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Wyoming News Briefs

Northwest College cuts jobs

Northwest College cuts jobs

POWELL (WNE) — While the news was expected for some time, the mood at Monday’s Northwest College Board of Trustees meeting was noticeably gloomy as layoffs were announced.

A total of eight people will be laid off from NWC and another 21 positions will be eliminated through attrition and retirements as part of an effort to produce a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year.

Succumbing to a national trend, the college has been hit by a 20 percent drop in enrollment, as well as decreases in state appropriations and assessed valuations. That resulted in a fiscal year 2020 projected shortfall of nearly $2.4 million.

“Those are the three major pieces to this puzzle, and they’re all in the wrong direction,” said Board President Dustin Spomer.

This follows a fiscal year 2017 shortfall of $2.3 million and a fiscal year 2018 shortfall of $1.2 million. During those years, the college cut programs, in addition to other operational cuts. They also utilized reserves as much as possible. A total of 19 positions were eliminated over those two years, but almost all were from attrition.

At the time, the board hoped revenues would rebound, eliminating the need for any further cuts. While the budget was flat for fiscal year 2019, the projected budget for the coming fiscal year didn’t prove more fruitful.

With so many cuts to operations in response to previous budget shortfalls, there wasn’t any “wiggle room,” as Trustee Nada Larson put it.

A total of 29 positions are to be cut from the budget, but only eight of those will be reductions in force.


Woman convicted of killing husband in late 1970s dies

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Alice Uden, who was convicted in 2014 of killing her husband in the 1970s, died in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, on Wednesday of chronic health issues.

Uden was sentenced Aug. 25, 2014, for second-degree murder. For the past five years, she’d been incarcerated in a female medical unit at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington. She was transferred to the Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff on Tuesday.

Uden, who was born March 8, 1939, murdered her husband, Ron Holtz, in late 1974 or early 1975 while he slept in the couple’s bed at their home in Cheyenne. However, his remains weren’t discovered until 2013, when they were found in a mine shaft on the Remount Ranch, which is located between Cheyenne and Laramie.

Uden’s defense in court in 2014 was that Holtz had been abusive, violent and unpredictable, and that he had threatened to kill her and their small child.

According to a 2014 Wyoming Tribune Eagle story, Uden said she wished she had never met Holtz, saying she had tried to find a way out of the relationship, but “nobody would help.”

Uden married her fourth husband, Gerald Uden, in 1976. Gerald Uden was convicted of murdering his ex-wife and two adopted sons in 1980, but their remains have never been recovered. The couple left Wyoming not long after the deaths, taking up residence in Chadwick, Missouri, where they lived until their arrests for their respective murders in late 2013.

As per departmental policy, an autopsy has been ordered.


Court allows Cloud Peak to pay taxes

GILLETTE (WNE) — A bankruptcy court judge in Delaware has cleared the path for Cloud Peak Energy Corp. to potentially pay millions of dollars in back taxes and fees.

Whether that translates to Campbell County collecting an $8.3 million payment the company missed May 10 could be unlikely, said Rob Godby director of the Center for Energy, Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming.

“Does this motion mean the taxes will get paid? Not necessarily,” he said. “But it does mean that they could get paid.”

Tuesday’s ruling was part of the court’s granting a rash of motions that accompanied Cloud Peak Energy’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing and clears the way for the company to continue to pay vendors, employees, and taxes and fees as they come due during the course of business.

The company estimates it has $62 million in accrued taxes and fees, with $12.7 million due within 21 days of filing for bankruptcy.

The motions are standard in a bankruptcy and protect the value of Cloud Peak’s assets, namely its mines, Godby said.

“If they don’t pay those, then you potentially could have (the state or county) start seizing equipment or putting it up for auction to get their money and that could affect the ability to do business,” he said, adding that’s an unlikely scenario.

The county’s $8.3 million payment was due by the end of business May 10. Because Cloud Peak’s bankruptcy filing was made the same day hours before the end of the day, that tax is considered a financial liability of the bankruptcy and doesn’t have to be paid under the motion granted Tuesday.


Bull snake causes Sheridan Co. power outage

SHERIDAN (WNE) — As the lights in Sheridan went black, the buzz of downtown continued to hum. Without traffic lights, drivers navigated utilizing polite finger waves, but the Sheridan Police Department received numerous calls about accidents related to the power outage.

Shops opened their doors to let light in. Many local businesses tried to push their way through the power outage and continue to provide service for customers.

The countywide power outage started around 12:15 p.m. and lasted approximately 40 minutes. It was caused by a bull snake slithering into a Montana-Dakota Utilities substation insulator, tripping the main transformer.

Restaurants throughout town tried their best to continue to serve even with a lack of resources as customers continued to dine in. Olivia Castaneda, manager at Midtown Cafe, said they were able to continue service.

“It’s really hard,” Castaneda said. “We depend on the power but we have been able to continue to cook because we have gas. But we can’t do any drinks because our blenders and coffee presses are down and that’s what we’re known for.”

Every bank downtown locked up immediately when power was lost. Hospital Pharmacy on Main Street shut down with a note on the door that had “Power Outage” scribbled on it.

T’Leye Legerski, a nail tech at Tangles, struggled for the duration without power.

“Without power, I don’t get paid,” Legerski said. “I made it through; I polished my client’s toenails with a flashlight.”

Power was restored to most of Sheridan just before 1 p.m. Tuesday.


GRHS may help pilot Cyber S.W.A.T. online safety program

GREEN RIVER (WNE) — Once it was rare to find a household with a computer. Now young kids walk around with them in their pockets. As technology improves interconnectivity, it also increases the exposure to dangers, especially for younger users.

Green River Police Chief Tom Jarvie has watched threats develop over the years.

“With that development in technology came great and wonderful things, and at the same time opportunities for very bad things,” he said.

Jarvie has looked for programs and partners to help children use the internet safely. That is why he is encouraging the Sweetwater County School District No. 2 board of trustees to consider the Cyber S.W.A.T. program to increase online awareness and safety. If approved, Green River High School would join eight other schools in piloting the peer-to-peer mentoring program before a national rollout.

The Safe Surfin’ Foundation created Cyber S.W.A.T. to help youth navigate online communities safely, make positive choices and avoid unnecessary risks by educating students, teachers, and parents. About 45% of youth say they’re online nearly constantly, according to the presentation. Providing guidance and support can help them protect themselves and create stronger communities.

Under the proposal, school resource officers from the Green River Police Department would work with students in a club setting in free periods or after school. Participants are taught about internet dangers and trained to teach others. The goal is for the program to be student-led, since students are more likely to listen to and learn from their peers. Students would share what they’ve learned in presentations at schools.


Sundance asked to repay FEMA $225,000

SUNDANCE (WNE) — The City of Sundance has confirmation that it will need to pay back a federal contribution made by FEMA to relocate the Cole Water Tank when it was found to be sliding off the hill in 2012. The repayment is deemed necessary because the city did not perform a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) study on the land to which the tank was moved.

Mayor Paul Brooks and Clerk Treasurer Kathy Lenz were informed of this conclusion over lunch with Wyoming Homeland Security Director Lynn Budd and Deputy Director Leland Christensen last week.

“They want it repaid. The number they used was $225,000 and they want a repayment plan that comes to around $400 a household over eight years,” said Brooks.

The city had hoped to avoid the repayment, first appealing to FEMA and then asking the State Lands and Investments Board for assistance. These attempts all proved unsuccessful, though both Lenz and Brooks maintain there is a certain unfairness in the decision.

The core of the issue, said Brooks, is that the city believed a NEPA study was only required for public lands, not the private property that was ultimately chosen for the tank’s new site.

“We thought we were going to end up on Forest Service [land] and at that point we felt we needed a NEPA. We did not believe we needed a NEPA to go on private land,” said Brooks.

At no point did the state FEMA office correct this mistake, he said.


Yellowstone visits in May dip slightly from 2018

CODY (WNE) — While overall spring attendance continues to grow in Yellowstone National Park, the May turnout declined slightly from 2018.

Visitation registered 576,776 through May this year, up 1 percent from 2018.

The May count alone was 434,385, down 2.8 percent from 2018. Last year was the busiest May on record and this marks the third-busiest May in history.

The year-to-date attendance is up 11 percent from 2015. However, it ran behind the 2016 total of 593,755, which was a record-setting year for Yellowstone.

Park officials say the high rate of visitation means those planning vacations “underscores the need to plan a Yellowstone adventure ahead of time.”

It is recommended visitors check out road conditions on the Park’s website. They should also be warned that there may be driving delays and parking issues in some popular areas.


Jackson Hole Airport named best ‘tiny airport’

JACKSON (WNE) — Fodor’s Travel has dubbed Jackson Hole Airport the best “tiny airport” in the United States, beating out second-place Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport.

“When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by breathtaking views of the Teton Range,” Tuesday’s post on the travel website said. “And when it’s time to go home, you’ll be sent off by the same gorgeous mountainscape, but this time you’ll be taking them in from the gate area while you’re hunkered down in deep, leather chairs and basking in the glow of a roaring fireplace.”

Fodor’s did not specify what constitutes a “tiny airport,” so it’s tough to say how long Teton County’s rapidly growing airport will qualify for the category.

Also on Tuesday, Jackson Hole Airport released its plane traffic numbers for the month of May, and they showed a 58% increase in commercial activity over the same month a year before. Year to date, passenger numbers have increased 21% over record-breaking 2018.