Oct 30, 2015

Park County library, treasurer's office go all out for Halloween

Halloween came a little early to some of the Park County government offices in Cody.

With the spooky holiday falling on a Saturday, employees at both the Park County Treasurer's Office and the Park County Library decided to celebrate today (Friday) by donning a variety of costumes.

The Park County Treasurer's Office became the Land of Oz today. Courtesy photo
Staffers in the treasurer's office, under the leadership of the Wicked Witch of the West (a.k.a. treasurer Barb Poley), went all out in redecorating their work space as the Land of Oz.

A winged monkey (Pat Ford) steals Toto away from Dorothy (Ashley Scott) in the treasurer's office. Courtesy photo
Each employee dressed up as a different character from the classic novel and movie: the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Glinda the Good Witch of the North, a winged monkey and even as the yellow brick road itself.

The decor wasn't hindering the office from issuing new registrations and other usual business, though customers did seem to be smiling more than usual.

"Got to have fun," Poley explained. She added that her office celebrates all of the holidays and that they'd soon be brainstorming ideas to decorate for the Christmas season.

While they didn't go with one unified theme, employees over at the Park County Library also got into the Halloween spirit with a staff-wide costume contest. Library patrons were asked to cast a vote for their favorite costume throughout the day.

Outfits included several children's book characters, a "Book Review Queen," a gypsy, a magic genie, a sorceress, a geisha and Princess Leia.

You can check out some photos from the Cody library's Halloween eve festivities in the gallery below.

Halloween 2015

Newly formed ‘gash’ opens in Big Horn Mountains, draws national attention

The Big Horn Mountains really are all they are cracked up to be: large portions of the southern end of the range recently moved to create a crack or “gash” that’s about 750 yards long and about 50 yards wide, according to SNS Outfitters & Guides.

A crevasse recently formed in the sourthern end of the Big Horn Mountains. Photo courtesy SNS Outfitters & Guides
The new formation is likely the result of a slow-moving landslide, said Seth Wittke, the Wyoming Geological Survey’s manager of groundwater and geologic hazards and mapping. Landslides can move at catastrophic speeds, such as what is observed in Washington state, while others can be much slower.

The size of this type of opening can vary depending on the size of the hill and the stability of the land, he said.

“A number of things trigger them, moisture in the subsurface which causes weakness in soil or geology, and any process that would weaken the bedrock or unstabilize it somehow,” Wittke said.

The challenge for the Geological Survey crew is the formation is on private property, so finding out exactly what happened would require access permission from the property’s owner.

“All we have seen is pictures since it is on private land,” said Wyoming Geological Survey’s public information specialist Chamois Andersen. “It’s hard to assess without someone on the ground looking at it.”

Interest in the newly formed “gash” spurred several thousand likes and shares on SNS Outfitters & Guides’ Facebook page since the formation appeared earlier this month. It was a trending topic on Facebook this week and many national media outlets have posted about it.

There were apparently some people who even took to social media to worry that the slide is a sign that the volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park is about to erupt. Those fears may or may not have been fueled by Facebook, which paired the trending news about the slide in the Big Horns with a photo of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Facebook paired the trending news about the large slide in the Big Horn Mountains with a photo of Yellowstone National Park, which lies well to the west.
Based on prior mapping and what’s visible in the pictures, “the gash” is likely a slump, slide or detachment, Andersen said. But, without an on-the-ground investigation, it’s difficult to determine.

“There is some speculation on the web and with our folks, too, that an early, wet, spring and summer had a lot to do with it,” Andersen said. “It is not uncommon to have slides like that.”

If a formation such as the one found in the southern end of the Big Horns is found, Wittke suggests not approaching it since it can be difficult to determine if the land is still moving or if the ground has stabilized.

Landslides and other geological changes can be reported at www.wsgs.wyo.gov so the Geological Survey crew can investigate the scene to determine the cause and find out if it’s dangerous, Wittke said.

After 33 years in law enforcement, Cody police chief retires

“When you come out of this positon, you come out with a lot of battle scars,” says outgoing Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam. “A lot of battle scars.”

Rockvam said his 33 years in law enforcement made for a great career and he can't think of anything he would rather have done. He said he worked with remarkable officers who performed their jobs with care and compassion. He’s proud of what he accomplished as an officer and as a chief. But in taking a long-planned retirement and heading for a new job as a Billings area pastor, there are also things he won’t miss.

Perry Rockvam is retiring as Cody's police chief. Photo courtesy Cody Police Department
“The police work part of it, that is a blast,” Rockvam said in a recent interview. “It’s the other things that can wear you down: the personnel issues, the politics, those things that are hard to deal with.”

“And to do it for as long as I did, I’m ready,” he said. “I’m ready and I’m excited. I’m excited to be moving on to the next chapter in my life.”

During his career, Rockvam served as a deputy sheriff, a patrol officer (in a vehicle, on a motorcycle and on a bicycle), a detective and an assistant chief at agencies in South Dakota, Arizona and Cody. He spent more than 20 years with the Cody Police Department, the last 11 as its chief.

Today (Friday) is his official last day.

Rockvam considers the management of the 2006 Hell’s Angels World Run in Cody as one of the highlights of his career — though he added that managing the event was the work of a “great group of team players” who worked together.

Behind the scenes, he said it was a complex operation for law enforcement.

“People don’t have a clue or an understanding of what it took to manage ... that event in the community and the conflicts and the things that were going on in the motorcycle world at that point,” Rockvam said.

He said his department treated the motorcycle club members “with great respect.” The chief’s philosophy was to treat the vistiors “the same as we do our own citizens; nothing more and nothing less.” Rockvam believes the Hells Angels felt it was fair “that we didn’t go out and target them or write them citations or things like that.”

A smaller group of the bikers returned to Cody in 2014 and, much like 2006, there weren’t any significant problems.

There was some criticism during both rallies that police overreacted, but “I’ll take the criticism any time. Any time,” Rockvam said, adding, “We were prepared and we had the capabilities of doing the things that we needed to do.”

In addition to avoiding trouble, he says managing the police response to the influx of bikers ultimately helped him manage the response to the abduction of a young Cody girl in October 2012.
Because of the skills learned during the Hells Angels rally, “we were able to get up to speed right away with what we needed to do,” Rockvam said.

The girl was found a few hours later and officers from Cody and other agencies used her recollections and police work (like pulling surveillance camera footage) to track down the perpetrator within a matter of days.

Rockvam said he most enjoyed working as a detective, but going into administration and making changes he felt were needed was also rewarding.

“I knew what I wanted to do and I knew where I wanted to take the department,” he said.

The Cody Police Department has experienced some internal conflict in recent years. As an example, court records indicate there was disagreement within the department about then-Assistant Police Chief George Menig’s actions during a 2010 arrest. (The arrest is now the subject of a lawsuit.)

Speaking generally, Rockvam said “we’ve had some internal struggles and so yeah, it has been frustrating” as chief. However, he suggested similar issues exist in any workplace.

Rockvam added that personnel matters are confidential by law, and it's bothered him to hear people expressing opinions without having all the information.

“To me, sometimes that’s even more frustrating — is that people will talk like they actually know,” Rockvam said, adding that, “I hear so many times, so many things and stuff, and I’m just going, ‘Wow! Where did that come from?!’”

The Cody Police Department, shown after Rockvam's Oct. 23 retirement party. Photo courtesy City of Cody
He similarly says that, unless someone has worked in law enforcement, they don't fully appreciate what it takes to do the job. He also thinks most people don’t see how officers are working to serve the community, make it safe and improve quality of life.

“People take for granted that, at any time, you can call the police department and we will be there. Any time,” Rockvam said. “That is a huge commitment and a huge service that law enforcement does and I don’t think it’s appreciated — and I especially don’t think it’s appreciated in today’s world.”

With the antagonism and scrutiny, threats seemingly on all sides and difficult calls to handle — ranging from domestic disputes to suicides to child molestation — Rockvam’s glad to be ending his career in law enforcement.

“Knowing that those types of things they’re going to be facing in the future, I don’t envy them,” he said of new officers.

A new chief is expected to be in place within five or six months.

Rockvam hopes someone within the department is picked to replace him, but “I know that the city will pick the best candidate that they feel will do the job that they want.”

In his new job as a Harvest Church pastor in Lockwood, Montana, Rockvam said he’ll miss the area’s mountains and Cody, which he called “a great place to raise our family.”

It’ll also be weird to be out of policing after three decades as an officer, Rockvam said, “but I know that it’s time.”

Oct 27, 2015

Not wanting to be ‘part of the problem,’ county declines to seek dollars from insurers

It’s not every day that a government agency turns down a chance to bring in more dollars and save local residents money in the process. But that’s what a split Park County Commission effectively did last week.

Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton had suggested getting a service (for as little as $20 a month) that would allow the county to easily bill insurance companies for procedures such as vaccinations.

Park County isn't going to start billing insurer for vaccinations. File photo courtesy National Institutes of Health
Park County Public Health only charges citizens $15 above the cost of a vaccine, but health insurance companies will often authorize significantly more. So while a citizen is only charged $25 for a flu vaccination, their insurance company might pay as much as $85 if they were billed, Crampton said.

“It’s taking advantage of what the insurance companies are willing to pay versus what we charge,” he explained at the Oct. 20 meeting.

Crampton said Big Horn County brought in an extra $1,000 after starting to bill insurers.

But the dollar signs failed to convince the majority of the Park County commissioners that it was a good idea.

“I guess I have a little bit of a tough time just setting us up to take the money just because the insurance company is willing to pay it,” said Commissioner Lee Livingston, adding, “Does that just mean we’re part of the damn problem, excuse me (for the language), with the insurance companies?”

“It seems like, to me, we’re adding to that problem,” agreed Commission Chairman Joe Tilden, backed by Commissioner Tim French.

In contrast, Commissioner Bucky Hall thought the billing was worth exploring, with public health’s revenue on the decline.

Commissioner Loren Grosskopf also wanted to look at the options, noting that if the insurance company pays for a vaccine, it saves the person money. If it was him getting the vaccination, “I would want my insurance company to process it first,” Grosskopf offered.

French countered that it wasn't the county’s job to submit someone's claims to insurance, calling for “some personal responsibility in the world.”

While public health’s overall revenue has dropped, Crampton said the current rates for vaccinations cover those costs.

Both Tilden and Livingston indicated they might change their minds about pursuing insurance companies if the county ever begins losing money.

Park County Public Health had doled out about 1,300 doses of flu vaccine as of last week and has about that many doses remaining, Crampton said.

(Editor's note: This version adds a correction from Crampton that Park County Public Health charges $15 (not $10) above the cost of its vaccines.)

~By CJ Baker

Buffalo Bill Center of the West selling rifle replicas as fundraiser

The famed Model 1873 Winchester rifle has played many roles across the Western United States over the decades: an accessory for outlaws, a peacekeeper for lawmen and now, a fundraiser for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

In partnership with Navy Arms and Winchester Firearms, the Center of the West has created and is now selling a new “Centennial” edition of the historic rifle. All proceeds from the replicas’ sales will benefit the non-profit museum as it celebrates its 100-year anniversary in 2017.

The Centennial Model 1873 Winchester. Photo courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Winchester introduced the original version of the lever-action rifle in 1873, at a price of $50. By 1891, they were selling for $19.50 (or around $500 in today’s dollars).

Many frontiersmen bought the rifle — more than 720,000 were produced — and it became a firearms legacy, according to the Center of the West.

“It’s easy to see why the Model 1873 Winchester is widely known as the ‘Gun That Won the West.’ Its production run was so high that it became the everyman rifle of choice,” Ashley Hlebinsky, curator of the Center of the West’s Cody Firearms Museum, said in a statement. “Factor in its reputation expressed in movies and literature, this was one popular firearm.”

“To replicate the Model 1873 as our Centennial Rifle here at the Center of the West is incredibly special,” Hlebinsky added.

While the original Winchester was used by outlaws like Billy the Kid, cowboys and everyone in between, the new centennial replicas will have a much more limited customer base.

The Center of the West is producing just 200 “Exhibition Models” (they’ll sell for a not-so-everyman price of $7,995) and 1,000 “Presentation Models” (listed at $3,499.95). Center officials say the ornate rifles follow in the tradition of the museums’ namesake — William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody — who gave highly embellished Winchester rifles to his friends and business associates.

One side of the rifle depicts Buffalo Bill Cody on horseback. Photo courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West
The new replicas include some unique local touches: the rifles’ buttplates, receivers, and nose caps are being completed at Wyoming Armory in Cody, the left sideplate is engraved with the iconic bison that graces Wyoming’s flag and the right sideplate features a rendering of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s iconic sculpture “The Scout,” which depicts Buffalo Bill Cody on horseback.

The Center of the West began in 1917 as “a quest to preserve the legacy and legend” of Buffalo Bill. It’s grown from one small building to five museums that house more than 50,000 artifacts and many books, manuscripts and photographs.

The Centennial Model 1873 Winchester rifles are expected to be ready for delivery in January 2017.

To learn more, visit www.codygun.com.

Oct 26, 2015

Supposed CIA agent, who addressed local tea party in August, alleged to be a fraud

Wayne Simmons convinced the federal government, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, local tea party supporters and media outlets across the country — including this publication — that he’d spent 27 years fighting drug traffickers and terrorists as an undercover operative for the CIA.

Federal prosecutors now say that’s a lie.

Wayne Simmons, addressing local tea partyers in Emblem in August. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
Simmons, who was one of the keynote speakers at August’s Big Horn Basin TEA Party Picnic in Emblem, was arrested at his home in Maryland on Oct. 15 and charged with allegations of fraud in Virginia.

“My jaw is still on the floor,” Big Horn Basin TEA Party organizer Rob DiLorenzo said in an Oct. 19 interview, calling himself “mystified.”

The pending charges against Simmons allege he lied about being a former CIA officer to win jobs with military contractors and to help defraud a Virginia resident out of tens of thousands of dollars.

The indictment alleges that — to get two military contracting jobs between 2008 and 2010 — Simmons told the companies and the U.S. government he’d worked as a top secret “outside paramilitary special officer” for the CIA from 1973 to 2000. Court filings from prosecutors indicate the federal government accepted Simmons’ claims, issued him secret security clearances and even deployed him to Afghanistan in 2010 as an intelligence adviser to senior U.S. military officials.

However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia now says it has discovered that Simmons is not actually a former CIA agent. Further, prosecutors say Simmons has a criminal past, including DWUI charges and felonies, that he either didn’t disclose or claimed were related to his CIA service.

Beyond fooling the government, prosecutors say that in 2011, Simmons used his purported CIA ties to help convince a Virginia resident to give him $125,000 for some supposed real estate projects. The indictment alleges Simmons actually used the money “for personal purposes.”

All told, Simmons faces seven felony counts, including two counts of major fraud against the United States. Last week, a federal magistrate in Virginia ordered Simmons to be held in jail while the case is pending. He pleaded not guilty on Friday.

It was an abrupt turnaround for a man who’s made dozens of appearances on Fox News programs as a conservative terrorism expert — and who was treated as a VIP at the tea party picnic two months ago.

DiLorenzo, who’s known Simmons for years and had dinner with him just a few weeks ago, said last week that he doesn't have an opinion to offer about the allegations as of yet, “because all I've heard is one side of the story.”

He's hoping Simmons will call and explain what's going on.

“My gut feeling tells me there's something else happening,” DiLorenzo told the Tribune of the charges. “I mean, it may be political.”

Simmons — who also spoke at the 2013 TEA Party Picnic — was introduced by DiLorenzo this year as a man who “knows everything about everything,” with DiLorenzo joking that his wife calls Simmons “the American James Bond.”

Simmons has given silver screen-caliber accounts of the dangers he faced while working undercover to track “hundreds” of drug traffickers, terrorists and their associates.

He had explained in a June 2008 column for the conservative publication “Human Events” that “No one, with the exception of those at the very highest levels, even knew of my Special Operations Group, much less that I was a part of it.”

Simmons described a supposed incident in 1980 where traffickers handcuffed him to a small wooden chair and knocked him to the concrete floor.

“With a nod, the narco-terrorist interrogating me signaled to his henchmen to sit me back in the upright position and ready me for another punch,” Simmons wrote in a May 2009 column for Human Events.

Simmons later wrote a fictional thriller about “a former operative in the CIA’s most clandestine division” who helps “prevent Armageddon in the Middle East.”

Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld tweeted an endorsement of the book in 2012.

“Wayne Simmons doesn't just write it. He's lived it,” says a blurb for the novel attributed to Rumsfeld, who’s described Simmons as a friend.

In Emblem this summer, Simmons said he’d taken three trips to Guantanamo Bay during President George W. Bush’s administration and went “personally for Secretary Rumsfeld to observe the detainees and enemy combatants.”

Simmons’ lengthy speech in Emblem was a wonky, conservative-flavored rundown of international affairs. He generally made a case that President Barack Obama’s foreign policy has weakened America. That included faulting the Obama administration’s actions in Benghazi, Libya, leading up to the 2012 attack on the U.S.’s diplomatic compound and suggesting the Democratic president’s actions in Libya have been aimed at setting up an Islamic “caliphate” in the Middle East. He also described Obama as “a communist, socialist, Muslim.”

Simmons’ strong, public opinions have included calling on then-CIA director Leon Panetta to resign in 2010, asserting in a column for Human Events that Panetta “was not ... and is not now an intelligence professional” and that he didn’t have the credentials for the job.

During August's Big Horn Basin TEA Party picnic, Simmons (at right) jumped in to help answer a question directed to Rev. Rafael Cruz. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
A couple of Simmons’ friends told the Washington Post last week they wonder if evidence will emerge Simmons actually did actually perform some kind of secret work for the government.

“The CIA is such an underground organization in many respects (that) we don’t know what the hell is going on,” DiLorenzo told the Tribune.

The Washington Post quoted Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Nathanson as saying in federal court last week that Simmons is “always using this supposed CIA affiliation as a trump card” and “frankly, it often works.”

Meanwhile, the conservative group Accuracy in Media has scrubbed all online references to the role Simmons has played in its unofficial investigation into the Benghazi attack; “Human Events” has removed all of Simmons’ columns from its website.

Last week’s indictment does not explain how the government became suspicious of Simmons. His attorney in Virginia — appointed by the court because he lacked the means to hire a private one — said Tuesday that the federal investigation had spanned two years.

The Washington Times reported that former CIA officer Kent Clizbe and another government worker were suspicious of Simmons’ credentials back in 2013. When questioned then by the Times, Simmons reportedly said he'd been vetted by the Department of Defense (DoD) and had files proving his story.

“Please note. I’m listed as CIA. DoD did the vetting,” Simmons reportedly told the Times in a 2013 email that the site published Sunday. “I did not just miraculously show up at GITMO (Guantanamo Bay) 3 times to assess the terrorists.”

Oct 23, 2015

Man gets $7,540 bill for poaching deer on North Fork

A former Cody resident who poached a deer just east of Yellowstone National Park this spring has been ordered to pay $7,540 in fines and restitution. He also lost hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for three years.

Erik Rautenberg, 29, recently pleaded guilty in Park County Circuit Court to taking a buck mule deer out of season.

Erik Rautenberg had to spend a night in jail after poaching the deer. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff's Office
Rautenberg reportedly shot the deer with his 9mm Glock pistol as it passed by his campsite near the Sam Berry Meadows, about three miles up the Pahaska Trail in the Shoshone National Forest.

He cooked a small piece of the buck’s backstrap, then left the rest to waste, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department investigation concluded.

“This was a case of a big game animal killed simply for the thrill of it and is the worst kind of wildlife violation we investigate,” Cody Region Game Warden Travis Crane said in a Wednesday statement from Game and Fish.

A former law enforcement officer and his wife happened to be passing by Rautenberg’s campsite at the time he killed the deer, hearing gunshots and seeing the man chase the buck up a hill on May 30. They contacted the Stop Poaching tip line.

Crane and Shoshone law enforcement officer Travis Hayworth confronted Rautenberg the following day, as he and his brother were heading back toward the trailhead.

Rautenberg initially denied shooting the deer, but admitted to it after Crane proceeded to the campsite and discovered the dead animal, according to charging documents.

Rautenberg described hitting the animal from about 50 yards away, then emptying his gun to try putting the deer down, Crane wrote in an affidavit used to support the charge.

“Erik (Rautenberg) advised that it was a dumb thing to do,” Crane recounted.

The warden arrested Rautenberg, who spent the night in jail before being released on his own recognizance the following day.

Game and Fish encourages anyone who witnesses a wildlife violation to call the Stop Poaching Hotline at 877-WGFD-TIP or report them at wgfd.wyo.gov. The more detailed the information is (such as the date, time and license plate number of any vehicles involved in the incident), the more helpful it is, according to Game and Fish.

Informants can remain anonymous and potentially can collect a cash reward of up to $5,000 if their information leads to a successful prosecution.

“The anonymous Stop Poaching tip from the public was instrumental in solving the case and sends a message that this type of violation will not be tolerated by the public,” Crane said in Wednesday’s statement.

Hayworth — the Shoshone officer — had also cited Rautenberg in Wyoming’s federal court for leaving a campfire that hadn’t been fully extinguished, failing to dispose of all garbage at the campsite and providing false information to a forest officer.

The three charges had carried a possible $1,750 in additional penalties, but after Rautenberg admitted to the poaching allegations in state court, Hayworth and the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to ask for the federal citations dismissed. A magistrate judge did so last week.

Hurry up and delist the grizzly bear, say Park County commissioners

Park County commissioners want the federal government to remove Endangered Species Act protections for the grizzly bear, ASAP.

On Tuesday, the commission unanimously passed a resolution urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “move forward with all due haste” in removing Greater Yellowstone Area grizzlies from the list of “threatened” species.

“The general public has bent over backwards to preserve the bear. And my own opinion is, from the people I’ve talked to, they are very rapidly losing their tolerance for grizzly bears,” said Commission Chairman Joe Tilden. “They truly are.”

A grizzly sow and her cub cross a road in Yellowstone National Park in this September 2014 photo. Photo courtesy Jim Peaco/National Park Service
Commissioners believe the region’s bear population — most recently estimated to be at least 750 bears strong — is no longer in danger and has recovered.

On Tuesday, they offered anecdotal accounts that there are more grizzly bears than ever around the county.

“It’s to the point of being ridiculous,” said Commissioner Tim French. “I mean, what are they going to wait for, a grizzly to wander down through Cody and nab a child, an adult? I mean, what are they waiting for? It's gotten bad.”

French said anyone who’s been around the area for a significant amount of time has noticed the increase, including bears that have reached the Heart Mountain area where he lives.

Commissioner Loren Grosskopf mentioned grizzly tracks that were recently spotted at the county landfill south of Cody.

Tilden said he’s seen more bear activity on the South Fork than ever before; he told of a lower South Fork resident who had to keep her children in the house for three days because of a nearby bear.

While some people have said the bears have simply spread out, “I haven’t seen a reduction in the backcountry,” said commissioner and outfitter Lee Livingston.

One of the primary objections to delisting the bear now is that Yellowstone area’s grizzlies suffer from a lack of genetic diversity, being cut off from other bear populations. However, commissioners say the Yellowstone region is a big area. If inbreeding is the concern, Livingston said he’s seen a lot of bears and “they all ... seem to be working just fine.”

Commissioner Bucky Hall said he’s suggested to environmental groups that they could provide money to transport problem bears from one isolated area to another to boost genetic diversity, but they haven’t backed the idea. Hall suggested it was an instance of “we like the problem; we don’t want to solve the problem.”

Commissioners acknowledged their two-page resolution is largely symbolic, but they plan on sending it to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe and even President Barack Obama anyway. One reason the document may be symbolic is that Ashe has already agreed that grizzlies should be delisted.

Director Ashe, appearing before a Senate committee last month. Screen capture taken from YouTube
“We delisted the bear in 2007 and we, unfortunately, lost in a lawsuit,” Ashe told a Congressional panel last month. “But we have worked again with our state partners to come back, and we are literally on the precipice of another proposal to delist the species. I think we’ll be successful.”

When the federal government delisted the grizzly bear eight years ago, a U.S. District Court judge in Montana sided with environmentalists’ concerns and voided the decision. A three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately ruled in 2011 that the government was wrong to delist for one single reason: it hadn’t done enough research into the decline of the whitebark pine tree population (a food source for bears) and how that would impact the region’s grizzlies.

Part of the commissioners’ dismay is that a new delisting proposal could mean starting the entire process all over again: going out for public input, incorporating feedback and then potentially going through lawsuits and relitigating every single issue.

“In my opinion, all the scientific documentation is in, all the questions that the court asked, they’ve been answered by the scientists,” Tilden said.

~By CJ Baker

Oct 22, 2015

West Park seeks state help for heating upgrades

West Park Hospital officials are seeking the state’s help to overhaul the facility’s heating system.

Leaders at the Cody hospital intend to ask for about $950,000 from the State Loan and Investment Board — half of a roughly $1.9 million project that will replace the facility’s boilers. The equipment dates back to the hospital’s construction in 1972 and is now about seven years past its expected 35-year lifespan.

“These are very old boilers, very inefficient. They need to be replaced,” said Tim Waldner, West Park’s director of operations.

Not only have the steam boilers required more maintenance in recent years, Waldner said they operate at only about 60 percent efficiency; a modern hot water boiler plant should operate at 90 percent efficiency or better, which will save money on utilities.

The plan is to install two new boiler plants: one for the long term care center and one for the hospital. Upgrades will also need to be made to some of the hospital’s air handlers as part of the switch from steam to hot water.

Park County commissioners agreed to sign a letter of support for West Park’s request at their Oct. 6 meeting.

Commissioner Loren Grosskopf wished the hospital luck, saying it may be a tough year to get state funding.

“We don’t expect it to be easy,” said West Park CEO Doug McMillan.

South Fork ranch allowed to build in flood zone

The owners of a South Fork ranch have gotten to OK to build a new home near the South Fork of the Shoshone River.

Before an unanimous Oct. 6 vote to allow the construction in what’s now designated as a flood zone, Park County Commissioner Tim French asked if the county would have any liability if a flood ended up hitting the Ishawooa Mesa Ranch’s new residence.

An aerial view of the site, taken in 2014. The South Fork of the Shoshone River can be seen at the bottom right. Photo courtesy Park County
Park County Planning Director Linda Gillett explained it’s up to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ultimately sign off on the house. One condition of county approval was that it appear “reasonably safe from flooding.”

“I would say that it’s reasonably safe from flooding,” Gillett said. “It is in a risky spot there, I think, but according to the FEMA regs, it meets their standards.”

The Ishawooa Mesa Ranch’s ownership is currently in the process of having FEMA remove the site from the “special flood hazard area,” so it won’t be in a flood zone any longer.

The new house will replace one that was built in 1932 and demolished about six years ago.

Cody engineer Paul Blough of Holm, Blough and Co., representing the ranch, said the new home will be about three feet higher than the one it’s replacing.

Blough said he looked at what would happen in a once-in-500-year flood and found the waters wouldn’t rise much more than they would in more typical years.

The ranch’s owners also built up the river bank in 2011 after high water cut across the property, just south of the new home site.

~By CJ Baker

New accounting standards mean new fees for Park County

Some new accounting standards are going to cost Park County an extra $2,500 this year.

The county’s auditors from CliftonLarsonAllen plan to charge $39,632 to review the county’s financials for the past fiscal year — $2,500 more than expected.

CliftonLarsonAllen’s extra charge is to meet new accounting standards that require more detailed reports about the retirement plans the county uses.

In the past, auditors had been able to simply say a government entity (like the county) was a part of a pension fund (like Wyoming Retirement System), then refer readers to the pension fund for more details. However, under new requirements from the national Governmental Accounting Standards Board, auditors must now calculate a government entity’s share of their retirement system’s unfunded liabilities and put them in the audit.

It’s the second straight year of extra costs. CliftonLarsonAllen charged the county an additional $5,000 last year to complete some extra bookkeeping work; the county plans to do that work in-house this year.

As for how the audit of the July 2014-June 2015 fiscal year is progressing, “We’re a lot further ahead (than last year), so it sounds like it should go pretty smooth,” Park County Treasurer Barb Poley said at the commission’s Oct. 6 meeting.

This is the last year of CliftonLarsonAllen’s three-year auditing contract with the county, meaning the county will need to go back through the bidding process to choose an auditor next year.

“Yahoo,” said a sarcastic Park County Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.

Oct 21, 2015

Astronaut shares photo of Yellowstone from space

A NASA astronaut offered a better-than-birds-eye view of Yellowstone National Park this week, sharing a snapshot of the park from the International Space Station.

"Hello @YellowstoneNPS!" astronaut Kjell Lindgren tweeted on Monday, adding, "Our national parks are national treasures."

He also threw in a hashtag for the National Park Service/National Park Foundation's "Find Your Park" promotional campaign.

Yellowstone National Park, as seen from space on Oct. 16. Photo courtesy NASA/Kjell Lindgren
Lindgren snapped the photo on Friday (Oct. 16), using a Nikon D4 camera equipped with a 50 to 500mm lens, according to the image's metadata.

It was likely a pretty quick sightseeing tour, as the space station travels at roughly 17,100 miles an hour.

Oct 20, 2015

Simpson: Ryan should seek speaker's chair or risk damaging presidential aspirations

The U.S House of Representatives currently resembles “a circus ring” or “a clown gathering” and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., should be the one to set it straight, said former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson.

“That’s what the House looks like right now: just a great gathering of clowns, all with the Republican tag behind them,” Simpson said last week on KODI-AM's “Speak Your Piece.” However, the Republican politician from Cody said the House “could go to a good place” if Ryan seeks the speaker’s chair.

Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson
Current Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced he’ll resign from his post after losing the support of the party’s more conservative wing. Boehner’s presumed successor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., withdrew his candidacy after similarly facing opposition from the right wing.

Leading the rebellion has been a group of roughly 40 lawmakers — including Wyoming's representative, Cynthia Lummis — who make up the House Freedom Caucus.

After Boehner’s announced his resignation last month, Lummis said she'd be working with a group to find a candidate “who will restore regular order, who will allow committees to do their work, and to report legislation to the floor that has come through the committee process.”

“We’ll also be looking for a speaker who will elevate and restore Congress’s rightful role as a co-equal branch of our government,” Lummis said in a September statement.

While Lummis hasn’t announced her preferred candidate, the Freedom Caucus has officially endorsed Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., a lawmaker who Simpson says “makes a right-winger look like Hubert Humphrey.” (“If they get Dan Webster, the real Dan Webster of historical fame will be rolling like a pinwheel in his grave,” Simpson joked during his KODI interview.)

Despite the endorsement of Rep. Webster, Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has also said the group would “look favorably” on Ryan if he runs for speaker.

Ryan intially said he’s uninterested in the position. However, Simpson said on KODI on Oct. 13 that Ryan — the Republican party’s nominee for vice president in 2012 — has been “rethinking his no” and needs to take the opportunity to unify “the no caucus” and the rest of the House Republicans.

Simpson described recently leaving Ryan a voicemail that warned choosing not seeking the position of speaker could hurt his chances of one day becoming president.

Simpson recalled his message to Ryan as: “You’re going to run for president again some time ... and at that time, they’re going to say, ‘Wait a minute, you were in the House of Representatives when it was the most dysfunctional this party has ever been, and you could have been the leader to lead us out of that, and you didn’t, and now you want to lead the United States? Forget it.’”

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
One complication is that history suggests becoming speaker might be plenty damaging to Ryan's presidential aspirations. “Speak Your Piece” caller Dewey Vanderhoff noted that only one Speaker of the House has become president: James K. Polk in 1845.

Simpson conceded that similarly, no Speaker of the House in the Wyoming Legislature has gone on to become the state’s governor.

“Because you have irritated too many people,” Simpson explained on KODI, adding that, “when you’re a leader, you take flack.”

While Ryan advancing from speaker to president would face long historical odds, Simpson suggested that if the Wisconsin lawmaker was able to pull the Freedom Caucus and the rest of the “extraordinarily diverse group” of Republicans in the House together, “that would be just as historical.”

~By CJ Baker

In wake of recent thefts, sheriff reminds residents to secure their guns

Roughly a dozen guns were reported as stolen over the past month in rural Park County — and Sheriff Scott Steward is reminding residents to secure and record their firearms.

While investigating several recent burglaries, the Sheriff’s Office says it has found that some victims not only failed to secure their firearms — making them easy targets for thieves — but also failed to record their weapons, making them difficult to identify.

Sheriff Scott Steward
“I think securing firearms is more common sense,” Steward said in a Friday statement. “However, it is just as important to record the identity of weapons so that they can be positively identified in the future.”

A total of 13 guns were reported stolen in the Powell, Cody and Meeteetse areas between Sept. 10 and Oct. 9, according to Sheriff’s Office records.

In perhaps the most notable incident, three guns were taken from two unlocked vehicles parked on Meeteetse’s South Street on Sept. 28. That was part of a spree of burglaries and a break-in. The following day, another gun owner on Meeteetse’s Franklin Street reported discovering that a shotgun was missing from her residence, according to Sheriff’s Office logs.

While the reports were all made in recent days, it’s not clear that all of the thefts were recent.

For example, a citizen reported on Sept. 10 that four guns and accessories had been stolen from his Lane 8 home in rural Powell, but he didn’t know when they had gone missing.

As another example, one resident in rural Cody — who reported a gun as stolen on Oct. 9 — apparently discovered his weapon was missing only after his home caught on fire and an insurance inspection didn’t locate the firearm.

A number of the recently reported thefts were not traditional burglaries, either, with several possibly involving family members stealing from family members. For example, a citizen in rural Cody reported on Oct. 2 that his son-in-law had stolen a gun and sold it to a Powell pawn shop.

In Friday’s statement, Sheriff Steward recommended locking your house when you’re gone and storing weapons in a secure location, preferably a safe. He also advised against leaving weapons in unlocked vehicles.

(In addition to the thefts in Meeteetse, someone reportedly stole a gun from a 4-wheeler while it was parked at a trailhead in the Clark area on Aug. 4.)

“Often we become complacent in these security measures, but thieves are out there and there’s no need for us to make their job any easier,” Steward said in the statement.

He urged gun owners to take the time to record the type, make, model and — most importantly — the serial number of all of their guns. He also suggested taking photographs of them.

Oct 15, 2015

Small-town football photo exhibit opens Friday in Meeteetse

Small-town gridiron heroes, their families and fans are the focus of a photography exhibit displayed Oct. 16-30, in the Meeteetse School Building. Area residents are invited to meet Morgan Tyree, the photographer, at a 6:30 p.m. artist’s reception Monday, Oct. 19, in the school’s cafeteria.

“Six-Eight-Eleven” is a select photo collection about small-town high school football culled from a body of work amassed over nearly two decades.

The exhibit featuring photos of small-town football teams opens Friday. Photo courtesy Morgan Tyree
His images capture the full spectrum of the six-, eight- and eleven-man experience—from team runs during practice sessions and fan seating accommodations on the grass slope of a hill next to the playing field, to the gritty action of the big game itself and the incredible mountain vistas that accompany so many small-town contests in the West.

Since 1997, Tyree has spent every autumn weekend traveling the two-lane highways of Montana and Wyoming to savor the spirit of what he considers the purest form of football. When not burning the road to get to games, Tyree spends his weekdays in the classroom as an assistant professor of graphic arts and printing at Northwest College.

Most of his images were taken in Wyoming and Montana, many during Meeteetse Longhorn games. Meeteetse residents may recognize many of the players and themselves in the photos displayed in the exhibit.

Acknowledging his “football-minded upbringing” in Akron, Ohio, Tyree explains that for him, following small-town football is something akin to hiking down the Grand Canyon instead of just viewing it from a tourist point on top—it’s one way to get a richer experience living in Wyoming and Montana.

“There’s more to Wyoming and Montana than standing in a blue-ribbon trout stream with a fly rod or hiking through a tranquil area of the Bob Marshall Wilderness,” Tyree said. “And on an autumn Saturday afternoon (Friday night too in some towns), you’ll find me in Highwood, Belfry, Meeteetse or Custer where small-town high school football folds into the landscape like sugar in your coffee.

Perhaps the game isn’t as perfect as the NFL (National Football League), but the scenario is just as perfect as standing in one of those blue-ribbon streams.”

Tyree keeps a blog about his football experience, where players, parents and fans often check in to see what he caught or thought of their big game, to offer their appreciation for his work, and sometimes to challenge him about it.

His visual explorations of small-town football have been exhibited at the Massillon Museum in Ohio, less than a dozen miles from the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton (sometimes referred to as the cradle of high school football). Three of his images have also toured across America as part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services “Home Town Teams.”

The Meeteetse Longhorns enjoy a prominent spot in "Six-Eight-Eleven," a photo exhibit about small-town high school football opening Friday, Oct. 16, in the Meeteetse School Building. Photo courtesy Morgan Tyree

His photo collections have been viewed at Texas A&M University at College Station, the Western Heritage Center in Billings, Mont., Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne and the Center for Fine Art Photography in Denver, Colo., to name a few.

Tyree’s images have graced the pages of Sun Magazine, Harpers, Utne Reader, Beartooth Times, Montana Quarterly, as well as an eight-page spread in Referee magazine.

“Six-Eight-Eleven” can be viewed during school hours in the cafeteria and hallway across from offices in the Meeteetse School Building.

Oct 13, 2015

Bull elk poached and left to rot near Meeteetse

Authorities are seeking information about a bull elk that was illegally killed and left to waste in Elk Hunt Area 66 near Meeteetse.

Although the area's bull season closed on Sept. 30, the elk appeared to have most likely been shot sometime Sunday evening, Meeteetse Game Warden Jim Olson said in a Tuesday news release from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Photo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish
A concerned hunter found the abandoned elk, located on the Sleeper Ranch, and reported the incident to Game and Fish.

“The bull was hit once with a clean shot to the vital area and the entire carcass was left to waste in the hay meadows near the ranch manager’s house,” Olson said in the release.

The Game and Fish Department is asking anyone with information about the poaching  or anyone who noted suspicious vehicles or activity in the area  to call Meeteetse Game Warden Jim Olson at 307-868-2212, the Cody Game and Fish office at 307-527-7125 or the STOP POACHING hotline at 1-877-WGFD-TIP (1-877-943-3847).

Callers may remain anonymous and any information leading to the arrest and conviction could bring a reward of up to $5,000.

New Willwood bridge to be ready next fall

Slated for completion in October 2016, a new bridge just downstream of the Willwood Dam will convey motorists coming and going.

The bridge will connect with the original road on each side of the river, said Mike Eckhardt, Wyoming Department of Transportation (WyDOT) construction inspector.

Workers from Sletten Construction, Inc., of Great Falls, Montana, were busy setting concrete forms for a 60-foot pier on Wednesday, one of two that will support the new bridge. Cody News Co. photo by Gib Mathers
The cost of the bridge is more than $3.4 million. Ninety percent of the funding is federal with Park County contributing the remaining 10 percent, Beers said. 

Sletten Construction, Inc., of Great Falls, Montana, is the prime contractor.

“I’d say they’re about on their schedule,” Eckhardt said. “Maybe a week behind where they’d like to be.”

Because the bridge is being constructed off the main road, there are no traffic delays, but there will be traffic delays when construction begins in the summer of 2016 to connect the new bridge to the existing roads, Eckhardt said.

The old bridge crosses the Willwood Dam, built in 1932.

Once the new bridge is completed, the old bridge over the dam will be closed to public use, said Tom Walker, Willwood Irrigation District manager.

The new bridge will allow space for farm equipment to cross the river. “It will definitely improve the level of safety,” Beers said.

On the north or Powell side it is Park County Lane 14. The south side is Road 18, Eckhardt said.

The bridge under construction is about 200 feet downstream of the existing Willwood Bridge/Dam. It will be 420 feet long, said Todd Frost, WyDOT resident engineer in Cody.

The new bridge has the same span as the Corbett Bridge on U.S. Highway 14-A east of Cody, said Cody Beers, WyDOT public relations specialist.

The bridge will be 28 feet wide. It will have two12-foot-wide lanes and two 2-foot-wide shoulders, Eckhardt said. Twelve feet is the standard lane width.

The bridge's approximate height over the water is 60-70 feet, Frost said.

Two piers — approximately 60 feet high — will support two girders, Eckhardt said. The piers’ footings beneath the water are 30 feet by 30 feet and 6 feet deep. The footing supporting the pier on the north side is sunk 5 feet into the bedrock below the river. The footing on the south side is 13 feet into the bedrock, Eckhardt said.

Caps will top the piers to support four girders, 120 feet in length, spanning the bridge. The bridge’s surface will be concrete covering the girders, Eckhardt said.

The new roads connecting the bridge will be paved with asphalt to tie into the existing road on each side of the bridge, Eckhardt said.

The bridge, piers, footings and abutments will have a total of 16,000 cubic yards of concrete, Eckhardt said.   

WyDOT has multiple webcams capturing the project.
There are abutments on each side of the river. The abutments are sunk at least 1 foot into the bedrock, Eckhardt said.

On the north side of the river, where the Shoshone feeds the Willwood Canal, a 12-foot by 12-foot box culvert will be installed to channel irrigation water, Frost said.

Speed limits on the bridge and road will be the same as current speed limits, Eckhardt said.

WyDOT has set up multiple webcams to capture the project's progress, available to view online.

South Korean government honors local veterans for service in Korean War

Representatives from South Korea’s government paid tribute on Thursday to some of the local veterans who fought for the country’s freedom more than a half-century ago.

“You answered the call to defend a country you never knew, and a people you never met,” Dongman Han, Consul General of the Republic of Korea, told a group of about 30 Korean War veterans from around Park County. “We in Korea remember your noble spirit; we remember your great achievement to defend Korea from communists.”

Republic of Korea Deputy Consul General Sang Ryol Lee photographed local Korean War veterans at the State of Wyoming Veterans Memorial Park on Thursday in Cody. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
The Korean War, is sometimes referred to as the “Forgotten War” — overshadowed by World War II, which ended five years earlier, and the Vietnam War, which began several years later.

“Korea was just kinda off out of sight,” said Gary Troxel, a Korean War veteran who lives in Cody.

It began as a civil war between North and South Korea, the U.S. State Department explains on its website, but the United States and the United Nations intervened to fight on the side of the south when the Soviet Union-backed north invaded in the summer of 1950.

“It started out to be a small war; ‘be home by Thanksgiving,’” Troxel said. “And the next thing you know, the Chinese have entered it (to support North Korea), and it turned out to be a much tougher war.”

The conflict became a stalemate and resulted in a truce in July of 1953.

“Everybody just went and did their job and came home. That’s really what it was,” Troxel said.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said he wants all of the state’s citizens — young and old — to know about the war and what it means. In his remarks at the Cody event, Mead noted that more than 36,000 American troops were killed and more than 100,000 wounded in the fighting.
Mead visited South Korea two years ago and “what I saw over there was an absolutely thriving economy,” he said. “And more important than that, is I saw freedoms and liberties not enjoyed to the north.”

The governor said he was happy to report back to his father, Korean War veteran Peter Mead, “that it was a job well done, and those people over there have been the beneficiaries of what you all have done.”

Gov. Mead thanked General Consul Han for taking the time to recognize Wyoming’s veterans.
Han said Korea has changed over the past six decades — becoming the world’s No. 1 ship-builder and producer of semi-conductors, among other achievements — but the country’s gratitude for those who fought in the Korean War remains the same.

“Korea would not be enjoying peace, democracy and economic prosperity ... without the heroism, valor and the sacrifice of the fallen war veterans,” Han said.

On behalf of his country, Han presented each of the local veterans with a “Korean Ambassador for Peace Medal,” thanking them for their service and sacrifice.

A few medals were accepted by veterans’ widows or spouses. With the conflict now some 65 years in the past, Korean War veterans are at least into their early 80s.

Bob Davidson of Cody salutes Consul General Dongman Han shortly before receiving an 'Ambassador for Peace Medal.' Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
Veteran Paul Rodriguez helped form the state’s only chapter of Korean War veterans, helped organize efforts to build a memorial for the war’s fallen soldiers in Cody and helped put together Thursday’s event. Rodriguez, who lives in the Heart Mountain area, said close to two dozen members have died since the chapter’s formation in 2006.

Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown welcomed the Wyoming and foreign leaders at Thursday’s ceremony, “but the real special guests that are here today are you,” she told the veterans. “Thank you so much for being here,”

After a medal presentation at Geysers on the Terrace, the group proceeded to the State of Wyoming Veterans Memorial Park, where Mead and Han laid a wreath on the Korean War memorial.

America had previously gotten off track in not thanking its service members and, “you veterans, Korean veterans, have set us on the right track,” Mead said, thanking them for their efforts for all U.S. veterans.

When soldiers are deployed today from Wyoming, “they know from what you’ve done, the example you’ve set, that they will be sent off with the full support of the state, and their families and the country,” Mead said. “And when they return, they’re going to be returned to open arms, with gratitude and with blessings, because we want to now forever remember all those who served.”

Rodriguez hopes the state’s Korean War veterans who couldn’t make last week's event can be honored in the future.

Oct 12, 2015

Most local students don't drink or use drugs, emphasizes new campaign

Local youth are 12 times more likely to drink alcohol if they think “most everyone drinks.” So a new  campaign is aimed at telling Park County students the truth: most don't.

The new “Truth is…Most Don’t” campaign — put together by the West Park Hospital Prevention & Wellness office and the Park County Coalition Against Substance Abuse is aimed at promoting positive choices by focusing on the overwhelming majority of kids who don't drink or use drugs.

“We focus on the good,” says project coordinator Diane Ballard. “We’re up front about the risks, but this campaign is intended to empower youth with positive messages.”

Campaign leaders say scare tactics — think the shocking ads from the Montana Meth Project — don’t work and can actually prompt high-risk teens to engage in that behavior.

Negative messages may also promote the belief that drug and alcohol use is more common than it really is “and we want to dispel these myths,” Ballard says.

While the overall tone is a positive one, the ads do talk about the risks and side effects of alcohol and drug use — including noting that “about 5,000 youth die every year due to alcohol-related accidents.”

“That's scary. But the cool thing is most Cody High School students don't drink. Seriously — 72 percent choose not to drink alcohol, and that's a statistic I'm proud to be a part of,” a narrator says in one video spot. “Besides, nine out of 10 Cody High School students agree it's not okay for someone our age to drink regularly. Join me and most Cody High School students by not drinking alcohol.”

Different versions of the print and video ads are aimed at high schoolers or middle schoolers in both Cody and Powell, along with county-wide messages.

The messages will appear in school newspapers, posters, promotional items, on social media, closed-circuit broadcasts in local schools, at Big Horn Cinemas and on TCT cable.

Campaign leaders say all the facts presented in the campaign are science based, with data coming from the 2014 Wyoming Prevention Needs Assessment survey and other reliable studies. Ballard says the goal is to arm students with facts, contrasting it with the simplistic “Just Say No” and other drug-awareness campaigns of the past.

The campaign is funded by a Drug-Free Communities grant to reduce substance abuse among youth.

For more information, visit the website, www.mostdont.org, contact Ballard at 578-2708 or email 11pccasa@gmail.com.

Five years after its construction, Cody's new trash cell put to use

After five years of basically just sitting there, a new and improved trash pit at the Cody landfill is now being put to use.

The first loads of household trash were dumped in the Park County Regional Landfill’s lined cell on Wednesday morning; Park County commissioners formally opened the $2.7 million on Tuesday.

“I’m happy for everyone that worked on it, that, ‘Hey, we’re moving forward,’ but it’s always going to be a work in progress,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall.

Park County commissioners and landfill staff look out over the new trash pit after a Tuesday ribbon cutting. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker

Hall conceded Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting was “somewhat anti-climatic,” given that the cell was completed in 2010. However, the long delay between the pit’s construction and its first use was a good thing for the county: it was because the county was allowed to fit another five years’ worth of trash into the old trash pit, saving space in the new one.

“It was nice not going into it, because we were just buying more time,” Hall said.

The new pit is expected to hold eight to 10 years’ worth of trash. Once full, the county will have the option to either close it down or build another, overlapping cell.

The pit — which involved moving some 750,000 cubic yards of dirt — meets modern Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality standards aimed at stopping any run-off from garbage from reaching groundwater.

Park County commissioners fought against the need for a state-of-the-art liner — arguing the site south of Cody has little groundwater and naturally insulating bentonite — but they ultimately relented to the DEQ.

The upgraded cell’s multi-layer liner includes a plastic covering that’s “basically like a thick garbage bag,” said Park County Engineer Brian Edwards. Drains in the the pit funnel are intended collect any garbage run-off (called leachate).

Edwards said county staff watched the pit to make sure the liner went undamaged over the last few years.

The Cody landfill’s primary customers are the city of Cody and Keele Sanitation, along with the town of Meeteetse and private citizens.

The city of Powell started taking its trash to Billings last year, where rates are cheaper.

“‘If you build it they will come,’ isn’t exactly working out the way we planned it,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall.

Commissioner Hall quipped that “‘If you build it they will come,’ isn’t exactly working out the way we planned it,” but he said commissioners still hope the Cody site will come to be used by customers around the region.

“Ultimately, if we were taking everybody’s stuff from the Big Horn Basin, it would make our tipping costs go way down, and it really wouldn’t be worthwhile for anybody to go to Casper, or over the hill to Buffalo or Sheridan, or to Billings,” Hall said.

Multiple county officials and staff attended Tuesday’s ceremony, along Mickey Waddell of Powell, the sister of Park County Landfills Manager Tim Waddell.

Mickey Waddell said she decided to stop by because she was already in Cody and thought, “what the heck.”

“I’m proud it got done,” she said of the project.

Oct 9, 2015

Cody coach OK after accidently driving school district vehicle through wall of Basin gas station

A Cody High School coach accidentally crashed a school district vehicle through the wall of a Basin gas station on Saturday night.

The Basin Republican Rustler reported that CHS tennis coach Norman Sedig, 66, drove a Park County School District No. 6 suburban through the wall of the Overland Express around 9 p.m. on Oct. 3. Sedig appeared to have mistaken the gas pedal for the brakes, the Republican Rustler reported.

No injuries were reported to Basin police.

The Saturday crash caused significant damage to Basin's Overland Express. Photo courtesy Laurie Morstad/Basin Republican Rustler
Ray Schulte, the Cody district’s superintendent, said this week that Sedig seems to be doing fine. Sedig was returning home from the state tennis competition in Gillette when the accident occurred. No students were in the vehicle.

The crash caused significant damage to the building, but minimal damage to the school district's vehicle, Schulte said. He said the district is still assessing the damages to the building and working with the Overland.

“It is unfortunate. We don’t feel good about causing damage to that business, but hopefully it will be repaired quickly,” Schulte said told the Republican Rustler. “We are so happy no one got hurt.”

Sedig was issued a careless driving citation by the Basin Police Department.

Lacy Davis, who works at the Overland, said she was shocked when the vehicle drove into the building. She said there were some customers in the building at the time.

“I couldn’t believe what happened,” Davis said. “I was shaking when I called the cops.”

~Story courtesy Kynli Smith, Basin Republican Rustler

Oct 8, 2015

Prosecutors allege Cody man stole funds from Wyoming search and rescue organization

When a non-profit organization created to support Wyoming’s search and rescue operations effectively shut down, prosecutors say a Cody man took much of its remaining money for himself and his personal climbing ventures.

Donald Foote Jr., 45, is facing a felony charge of larceny by bailee.

Don Foote, looking over a map of Cody area waterfalls, in 2011. File photo courtesy Ruffin Prevost, Yellowstonegate.com
Foote is alleged to have misspent thousands of dollars belonging to the Wyoming Search and Rescue Association (WYSARA) on his rent, his cell phone bills, electronics and other items in late 2011 and early 2012.

At the time, Foote was the president and only officer of the publicly funded association, which had a mission of providing training to search and rescue responders around the state.

WYSARA had its last official function in June 2011, according to an investigation by Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agent Juliet Fish.

“What the investigation revealed (was) that ... after September of 2011 — although (Foote) spent nearly $5,000 — he did nothing; he did not ... provide any further training; he did not send out for any dues; he did not do anything to further the Wyoming Search and Rescue Association,” Fish said at a preliminary hearing in the case on Monday.

Foote’s defense attorney, Bill Simpson of Simpson, Kepler and Edwards in Cody, argued that, as the association’s only officer, Foote had discretion in what would benefit WYSARA.

With Foote presumed to be innocent, Simpson argued his client deserved to be given the benefit of the doubt for the purchases he made with association’s debit card.

“It strikes me as a little strange that you're trying to put all the negative inferences against Mr. Foote,” Simpson told Fish.

For example, hundreds of the dollars went toward Foote’s personal travel, meals and lodging at climbing or training events around the region; Simpson suggested that if Foote was traveling to promote ice climbing, getting personal certifications or receiving personal training in climbing techniques, that could have directly or indirectly benefitted WYSARA.

WSARA’s bylaws generally prohibited members from using association money for their personal expenses like transportation, but Simpson said that would be a civil issue and not a criminal one.
Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters said it did appear the prosecution lacked the evidence to show that some of Foote’s thousands of dollars of purchases were criminal.

However, the judge found that — for the purposes of a preliminary hearing, where the evidentiary standards are relatively low — there was enough evidence that Foote had misspent at least a couple thousand dollars between September 2011 and February 2012.

Waters specifically cited:

• a $960 rent payment for Foote’s home in Cody

• a $570.42 purchase at the Sheridan Walmart for two Kindle Fires, a Nintendo Wii and a DVD copy of the movie Fireproof; Foote had reportedly tried buying the items with his personal credit card at first, then put them on the WYSARA debit card when his was declined

• a $445 magazine ad for the Foote-organized Cody Ice Climbing Festival

• $431.22 in personal Verizon bills

“Clearly, those are troubling charges,” Judge Waters said, allowing the larceny charge to proceed to District Court.

WYSARA, which got funding from law enforcement agencies and donations from hunters and anglers around the state, was officially dissolved in January 2012.

In September 2011, the group’s then-treasurer ended her relationship with the association and had her name removed from the debit card, Fish said. That left Foote as the only person in control of the card.

Authorities believe WYSARA held its last official event in June 2011.
A former WYSARA member contacted Park County Sheriff Scott Steward in November 2013 with concerns about the association — noting that the association’s account had been overdrawn and closed in early 2012, charging documents say. In February 2014, Steward asked DCI to look into it.

After pulling bank records, Fish found that “many of the transactions stood out as troublesome.” The agent interviewed Foote about the purchases in September 2014.

Foote said he didn’t remember using the WYSARA account to pay his rent or for the electronics at Walmart, Fish recounted in an affidavit. As for the ad in Rock & Ice Magazine for the Cody Ice Climbing Festival, Foote said it was promoting WYSARA — though Fish said the ad made no mention of the organization.

Foote repeatedly used “we” and “they” when referring to the charges on the card, Fish said in the affidavit.

“I told Foote that I did not know who the ‘we’ was that Foote was referring to and asked if there was someone that Foote was working with,” Fish wrote. “Foote responded that was just ‘me saying we, I guess.’”

As for paying his cell phone bills with the WYSARA card, Foote said he’d used the phone for some WYSARA work and described paying the whole bill with the card as “I guess poor decision making,” Fish wrote.

Foote said his travels around the region were “just my effort or my decision to try keep things going” with WYSARA, Fish recounted in the affidavit.

When explaining the purchases to DCI agents, Foote initially referred them as decisions that were made by “we” or “they,” but he ultimately said that was just “me saying we, I guess,” charging documents allege.

Sheriff Steward reportedly approached DCI after seeing a flyer for the 2014 Cody Ice Climbing Festival. The flyer advertised an “8th annual Wyoming Search and Rescue silent auction” — although the association had been dissolved two years earlier.

“We were trying,” Foote reportedly told Fish of the auction, adding, “We had a tent that was donated by one of the sponsors and they were trying to do something, but it never happened.”

Foote said he didn’t know what had happened to the tent and that no money had been raised, the affidavit says.

He reportedly said he’d also tried running a fundraising for WYSARA in 2012, but didn’t raise any money then, either.

Foote’s next court appearance will be an arraignment in District Court, where he’ll enter a plea. He is free on his own recognizance.

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