WYOMING NEWS BRIEFS April 24
April 23, 2020
Arch Coal loses money on Powder River Basin mines in first quarter
GILLETTE (WNE) – Driven by low natural gas prices and “historically weak power markets,” Arch Coal Inc.’s Powder River Basin mines recorded a negative cash flow in the first quarter of 2020, said John Drexler, the company’s incoming COO in a Thursday morning earnings call.
An already floundering thermal coal market has been hit again by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further reduced the nation’s consumption of electricity and cut into the demand for thermal coal, he said.
Despite another strong quarterly performance for the company’s metallurgical segment, the PRB helped put Arch $25.3 million in the red for the first quarter of the year. That compares to a net profit of $72.7 million in the first quarter of 2019.
As an essential industry during the pandemic, Arch incoming CEO Paul A. Lang said he appreciates “the entire Arch workforce for the work they are doing at this challenging time. The Arch team is proud of the role it’s playing in keeping the country safe.”
He said the company and its PRB mines continue to “adapt to the current market reality.”
That reality is that coal is now the higher-priced fuel power generators have to choose from, which saw Powder River Basin production drop 17% from the first quarter of last year, from 17.1 million tons to 14.2 million tons.
And while the company showed a positive cash margin of $1.20 per ton in 2019, this year’s first quarter was a loss of 13 cents a ton, Arch reports.
Judge rules Evanston concealed carry rule invalid
EVANSTON (WNE) — A district court judge has issued another ruling in the lawsuit challenging Uinta County School District No. 1’s Rule CKA, which allows for approved staff to carry concealed firearms on district property.
Judge Steven K. Sharpe issued a ruling on Friday, April 17, granting a motion for summary judgment against the district on only one of the four counts originally contained in the suit led last fall.
Plaintiffs Tim and Katie Beppler, Tiffany Eskelson-Maestas and Nathan Prete led the suit asking for CKA to be ruled invalid on Aug. 26, 2019, the rst day of the current school year. That suit challenged CKA on four counts, including claims the rule was in violation of the enabling statute, W.S. 21-3- 132, passed by the Wyoming Legislature in 2017.
Sharpe ruled against the district and in favor of the plaintiffs on the count, which claimed CKA should be declared invalid because it violated the enabling statute that requires districts adopting rules regarding concealed carry to establish instructor qualifications and have them approved by law enforcement.
“At this time, Rule CKA has not been amended to include additional instructor qualifications,” he wrote. “Defendant failed to show the proposed amendments were adopted which would render Plaintiffs’ claims potentially moot.”
The district has been actively working on amending the rule to add instructor qualifications and had a WAPA-required public hearing on the matter scheduled for March 31. However, in light of the COVID-19 closures, that hearing has been postponed until an as yet unknown date.
Teton County group to offer antibody testing program
JACKSON (WNE) — A new group is planning to offer antibody testing starting next week.
The news came in a press release Thursday when the group, Test Teton Now, announced it would start offering the service on April 30 through private healthcare clinics.
Test Teton Now is moving ahead with a test made by a subsidiary of United Biomedical Inc., Covaxx, the same company St. John’s hospital originally planned to work with and abandoned. Its test has not been FDA approved.
Extherid Biosciences, a local lab, will be processing the tests.
In contrast to RT-PCR testing, which is usually done with a nasal swab and tests for active infection with COVID-19, antibody testing requires a blood sample and does not test for active disease.
As Director of Health Jodie Pond, Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell, and St. John's CEO Paul Beaupre noted in a letter last week, antibody tests also do not confer information about an individual's immunity to COVID-19. Test Teton Now repeated that message in its press release.
The presence or absence of antibodies to COVID-19 "does not mean an individual is immune," the release states.
Testing through Test Teton Now will be available for people who are 18 and older for $75 per person. It will be provided free to first responders and individuals who cannot afford testing.
The new group's goal is to test between and 8,000 and 9,000 people to "better understand the spread of COVID-19 in and around the Tetons," according to its website.
Man ticketed for throwing tennis ball at moving vehicle
GILLETTE (WNE) — A 38-year-old Gillette man was ticketed for “dangerous missiles” after throwing a tennis ball at a 37-year-old woman’s vehicle on Foothills Boulevard on Thursday morning.
She reported to police that she was driving west on Foothills Boulevard when she heard a loud noise. She pulled over and visitors at a home on the 3200 block of Foothills started yelling at her.
The suspect said he threw the ball at the car because he was tired of vehicles traveling too fast down the street. There was no damage to the vehicle and no one was hurt, Police Lt. Brent Wasson said.
According to the city’s “dangerous missiles” ordinance, “No person shall throw or propel any stone or other object or missile upon any building, tree or other public or private property or upon or at any person in any street, public place or enclosed or unenclosed ground within the city.”
Torrington prison inmate stabbing suspect set to stand trial in June
TORRINGTON (WNE) — Laziur Stephen Hanway, a Wyoming Medium Correctional Institute inmate who stands accused of stabbing another inmate, will stand trial on July 20 at 9 a.m.
Hanway was originally scheduled to stand trial in March, but the trial was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hanway is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of second-degree murder in 2013.
Hanway is charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault and battery after attacking a fellow inmate with a homemade stabbing weapon in September 2019.
Earlier this month in the Eighth Judicial District Court, Judge Patrick Korell ordered the Wyoming Department of Corrections to release an un-redacted report on the incident.
The WDOC argued that confidential informants could be revealed in the report, but Korell deemed the information essential for both the defense and the prosecution.
According to the Affidavit of Probable Cause in Hanway’s case, filed by Torrington Police Department Sgt. Patrick Connelly, the assault was captured on the prison’s video security system.
“I watched the video, which shows Hanway approaching the victim from behind while the victim is seated at a dining room table,” Connelly wrote. “Hanway walks directly to the victim and begins striking him in the right side of the neck. The victim falls to the floor and Hanway follows him and can be seen continuing to strike the victim until a corrections officer pulls him off.”
Connelly described the weapon used by Hanway as “a straightened piece of cylindrical metal, possibly a section of chain link fence which was wrapped with tape and cloth to make a handle and ground to a point at the end.”
The affidavit states the victim received seven puncture wounds, including wounds to the neck and face.
Jackson Town Council cuts budget, postpones own salary increases
JACKSON (WNE) — The Jackson Town Council approved deep budget cuts this week and decided to postpone salary increases for elected officials.
Town Manager Larry Pardee presented a budget adjustment for the rest of the fiscal year ending in June that saves almost $2.8 million. Councilors unanimously approved the amendment.
Town staff scoured department budgets to find cuts to offset the sharp drops in sales and lodging tax revenue that are anticipated, he said.
Strategies include freezing vacant positions except for law enforcement; freezing expenditures where possible; reducing START bus service and staffing, and reassigning employees to reduce seasonal staffing; and postponing capital projects, information technology upgrades and vehicle purchases.
The Town Council also voted unanimously to postpone increasing salaries for Jackson’s next mayor and councilors who win in the next election. If approved on two more readings, raises will go into effect July 1, 2021 — six months later than originally planned.
Vice Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson proposed the delay in recognition of the economic crunch created by the global pandemic.
Councilor Jonathan Schechter, who did the math and arrived at the new salaries based on adjustments for inflation since 2005, the last time salaries were raised, originally supported the increase, but changed his mind Monday.
“This is a great idea, but the timing is awful,” Schechter said, describing what he was hearing from the community. “COVID-19 is our new reality, and it’s fundamentally changed our world since we floated the pay raise in January or even since we voted on it two weeks ago.”
If approved, council salaries will increase $25,000 to $32,750, and the mayor’s salary from $30,000 to $39,300. In comparison, Teton County commissioners each earned $50,000 in 2019, according to public records.