Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

March 29, 2019 Wyoming Briefs

Wind River judge released on bond

RIVERTON (WNE) - Wind River Indian Reservation Chief Judge Terri Smith is scheduled to appear June 3 at trial in Cheyenne - less than one month after she expects to give birth.

Smith was indicted March 19 on two criminal charges: the misuse of a communications center, and the unlawful delivery of cocaine.

Together the charges pose a felony level offense.

Smith was 32 years old when she took her oath of office in January 2018.

She has pleaded not guilty to both counts.

Details of the charges have not yet been made public.

She attended her hearing Wednesday morning in Lander, under U.S. Magistrate Teresa McKee.

The defendant agreed to an unsecured bond of $25,000 and the court's conditions of release.

One clause of the court's release agreement is not yet unsealed for media access because it pertains to co-defendants, for whom investigation is still ongoing.

Another of the conditions of release is that Smith shall appear at her trial June 3 in Cheyenne.

Defense attorney Colin Simpson had argued against the date at the Lander hearing because Smith is due to give birth May 4.

After the hearing, Simpson, upon consulting with his client, declined to comment.


Coal jobs decline again

GILLETTE (WNE) - Wyoming's coal industry continues to struggle in a weak market for U.S. thermal coal and continuing pressure to decarbonize the world's energy production.

The state lost another 153 coal mining jobs in 2018, according to the state mining inspector's annual report of employment and production. It brings the total number of direct coal job losses since 2015 to 1,112 after a fall that began with the abrupt layoff of nearly 500 Powder River Basin miners on March 31 and April 1, 2016. Overall, nearly 1,000 coal jobs were lost that year.

The report also shows statewide coal production dropped about 12 million tons in 2018, from 316.6 million tons in 2017 to 304.4 million tons last year. In 2015, production topped 375 million tons.

While the mining inspector's report focuses on direct industry jobs, the overall losses caused by concurrent busts in the state's oil and coal industries also resulted in the loss of more than 3,000 support and contractor jobs.

The businesses that support mining continue to play a strong role in the state's economy and overall workforce outlook, according to the report.

Dozens of contractors in the state employ more than 3,100 people who accounted for more than 4.3 million manhours of employment in 2018. That includes all mining activity, not only coal.

Breaking the numbers down also shows the Powder River Basin's "big three" producers - Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy - employ 3,775 mine workers and make up more than 68 percent of the state's coal workforce.


Snowpack brings healthy runoff predictions

LYMAN (WNE) - Wyoming currently boasts a better than average snowpack - 108 percent of the typical water content for this time of year, according to the first measurement of spring by the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

The latest map shows 104 percent in the Lower Green River Basin for snow Water Equivalent (SWE) and 113 percent in the Upper Bear River Basin. The Upper Green is shown at 101 percent. The basins in the southeast quarter of Wyoming has the SWE of 120-126 percent.

The NRCS measures the water content from a network of high-tech mountain stations that can be remotely read. The SNOTEL stations give observers information to calculate the water content in 19 drainages across the state.

Readings published Monday by the NRCS show the highest reading - 126 percent of median water content - in the Little Snake River drainage south of Rawlins. The Tongue River drainage holds the lowest reading at 84 percent.

According to information released earlier this month by the NRCS, Wyoming's February precipitation was 115 to 125 percent of average. The current water year precipitation is averaging 100 to 110 percent of normal across Wyoming. Mountain snowpack across Wyoming is 105 to 115 percent of median. Near normal to slightly above normal snowmelt streamflow volumes are expected across several major basins in Wyoming. Total reservoir capacity across Wyoming continued to be 70 to 75 percent by early March.


Evanston man sentenced to prison in escape attempt

EVANSTON (WNE) - The Evanston man whose actions brought on a lockdown of the Uinta County Complex and a massive law enforcement response last June has been sentenced to more than 15 years in federal prison. Jonathan Olivares was sentenced in U.S. District Court on the morning of March 25.

Olivares had just appeared in Third District Court on the morning of June 26, 2018, on charges of delivery of heroin, when he attacked a detention officer with the Uinta County Sheriff's Office, stole her firearm and escaped custody. When leaving the county complex, he stole a car in the parking lot at gunpoint and a brief manhunt ensued before he was apprehended and taken into custody.

Olivares was initially charged on seven counts, including interfering with a peace officer by intentionally and knowingly disarming her of her firearm, escaping from detention by assault upon a person, aggravated robbery, felony theft of a vehicle, aggravated assault and battery and theft of a firearm.

Last August, Olivares appeared again in Third District Court, entered guilty pleas on all charges and a competency hearing was ordered prior to the court's acceptance of those pleas. However, the charges were subsequently dismissed by the Uinta County Attorney's Office to facilitate the filing of federal charges and prevent any double-jeopardy concerns.

In November, Olivares appeared in U.S. District Court with Judge Scott W. Skavdahl presiding and entered guilty pleas to federal charges of carjacking and using a firearm while committing a crime of violence. Olivares has now been sentenced to 100 months (eight years and four months) on the carjacking charge and 84 months (seven years) on the use of a firearm while committing a crime of violence charge, with the sentences to run consecutively.


New commander of Wyoming National Guard takes over

CHEYENNE (WNE) – The new leader of the Wyoming National Guard took over the reins of the state's armed forces Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Gregory Porter was sworn in as the next adjutant general of the Guard and promoted to the rank of major general at the ceremony in Cheyenne.

Porter replaces Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, who retired from the Wyoming National Guard and will take over leadership at the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

Porter has lived in Wyoming since he was 9 and joined the armed forces in 1985 through the University of Wyoming's Cowboy Battalion Army Reserve Officers Training Corps. He most recently served as the director of the joint staff at the Joint Force Headquarters in Cheyenne before his promotion.

During the change of command ceremony Thursday, Porter thanked the servicemen and servicewomen with whom he's served, and who helped mentor and shape him throughout his career.

"If I'm any success as a leader and a human being, it is due to all the time and efforts they have invested in me," Porter said during the ceremony.

"I am forever grateful to know you, serve with you and call all of you friend(s)."

During his remarks, Gov. Mark Gordon praised Porter for his willingness to serve. Gordon said Porter's qualifications made him stand out in the remarkable pool of applicants who threw their hat in the ring to succeed Reiner as adjutant general.


Pinedale council member resigns shortly after taking office

PINEDALE (WNE) – The Pinedale Town Council must start over to fill a vacancy for a town council position, by advertising and accepting applications, interviewing candidates, selection and voting – then the swearing in.

Sound familiar? It is. The Pinedale Council just finished the entire process the first time. Erik Ashley applied, interviewed and accepted the seat vacated Feb. 25 by council member Jim Brost.

According to an email from Pinedale Mayor Matt Murdock, Ashley, an employee with the Bureau of Land Management, discovered that two different federal acts prevent him from being on the council. Multiple projects compromise his "impartiality" – including increasing salaries of spouses of people who may work for the BLM to an ongoing water study for the EPA.

"You will note that the below email is timed at 10:33 a.m. but I have held off from formally announcing this until I could speak to him in person," Murdock said in the email to council member and town staff.

"He has just left my office and upon deeper discussion, I have accepted his resignation," Murdock said. "Erik felt very bad for having caused this problem and sincerely believed that he was not in conflict when he applied, accepted and was sworn in," Murdock said. "I do not believe that there is any fault with the town since we specifically asked Erik if there was a conflict. This is very regrettable but I am very glad it was caught so early."

Because Ashley was sworn in, the council must pass a new resolution to fill his vacancy, advertise and then interview candidates – again.