2013 in review

A Look Back at the Year |

By Sarah Pridgeon |

Things were looking up in January – quite literally, in fact, as the courthouse announced that its elevator was officially ready to take passengers and a teepee structure began to gather height beside the Vore Buffalo Jump. The Sheriff’s Department averted a potential tragedy by arresting an ex-local who returned to the area in a stolen car with an arsenal of guns and ammunition, his intentions unclear.
Rare Element Resources announced that it would be swapping land with the State in order to acquire a parcel adjacent to its planned rare earth mine at Bull Hill, while the Sundance City Council opened the year by announcing that Smart Capital loans will now be available to the community and that the city engineers, Trihydro, had begun working on the city’s Level I Water Study in earnest.
Weather caused issues later in the month, when a burst shut-off valve caused flooding on the road behind Deluxe Harley Davidson and water was shut off to several businesses in town throughout the day. The local National Weather Service radio was then taken offline after ice damaged its antenna.
An emergency action plan was created for the Sundance Pond after a survey identified the Washington Memorial Reservoir dam as a hazard that could cause loss of lives, affecting 25 properties and two roads. Haphazard car owners were meanwhile discouraged from leaving their cars in the snow removal zone overnight with a new city policy that saw tiered fines leveled at habitual offenders.
The community got cold for a cause on the morning of the Super Bowl, when the annual Freeze Your Fanny walk raised money for the Sundance Emergency Responders Association. Ten students from Sundance High School were inducted into the National Honor Society, while the school board convened for a special meeting to consider what priorities it should assign to Interim Superintendent Jeff Carrier and discuss the goal closest to its heart: winning back public trust.
Moorcroft police arrested an Upton man found attempting to break into the ATM machine at Pinnacle Bank. The suspect fled, but was found hiding in the front seat of a car in the Coffee Cup Fuel Stop parking lot.
In Sundance, the very next day, two Campbell County men were arrested after lodging their stolen pick-up in a ditch near the Conoco gas station. One disappeared into the trees with his belongings in a blanket, while the other was found wandering along the highway.
At the third and final reading of Sundance’s new zoning code, members of the city council realized that they were not familiar enough with the document to make it official. The motion died for lack of a second and the code began a second round of readings.
The County Commissioners announced their intention to clean up jurisdiction of the county’s roads, vacating the ones that no longer physically exist and establishing easements for the ones that still do. It was said to be the first time a government agency and the Forest Service in the west of the nation had ever sat down to proactively discuss such an issue outside a courtroom.
Moorcroft Fire Hall was filled to capacity with new firefighters seeking formal certification as the Crook County Fire Department prepared for a record fire season after 2012’s drought conditions. The city meanwhile amended its snow removal ordinance to address problems with city residents pushing snow onto one another’s properties, while the county worked to update its Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan, a document that details the natural hazards affecting the region and ways to lessen their impacts.
Winter proved it still had bite with a March storm that brought rain, lightning, wind and snow. Schools and businesses closed earlier and a number of vehicles slid off the road, with one overturned SUV closing I-90 for a portion of the afternoon.
Susan Thomas of the Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation made an appearance in Sundance, offering scholarships to help disadvantaged people complete their education, while RER revealed its new processing technology that will increase the purity of the elements it mines and make it easier to sell.
Marge Goodson celebrated her 90th birthday with a 13,000-foot jump from an airplane, while the Cole Storage Tank became increasingly unstable, prompting the Public Works Department to begin efforts to remove it from the hill. The city hoped that a smooth transition could be made from the old site to the new.
Strata Energy reached the public comment period for its license to construct an in-situ uranium recovery project at Oshoto and at the same time announced a new scholarship program for Crook County students hoping to pursue careers in the mineral industry. Oneok Partners prepared to place its Bakken pipeline in service across the county to carry natural gas liquids from the Bakken Shale to Colorado.
The Sundance City Council approved an agreement with Wyoming Business Development for Croell Redi-Mix to begin constructing a new headquarters in the industrial section of town. The site will eventually become an industrial park for Sundance.
PRECorp became embroiled in a dispute with the City of Gillette over who has the right to serve power to the Cam-Plex events facility. The city having never annexed the property, PRECorp argued that it was impinging on its certified service territory.
As the month ended, Fire Warden Gari Gill called for Crook County residents to undertake a voluntary fire ban. The fire danger was relatively high, with ten fires notched up already, and a green-up period did not seem likely.
Barbara Byrne was honored as Sundance’s Citizen of the Year in April, recognized for her work with Boy Scouts and the Red Hat Society, among many other contributions to the community.
The County Commissioners meanwhile answered Fire Warden Gill’s call for burning restrictions by implementing an early burn ban on April 15. A snowstorm caused havoc for travelers and ranchers and delayed some city projects, but did help to bring badly-needed moisture to the county.
Highway Patrol arrested a woman speeding on I-90 who simply “didn’t want to stop,” while two juvenile runaways from Sioux Falls were arrested at the stateline gas station. One of the suspects reportedly said he wished he hadn’t stolen the soda, chips and cigarettes that brought them to the attention of the Sheriff’s Department and led to their arrest.
The City of Sundance announced that cuts would need to be made from its annual budget, prompting the council to turn down a proposal from CCMSD for a $175,000 grant for a new ambulance.
Representatives from the County Extension Office meanwhile brought complaints to the County Commissioners about the conduct of the Fair Board, although the latter were adamant that no wrongdoing had taken place and stated that “respect goes both ways.”
Weed & Pest kept a close eye out for bed bugs as the nationwide infestation was spotted for the first time within county limits, while DEQ reported levels of E.coli, chloride and ammonia in the Belle Fourche River that exceeded water quality standards and called for communities across the northeast to pull together to reduce the problem.
The school board meanwhile invited the public to meet candidates for the position of Superintendent during a two-day interview session. Superintendent Byron Stutzman was later confirmed as the unanimous choice.
A prescribed burn near the Devils Tower escaped from control at the beginning of May, prompting many to question whether burns should be stopped before the “postcard view” loses its tree cover entirely. Reed Robinson, Superintendent for Devils Tower, reassured the public that the aftermath was exactly what was expected and called fire a good management tool to protect the monument from wildfire.
Spring storms caused severe flooding, closing the roads near Cook Lake. The rainwater damaged several Forest Service roads, while lightning ignited five fires across the area.
The County Commissioners made the surprise decision to replace the entire Fair Board in response to complaints, perceived problems and the resignation of two board members. An entirely new board was appointed later in the month at a special meeting, with Commissioner Kelly Dennis expressing his regret for the abrupt nature of the decision.
The City of Sundance announced that its budget was healthier than it had been in the two years since cutbacks were made at a state level. The Cole Tank was meanwhile finally removed from its failing site and placed in storage to await a new location.
The city’s Level I Water Study drew close to completion, giving a clear picture of the weaknesses in the Sundance water system and the work that will be needed over the coming years to fix them. The new City of Sundance Zoning Code was finally made official after a second set of three readings.
A Crook County Detention Officer was arraigned for sexual assault in the third degree for allegedly touching an inmate inappropriately, while a Sundance resident was arrested in connection with a spate of burglaries across Crook and Weston counties.
Ex-Hulett police office Brice Tucker meanwhile sought a reduction on his 2012 prison sentence for two counts of sexual battery involving contact with a child and one of sexual assault in the third degree. His request was denied on the grounds that it would depreciate the seriousness of his crimes.
RER announced that 76.7 percent of Crook and Weston County residents support its rare earth mining project and told the public that it is ready to proceed with the NEPA process.
The carnival that disappointed 2011 fair-goers by turning up late with only 30 percent of its attractions resurfaced unexpectedly in Idaho. The county began investigating whether its judgment against Extreme Ink Carnival could finally be fulfilled.
Travel and Tourism Week began with a local tribute at the Northeast Wyoming Welcome Center, planting a tree in memory of Matt Driskill, who was an active member of the board for the Wyoming Office of Tourism. The fourth annual Old West Invitational Turkey Shoot took place in Hulett with guests including Mitch Unrein of the Denver Broncos and bestselling author C.J. Box.
Heavy rainfall placed county streams at flood level at the beginning of June, closing several roads and placing Cook Lake in a state of emergency. On the plus side, the ground was sufficiently saturated for Fire Warden Gill to lift burn restrictions in time for the July 4 celebrations.
A tornado warning was issued later in the month as a wall cloud with rotation was spotted at Tower Junction. The National Weather Service was unable to confirm whether a tornado actually formed, but the sudden storm caused damage throughout the county.
A speeding fine incurred by a highway worker escalated into a dispute between the City of Sundance and WYDOT over whether the city should change its traffic regulations. The question was eventually sent to the Attorney General’s office for an official opinion.
Jeff Carrier stepped down as Interim Superintendent of the Crook County School District at the end of the month, handing the reins to replacement Byron Stutzman. The district meanwhile announced that a new elementary school for Sundance was to be fast-tracked through the Legislature and was expected to enter the design phase in less than a year, later confirming that the current football field was its most likely location.
The County Commissioners considered adopting a new policy for commercial pipelines along county roads to provide a guideline that had not been in place during Oneok’s construction of the Bakken Pipeline. The city meanwhile turned its attention to outstanding projects with grant money that was due to expire, while Mayor Paul Brooks was elected as Vice President of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities.
The last weekend of the month was filled with more entertainment than expected as the Gold Wing Road Riders Association scheduled its annual rally alongside the Sundance Wheel Festival, the Sundance Piecemakers’ Quilt Show, the Sundance Summer Expo and the Hoedown Street Dance.
A new claimant for the title of great-grandson of the Sundance Kid rode into town on horseback to present Mayor Paul Brooks and Sheriff Steve Stahla with copies of his new book. Jerry Nickle was claimed that Harry Longabaugh was not the real Sundance Kid after all, pointing to his own ancestor as a more probably candidate.
The question of whether vendors who don’t sell liquor all year round should be allowed to sell beer during Rally Week reignited as preparations began for the year’s events. Though the Sundance City Council opted not to change its policy this year, it decided to revisit the question in 2014.
Crook County’s firefighters took part in a Stand Down Day to honor the 19 Hotshot Crew members who lost their lives in Arizona, while fire restrictions went back into effect as the summer sunshine arrived in earnest.
Flooding meanwhile delayed excavations at the Vore Buffalo Jump after ferocious storms brought drifts of hail and water pouring into the site. Flooding was also the topic of the month for WYDOT, who presented its plan to fix one of the largest landslides on a Wyoming state highway at Rupe Hill, just outside Sundance, caused by the spring 2011 flooding.
The Crook County Fair celebrated “Country Roots and Cowboy Boots” and introduced brand new entertainment in the form of paintball, hypnotism and an outdoor movie night. Summer now fully in swing, Thursday became farmer’s market day at two destinations in Sundance.
Local businessman Craig Hemmah was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him trapped overnight underneath his vehicle on Hwy 116, while a Gillette motorist was arrested in Pine Haven on charges of drunk driving. He was taken to the emergency room for unrelated injuries apparently sustained through recreation activities at Keyhole.
Sundance Hospital announced significant changes to bring the facility up to current medical standards, including updated equipment in a new radiology suite. As part of an overall county improvement plan, the new equipment was intended to extend the available services and enable staff to determine whether less critical patients need surgery rather than send them straight to another facility.
At a public meeting, RER announced a 40-year expected mine life for its Bear Lodge rare earth project and hinted at potential expansion opportunities down the road, including partnering with another firm to open a separation facility.
August is the month of motorcycles for Crook County and this year’s Rally Week did not disappoint. The traditional burnout contest was held on Rally Wednesday, accompanied by live performances, refreshments and other entertainment.
Congressional representatives from Washington arrived in Crook County just in time for Burnout Wednesday as part of a fact-finding tour of Wyoming. The aides visited examples of the private energy and mining companies of Wyoming before joining in with the celebrations.
State Troopers from Wyoming and South Dakota worked together in a joint enforcement operation on I-90 during Rally Wednesday, making a total of 24 arrests and issuing 49 warnings between Sturgis and Sundance. A fatal crash nevertheless took place on WYO 24 when three deer crossed the highway in front of a motorcycle.
Routine sampling revealed bacteria in the city’s water system, leading to a period of disinfecting, testing and checking for the Public Works Department. The bacteria was not thought to affect the safety of the drinking water.
Old issues resurfaced for the city council, including a truck hauling agreement on Government Valley Road that had never been signed because the company had gone out of business. The gravel pit was again in use and the agreement was deemed necessary because the new company’s trucks had been spotted traveling head-to-head down the hill.
Council Member Hugh Palmer and Mayor Paul Brooks entered a heated discussion over communication and sharing of information. The debate centered on the one-cent sales tax and the reasons for its ending, but Palmer seized the opportunity to demand that he be kept fully informed of issues on which he is asked to make decisions.
A local man was found guilty of meth possession and interfering with a peace officer after failing to leave the Turf Bar when asked. A Sundance resident was killed in an automobile accident south of Hulett when he rolled his vehicle down an embankment and was ejected from the vehicle.
Meanwhile, construction began on the Croell Redi-Mix headquarters in the industrial portion of town, marking the first step in the project to create an industrial park on the edge of town.
The year began for the county’s students, with Sundance’s elementary attendees spotting changes right at the front door. Remodeling work over the summer saw the main office moved into a position that will ensure oversight over all visitors.
A parasite outbreak linked to Keyhole Reservoir caused concern as September began, prompting Public Health to recommend preventative measures for swimmers in public waters. Cryptosporidium cases were reported in Campbell County, but the illness did not spread far across the border.
A semi tractor meanwhile rolled over near Carlile, spilling a cargo of live bees across the highway. Responders from Hulett, Moorcroft and the county were given the unenviable task of rounding up 21 million bees without the protection of bee suits.
Preliminary plans for the new Sundance elementary school were revealed, setting a timeline that should see it open for student occupancy in January 2016. The construction crew broke ground on the new Moorcroft school at the same time.
A bid was approved for a district-wide camera system for Crook County’s schools, leading to a debate over the fundamentals of security for the Board of Trustees. The cameras, it transpired, were merely the “first bite from the pie” of keeping local students safe from harm.
Sundance initiated the second phase of its water study and began focusing more closely on the projects that will improve and consolidate the water system, including a SCADA monitoring system that will be installed on all the city’s tanks. Later in the month, the city worked fast to address a new contamination alert as the city water again tested positive for total coliform bacteria.
Once of the largest October blizzards on record caused chaos at the beginning of the month, hitting the record books with its sheer volume of heavy snow. Winds of up to 60 miles per hour caused power outages as lines whipped together and were damaged by falling trees, while in Sundance even the police department joined the effort to keep the main road arteries open for emergency vehicles and PRECorp worked through the night to keep the lights on for as many county residents as possible.
An ATV crash in the Moskee area later led to a Gillette man requiring airlift support after sustaining serious head injuries. A woman traveling through Sundance accidentally shot herself in the leg at the Best Western the same week, requiring medical attention to remove the bullet from her calf.
Re-assembling the Cole Tank in its new location was delayed until spring on the advice of city engineers Trihydro. Just one bid was received for the project at an amount considerably higher than budgeted.
Bear Lodge Cattle Company proposed a land swap with the state that will preserve the entrance to the Devils Tower exactly as it currently appears, placing a conservation easement on the land leading up to the monument. Strata Energy meanwhile broke ground on its uranium in-situ recovery project at Oshoto.
The County Commissioners encountered problems with its plans to vacate unused county roads when landowners in the Miller Creek Road area proved reluctant to sign new easements. Residents along the road feared that signing such easements could be held against them if RER seeks condemnation proceedings to install a haulage road for access to the rare earth mine at Bull Hill.
The government furlough caused problems for the year’s mountain pine beetle battle, keeping the Pine Beetle Response Coordination Group away from the Forest Service lands it was hoping to treat. As the month ended, the Forest Service returned to work and headed straight for the forests to identify damage left over from the storm.
After weeks spent restoring power after the early October storm, PRECorp began the next month by dealing with a blackout across Sundance. A power line was struck by what appeared to be a high profile load, turning out the lights for two hours.
The Forest Service was also still working on the storm’s aftermath, having finally returned to work after the government furlough. Crook County Weed & Pest reported light at the end of the tunnel for the pine beetle effort, however, as Cook Lake proved relatively free from infestation.
Delegates from every community in Crook County meanwhile gathered to discuss renewing the Specific Use Tax and the projects each will put forward come next October’s ballot. During the conversation, Moorcroft delegates suggested upgrading the town’s dump and County Treasurer Mary Kuhl posited the idea of a county-wide garbage district to solve the region’s landfill issues.
CCSD awarded the contract for its new elementary school to Sandstrom Architecture and began the process of talking to every member of staff to ascertain their needs. The Sundance City Council approached Wyoming Water Development to ask for additional funding for the Cole Tank and successfully secured enough to reassemble it at the new site, but revealed that ongoing problems with the project may lead to utility rate increases.
As the festive season approached, the community began to prepare itself for Christmas, with dates set for familiar events such as the Festival of Lights and the annual Chamber of Commerce drawings.
Hunting season was quiet for the year following 2012’s outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease among the deer population and difficulty accessing the forests after the megastorm.
The City of Sundance confirmed increases in its utility rates, while the school district uncovered a surprising problem with a road next to the football field that had never been vacated by the city and was almost certainly in the way of the new elementary school.
The Crook County All-Hazard Mitigation Plan was finally adopted by the county and municipalities after five years of work by the emergency services department, while the county’s pipeline policy was stripped back to bare bones to ensure it addressed only the roads within the county and no additional concerns.
The City of Sundance came together with the county and school district to propose an innovative land swap that would see the county fairgrounds moved to a more spacious location out of town and the football field built on the existing fairground site. All three parties agreed to work together to investigate ways to fund purchase of new buildings for the fairground in its proposed new location.