Jun 6, 2015

Deputies handing out sheriff’s trading cards to local children

Thousands of Park County Sheriff's Office trading cards will be handed out by deputies in the coming months as part of a youth outreach effort.

As they come into contact with children during their regular duties, deputies are distributing cards that show off the office’s patrol vehicles.

Deputy Justin Kroeker presents a trading card to 6-year old Harper Baugher of Cody in this photo provided by the sheriff's office.
“This is a great way for our personnel to develop a positive relationship with children at a very young age,” Sheriff Scott Steward said in a news release. “It affords deputies an opportunity to demonstrate that law enforcement officers are their friend.”

Steward said it’s especially important given recent national events where police have been portrayed in a negative light.

His office ordered a total of 4,500 cards, which feature eight different designs. Each depicts a patrol vehicle in different settings around the county. A couple are posed next to a vintage aircraft and another features a historical 1951 Ford patrol car.

The back of each trading card lists some facts about deputies’ duties or the vehicles shown and contact information for the sheriff’s office.

One of the eight trading cards.
“The cards are currently available from any sheriff’s deputy. So if you see a deputy, feel free to have your child ask them for a card,” said Lance Mathess, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, in the release. “Or stop in at the law enforcement center (in Cody) and the sheriff’s staff will be glad to present them with a card.”

The trading cards cost the sheriff’s office $770 (about 17 cents a piece), Mathess said. The money came from a part of the budget earmarked for “community services support.”

Park County roads generally holding up to wet weather; other counties not so lucky

Despite facing its share of rainy weather, Park County continues to fare better than much of the state, which has been grappling with high water.

To the knowledge of Park County Homeland Security Coordinator Mart Knapp, only one county residence has been flooded in this wet spring. Knapp said a Cody home at the bottom of the Sheridan Avenue hill had “water up to the doorknob” in May’s massive hail/rain storm and “the Red Cross put them up for a couple days in a hotel until the mess got cleaned up.”

Park County Engineer Brian Edwards said Friday evening that only two county roads are currently closed because of recent weather, and both are fairly remote.

The blue stars show the general areas of the two closed roads in Park County.
One is Road 3SL, a “lightly traveled road” northeast of Meeteetse that's been flooded and undercut by the Lower Greybull River, Edwards said. It accesses about a dozen homes off of Road 3LE (which connects Meeteetse and Burlington) and is about roughly 10 miles east of Wyo. Highway 120, Edwards said. The homeowners have another way to access their properties and county crews “are waiting for the water levels to fall before making any repairs,” he said.

Sliding earth has also closed the upper portion of the Monument Hill Road (Road 7UH) north of Cody, with a part of the road beyond the gate "pretty much wiped out," Edwards said. He figures it will take until early July for the area to dry out enough for road and bridge crews to restore access to the recreational area.

A mudslide recently closed the very end of the South Fork Highway, near the Deer Creek Trailhead, but county crews got that cleaned out about a week ago, Edwards said.

“We’re chasing stuff around,” he said of erosion and sliding around the county's roads, but added, “Nothing that’s impacting a lot of people, that kind of thing.”

A massive amount of rain led to the collapse of this overpass in Lusk. Photo courtesy Wyoming Highway Patrol
It's been a different story in places like Lusk, where floodwaters have damaged homes, a bridge and roads.

The American Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at the Niobrara County Fairgrounds on Thursday to aid victims of the flooding.

(Capping a bad week of PR for the Red Cross, the non-profit's initial press release announcing the shelter described it as being located in “Lutz, CO.” The Red Cross sent a corrected release for Lusk, WY a few minutes later.)

Gov. Matt Mead visited Lusk on Thursday and on Friday, he issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency for the flooding across the state. The order directs the Office of Homeland Security and the Wyoming Army National Guard to take all necessary steps to aid citizens in affected areas.

“I am very concerned about the weather-related damage across Wyoming and the toll it is taking on our citizens and communities,” Mead said in a Friday evening news release. “Mudslides have closed some roads in Sunlight Basin near Cody, Wind River Canyon and Togwotee Pass and flooding has caused damage in Niobrara, Johnson and other counties. We are doing all we can to be at the ready to help city and county authorities.”

Wet conditions have cracked the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (Wyo. Highway 120), but it remains open. Photo courtesy Michael Stroble/Wyoming Department of Transportation
Contrary to Mead's statement, mudslides have not actually closed roads in Sunlight Basin.

The quote was apparently referring to road damage on the Chief Joseph Highway. Wet conditions have caused the ground beneath the highway near Northwest College's A.L. Mickelson Field Station to slide. That, in turn, has made the roadway crack and sink by as much as half-a-foot. The Wyoming Department of Transportation has reduced the speed limit in the area and blocked off part of the road while working on a permanent fix, but the highway has remained open.


Jun 5, 2015

After string of good years, county’s insurance costs rise

The cost of insuring Park County’s 200 or so employees is going up — a lot.

Rising medical costs, a handful of serious health problems and new federal requirements will likely force the county to spend around $495,000 more to insure its employees in the coming fiscal year.

While it’s a significant jump — around 23.2 percent when compared to the current year — the county’s insurance consultant says the spike must be put in the broader context of how exceptionally well the insurance plan has performed in recent years.

Park County's health insurance costs are going up. File photo courtesy 401kcalculator.org
Even after the hike, Park County’s insurance expenses will have risen by an average of less than 2 percent per year since July 2012. That’s while other groups are seeing annual increases of somewhere between 7 and 12 percent, said Eric Deeg of USI Insurance Services.

“You’ve had a run of four-plus years of incredibly good claims experience and incredibly positive results from your wellness program,” Deeg told commissioners on May 12.

He described Park County as having outperformed basically everyone in recent years.

“In the health insurance world today — and I’ll be brutally honest — I don’t have groups performing like you are,” he said.

Commissioners brought Deeg on board in 2010 and he helped implement sweeping changes to the county’s then-sinking insurance plan. Commissioners put more money into the plan, raised employees’ deductibles and created a new focus on preventative care — like encouraging annual blood screenings.


“Whenever you think you've got everybody well and using the health plan correctly, the problem is you then have a claim from somebody that is totally healthy and unexpected,” said Eric Deeg, the county's insurance consultant.

The insurance plan has rebounded so well that commissioners were able to actually cut $260,000 from the plan last year and use the money elsewhere. However, Deeg said about a half-dozen county employees suffered serious medical problems since last June and claims outpaced funding by nearly $90,000. (The shortfall will be covered by a reserve account.)

“It’s an odd year, but I think the wellness program's doing the right things,” Deeg said, adding, “I always say, whenever you think you've got everybody well and using the health plan correctly, the problem is you then have a claim from somebody that is totally healthy and unexpected — and those things can happen.”

Complying with the federal Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as Obamacare, is also expected to cost the county.

In addition to roughly $36,000 in annual fees, the county is being required to offer insurance to part-time employees who work 30 or more hours a week.

Covering the handful of those employees is expected to cost the county around $115,000 this coming year, according to the clerk’s office.

Complying with Obamacare could cost the county around $150,000 in the coming year, in part because they're required to offer coverage to some part-time employees.

Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said the county could cut those employees’ hours back to 29 hours a week so as to avoid having to cover them in 2016-17, but he doesn’t know if the commissioners will do that.

Total funding for the insurance plan would total around $2.6 million for the coming year, under preliminary budget numbers.

'Wyoming girl' named new leader of BLM's Cody office

A woman with long-standing ties to Wyoming has been tabbed as the new manager of the Bureau of Land Management's Cody field office.


The BLM recently announced the promotion of Delissa Minnick, who'd served as the assistant field manager in Cody since 2013. She replaces Mike Stewart, who retired as field manager in late 2014.

Delissa Minnick, the new manager of the BLM's Cody office
“As a Wyoming girl, I know how lucky I am to get to live and work in the Big Horn Basin,” Minnick said in a BLM news release. “Managing our public lands alongside such dedicated public, agricultural, government and industry partners is a dream come true.”

Minnick has undergraduate, graduate and law degrees from the University of Wyoming. After law school, she practiced environmental, natural resource and public lands law with Holland & Hart, which maintains firms around the region.

She joined the BLM in 2009 as a planning and environmental coordinator the agency's state office in Cheyenne. She later served as an attorney-advisor with the Office of the Solicitor and as BLM Wyoming's litigation coordinator.

“Delissa’s constructive approach to challenges and her commitment to building and maintaining strong relationships in the community will be an asset to the Cody field office,” said Steve Dondero, district manager of the BLM Wind River/Bighorn Basin District, in the news release.

Minnick and her 9-year-old daughter, Kik, are sport and outdoor recreation enthusiasts and spend the weekends trying to run, hike, bike, swim, ride, ski and explore as many miles as possible.

“Having grown up in Wyoming, I have both a passion for our wild places and an understanding of the importance of prudent development of our natural resources,” she said in the release.

The public will be invited to meet Minnick at an official installation ceremony that will be held some time this summer.

Cody man charged with poaching deer east of Yellowstone

A local man is facing allegations that he illegally killed and then wasted a mule deer while camping in the Shoshone National Forest, just east of Yellowstone National Park.

Erik Rautenberg, 29, of Cody, is charged with wasting or abandoning a trophy animal.

The allegations are that, on Saturday, Rautenberg used his 9mm Glock pistol to kill a deer as it passed by his campsite near the Sam Berry Meadows. It’s more than three miles north of U.S. Highway 14-16-20.

The large buck was killed inside the Shoshone National Forest. Courtesy photo
Rautenberg pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge on Monday afternoon in Park County Circuit Court in Cody. He was released from jail on his own recognizance after his court appearance and a trial was tentatively set for Aug. 13.

A former law enforcement officer for the U.S. Forest Service and his wife happened to be riding past Rautenberg’s campsite along with the Pahaska Trail at the time of the incident, according to an affidavit from North Cody Game Warden Travis Crane filed in support of the charge. The woman told Crane she’d heard gunshots and saw a man armed with a handgun — later identified as Rautenberg — follow a fleeing deer over a hill. That was followed by a volley of seven or eight more shots, Crane wrote of the couple’s account.

Rautenberg initially claimed he hadn't shot at any deer, but he later changed his story.

On Sunday, Crane and Shoshone law enforcement officer Travis Hayworth headed up the Pahaska Trail and found Rautenberg and his brother heading back toward the trailhead.

Crane asked Rautenberg, who was carrying a pistol, what he’d been shooting at the previous day and Rautenberg was “adamant” that he’d shot at tree stumps and not at any deer, the affidavit says.

The Rautenbergs continued back toward the trailhead while Crane and Hayworth continued to the campsite. There, the officers found the campfire still smoldering and aluminum foil in the pit, the affidavit says.

Hayworth turned back, intending to make the Rautenbergs return to clean up their trash and put out the fire; Crane stayed to search the area and he ultimately found a large, freshly killed buck deer.
Crane then headed back down the trail and confronted Rautenberg. This time, Crane wrote, Rautenberg admitted to killing the deer.

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

Rautenberg described first hitting the animal from about 50 yards away, then “emptied his gun at that point to try to put the deer down,” Crane wrote.

Rautenberg reportedly told a game warden that “it was a dumb thing to do.”

Rautenberg said he cut off some meat from the deer’s back, cooked a small amount over the campfire, then threw the rest in the river, the affidavit says.

Rautenberg’s brother hadn’t known what was going on until the animal was dead, didn't eat any of the meat, “and was pissed that (Rautenberg) shot the deer,” Crane wrote of what he was told.

The game warden arrested Rautenberg at the Pahaska Trailhead and he spent the rest of Sunday and Monday morning in jail. While the case is pending, Rautenberg is prohibited from hunting, trapping or fishing.

“That means you shouldn't be packing around any hunting rifle, fishing pole or anything like that,” Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters advised him.

It’s the second apparent case of poaching along the Pahaska Trail in recent weeks. Authorities continue to seek information about a grizzly bear killed just past the Sam Berry Meadows sometime between May 1-4.

Jun 4, 2015

Mama bear and triplet cubs north of Cody on Game and Fish's radar

A grizzly bear mother and her cubs have been frequenting the area north of Cody, being spotted on the west side of Heart Mountain on Saturday.
Cody photographer Steve Torrey snagged a photo of the mama bear and her triplets on Saturday. Photo courtesy Steve Torrey
“This grizzly bear with triplet cubs of the year can be seen regularly north of Cody, north of Skull Pass,” said photographer Steve Torrey of Cody. “Wyoming G.F. (Game and Fish Department) is attempting to trap and collar her, but she keeps avoiding the trap. GF is not saying whether she will remain local or if they will move her.”

Dan Thompson, Game and Fish statewide supervisor of the large carnivore management section, said the department did make an attempt to capture the family group for a time to learn about their movements and for safety reasons when they were near Wyo. Highway 120.

“They did not necessarily evade capture, but, rather did not venture into the area we had a trap set,” Thompson said.

Game and Fish personnel set a trap for the bear family, but the animals didn't go into that area.

“As for bear safety, we always continually preach awareness of one's surroundings and using the best weapon in your arsenal to combat any potential conflicts with wildlife — your brain,” he added.

It's important for people to be physically and mentally prepared to take advantage of Wyoming’s wild lands, the Game and Fish says. Officials advise that people should carry and know how to use bear spray and know how to identify tracks and other wildlife signs.

“Report bear activities to the Wyoming Game and Fish and enjoy Wyoming's outdoors and wildlife,” Thompson said.

Yellowstone's Brink of the Lower Falls Trail reopens after repairs

After drilling apart a massive boulder, cleaning up a mudslide and making repairs, crews have managed to reopen a popular Yellowstone National Park trail.
Park rangers on Thursday reopened the popular Brink of the Lower Falls Trail along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It had been closed in mid-May after the 7-foot-tall, 8-foot-wide boulder and mud slid down onto the trail amid heavy rain.

The repaired Brink of the Lower Falls Trail. Photo courtesy National Park Service
Crews used drills to break apart the boulder. Part of the rock was left in place to protect the trail from further rock fall, while the rest was used to help restore the damaged trails. As a precaution, crews also released some loose boulders on the slope above that may have come down and damaged the trail in the future. 

“This is a popular trail, and we’re glad to have it open and safe for the public again,” said Canyon District Ranger Tim Townsend, said in a news release from the park service.
Rangers are reminding visitors that many trails and other areas are still saturated by recent rain and melting snow. Visitors need to be aware of their surroundings and footing throughout the park, the park service said.
Current trail condition reports are available at Yellowstone visitor centers or backcountry offices.
How the trail looked shortly after the mud/rock slide. Photo courtesy National Park Service

Optimistic officials cut ribbon on new Cody Labs warehouse

Heralding the unique new jobs it’s bringing to the area, officials on Monday welcomed a new $3.7 million warehouse that expands Cody Laboratories.

“It’s a magnificent thing, it’s a magnificent story, because it provides (economic) diversity,” said Gov. Matt Mead at a ribbon-cutting for the Cody pharmaceutical manufacturer's new 11,000 square-foot facility. It’s located just off Road 2AB on the northern edge of Cody.

Cody Labs President Bernhard Optiz (second from right) visits with Gov. Matt Mead while the company's Ryan Osborne (second from left) talks with others during Monday's walk-through of the new warehouse. Photo by CJ Baker
The completed warehouse represents a partnership between government and private enterprise — the Wyoming Business Council provided what’s effectively a $2.53 million low-interest loan for the project. State leaders say it can be an example for other communities. There's also hope the warehouse is just the first phase of a much larger Cody Labs campus at the Road 2AB site.

The optimism shone through on an otherwise overcast afternoon.

Cody Labs President Bernhard Opitz thanked the gathered officials for “the help you all gave us in building a home in Cody.”

“Your help really made it happen,” Opitz added later.

“This is a very very special occasion here that we’re sharing today in Cody,” said Cody Mayor Nancy Tia Brown, referring to it as a “game-changing project.”

Cody Labs, owned by Philadelphia-based Lannett Company, has already hired 45 more people who will help man the new warehouse. The high-tech facility will house hundreds of pallets of raw materials and other items needed to make medications like painkillers.

The hires mean Cody Labs now has close to 130 employees and a nearly $7 million annual payroll, according to information from the economic development group, Forward Cody, which helped push the project.

It’s a long ways from 2000, when founder Ric Asherman started the business in his Cody garage.

Governor Mead welcomed the new jobs that are outside the state’s primary industries of mineral production, tourism and agriculture. He said growing other types of businesses can help smooth out any ups and downs in those three main industries. Further, Mead said having different types of available jobs can help keep Wyoming’s young people in the state; he said about 60 percent of 18-year-olds leave within their next decade.

“We want diversity to give those young people as many chances to say yes to staying in Wyoming as possible — to give them as many different industries, as many different looks at different career opportunities as possible so they can say, ‘Yes, I have an opportunity to stay and raise my family in the best state in the union,” Mead said.

Cody Labs President Bernhard Optiz beams after cutting the ribbon on the company's new warehouse off Road 2AB. Photo by CJ Baker
The public-private warehouse project was years in the making and, for reasons that included conflict with the since-ousted Asherman, changed significantly from its initial concept. The original plan was to erect the warehouse right next to Cody Labs' existing operations on the city's west strip, in the former Walmart building. However, it was ultimately decided that Road 2AB would be a better site.

“We have a lot to learn from this project,” Wyoming Business Council CEO Shawn Reese said, adding that one of those lessons is that it's possible to overcome challenges.

Beyond the $2.53 million from the business council, Forward Cody chipped in $450,000 and Cody Labs paid the roughly $756,000 remainder, said Forward Cody CEO James Klessens.

Under the partnership, Forward Cody actually owns the building and land and will lease it to Cody Labs. The pharmaceutical company will have the option of buying the property after five years, Klessens said, with Forward Cody able to use the proceeds for future economic development.

“That got us into the discussion on the next phase,” Klessens said. The “next phase” is Cody Labs' possible plan to build a $100 million campus for making active pharmaceutical ingredients just east of the warehouse.

Monday's event offered perhaps the only chance for the general public to tour the facility, which will eventually house hundreds of pallets of materials used to make drugs. Photo by CJ Baker

Even as the officials celebrated the warehouse's completion, the vision of the broader campus — and the scores of new jobs that would come with it — was on everyone's minds.

“All of these people, all of these factions came together and taken this dream  created a plan and then they acted on that plan and here we are,” mayor Brown said, as she stood in the doorway of the warehouse. “And with hope and the good Lord willing, in the next couple years, this dream will grow again.”

Cody man injured in ATV crash in Badger Basin

A Cody man was injured when he rolled his ATV in Badger Basin on Tuesday night.

Benjamin M. Pierce, 26, reportedly crashed around 7:30 p.m. for reasons that law enforcement officers continue to investigate.

The crashed ATV is shown in this photo from the sheriff's office.
Responding personnel from the Park County Sheriff's Office, Powell Valley Hospital Ambulance Service and the Powell Volunteer Fire Department found Pierce lying next to his overturned ATV. Pierce was conscious and breathing, but somewhat disoriented; he was taken to Powell Valley Hospital for treatment, according to a Thursday news release from the sheriff's office.

Pierce crashed about 50 feet west of Little Sand Coulee Road and about one-and-a-half miles off of Wyoming Highway 294, the release said. Two other adults, including Pierce's girlfriend, and a child had been with Pierce in the general area but didn't see him crash.

“So far, no citations have been issued, however the crash still under investigation,” sheriff's spokesman Lance Mathess said in the release.

Jun 2, 2015

24-hour 'BioBlitz' to search for plants and animals at Heart Mountain Ranch

You're invited to team with biologists and scour the Heart Mountain Ranch Preserve for plants, animals and fungi during this month's Wyoming BioBlitz.

Set for June 13-14, the BioBlitz will have scientists, teachers, volunteers, environmental educators, and community members joining forces to find and document as many species as they can within the 24 hour period.

Teams will comb over Heart Mountain in two subgroups -- an expedition that will trek to the top of the mountain and another group that will explore around Alkali Creek -- while others will work around ranch headquarters along Eagle Nest Creek.

Anyone is welcome to participate in the free, highly hands-on event, but interested folks must register by Monday, June 8, at www.wyomingbiodiversity.org/bioblitz-2015.

A spotted towhee is released during last year's BioBlitz at Red Canyon Ranch. Photo courtesy The Nature Conservancy
The Wyoming BioBlitz has been running each year since 2008, beginning in Shirley Basin and hosted in a different location each year.

Last year’s BioBlitz at Red Canyon Ranch outside of Lander attracted nearly 100 people from throughout Wyoming and northern Colorado and resulted in a list of approximately 200 species found and documented.

In addition to searching for and tracking organisms, the BioBlitz emphasizes education, too. Biologists leading the activity (such as bird mist-netting or amphibian catching) describe the natural history, life cycle, identification and other fun facts about plants and animals they find.

The event is organized by the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute, Audubon Rockies and The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming.

Jun 1, 2015

Website names Cody as one of America's best small towns

Cody is being called one of the best places to live in America.

Among the 12,000 towns around the country that have between 1,000 and 20,000 people, Livability.com ranked Cody as No. 52.

“Tourism is the city’s primary industry, with annual events like a Cody Stampede Rodeo that attracts huge crowds. Schools in Cody develop young minds. The community has many art galleries and independent restaurants, and residents receive great medical care at West Park Hospital,” Livability wrote in its explanation.

A screenshot of Livability's ranking of Cody.
The brief write-up also notes the views of Heart Mountain that Cody offers and the nearby Shoshone River. (Livability initially referred to Heart Mountain as “Helen Mountain” – a peak well to the south in Sublette County – but fixed the error after an inquiry from Cody News Company.)

Cody ranked highly in categories for its health, amenities and civics. Livability's data says the city has an median income of $48,125, a median home price of $186,600 and 1,244 business with 10 or more employees (with thousands of other businesses having less than 10 workers). You can peruse the data here.

“The community has many art galleries and independent restaurants, and residents receive great medical care at West Park Hospital,” the website wrote.

To come up the the rankings, Livabilty.com said it used more than 40 data points across eight categories – ranging from demographics to real estate to health care – that were weighted based on what people have said matters the most to them in their communities.

The data came from sources ranging from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, Esri, Walk Score, Great Schools, Americans for the Arts and variables that Livability created from the study.

Other local cities who made the top 100 list of most livable small towns were Jackson (No. 13), Sheridan (No. 41) and Red Lodge (No. 79).

“America was built on small towns. Regardless of whether these cities and towns are suburbs of major metros, or hamlets unto themselves, they have great character and are great places to live,” Livability editor Matt Carmichael said in a news release.

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