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Pinedale, Wyoming 

Special Edition - April 1, 2016               Vol. XV  

KOW Tunnel | Snow Harvesting | Human Remains Found at Fremont Lake Campground

Wyoming Governor Mead proposes
I-80 climate control tunnel

Wyoming KOW TunnelWyoming Governor Matt Mead is proposing to build a covered dome tunnel over the top of Interstate 80 from the Nebraska to Utah border to create a 'winter-free zone' along the state's major highway travel corridor. "We're calling it the 'Keep Out Winter' Tunnel," the Governor said.

"We can't go through another winter like this," Governor Mead said in a press conference on Friday, noting that I-80 in Wyoming has been closed 56 times the past winter. "We can't even travel between Laramie and Cheyenne a lot of times. In the worst of it, I-80 can be shut down for days across Wyoming in the winter. We have to get started on it right away."

The Wyoming KOW Tunnel will be covered with a breathable, state-of the art, highly durable translucent fabric borrowed from the greenhouse industry to create a micro-climate environment that will moderate temperatures inside even in the coldest temperatures Wyoming winter can throw at it.

"It will stay consistently 70 degrees inside even if it is -50F below outside in the dead of winter," said Wyoming Department of Transportation Highway Engineer John Jones. "It will breath to let fresh air in, but not the snow," he said. The fabric is semi-transparent to allow travelers to see the scenery and not miss the views and scenic landmarks along the drive through Wyoming.

"It's an ambitious endeavor, but we've analyzed all the economic factors," Governor Mead said. "We've calculated our costs for winter snow removal along I-80 during the nine months of winter and the devastating loss to Wyoming road travel map, November 15-April 15the Wyoming and national economy due to the shut down of the interstate for even a few hours," the Governor said. "It will initially add a little more to the cost of the road maintenance during construction, but then we are convinced we'll make that all up within just a few years by eliminating the annual freeze-thaw and salting destruction of the road pavement and gaining guaranteed traffic flow year-round through the KOW. Once we get the $1/mile/vehicle toll in place, it will generate $5.6 million/day, $2 billion/year of additional revenue for the State to help offset the construction cost."

WYDOT will be working with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department to incorporate numerous wildlife overpass bridges into the construction design. "They're already building an arch, so it won't be too difficult to make some of the sections into overpasses at known wildlife crossing points along the interstate," said WYG&F spokesperson and wildlife biologist Amy Morgan. "We calculated out the cost of installing ten foot high non-jumpable fence along the whole interstate corridor to reduce wildife collisions, and this won't be too much more expensive than that would be," she said.

Wyoming KOW TunnelWith the moderate year-round climate, it will create a greenway across the entire state which is inspiring frustrated Wyoming gardeners with dreams of being able to take advantage of a year-round growing season.

"We're working with garden clubs in San Diego to bring in palm trees to beautify the greenway," WYDOT engineer Jones said. "It will be a banana belt. San Diego didn't have palm trees until they imported them in the 1930s to create a tropical look for the town. We're going to follow their example and learn from them to do that here in Wyoming too," Jones said. They plan to start with beautification landscaping and then later will look into leasing narrow-strip plots along the corridor for crop production. They already have someone interested in starting banana tree farming and others have contacted them about boosting the Wyoming-grown fruits and vegetable industry.

Riviera, Wyoming along I-80The new I-80 Wyoming KOW Tunnel already has people along the interstate corridor super excited about the future. The Mayor of Rawlins has proclaimed they have plans on the drawing board to place an all-weather climate control dome over the entire city to create a year-round pleasant environment. The Town Council has voted to rename the city "Riviera, Wyoming" once the dome is complete. They will be relandscaping the entire town with a tropical paradise theme. "We'll have summer year-round in Riviera, and we'll be wearing shorts every day," the Mayor said. "We're so excited we'll actually be able to get something to grow here and the wildlife won't come in and eat it." They plan to also expand their golf course and start building swimming pools and water features throughout town. "We'll be able to have a real fountain in town! Getting rid of winter will create a whole new economy for us," the Mayor explained.

We sought comments from Presidential candidates on what they thought of the ambitious new undertaking for the Wyoming KOW Tunnel. Republican contender Donald Trump said, "I'd build it bigger and taller and make China pay for it." Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders said, "We need climate control tunnels in every state." Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton responded, "Where's Wyoming?"

Snow harvesting operationUltrah plans new 'snow harvesting' venture

Ultrah Resources issued a press release Monday announcing they are expanding their operations in Wyoming to begin a new division of the company which will do "snow harvesting."

The surprise announcement came as industry speculators wonder how the company can navigate the downturn in the economy with more and more federal government regulations that seem to strangle energy businesses at every turn.

"We see the handwriting on the wall for everyone in the hydrocarbon industry," Public Information Officer Joe Caldwell said. "It's clear they are getting rid of coal and oil, so we know we're next. We need to diversify our product line to a different resource, so now we'll be getting into snow harvesting to deliver much-needed snow to California."

Trucks delivering snow to CaliforniaThe company revealed they have negotiated a billion $ contract with the State of California to deliver snow to the Sierra Nevada mountains, which is the source of much of the state's drinking water and agricultural irrigation.

"Snow is a renewable resource that Wyoming has lots of nine months of the year," Caldwell said. "Everyone is always trying to find a place to get rid of it in the winter here in Wyoming. Global warming has significantly reduced the snowpack in California, and this will help solve that problem for them," he explained.

In 2015, the Sierra Nevada snow pack was the lowest it has been in 500 years, according to scientific studies. "California needs and wants more snow in their mountains and Ultrah can deliver it," Caldwell said. "We expect it to be hugely profitable and tide us through until the natural gas market picks up again."

The company plans to bring back many of their subcontractor heavy equipment operators who have been idle during the economic slowdown. There are huge fleets that stand ready to be put back to work with this new venture. "We're working with all the truckers who are interested. No one needs to travel west on the interstate with an empty truck anymore. I-80 is like a giant conveyor belt for moving snow," Caldwell said.

The company plans to operate on their existing leases across Wyoming to harvest snow during the winter. "It will have none of the split estate issues of oil and gas," Caldwell said. "This is entirely a surface operation. We're also working with WYDOT to snow harvest along highway right-of-ways and snow fences across the state."

compressed natural snow balesMany local area ranchers have begun to negotiate contracts to lease out their ranches for snow harvesting operations.

"Ultrah knows how to do all the government permitting and has the network of contractors to work with," rancher Gordon Michaels said. "They have connections with international markets to ship snow that will benefit all of Wyoming."

The ranchers say they can make fairly simple modifications to their haying equipment to convert to making Compressed Natural Snow bales, which are more economical to transport.

"We're really excited to be able to jump into this new CNS industry with Ultrah. We already work all hours, year-round, in the best and worst of Wyoming weather anyway, so winter snow harvesting is a perfect fit for us. Snow bales are clean and all natural. It gives us Snow bale stackyardanother revenue source to boost our winter ranching operations," Michaels said.

Caldwell said it represents another example of the oil and gas industry and the ranching community working together in a new cooperative partnership that is mutually beneficial.

State and Federal government officials haven't been as cooperative, however.

"They don't know how to tax it," Caldwell said.

Up to this point snow hasn't been considered a mineral. Government officials are scrambling trying to figure out who has the taxing authority over snow. There are no regulations over snow harvesting on federal leases or on private ground. There has been some talk of folding it in and creating a new Wyoming Oil, Gas and Snow Commission, but the State Engineer's Office has raised questions over the matter.

Michaels commented he was sure government would eventually catch up with it all and work out the CNS tax issue. "They always find a way to get their cut, but with the profit we are already seeing with this readily available Wyoming resource we think it is a win-win for everyone." He added that private industry can be much more nimble than government to use the entrepreneural spirit to innovate and take advantage of new market opportunities. And, he added, "We are thrilled we don't have to worry about the moose and elk getting into our stackyards and eating these bales."

 

2 skeletons found at Fremont Lake CampgroundHuman remains found at the entrance of the Fremont Lake Campground

Hikers found what appeared to be the remains of two campers in front of the locked gates of the Fremont Lake Campground.

Forensic studies confirm the remains are human and multiple leads on the scene indicate the campers have been waiting since the summer of 2014 for the campground to open.

Careful examination of the evidence surrounding the scene indicate these campers were planning an extended stay. The majority of their gear and provisions appear to have been purchased locally.

The campground was closed the fall of 2013 for upgrades and disagreement between the Forest Service and their contractor have prevented completion and reopening.

"Unfortunately, for these two un-happy campers, the end result was tragedy,"

 

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