenger regional jets, he said.

SkyWest Airlines, the largest regional carrier in the country, makes the Chicago and Denver runs for United Airlines and the flight to Salt Lake City for Delta Airlines, Coe said.

With declining revenue, Northwest College is leaving some positions unfilled

This year’s budget for Northwest College shows a good-news, bad-news situation: The good news is that the bad news isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Once again, enrollment at Northwest College is predicted to decline for the coming school year. But the decline is less than originally predicted, and that’s good for the college’s bottom line.

Northwest College has instituted a kind of hiring freeze to combat declining revenue. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
Lisa Watson, the college's vice president for administrative services, told the NWC board of trustees at its July 13 budget hearing that the improved enrollment outlook will mean a revenue decline that is $144,000 less than earlier projections.

In addition, the college’s local tax revenue ended up being relatively flat compared to last year, declining by $2,213 instead of the $116,037 drop previously predicted. State revenue for the college dropped by $470,529 instead of an estimated $652,108.

In addition, the college received $449,855 through the recapture/redistribution process, which is designed to equalize funding between Wyoming’s seven community college districts. Northwest received the additional funding because Park County saw a drop in tax valuation last year, while other districts experienced smaller drops or increases in county tax valuations. Because that redistribution money is one-time funding, it will be spent on one-time projects and will not be used for salaries or other ongoing expenses, NWC President Stefani Hicswa told the board this spring.

Even with the redistribution dollars, the estimated total revenue for Northwest College for the 2015-16 fiscal year is $341,033 lower than last year’s budget.

To reduce expenses accordingly, only vacant faculty positions are being filled this year, Watson said. Other vacant positions are on hold pending a thorough analysis of the most efficient and economic ways to perform needed tasks, she said.

For example, Watson and Business Office Manager Jo Ann Heimer are working together to perform duties previously accomplished by former Finance Director Sheldon Flom.

 While the college is continuing to fill faculty positions, other vacant posts are being left open for now.

Other positions on hold are vice president for student affairs, formerly held by Sean Fox, and a scholarship aide.

Gerald Giraud, vice president for academic affairs, also will serve as interim vice president for student affairs.

“That’s how we covered that ... shortfall,” Watson said.

Watson, who assumed her position in February, said she plans to do a detailed study of the college’s accounts and expenses in order to make budgetary decisions more precisely in the future. In the past, money has been transferred occasionally from one account to another when needed, but that doesn’t paint an accurate picture of how funds are used, she said.

Watson warned board members that future budgetary decisions could get even tougher.

“The county and state in general are watching very closely the revenue trend as related to the oil and mineral revenue,” she said.

As of Monday, the price of oil had fallen again, to $50 per barrel, less than half the price it was a year ago.

Northwest College budget summary

Northwest College expects to receive $32.22 million in estimated revenue for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which began July 1.

Of that, $14.65 million, or 45.5 percent, is from state funding; $4.87 million, or 15.12 percent, from local taxes; $4.18 million from tuition and fees; $3.79 million from restricted sources; $4.66 million from the auxiliary fund and $63,000 from other sources.

Salaries and benefits make up the lion’s share of the college’s 2015-16 expenses, at $19.1 million, or 59.4 percent of the overall budget.

Second is operating expenses, budgeted at $11.86 million, or 36.8 percent of the budget.

Capital outlay expenses are budgeted at $842,416, and transfers at $384,851.

Broken down another way, $10.57 million will go toward instruction, $5.26 million toward instructional support, $3.48 toward scholarships, $2.79 million toward student services, $2.67 million for plant operations, $147,067 for public services and $68,151 for transfers.

Another $4.67 million is spent from the auxiliary fund, which covers revenue and expenses for student housing, meals and similar services.

Jul 21, 2015

Kmart owners say county is overvaluing their property

The owners of the Cody Kmart are protesting the taxable value of their property, believing the Park County Assessor’s Office has overvalued the store’s land.

While a higher assessed value from the county can indicate that a piece of property will fetch a better price on the real estate market, it also means having to pay more property taxes.

Assessor Pat Meyer said Kmart is the only property owner appealing their assessed valuation.

The Cody Kmart. File photo courtesy Park County
However, Meyer said he doubts officials with the store’s parent company in Illinois will actually take the case all the way to a hearing before Park County commissioners.

“They’re probably playing this little game where they’re going to wait until I come up with all the evidence (justifying the value) and send it to them. Then I imagine they’ll withdraw,” Meyer told commissioners on July 7. “But I can’t say that for sure.”

He said the dispute is over the value of the land and not the store itself.

The assessor’s office gave the property a roughly $2.61 million market value this year. That includes around $1.7 million for the building and $914,000 for the land. Those values are about the same as last year’s.

Commissioners set the appeal for an Aug. 18 hearing.

Denver lawyer, two family members and friend died in Saturday plane crash

A 66-year-old Denver man, his sister, his brother-in-law and a friend were the victims of Saturday's plane crash west of Cody, the Park County Sheriff's Office says.

Donald E. Scott had been piloting the plane, accompanied by his friend Joyce Bartoo of Washington, D.C., his 68-year-old sister Diane J. Stubbs and her 69-year-old husband Gerald B. Stubbs of Annapolis, Maryland, the sheriff's office said Tuesday.

Scott had been headed from the Sheridan airport to Billings late Saturday morning, but he took an unscheduled detour to fly over Yellowstone National Park, the sheriff's office said. After circling the Yellowstone, Scott started to head back toward Billings. However, not long after that, the plane took a sharp eastern turn toward Cody, rapidly dropped and crashed.

Autopsies conducted on Monday did not reveal any clues about what might have caused the airplane to crash, said Park County Coroner Tim Power.

"It did not indicate any cause as far as physical (health problems) that we could find," Power said. "So I guess that's going to be for the National Transportation (Safety) Board to hopefully come up with some answers for everybody."

The rough location of the crash.

The 1979 Cessna 310, a fixed-wing multi-engine prop plane, went down sometime around noon on Saturday. It crashed about 1.5 miles west of the Mooncrest Ranch along Big Tree Creek and a little more than 10 miles northwest of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir.

The Park County Search and Rescue Unit, with the help of Salt Lake City air traffic controllers, found the wreckage Saturday afternoon. Sheriff' Scott Steward later said it looked as though a bomb had gone off at the crash site.

The late Don Scott. Photo from Bartlit Beck website
Search and rescue team members, along with sheriff's personnel and the Shoshone National Forest's fire team and a helicopter from Sky Aviation in Worland, helped remove the victims' bodies on Sunday.

Members of the National Transportation Safety Board visited the crash site and began their investigation on Monday, taking over as the lead investigative agency.  The NTSB has been in contact with the plane’s insurer and removal of the wreckage is scheduled within the next several weeks, the sheriff's office said.

The plane was owned by a Independence Aviation, LLC, an Englewood, Colorado-based company that rents out airplanes like the Cessna 310.

Pilot Don Scott was a prominent lawyer who helped found the firm Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP in Denver.

"Don was an exceptional friend, mentor, and trial lawyer. All of us at Bartlit Beck are better people and lawyers because of him," the firm said in a Tuesday statement, adding, "Our deepest condolences go out to his family and all of those close to those on board."

Commissioners choose parking lot over community garden plot

One Park County commissioner’s proposed garden paradise will be paved into a parking lot, his colleagues decided last week.

Commissioner Bucky Hall suggested turning a patch of county land across from the Park County Courthouse and Cody High School into a kind of community garden. However, the majority of the commissioners preferred moving forward with plans to turn it into 20 additional parking spots for county employees.

“It’s more valuable to the county as a parking lot,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.

Commissioner Bucky Hall envisioned planting a community garden here, but a majority of commissioners would rather have it paved for parking. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
The property, on the southeast corner of Beck Avenue and 10th Street, sits adjacent to an employee parking lot. While there’s generally plenty of spots in the summer, parking can become scarce when high school is in session. The county removed a house from the property earlier this year.

Hall and University of Wyoming staff horticulturist Bobbie Holder said a garden could grow fruit, vegetables and herbs for low-income families while serving as a place for students and other volunteers to learn gardening.

Hall pitched the value of producing more local food and invoked the lyrics of Joni Mitchell — “‘You pave paradise and put up a parking lot’ kind of thing,” he said — to basically argue that the county wouldn’t know the value of the unpaved space it’s got until it’s gone.

Hall also said the lot could host both the community garden and some more parking, but other commissioners felt the space was too small to share.

“You’re not going to produce enough stuff there,” said Commissioner Tim French, a Heart Mountain farmer, calling it “not a good idea.”

Commission Chairman Joe Tilden wondered if a community garden might prove a target for thieves.

“I can see people walking by and saying, ‘Oh gosh, there’s a nice tomato,’” Tilden said.

The cost also concerned French, Grosskopf and Tilden. Horticulturalist Holder’s proposal called for her performing $6,000 worth of work in the first year, with additional costs for materials such as fencing.

“You’re not going to produce enough stuff there,” said Commissioner Tim French.

Commissioner Lee Livingston wanted to further explore the garden idea. He said it would never be a money-maker for the county, but asked rhetorically, “as far as kids in the community doing stuff over there, what’s that worth?”

Assuming the county moves forward with the paving, First Deputy Park County Clerk Hans Odde said it should mean that the public will be able to find more parking spots closer to the courthouse.

While commissioners may have quashed the idea of a community garden near the courthouse, Cody could still be getting one in the near future.

In an appearance on KODI-AM's "Speak Your Piece" last week, Cody schools superintendent Ray Schulte said the district is considering putting in a garden at the site of the former Sunset Elementary School on 21st Street. Schulte said that might be a good short-term use
of the property.

Ben Carson early presidential favorite among Wyoming donors

While many Wyomingites have yet to even start thinking about the 2016 presidential election, some have already opened their checkbooks.

In the very early goings of the campaign, Wyoming’s political donors are showing a preference for Republican candidate Ben Carson, a former neurosurgeon and a political newcomer.

Ben Carson, speaking at CPAC in early 2015. Photo by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 2.0
Carson has raised $26,435 from around the state so far, according to campaign finance data released by the Federal Elections Commission last week.

Following Carson in donations was U.S. Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, with $14,412 and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, with $14,120 from the Equality State.

After those three Republicans came former Secretary of Sta
te Hillary Clinton, the leading Democrat, who has raised $9,226 here.

Carson’s donations came from all over the state, including $250 from a supporter in Cody and $200 from a Powell backer. However, the top local fundraiser so far is Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Cruz has already raised $2,825 from Park County, with $2,800 from a pair of Meeteetse residents, campaign finance reports show.

Presidential candidates' fundraising through June 30. Red denotes Republicans, blue denotes Democrats.
Wyomingites have chipped in a total of $86,111 to the 11 presidential candidates who’ve raised more than $100,000. The Cowboy State’s contributions are a mere fraction of the $125.4 million donated to the contenders across the nation.

The financial picture is likely to change over the coming year as a whole lot more money pours into candidates’ coffers; some prominent candidates only recently announced their runs.

Federal Election Commission records show Wyomingites gave more than $3.5 million to presidential candidates during the 2012 campaign cycle. The vast, $2.5 million majority went to Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Nationally, more than $1.32 billion was raised by the last batch of candidates.

While political contributions are one way to measure a candidate's appeal, they’re not always an accurate predictor of success. For example, billionaire Donald Trump — a Republican candidate and the leader of some national polls — has generally been financing his own campaign.

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