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Land board skeptical it can break mine lease

PHOTO BY The Casper Mountain Preservation Alliance

• Directs state office to explore issue

By Stephen Cheslik
Casper Star-Tribune
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

CASPER — Bureaucratic momentum overcame public opposition Thursday as Wyoming’s State Land and Investment Board met in Casper to discuss a potential gravel pit on state-owned land at the base of Casper Mountain. 

Residents largely in opposition of the plan — who brought with them a petition with 5,000 signatures — filled not only the hearing room but also overflowed from a second room where the meeting was being simulcast and into a hallway. 

At issue is a lease of 3,200 acres of state land at roughly $1 per acre that the board unanimously granted Prism Logistics and its manager Kyle True. 

At the time of the lease, the Office of State Lands contends it received no objections to the lease and placed it on a consent agenda – as it does regularly for batches of 70 to 80 leases that could represent hundreds of state parcels. 

Throughout the conversation, members of the board, apart from Secretary of State Chuck Gray, expressed doubts that there is any action they can take outside the established process. 

“What you would rather do, I think,” said Gov. Mark Gordon in response to a testifier opposed to the project, “is to say ‘let’s just cancel this thing right now. Mr. True’s rights don’t count.’” 

With a lease in place, If Prism Logistics goes forward and seeks to create a Limited Mining Operation — which would be limited to 15 acres — it would bypass many of the environmental checks and balances larger mines face, an issue that worried testifiers and some of the state board members alike. 

While Prism Logistics representatives would not comment on whether or not they have made a final decision on the property, True rejected efforts to cancel or amend his lease or shift from established practices. 

“Just from preliminary results, I can tell you there is a substantial gravel reserve there that we think is going to be appropriate for the Casper market,” True said. “That’s encouraging to us and should be encouraging to the state, that there is a substantial reserve … I believe it can be responsibly developed locally.” 

Late in the meeting, Gray made four motions seeking to terminate or modify the Casper Mountain leases with a goal to avoid litigation and possibly recompense Prism Logistics. 

Gordon and treasurer Curtis Meier Jr. questioned the financial ability of the board to terminate the lease as there is no money appropriated to the board to take any such action. 

“I’m not sure the door can’t be cracked, but I’m not sure we should open it all the way,” Meier said as Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder cautioned against the precedent the move would make. 

Meier also noted that as Prism Logistics has already completed its exploration, there would be little point to terminate the lease as removing material is subject to future regulatory actions. 

Ultimately, Gray’s motion failed without a second member of the board backing him. 

But Gordon offered an olive branch suggesting the office of state lands explore what canceling a lease might look like. 

Even that initially met with skepticism from board members who suggested there are no statutory authorization or rules to follow. 

“Let’s figure out how to get the toothpaste back in the tube if we can and then see what is going forward,” suggested Meier, who thought the issue could be taken up again in June if there are any possible paths for the board to follow. 

A second motion by Gray to send a letter to Natrona County commissioners to express that the board believes a conditional use permit would be needed also fell without a second. 

Gordon, as others in the meeting before him, expressed that litigation in Teton County could remove Natrona County’s ability to dictate action on the state-owned lands. 

A third motion to request Prism Logistics agree to an amended lease requiring that the company seek a conditional use permit from the county also fell without a second. 

Encouraged by the earlier discussion, Gray made a fourth and final motion to ask the Office of State Lands to explore how the state could break a lease; it earned support from state auditor Kristi Racines and ultimately the board. 

The approved motion, however, carries no requirement that the board take further action on the Prism Logistics lease. 

While no action was taken Thursday, Gordon repeatedly made it clear that the mine is not a done deal and that many steps still need to be taken — possibly by the board itself. 

“There is still a lot of water to cover before we have a permit, before we have an LMO,” Gordon said at the end of the meeting. “There is still quite a bit of time.”


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