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Talks tours and toasts
From left, Fremont County Commissioners Keja Whiteman, Stephanie Kessler, Gov. Matt Mead, and Commissioner Doug Thompson during the governor's appearance Friday at the Riverton Branch Library. Photos by Wayne Nicholls

Talks, tours and toasts

Mar 10, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Governor, first lady in county for several events, including McOmie's sendoff

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead told local officials on Friday that he does not plan to cover losses state agencies may incur as a result of sequestration in Washington, D.C.

"I don't want to sort of soften the blow of what I feel is the (Obama) administration's and Congress's failure to pass a budget," Mead said Friday during a meeting with Fremont County legislators and commissioners.

"Those will be difficult decisions as we go forward, (but) you will feel the effects in some fashion."

Most immediately, he said, officials at Yellowstone National Park have asked for funding so they can plow their roads in time to open for the summer. But Mead said he doesn't think the state should cover for the federal government's failure to pass a budget.

"I just don't see the state's role to just take over and start supplementing with state money," Mead said. "Once you start going down that road, I think it's very difficult."

BLM planning

During his meeting with local representatives, Mead asked for feedback about the rangeland management plan being developed through the Bureau of Land Management in Lander. He heard two differing viewpoints from commissioners Doug Thompson and Stephanie Kessler.

Thompson began by saying that the current "preferred alternative" would lead to fewer jobs in the energy and ranching fields and a more jobs in the recreation industry.

"The plan itself is wildlife friendly, it recreation friendly, it's cultural and historic friendly, but if you're involved in grazing, mining or energy development there will be more restrictions," he said. "Some of those are proper, some of those are excessive."

He pointed to a map showing a "significant amount of acreage under major constraints" when it comes to oil and gas development. Thompson said those constraints could affect economic development.

"The regulatory framework could cause a (business owner) to drop his project," Thompson said. "If we're going into the future with significant amounts (of land) in major constraints, that's of concern. ...

"People generally develop an economy through entrepreneurism and projects that employ people."

Kessler countered that recreation does a lot to draw people to the area as well.

"And it's beyond the recreational opportunities, but the quality of life that lies with open spaces and public lands," she said.

"That open space ... provides opportunities for recreation but also clean air, water and wildlife, (and it draws) entrepreneurs, consultants and others who can bring their businesses to those communities."

Kessler called the proposed plan "balanced," noting that only 6 percent of land has been designated as unavailable for energy development.

"I don't think there needs to be a conflict," she said. "The areas of high oil and gas (development) don't overlap with the areas that are high in wildlife, recreation and scenic values."

State Sen. Eli Bebout said he disagreed "totally" with Kessler's statements.

"You may say only a certain amount is off limits for oil and gas, (but) look at the stipulations," Bebout said.

"Governor, this plan goes backwards in terms of multiple use of Fremont County and the BLM. ... I don't think it's balanced at all."

Mead said he would prefer to hear a unified voice from the commission, and he encouraged the group to continue working to find consensus on the rangeland management plan.

"Active participation is key," he said.

Justice center

Thompson directed the conversation toward the potential for a new justice center in Riverton after a bullet was found to have penetrated the city's current courthouse last year. The commission has identified two options for replacement of the facility, and Commissioner Travis Becker said he has asked the state to help fund construction.

Mead said he was concerned when he heard about the security issues in Riverton, but he thinks that it would be impractical to try to ensure every courthouse is immune to "that sort of incident."

"Throughout all of the courtrooms, court houses and justice centers in Wyoming I suspect on any given day many would be vulnerable to a rifle shot," Mead said. "We live in a society where you can't build a perfect, safe structure."

Commissioner Keja Whiteman said the issue predates the bullet hole. She said a security audit in 2004 revealed several violations that the county has been working to address.

"(The bullet hole) is the most recent catalyst, but it's been an ongoing issue," Whiteman said.

"There are three remodels that I can remember since that initial audit. ...

"The facility just isn't adequate, (and) we have no room to do any better."

Mead wondered whether it would be unusual for the state to fund courthouse construction. Becker mentioned a court structure in Natrona County that was built using state funds, but he said Wyoming's constitution puts commissioners in charge of providing suitable court facilities.

McOmie fete, CES

The Meads traveled to Lander later in the day to attend a tribute to former State Sen. Del McOmie of Lander, who retired last year after a long career in both state and municipal government.

Prior to his decade-plus stint in the Wyoming Legislature, Mc-Omie was Lander's mayor. About 165 people attended the event.

Earlier, the governor and first lady were joined by U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis for a tour of Community Entry Services facilities in Riverton. Lummis also went to Lander for McOmie's tribute.

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