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NEWS BRIEFS for Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Cheyenne man accused of dealing drugs getting a new attorney

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A man arrested in Cheyenne back in December on felony drug charges has lost a second lawyer since his case started.

Jonathon Swan is currently facing federal felony charges of possession of more than 500 grams of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute, and carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking crime. And he is set to enter his trial in Casper with a new lawyer after his most recent attorney asked to be removed from the case.

Swan’s former attorney, Eric Palen, filed a petition to be removed from the case on April 1, citing Swan’s unwillingness to cooperate or communicate with his legal counsel and Swan’s own request to represent himself in court.

The federal judge in the case granted Palen’s request Monday and said new legal representation would be assigned to Swan from the Criminal Justice Act Panel. That group is made up of lawyers who volunteer to act as defense lawyers when a client can’t afford representation.

Palen had been assigned to Swan from the Criminal Justice Act Panel after Swan’s federal public defender asked to be recused from the case back in January. 

Swan’s December arrest was a result of a months-long investigation started by the Cheyenne Police Department in August that identified him as a potential drug dealer in Cheyenne.

During a traffic stop in Cheyenne for an obstructed temporary tag, a CPD K-9 unit indicated there were drugs in Swan’s vehicle, which led to the search of his car.

About 2.1 pounds of methamphetamine were found in the vehicle, along with materials CPD alleged were to be used for distributing the drugs.


Interim director picked for State Fair

DOUGLAS (WNE) — The Wyoming State Fair has a new interim director. Dan Cheney, who grew up on a ranch southwest of Casper and participated in the state fair as a kid, will guide the WSF through this year’s fair in August. 

Cheney comes into the position after the WSF Board decided to relieve long-time director James Goodrich of his position last month. 

Experience won’t be a concern with Cheney. He has led livestock shows and rodeos in Wyoming, Texas and Tennessee and was a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association steer wrestler. He graduated from the University of Wyoming with a degree in agricultural economics, and later received an MBA from the University of Memphis. 

WSF Board Chairman Joe Rankin, who also serves as Converse County and Douglas’ WSF representative, said that Cheney’s experience made him a great fit for the position, and that he has a strong vision for the fair. 

“He’s a very personable guy; very energetic,” Rankin said. “We’re kind of excited about where we’re headed for the next two months.” 

Cheney said he’s not interested in taking on the director role after this year’s fair, but he hopes his years of working in the livestock and rodeo business will help him in the interim. 

“I think that I can bring some of my experience to bear and help out the fair until they find a replacement, a permanent director,” he said. “I think we need to put together a successful 2019 state fair.”


Albany attorney seeks injunction against gas station

LARAMIE (WNE) — Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent filed a request Tuesday for a court order to block construction work by Laramie gas station Tumbleweed Express, which is undergoing construction that Trent alleges is a threat to the Casper Aquifer.

During the past two weeks, the gas station’s owners and county officials have clashed over whether the sudden development is illegal.

The county’s Casper Aquifer Protection Plan, adopted in 2011, cites Tumbleweed Express’s underground storage tanks as one of the top seven risks for contaminating the aquifer.

Such risks regarding underground storage tanks became clear in Lander this month. Gasoline from a Maverik gas station in Lander has been leaking into the Popo Agie River this month and the Department of Environmental Quality cited the gas station April 12 for “failing to make the necessary repairs to prevent overfilling the unleaded gasoline tanks.”

Albany County alleges Tumbleweed Express’s current construction is “in a potentially sensitive aquifer recharge area that is up-gradient to both the city’s Turner municipal wellfield and to private domestic wells in the county and is creating a potential risk to the public health and safety of citizens and defendants.”

The aquifer protection plan states there’s maybe less than 30 feet of Satanka Shale overlying the Casper Formation at the gas station, which lies at the corner of Grand Avenue and Bluebird Lane.

The gas station lies within the the Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone, which was created by county commissioners in 2003. Gas stations and fuel pipelines are banned within the zone, but Tumbleweed Express was grandfathered in.


Coking coal numbers prop up Arch

GILLETTE (WNE) — Despite a drop in sales volumes of about 13 percent for Powder River Basin thermal coal, Arch Coal Inc. is reporting a robust $72.7 million net profit for the first quarter of 2019, spurred mostly by a record $50.95 cash margin return on its metalurgical coking coal operations.

The company’s coking segment help pushed revenues for the quarter to more than $555 million and show a liquidity of more than $400 million, mostly in cash.

“Arch is out of the gates in excellent fashion in 2019 with yet another strong operating performance,” CEO John W. Eaves said.

For Arch’s two Powder River Basin mines, Black Thunder and Coal Creek, a depressed market for domestic thermal coal has been impacted by disruptions in rail service caused by significant flooding throughout the Midwest, Eaves said.

The PRB mines sold 17.1 million tons of coal in the first quarter this year, about 13 percent less than the fourth quarter of 2018.

Despite the lower sales and transportation difficulties, Arch reports its PRB segment posted an overage cost per ton of $10.98, still consistent with projections for the year. It also saw a cash margin per ton of $1.20 for PRB coal, nearly the same as the $1.22 in the fourth quarter of 2018 and down slightly from $1.38 in the first quarter last year.

For the rest of 2019, Lang said the Powder River Basin is “a little bit of a moving target. Q2 will be slightly below Q1, but I don’t think it’ll be much below that.”

Looking beyond this year, the expectations for PRB coal aren’t rosy, Lang said.


Platte Co. residents object to gravel pit expansion

WHEATLAND (WNE) – A subject of hot debate in the Platte County Planning and Zoning and Commissioners meetings this past week is a special use permit submitted by McMurray Redi-Mix and Nettie Dodge requesting to expand the current gravel pit on the corner of Sybille Creek Road and Jefferson. 

Surrounding neighbors came out in force in opposition citing reasons of excessive road traffic, property value loss, noise and air pollution. 

“The property is zoned agricultural. When we moved out there, we were expecting grazing cattle, hay and grain production, those sorts of things,” explained Jeannette Barber. 

McMurray wishes to use the Tyler Dodge pit to provide the gravel needed for the Phifer Airfield renovation and wanted to use a local source. 

McMurray stated in the request that there wouldn’t be a significant impact to the local community. Barber disagreed. 

“We feel it’s a huge impact. The haul traffic, the dirt and the dust especially in the high wind area which we are. Increased noise production and possible water pollution,” Barber said.

Rob Jongsma for McMurray Redi-mix explained how the Airfield project requires a very specific type of gravel that the Dodge pit has. 

The gravel pit goes against the county regulation that an aggregate mine can’t be within a quarter mile of any residents unless those residents sign a notarized waiver. So going by that rule, the Planning and Zoning Board voted the permit down. 

The issue was then brought up at the Commissioners meeting with the same neighbors in attendance to voice their objection. 

The board elected to table their vote until more research into the state statutes can be conducted. 


Teton officials reject worker housing plan

JACKSON (WNE) — A plan to build 155 units of privately funded worker housing south of Jackson has failed after town and county officials voted against the proposal.

“I know we need workforce housing,” County Commissioner Greg Epstein said. “But we need workforce housing in the right place.”

Developer Larry Huhn, a 38-year resident, sought to build 155 units of single-family workforce housing on 84 acres next to Munger Mountain Elementary School, 8 miles south of the town of Jackson.

County plans envision the Hog Island area as remaining rural with light industrial use. Under existing zoning, between 17 and 85 units could be built on the 84 acres.

With the new Munger Mountain Elementary School, a new five-lane highway and a new 6-inch sewer, Huhn’s team argued the area had changed enough to revisit it as suitable for workforce housing. In January Huhn’s team applied for an amendment to the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan to allow a denser housing development.

“This proposal probably is the most cost-effective way to get workforce housing because it’s all done without government subsidy,” project consultant Scott Pierson said. “We’ve got an opportunity here we don’t always get.”

Planning Department staff recommended denial of the proposal, saying the community should stick to the original vision for Hog Island despite infrastructure updates executed by state agencies.

During public comment, residents expressed the dire situation people face finding affordable housing. They urged finding flexibility in the Comprehensive Plan and compassion for struggling families.

Huhn was disappointed and surprised at the town and county decision, saying he didn’t understand how officials could turn down the first-ever proposal to build totally privately funded, totally deed-restricted housing, given the community need.

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