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Feds OK 5,000-well project

DOUGLAS (WNE) — After six years of sometimes controversial debating, studying and protracted periods of waiting, the Bureau of Land Management released its highly anticipated decision regarding the Converse County Oil & Gas Project with a resounding yes. 

BLM’s signed and official Record of Decision on Dec. 23 allows the development of up to 500 new oil and natural gas wells per year within a 1.5 million-acre area in Converse County during the 10-year life of the project. 

The proposed multi-company project’s initial letter of intent was filed in May 2014 by Occidental Petrol Corporation, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Devon Energy, EOG Resources and Northwoods Energy. 

The project – which is really multiple projects by the companies – is expected to bring huge economic benefits to Converse County and Wyoming, including a boost in badly needed taxes. The energy project is expected to generate up to 8,000 jobs and approximately $18-$28 billion in federal and state revenues during the 10 years. 

BLM’s preferred alternative in the project allows for year-round development within non-eagle raptor nest buffers, which are widespread in the project area and opposed by environmental groups. 

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Niobrara Co. wins variance for health orders

LUSK (WNE) — State Health Officer Alexia Harrist, M.D., approved a variance on Dec. 23 exempting Niobrara County from recently implemented statewide public health orders. 

The variance allows bars and restaurants to remain open during normal business hours and recommends face coverings rather than mandates them, according to County Health Officer Joleen Falkenburg, M.D., who said she requested the variance due to a low number of cases throughout the county. Students and staff at Niobrara County School District No. 1 are still required to wear face coverings in school buildings per statewide public school requirements. 

“(The variance) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respect other’s needs or fears,” Falkenburg wrote in a post to the Niobrara County Hospital District Facebook page. “If you’re in tight spaces with others, consider masking.” 

The Niobrara County Commissioners issued a statement in response to the variance, after submitting a letter to Governor Mark Gordon’s office regarding the statewide orders mandating bars close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and that all businesses require face coverings, as well as the difficulty of enforcing such measures. 

They also spoke on the county’s low number of cases and the difficulty of reaching the testing threshold previously required to receive a variance, because of the small population. 

“The Commissioners are very appreciative of Governor Gordon’s and Dr. Harrist’s willingness to consider Niobrara County’s unique situation, and their efforts to accommodate our citizens’ concerns,” the commissioners’ statement says.

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Power companies donate to fire departments

RAWLINS (WNE) — Carbon Power & Light, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the Wyoming Rural Electric Association announced an effort to support six local fire departments who helped battle the Mullen Fire in southeast Wyoming, with a $30,000 donation from Tri-State. 

The money was split equally between the six fire departments, with each department receiving $5,000. 

“We live by and work according to our cooperative principles, which include cooperation, and concern for the community. These fire departments helped battle one of the most devastating fires in our state history, and this is our way of showing our appreciation for their selfless efforts on our behalf,” said Russell Waldner, General Manager for Carbon Power & Light. 

“Tri-State is honored to be a part of this effort recognizing these local fire departments. One of the core values in times of need is support for our communities, and this is our way of showing appreciation for those who dedicated themselves time and again to combatting this fire,” said Duane Highley, TriState CEO.

The Mullen fire, which began on Sept. 17, consumed 176,878 acres, much of it in the Medicine Bow National Forest southwest of Centennial, Wyoming, including parts of Albany and Carbon counties in Wyoming, and Jackson County in Colorado. 

Wind speeds at the height of the fire reached some 70 miles per hour. The fire lasted nearly two months, before containment in mid-November. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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Man pleads not guilty in 2018 assault allegation

CHEYENNE (WNE) —  A man accused of sexually assaulting a teenager while she was unconscious pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning in Laramie County District Court.

Tanner Michael Lee pleaded not guilty to first-degree sexual abuse of a minor-position of authority, second-degree sexual abuse of a minor under 16-position of authority and misdemeanor furnishing alcohol to minors.

Laramie County District Judge Catherine Rogers set Lee’s trial for the week of April 19. She also approved a request by Brandon Booth, Lee’s attorney, for a potential future entrance of a not guilty plea by reason of mental illness.

According to court documents:

At 12:31 p.m. Aug. 31, a Cheyenne Police officer spoke with a teenage girl who reported Lee had sexually assaulted her in March 2018, when she was 15 years old and Lee was 26. Lee had been the girl’s supervisor at a fast food restaurant. The girl told officers Lee had given her alcohol at his home and sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious.

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